Death Stranding (PC) Review

By Chris Leebody 13.07.2020 1

Review for Death Stranding on PC

Released last year, exclusively on PlayStation 4, Death Stranding naturally came with a lot of hype attached. Beginning a new chapter in the creative output of Metal Gear Solid visionary, Hideo Kojima, the story of protagonist Sam Porter Bridges as a courier across a devastated United States piqued the interest of both critics and gamers alike. As an increasing list of celebrity appearances and intriguing trailers about this strange new world dropped, Death Stranding gathered more and more hype until its eventual release in November last year to a largely favourable response. Now, less than a year later, fans on PC have the chance to experience this rather unique title, with a whole host of assorted fixes, graphical upgrades, and a new exciting crossover DLC with PC staple franchise Half-Life. Death Stranding on PC is available today on Steam for £54.99.

From the first glimpse at the open landscape of this bleak and dystopian vision of the United States, it is clear that one way or another this is will be a tale that will draw in those who experience it. The philosophy of Death Stranding comes in the slow and steady pulse of the journey, punctuated by the then flashing frantic moments of action. It is an experience unlike so many others, blending traditional gameplay tropes into new and imaginative innovations. Memorable moments in most games are centred around specific set pieces and while Death Stranding has these, it is often the organic choices of taking one path over another or finding another player's ladder at the most opportune time that achieves the real high here. Making that delivery drop following a white-knuckle journey and hearing the deep rumble of thunder in the distance is a reminder of the perils faced - a feeling that warms the heart in a way few games can accomplish.

When Death Stranding dropped on PS4 last year it was clear there was something of a divide among some fans. The gameplay loop of Sam Porter Bridges' adventure to reconnect America is always going to have some scratching their heads while others simply just 'get it'. In many respects it was a reaction echoed by the release of Metal Gear Solid V, which ditched the linear story driven set pieces for more open-ended player-driven experiences. Many find it a refreshing and liberating experience, while a minority don't. While the bulk of this adventure is spent out in the field, there is certainly an intriguing plot to work through here - one that is right up the street for Kojima fans. That said, be warned - it takes an investment of time to see the pay-off and initially it is filled with an avalanche of phrases and characters that will seem mind-boggling and head-scratching. It is a plot that takes at least 10 hours to begin to hit its stride and make sense but one that hooks in the audience well.

Screenshot for Death Stranding on PC

One of the first images that will likely set some confusion among those playing is the sight of Sam with a capsuled (and highly realistic) baby known in the world as BB. A central part of battling the main threat in the game - BTs - BB follows Sam and acts as a sort of strange radar system, alerting him to these ghostly threats that can appear when the rain starts falling. Cue Death Stranding's most obvious set piece moments, with all the fear and tension expected as Sam has to avoid these malicious apparitions while being guided by BB's literal robotic hand. Crying with fear and needing to be constantly reassured, while the rest of the characters cast aside BB as a tool, it soon becomes a real effective central focus point of giving the player something to care about. While Sam is often the stone-faced silent type, portrayed rather wonderfully by gifted actor Norman Reedus, hiding in a cave and rocking BB to calm it down really does become something meaningful and touching in a way many other games struggle to capture.

The other aspect of meaning comes from the central plot. After an event called the 'Death Stranding' has taken place, this is a land covered with deadly creatures known as BTs. They thrive as a result of the rain they produce ('Timefall'), ageing and damaging anything it touches. Their main destructive power comes from the dead bodies they touch, decaying them and causing massive explosions known as 'voidouts'. This set up has led to the USA becoming a devastated land of nomadic cities, completely separate and cut off from one another. Thus, steps in Sam, who is tasked by the President to reunite the outposts and cities of the land and, along the way, also deliver the many, many, many parcels and materials asked for by individuals. As mentioned, the plot itself takes determined effort to get invested in. Some people will accept that, and some won't. Frankly, it is a plot that isn't trying to win the favour of the audience, and that's okay. Sometimes the best experiences are not necessarily the things that are easiest to understand; it takes effort to get full investment.

However, in many ways the core gameplay loop here really does bring gaming back to its core reason for existence: fun. Delivering items in Death Stranding is simply good fun. It is simple in many ways but mostly it is relaxing and challenging and strategic, all in different aspects. Firstly, items have different weight values and clearly Sam can only carry so much. It sets up an intriguing management task of balancing Sam's weight distribution evenly, while planning for the mission and judging that against the likely terrain.

Screenshot for Death Stranding on PC

This vision of the USA is unlike anyone has witnessed before. There are no lush forests and palm trees to be found here. The black rock and sheer cliff faces - carved by the many 'voidouts' - dominate. Forests are devoid of any life and evoke dread, and rivers are hazardous pitfalls from which to lose packages. It is a memorable and truly evocative sense of atmosphere that is created here. While it might seem mundane and some have complained about the monotonous nature of effectively being a delivery boy, there is something to be said for the sheer ecstasy and terror at being right at Sam's weight limit, his stamina depleting and BB crying, all the while trying to navigate down a rocky mountain path. What helps this greatly is the absolutely remarkable sense of weight, motion, and natural animation to Sam. It is not over-emphasising it to say that the strain on his limbs, his back, his shoulders, and his legs are felt in each step. The controls when using a mouse and keyboard are a little fiddly at first, it has to be said. However, rebinding helps a lot. Movement in-game, though, is incredibly fluid and realistic. The momentum of going downslope, the rush of being swept by the river, the strain at climbing up a rope while carrying 100kg of cargo - it is all delivered expertly.

While it may seem challenging to cope with all of these game systems piled on top of each other - the threat of BTs, the stamina of Sam, the comfort of BB, the environmental puzzles - one imaginative mechanic, and one that really emphasises the role of online connectivity, is the 'Chiral Network' - as well as acting in the plot as a way to connect cities. Through the online system, it also connects other real-world players in each other's game. Not in an obtuse way like, for example, Dark Souls, with players 'invading' one another. Rather, here people act as co-operative help: leaving ropes and ladders in tricky spots, putting a warning marker in an area of BT or MULE activity, and so on. It is a very imaginative way of making this desolate world feel a bit more connected. While this is indeed a desolate world, from a graphical point of view on PC, this is a world that has never looked so beautiful and stunning. In fact, it is no word of a lie to suggest there are times in which some scenes of the mountains - and the fashion in which the light hits the rocks - gives Death Stranding an almost photo-realistic quality. It is genuinely that good.

Screenshot for Death Stranding on PC

Despite the high-quality visuals, this is, thankfully, a port that runs hassle-free and is clearly well optimised. Nvidia DLSS2.0 technology helps deliver this, with the stunning visuals being delivered with a buttery-smooth framerate. As a fan of cinema, it is also clear Kojima has made a significant effort in order to make Death Stranding as cinematic as possible. That comes through the general visuals, but it is also apparent in the care taken with character interactions. The quality of motion capture with people like Lea Seydoux, Guillermo Del Toro, Lindsay Wagner - and a few other surprises - is top notch. With facial expressions that manage to convey emotion and also with dialogue and voice work that is of the highest quality, this really does double as an experience fit to tell a memorable story.

If there was one small aspect in which the filmic quality drops slightly, it is in the representation of the combat. Unlike the very well-crafted quests and side-quests, which feel like they can be enjoyed in all sorts of different ways, combat feels a little less developed. Indeed, it borrows very heavily from some other stealth games in terms of sneaking around the environment and knocking MULEs out but is done in a very basic way. It is serviceable and, thankfully, the moments of combat are relatively few and far between. Combat isn't the thing that drives Death Stranding forward, unlike the vast majority of games. Rather, it is the incredible moments of wandering across the vast open plains while hearing the discordant notes of the game's beautiful original soundtrack. This is the true vision of Death Stranding.

Screenshot for Death Stranding on PC

Cubed3 Rating

10/10
Rated 10 out of 10

Masterpiece - Platinum Award

Rated 10 out of 10

The atmosphere created here; a plot that pulls the player in with compellingly designed and voiced characters; an addictive and highly polished gameplay loop; and a fantastically realised visual world. These are some of the reasons why Death Stranding is such a joy to play. In many ways, this is more than a game. Gameplay here is built to service the atmosphere rather than the other way around and it makes sense that there are some who find this a step too far. It is also why the act of being a deliveryman and keeping BB safe is more of a focus than the passable combat or the, sometimes, fiddly controls. Running like a dream on PC and looking incredible, this was the way Hideo Kojima's vision was meant to be played.

Developer

Kojima Productions

Publisher

505 Games

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date 13.07.2020   North America release date 13.07.2020   Japan release date 13.07.2020   Australian release date 13.07.2020   

Comments

I've been hankering a replay of this - Lots of waffle, sure, but genuinely is deserving of masterpiece tier in my book.

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