Death Stranding was ahead of its time, though not in the way you’re probably thinking. Usually, that’s an expression reserved for innovation that feels light-years ahead of the competition. In the case of Hideo Kojima’s polarizing “strand” game, I mean that the project quite literally launched before technology could do it full justice.
Released in November 2019, the game was a late PlayStation 4 exclusive that pushed the hardware to the limits. While plenty of arguments can be made about how “fun” the game is, there’s no debate that it’s a technical marvel. But with the PS5 dropping almost exactly one year later, I was always left wondering how much it could have benefitted by pumping the brakes and waiting for a new console.
With Death Stranding: Director’s Cut, I don’t need to imagine. While the upgrade won’t sway any naysayers to its corner, the upgraded rerelease feels more at home on the PS5 than it did on last generation’s hardware. It’s a more immersive experience that benefits from DualSense integration and small, but important quality of life changes.
At first, I figured I’d just transfer my old PS4 save data over to my PS5 and pop in where I left off. After getting a little lost, I just decided to start the game from the top instead. The Director’s Cut is meant to smooth the opening of the game over for newcomers, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to start from scratch.
Right off the bat, the new version brings the kind of technical boosts we’ve come to expect from next-gen upgrades. Fans can enjoy the game in native 4K or scaled 4K at 60 frames per second. It features faster load times, too, which is a godsend considering that this is a game that triggers three separate cutscenes anytime Sam enters a shower.
Those changes aren’t what makes the Director’s Cut stand out, though. Instead, it’s the finer details of the PS5 hardware. The first time I used the DualSense controller, I remember wishing Sony would bring Death Stranding to PS5 to take advantage of that. That’s exactly what happens here, and it enhances the experience. When Sam plods around with a tower of cargo on his back, I can feel the weight of each footstep on each side of my controller. That helps me better determine when I’m teetering too far to one side, adding to the game’s already intriguing hiking mechanics.
Adaptive triggers also do wonders to make the experience immersive. Used to rebalance Sam, the extra tension when pressing one down really sells the sense of weight. It actually feels a little strenuous when Sam tries to swing hundreds of pounds of boxes upright. These are subtle sensations, but ones that better break down the barrier between the player and controller.
Sound has also gotten a nice boost thanks to 3D audio, which adds further depth. I found myself most interested in the DualSense’s speaker, though, which Kojima has a field day with. Most notably, BB’s cries pierce out of the little speaker. I hold my controller down by my waist when playing, right about where Sam attaches BB to his suit, so the experience becomes even more anxiety-inducing.
Playing the new version, I’m actually shocked that Death Stranding wasn’t designed for the PS5 to begin with. Every little DualSense feature feels right at home in the game, as if it was meant for it all along. While they don’t change the polarizing gameplay, they do sell it a little better and make the experience feel more complete. It’s not a reason to dive back in if you didn’t like it originally, but it’s a good reason to take a chance on it if you’ve been on the fence about trying it for the past two years.
Death Stranding: Director’s Cut brings a bit of extra content, though most of it comes in the form of stealthy quality of life improvements. For example, Sam gets a new “Support Skeleton” in Chapter 2, which allows him to carry heavier cargo loads and run faster early in the game. Previously, players waited much longer to finally get access to skeletons, making the first few chapters particularly grueling at times.
Similarly, Sam gets the Maser in that chapter. The new tool is an electricity gun that can take out enemy MULEs in a quick blast. Gunplay is introduced much deeper in the original version, so the Maser makes initial MULE fights more manageable. When Sam gets the tool, he also unlocks a firing range where he can test the game’s weapons. Players who are already familiar with the game won’t have much use for it (except to try some ranked missions), but it’s an important addition for easing newcomers into a mechanic that wasn’t gracefully introduced originally.
There’s some more significant content here, though nothing that fundamentally changes the experience. There’s a new story arc set in a MULE-filled factory, which is seamlessly woven into the main game (a similar tactic was used in this year’s Nier remake). There’s a racetrack now, which, sure, why not? Nothing here is going to change any minds, but the experience has just a bit more variety now.
In my mind, this is the version of Death Stranding that we should have seen initially. Its infamously dry opening acts are just a bit easier to swallow, and the PS5-specific features feel like they should have been there from day one. It’s a definitive edition in that it’s a more fully realized version of gaming’s toughest sell. Death Stranding always felt lost on the PS4; now it’s right where it belongs.
Death Stranding: Director’s Cut is available on September 24 for PS5.