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Death Stranding Returns in Flashy Director’s Cut

Of course, it makes sense that one of the most cinematic games of all time would get a “director’s cut,” but designer Hideo Kojima has asserted that the new edition of “Death Stranding” that came out last month on PS5 should not be considered the way one would look at reconfigured versions of a film like “Blade Runner” or “Alien,” for example. He tweeted, “A directors cut in a movie is an additional edit to a shortened version that was either released reluctantly because the director did not have the right to edit it, or because the running time had to be shortened. In the game, it is not what was cut, but what was additionally produced that was included. Delector’s [sic] Plus? So, in my opinion, I don’t like to call ‘director’s cut’.”

Kojima is one of the most prominent auteurs in the world of video games, making unapologetically unique and surreal experiences that are heavily inspired by cinema. (His Twitter bio reads, “70% of my body is made of movies.”) “Death Stranding,” released in November 2019, has undeniable echoes of everything from David Lynch to Andrei Tarkovsky, and unfolds with a cast that’s more like a motion-capture feature film. Unlike a lot of designers, Kojima does little to hide his star power. That’s undeniably Norman Reedus of “The Walking Dead” in the lead role, and you really can’t miss Margaret Qualley, Lea Seydoux, Mads Mikkelsen, Guillermo del Toro, and even Conan O’Brien and Edgar Wright.

Reedus plays Sam Bridges, who lives in a future world that has been basically destroyed by an apocalyptic event that opened a portal between life and death. Creatures known as BTs (“Beached Things”) have made most of the planet uninhabitable, which naturally makes delivery of goods a more precious and dangerous thing. (The game does feel a little different now post-COVID as we learned more about pipelines and delivery systems in 2020 than Kojima could have ever predicted.) Sam is a porter, someone who delivers packages across rocky terrain, avoiding the BTs, bands of marauders, and just falling into a river.

“Death Stranding” is designed to recalibrate players to a more surreal, serene experience. It’s a delivery simulator, wherein you have to balance cargo and use tools like ladders and grappling hooks to get from point A to point B. As dreamy songs by artists like Chvrches and Low Roar play on the soundtrack (named with on-screen credits like a music video), Sam does his best to basically reconnect the world. So many things play differently now than they did in 2019, but here’s something I wrote about the original version then: “Kojima’s made a game that feels like it’s about isolation at first but it’s really about how games and social networks unite us more than they divide us. Each chapter feels like it connects you to more players, so as the story's world opens so does the inter-connectivity of the experience.” How games like “Animal Crossing” connected people in 2020 became a major story of our pandemic, and it adds a layer to “Death Stranding” that’s even more palpable than in the PS4 edition.

The main difference with the PS5 “Delector’s Plus” version of the game is the technical upgrade that comes from generation to generation. “Death Stranding” looked stunning on the PS4 but it’s an even more refined presentation on the PS5. This is a game in which setting is essential, and the PS5 version allows gamers to be entranced by the landscape by defining its babbling brooks and grassy knolls. The lighting and shadows feel more refined. You need to really get lost in a game like this, and the enhanced video and 3D audio of the PS5 upgrade make that significantly easier to do.

The game relies heavily on trigger buttons to maintain balance with your cargo, so it’s practically designed for the adaptive triggers of the PS5. Unlike old systems, the triggers on the new Dual Sense controller can adjust based on the scenario, which means it’s literally harder to hold onto Sam’s cargo, which amplifies the experience. The controller here becomes an even richer part of the experience, vibrating with the ground in a way that makes it feel like you’re really in Sam’s shoes.

As for new content, it’s not as major as some upgrades—like a new island on the latest “Ghost of Tsushima”—but it does feel designed to woo players who may have been on the fence about a game that’s largely about walking over rocks. There’s a cargo catapult that allows for a different strategy for long trips and Kojima and his team have even added a racetrack and firing range. However, the core of the game feels largely unchanged, which is just the way Hideo Kojima wants it.

Sony provided a review copy of this game.

 

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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