Title: Death Stranding
Developer: Kojima Productions
Release Date: July 14, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: 505 Games
Genre: Action Adventure
Back in 2015, Hideo Kojima made a mark on the industry with his very public divorce from Konami and set up an independent studio with their first publishing partner Sony Interactive Entertainment, a company known for creating console-only titles. Now the studio is leaving another mark by using the Sony-owned Decima engine to port Death Stranding to PC.
The result of that history is seeing a high profile first-party title scaling well on a widely diverse platform, adopting many options to play the game beyond what Sony has intended on its home platform. It is possible to easily play Death Stranding with wider aspect ratios than a TV, customized keyboard layouts, and even an Xbox One controller. All these options not only make it a natural fit for PC but also a title every adventure lover should consider.
For those new to the game, Death Stranding is about a freelance delivery courier named Sam Porter Bridges with an enigmatic power to interact with dangerous creatures known as BTs, thanks to his abilities and a baby-like being with multi-dimensional senses called BB.
Shortly after a catastrophic event, it’s clear that the United Cities of America and the courier service needs Sam to connect the isolated towns and citizens to their network and use the resource to understand the BTs and the event known as the Death Stranding to survive.
This is done by Sam taking on orders made by those hiding from the dangers. Orders range from supplies and food to stranger requests like pizza and underwear, depending on the mission. There are also conditions of which players have to meet like item damage, deliver speed, or if Sam used items made by other players. After each delivery, the player is ranked on the delivery mission, and rewards like connection-level help Sam level up to better adapt to the rough terrain of post-apocalyptic America.
Along the way, Sam encounters the BTs monsters that he’ll have to avoid or risk causing a “void out,” an event in which his body creates a crater via a massive explosion. Sam also has to deal with the “Timefall” rain that rapidly moves the passage of time to anything it touches, causing his tools and packages to become useless.
The world of Death Stranding is one that will make first-time players scratch their heads, especially for those that find it hard to follow allegories and metaphors the way that director Hideo Kojima likes to use in his all his projects. While there are plenty of times that the dialogue is plagued by repeating lines or weak attempts at knocking on the fourth wall, the strange world Death Stranding is really what grabs your attention.
There are reasons behind the whys and the hows the world ended up like this, which is explained through cutscenes, radio calls, pop up item introductions, and a paragraph of text that periodically pops up as tips. This is the same for any new environmental change or new mechanic.
However, outside of the cutscene explanation, the pacing is continuously interrupted to remind players what they just heard. It’s as if the game doesn’t trust you to be able to follow information, so they need to deliver it multiple times. Thankfully, tips can be turned off for those who feel confident, but when they are on by default, they can appear in the middle of fights or a timed delivery. Given the frequency of them, they can be easily ignored and tough to revisit if a lost player can’t recall what the tip was in the first place.
I tend to enjoy when games encourage players to try new things on their own and be willing to experiment or make mistakes. Death Stranding could have easily featured this since it has a system for multi-use tools, weapons, and scenarios. Unfortunately, before players can select a tool, a bunch of tips on all its uses is already in your face.
When it came to running this PC port, Death Stranding has a bit of trouble running on some of my older and limited hardware. So, unfortunately, I couldn’t test new features like 240 fps, HDR, or widescreen support. That means if you don’t currently have powerful hardware in your system, it may fair better to have reasonably modern CPUs and GPUs.
That’s not to say that the game ran terribly, with my 6-year-old Intel i5, which barely meets the minimum requirements, I only saw some dropped frames and stalls at higher graphical settings and a lot of effects on screen. Additionally, Death Stranding as many quiet moments that ran great at 60 frames per second.
At that performance, Death Stranding is a marvel to look at. Smooth gameplay makes it easy to appreciate the many different animations that Sam Bridges has when sprinting, climbing, stumbling, fighting, and even showering. Out in the environment, Timefall rains shows rapidly aging flowers bloom and wilt away constantly around Sam, and the rain also quickly deteriorates the crates into rust. From far away, NPCs don’t succumb to resource-saving techniques like low framerate animations when stalking enemies called MULEs to find a route to sneak past them.
It’s great to see these details that make up a larger original world performing at smoother rates than the console version. But other than that, the PC port doesn’t have many of the graphical options that are present in other triple-A games.
This is probably due to the Decima engine that one of Sony’s first-party developers, Guerilla Studios made to create PS4 games before it was used to port over Death Stranding and the upcoming Horizon: Zero Dawn. Options like the point of view sliders or specific environmental details are not here. Instead, settings are minimized options like character model details, anti-aliasing, shadows, and depth of field.
Ports also tend to be an excellent time to tune the game to player feedback or fix some quality-of-life issues. And the biggest problem I had during my console playthrough was just how easily Sam stumbles in rocky terrain, and the lack of control players have during those falling animations.
Throughout the game, Sam has to travel through a field of rock piles that cause him to stumble and fall because of the many tripping hazards. Even when walking at the slowest speeds, Sam tends to rocket into a full-speed stumble that is hard to stop, even when correctly holding the commands to do so.
During a fall, turning and repositioning are impossible until the animation plays out, creating a frustrating lack of control. What’s worse is the moving Sam at the tail end of the animations just repeats the cycle and if you’re lucky, straight off a cliff. While that is the worst-case scenario for players, it’s possible especially given the lack of fine control with keyboard controls for walking; I would highly recommend a controller.
Now that I’m sharing my personal gripes and opinions, I should also mention that Death Stranding was released on PC during the time of a worldwide pandemic, where the objectives of the game match that of our reality. Norman Reedus’ character is going around, making contactless deliveries and installing fiber internet to connect self-isolating citizens in a dystopian United States.
While that has no bearing on the experience or performance, the added context may help story lovers be more in-tune with just how impactful the conditions of the fictional world are. Also, those sensitive to the burdens we all have to deal with, Death Stranding might be better in the backlog for now.
Death Stranding is a great first look into Sony’s willingness to be more platform-agnostic. It also proves that Kojima Productions doesn’t have to regulate themselves to specific needs or restrictions of a console.
While the developer didn’t entirely loosen its grips on its vision of Death Stranding, with the lack of standard PC settings, adapting to an open platform still couldn’t have been easy. Regardless, the end product is an uncompromised version of the highly anticipated original from 2019 and is the definitive way to play as Norman Reedus taking care of a baby.
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