Death Stranding PC Review – Uniting the World, One Strand at the Time
Death StrandingJuly 14th, 2020
What Death Stranding truly is, it is hard to say. Is it just a cataclysm that changed the world? Is it just a video game that took the industry by storm, featuring unusual mechanics that are deeply tied to the game's world and its lore? Is it a warning for a bleak future? Is it an experience that is unlike any other in entertainment as a whole? It's all this. And much more.
Eight months after its PlayStation 4 debut, Death Stranding finally launches on PC, complete with new graphics options and minor additional content inspired by the Half-Life series that, while welcome, does not fundamentally change the way the game plays. If you have played the game on PlayStation 4 and did not like its unique experience, you won't like it any better on PC, even though the additional graphics options do make the experience better than it ever was on console.
Death Stranding's main appeal is his complex, deep, and thought-provoking story. Years before the beginning of the game, a terrible cataclysm called the Death Stranding changed the face of the world forever. Cities all over were destroyed, countless people died and those who survived had to deal with the consequences of the apocalypse. Most of all, the survivors became isolated, and communities were essentially closed to the outside world due to the dangers that now plague the world, like Timefall, a rain that essentially moves time forward for both organic and inorganic matter, and the mysterious BTs, who are linked to the other world in ways that man still has to understand. The only ones who make life possible in such a world, braving these dangers, are porters. And one of these porters has the chance to set things right and bring forth a tomorrow worth living in. This porter is Sam Porter Bridges.
Right from the very beginning, the Death Stranding story is incredibly gripping. In true Hideo Kojima fashion, it is a complex and sometimes hard to follow story that hits hard a lot of times and pays off beautifully, despite uneven pacing that does leave things hanging for a bit too long before resolving them. While themes like isolation, the nature of human interaction and the need to reconnect people are always were as relevant in November as they are today, they resonate much better now with the current state of the world, as many of the issues we are dealing with are the same the people of the United Cities of America are, making the story, possibly, even more engaging. Hideo Kojima has always been a keen observer of society, predicting the future several times in the past, but, with Death Stranding, he hits home incredibly hard.
The engrossing story is made even better by the way it is sold. Being a Hideo Kojima game, no one will be surprised to see 20 minute long cutscenes, but the superb directing and the excellent acting make them a joy to experience. Norman Reedus' performance as Sam Porter Bridges stands out as extremely solid, but there are a lot of standout performances, Lea Sidoux's performance as Fragile, Mads Mikkelsen's as Cliff and Troy Baker's as Higgs. The cast has simply done marvelous work that deserves to be celebrated as among the best ever seen in video games.
The amazing story of Death Stranding leads to gameplay that is unlike anything we have seen so far. Its uniqueness also made it extremely polarizing, as Sam's journey to make America whole again is not a journey for everyone: you'll either love it or hate it.
Being a member of Bridges, one of the few delivery companies still active in the game's dystopian world, Sam will have to journey through America from the East to the West Coast to deliver goods that cannot be created using extremely advanced 3D printers like food and other supplies as well as items from the pre-Death Stranding world like CDs, books and movies, items that are extremely important to reconnect humanity to its past and recreate a lost sense of identity. The post-apocalyptic United States are represented with a massive open-world that resembles Iceland more than the actual North American continent: it is a wild land that is very difficult to traverse.
At the very beginning of the game, Sam Bridges doesn't have a whole lot of tools at his disposal: he can carry cargo on his back, he can analyze the terrain with his scanner and he can use the Cuff Links to check out the map to plan the route, rearrange the cargo on his back and check emails that often provide additional info on the story and characters. The first three episodes feel like a massive tutorial, as most of the mechanics and tools are introduced progressively in these episodes so as to not overwhelm players. This, unfortunately, results in extremely slow-pacing that will make more than a few players give up on the game, as all you will be doing for the first 10 hours or so is literally walk from one settlement to the next to complete some very simple deliveries whose only difficulty is making sure Sam doesn't lose balance and damage the cargo. There is a ranking system that evaluates performance, providing some incentives in the form of experience that can improve Sam's abilities, but it's nothing particularly exciting. Those who persevere regardless, however, will find that Death Stranding isn't just a walking simulator.
While the basic experience, in all honesty, doesn't change a whole lot during the course of the 40 hours required to see the ending, despite the progressive introduction of vehicles and roads, it is made much more engaging over time by a couple of very interesting mechanics that will surely make an impact on open-world games moving forward. Chief among them are the social gameplay mechanics, which elevate the whole experience to incredible heights.
Once the first few deliveries have been completed, Sam will be able to craft PCC, Portable Chiral Constructors, which allow him to build structures outside of settlements and cities. These structures allow players not only to access a variety of services like storing cargo, recharging batteries for vehicles and Leg Skeletons, and so on, but also to make traveling easier, creating bridges and so on. Better yet, these structures will also appear in other players' games so that they can use them freely, even if they did not build them directly. Players automatically leave a like to the builder when they use any of these facilities or if they climb a ladder or use a climbing anchor left by another, but they can also choose to give multiple ones manually as a sign of appreciation. These likes aren't just for show, as they count towards Bridge Link progress that, once leveled up, improved certain abilities. The best thing about this system is how deeply tied to the game's world and lore: it's no gimmick at all. And it makes traversing this desolate landscape feel less like a chore, as receiving unexpected appreciation from other players gives you a boost that goes beyond simple abilities improvement.
While Death Stranding mostly involves a lot of solitary walking, there are some gameplay mechanics that require a more hands-on approach. Combat is not the main focus here, and it is not all that well-developed as well: it is the last measure if every other option proved to be ineffective. MULEs, rogue porters who let all the delivering get to themselves, have set up camps all over the map, and getting near them will trigger a scan that will tag your cargo and let them know where you are. At this point, you can either make a quick escape or fight them head-on. Combat is very straightforward, with a decent selection of lethal and non-lethal weapons ranged weapons that can take down MULEs easily. As they always come in droves, however, it is always better to pick them off one by one, if you really need to fight them.
Stealth is always the better option if you really want to pillage the MULE camps for materials and other items. At the same time, these rogue porters are extremely smart, and can see you coming from a long way, especially if you are carrying a lot of cargo on your back. Stealth options have a lot of Metal Gear Solid V in them, feeling like an evolution of the systems seen in the last entry of the Konami series, so if you enjoyed that game, chances are you are ready to sneak into MULE camps unnoticed.
Stealth is also extremely important when dealing with BTs, the otherworldly presences that roam North America and made it almost impossible to travel. These creatures, which are always preceded by a Timefall pour, cannot be fought head-on: if they catch Sam, they will try to bring him to the Beach, another mysterious place that has appeared before humanity following the Death Stranding. Being a Repatriate, Sam cannot die, but you will lose cargo and will have to start your current quests all over again. Thankfully, it is not to difficult to slip past them unnoticed, thanks to the help of BB, a baby placed inside a pod that allows Sam's Odradek Scanner to pinpoint the general location of BTs. After a certain point in the story, you will be able to fight and kill BTs if you so desire, but the noise you make while shooting them down or using grenades can alert others nearby, so it's not recommended unless absolutely necessary. Non-violence is a recurring theme in Death Stranding, and the fact that it is clearly reflected on the gameplay is a testament to the game's great attention to detail. There really is no disconnect between story and gameplay.
While there are a lot of different options for stealth, combat, and deliveries, it is undeniable that Death Stranding becomes repetitive after a while. Most deliveries can be completed without encountering any enemy, and the only difficulty lies in navigating harsh terrain or finding the shortest route. As such, there are times when the game feels like a real chore to play and only the story manages to drive players forward. Thankfully, there is plenty of that, as even most side-deliveries aren't just here to inflate the already large playtime but to help develop a plethora of side characters that provide more details on life after the Death Stranding and their own personal struggles in the game's cruel and hard world.
Powered by the Decima Engine, Death Stranding already looked great on PlayStation 4, but it will never compare to how good the game can look on PC. For starters, Death Stranding is extremely undemanding, for today's AAA standards, and it manages to scale well on a lot of different system configurations. On the machine used for the test, which features an i7-3770 CPU, GTX 980 Ti GPU, and 16 GB RAM, the game run effortlessly at 1440p, 60 FPS with high settings enabled. Increasing the resolution to 4K obviously tanked performance, but it was definitely playable at 30 FPS. The owners of the NVIDIA RTX GPU family can also take advantage of DLSS 2.0 support, which makes the game look even better. No matter what your system configuration is, you will be able to play Death Stranding with an acceptable quality and performance level.
Extreme care has been placed in sound and music as well. Death Stranding features amazing voice acting, and it couldn't have been any other way with Hollywood-grade actors and wise placement of music. While most of the moment-to-moment gameplay features no music, licensed tracks for a variety of artists are used to highlight specific sequences, such as when close to reaching a new city, giving off an extremely nice cinematic feel even outside of cutscenes.
Death Stranding on PC is as polarizing as it is on PlayStation 4, being pretty much the same game. Nonetheless, it is Hideo Kojima at his very best, an extremely coherent artistic vision that is definitely not everyone's cup of tea. The best way to enjoy Death Stranding is to approach it with a very open mind and treat it for what it is: a journey into the deepest reaches of the human mind that is not always going to be pleasant.
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With production values that are through the roof and an extremely engaging story, Death Stranding is among Hideo Kojima's best games. The moment-to-moment gameplay, however, falls short due to its repetitiveness, and the long stretches without any real action make it difficult to recommend the game to all open-world fans. Death Stranding is something different, and only approaching it with an open mind will reveal the brilliance of its themes, its characters and its hauntingly beautiful dystopian world.
- High production values
- Great world-building and excellent story
- Amazingly oppressive atmosphere
- Innovative social multiplayer mechanics
- Good selection of combat and stealth options...
- ... which are sadly underused.
- Moment-to-moment gameplay can feel a like a chore
- The story can get convoluted and hard to follow from time to time