Death Stranding: Director’s Cut – The Weird is Not Enough
Where do you even begin with a game, born from the mind of Hideo Kojima? During the process of reviewing this game, I started asking co-workers and friends if they knew who Kojima was. Even though all these people were avid gamers, I was shocked at how many gave me a blank look after mentioning his name. Like most of you, I was flabbergasted at the notion that anyone couldn’t possibly know of someone who has risen to such high celebrity status in the gaming world!
There is context to this story. Although I knew about Kojima and have played through some (not all) of the Metal Gear games, it only proved how much of a bubble I’ve been living in. I assumed that most people would not only know who he was but more importantly, what to expect from a game created under his name. Anyone who’s played through a Metal Gear game knows exactly what I’m talking about here, a phenomenon I like to call The Kojima Weird.
The Kojima Weird is where the dialogue, characters, story, setting, and general tone all seem off. You know what people are saying, you understand the situation, and what’s at stake but everything seems … off. It could be a character breaking down in tears at someone they barely knew suddenly dying and being completely grief-stricken or a protagonist who has an out of the blue monologue, delivered with the hopes and dreams that this will be their Oscar moment. The reality though is that it’s more akin to Tom Wiseau’s performance in The Room. You know he’s committed to every moment and believes in every moment, but everyone watching it isn’t buying it for a second, and yet, are completely captivated. So, for Death Stranding: Directors Cut, my mindset was to dive right in, embrace the weird, and hopefully enjoy the experience.
A quick recap for those who are unfamiliar with the game (originally released in 2019 on the PS4). The world’s living and dead are now existing on the same plane of existence. This is obviously a bad thing. America is divided with people are trying to survive by living in their own bunkers and safe houses. They all rely heavily on 3D printers to continue to be able to survive, but obviously, not everything can be printed. As a result, there’s a reliance on delivery men called Porters to get their essential items. Sam ‘Porter is literally my middle name’ Bridges is one such Porter, and he’s one of the best (a message you’ll hear over and over again as you get through the game). Through a series of events, involving the death of his mother, who is also the President of America, Sam is tasked to bring America together, by connecting everyone to the UCA network through the use of a device called a Q-pid.
There’s more to the story here, which I won’t spoil for you. There are twists, backstories, characters development and even a big bad nemesis Sam goes up against. This is all told through very lengthy cutscenes, but in order to get to these cutscenes, you’re going to have to load up those packages and start trekking! And boy are you going to trek. This is essentially where the core gameplay lays, it’s not as simple as walking from point A to point B though, the landscape is hellish to say the least and you’ll constantly be adjusting your balance, slowing down and taking some time to choose your path correctly.
Early on you’ll welcome this challenge as you figure out all the little nuances it takes to maximise your success. Like any good game, there are skills to learn and when you learn them, the dopamine receptors in your brain fire off all those gooey good feelings. But let me be honest here, it doesn’t last. Death Stranding is a very big game and before too long these dynamics outstay their welcome and they become quite monotonous. The further you get into the game, you’ll acquire exoskeletons, vehicles as well as levelling up your attributes. All these enhancements enable Sam to move faster, shift heavier loads and generally be better at doing his job. Admittedly, this is a slow grind but there is a feeling of progression there, it’s just that at the end of the day, you’re still just delivering things.
It would be overly cynical and a disservice to the game to portray that’s all there is to the gameplay. There are many other things you’ll be doing on these jobs. Building structures, avoiding BTs, and engaging with MULES are all part of the game and will pop up in various missions. The problem is that none of these really provide much of a challenge long term. Once you figure out how, avoiding BTs becomes quite easy (although starting out, they’re quite scary and challenging). MULES have a room temperature IQ for an AI and building structures is simply a case of grinding enough resources so you can build things. The relationship all these things have with each other is that they all exist to slow you down from getting your package delivered in a timely fashion.
I get it, it’s meant to feel difficult, it’s meant to feel like work, maybe with the notion of achieving something hard will grant you, the player, with that reward mechanism in your brain when you successfully overcome it. Once again, in the first bunch of hours, you’ll likely get this feeling, I sure did. But beyond that, it not only feels like a job, but it also feels like a job you have no real interest in, one that you wake up to with thoughts of oh no, not this crap again.
At the risk of looking too deep into things here, I feel that there’s another point to the game and its messaging reflects it. You see, players will passively interact with one another. Building structures, leaving packages, and dropping items can be picked up by other players. How this specifically works isn’t something I can answer, but you’ll see it all the time the more you play. In a weird way, it makes you feel less alone like there’s an actual point to collecting resources to build a road or a bridge because another player might end up using it. And you know they will because you’ll do the same with theirs. As the games messaging will constantly rack you over the head, you’re stronger together and you’re all building a better world out there. This is probably my most favourite aspect of the game, it’s just also potentially not at all the intention of the Developer and it’s merely my brain finding messages in my cereal again.
Naturally, there are many reading this who have already played this on the PS4 and they’re wondering if it’s worth another investment of your time and money. Directors Cut adds extra content in the form of extra missions, new songs, new items, graphical enhancements as well as the ability to now make Sam dance. It goes without saying, but if you completely exhausted the content the first time around and enjoyed the experience, you’ll likely be jumping into this version. And let’s be very honest, you probably already have.
So, where does this leave us? Death Stranding is such a mixed bag. I went into this eager to embrace the weird, and although those moments were had, I felt the experience was quite dull a lot of the time. There were moments of excitement, sadness and even hilarity! But its core elements felt tedious. The story and world were quite good and are easily its strongest elements, this includes the stylisation in its design that could only have come from a Kojima game. Sadly, this just feels overshadowed by the boring nature of being a slave who works for exposure points after Amazon has fully taken over the world but still need underpaid workers to deliver their goods.
Death Stranding: Director’s Cut was reviewed on the PS5 with code kindly supplied by Playstation Australia