Civilisation has been ground down to a group of survivors by a series of mass extinction events, but what remains after the dust settles is far worse.
It’s been a while since Kojima Productions published their big-hitter Death Stranding, almost two years in fact, and next week on the 24th of September comes a generation-nine altered PS5 Director’s Cut, running at an upscaled 4K at 60FPS. Designed on the same software as Horizon Zero Dawn and Forbidden West, the Decima engine, Death Stranding is a marvellously enigmatic open-world action RPG title, finding itself in a post-apocalyptic United States. A land ravaged by a series of mass extinction events referred to as the ‘Death Stranding’, in both cause and wake of the catastrophe roams a supernatural entity roams ominously named the Beached Things, an invisible but deadly shadow creature of sorts that feeds on the Human deceased and makes things a whole bunch worse for any survivors. All that remains is a few cities left lonely and isolated, scattered around what is left of the continent.
'A land ravaged by a series of mass extinction events referred to as the ‘Death Stranding’, in both cause and wake of the catastrophe roams a supernatural entity roams ominously named the Beached Things.'
What is the game's context?
So, how do the Beached Things, shortened for the ease of the survivors to BTs, come about? It is said that we all have a beach lying in the purgatory between life and death, and on said beach is the sheltered BTs, hiding from our conscience and perception, floating – waiting patiently for their time to strike. Each and every one of us has a beach, being often far darker than they are paradisiacal: black sand, barren of life, calm shores but grey, murky and desolate waters, they wreak of death – not exactly a holiday. It is only upon mortal death do the BT’s get to travel to the real world, eating through the conscience via necrosis and escaping to wreak havoc on the survivors; wherever the BTs are, death and decay follows. Hence, bodies, even that of our enemies, need to be properly disposed of. It is almost like a zombie apocalypse, but you can’t see them – an invisi-zombie apocalypse, perhaps? Please lord, never tempt me to pursue a career in game development.
What is the world environment like?
What is left of the world we once knew in Death Stranding is dark and dingy, perpetually clouded by viscous fog – it looks at times like a completely different planet, perhaps Martian. Remnants of a once thriving civilisation are strewn across the landscape, epitomising the panic of the planet’s swift downfall. Hiding somewhere in the wreckage was surviving technology, cultivated by survivors so it could serve them; isolated pockets of Humans remain in large, cyberpunk-feel cities called Knots. A vast dichotomy between the outside world and the knot cities remains; the spectacular wasteland over the hill is a no man’s land, an ironically picturesque landscape considering the world has gone to hell – Mother Nature has taken back what was hers, but she is still burdened by the BTs as we are.
Where do we come in?
Keeping the cities somewhat connected is a group of porters, ferrying supplies between surviving populations to keep them in a united front, to keep them alive. This is where our job as the stalwart Sam Bridges comes in, played by Norman Reedus, as he traverses the no man’s land, steadfast in defending cargo shipments against the BTs as well as terrorist groups like the MULEs and the Homo Demens who seek to destroy any notion of a civilisation under one government, preferring independence instead. Although the transporting of goods is Sam’s job, it is not his mission; I don’t want to reveal any important plot events here, but Sam is tasked with looking after a child-of-sorts called Lou who is wanted by various people, but of course Sam won’t let that happen if he can help it. To protect Lou and himself, Bridges is endowed with an arsenal of futuristic weaponry; guns, melee and explosives, creating a diverse and entertaining combat scenario with plenty of firepower – boy will you need that when you encounter the BT bosses.
How is Death Stranding any different from, say, Fallout?
Myriad aspects of Death Stranding separate it from games in the same genre; sure, it has the sanguine feel of Fallout 4’s nuclear fallout zone, the character development of any triple-AAA title, but what games have such an intricate plotline, or more to the point, what games have a cast of distinguished actors like Mads Mikkelsen, Margaret Qualley, Norman Reedus, Lea Seydoux, playing each character? Entangled in the plot is not only the actor’s voice, but their appearance too – the only thing they don’t maintain is their real names. I’ve seldom heard better quality voice acting in a video game, it is yet another factor contributing to the immersive potential of the Death Stranding. You can infer a lot about a game from its trailer – that is their function after all, right? Well, I remember re-watching each Death Stranding teasers and reveals several times, just astonished at both the quality of concept and visuals that this game adopts. Fortunately, the supreme calibre of the game’s pre-release trickled straight into gameplay that I still believe to be one of the finest examples of a title not of its genre, but ever. I am a sucker for open-world RPG’s and dystopian future settings, though – so Death Stranding was basically a match made in heaven for me. More, the soundtrack to this game, although not entirely an OST, is so niche – it is perfect, bringing the game even closer to enlightenment. The nostalgic recollection of some games can be accessed through its soundtrack, I have certainly found this to be the case with Death Stranding.
'The supreme calibre of the game’s pre-release trickled straight into gameplay that I still believe to be one of the finest examples of a title not of its genre, but ever.'
What is the Director’s Cut all about?
It would be a shame to abandon a game of this ilk to an older console, limited by the technology it was once released on back in the November of 2019, in the days of old before the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S. It’s a good thing Kojima Productions think this way as they prepare to publish the game’s directors cut to the PS5 on the 24th of September. So, what’s new this time around? First off, the graphics have been given the 2021-treatment, and various elements of gameplay have been enhanced or introduced: we can now land safely with evolved stabilisers, allowing Sam to launch himself off canyon edges safely. Better still, we can cut off a good portion of our between-cities journeys using the Cargo Catapult, launching supply crates as we would a mortar strike closer to our desired destination. Alongside making life easier, Death Stranding’s Director’s Cut brings new weapons, new missions, new music and the chance to re-visit bosses for some intense skirmishes, earning scores that are subsequently shared in an online ranking system. More, Sam has been given various ramps across the map to make the most of as he speeds through the landscape – if you have to deliver cargo, you might as well have fun while doing so, gaining airtime and doing some sick stunts while doing so – why not? Sick of carrying supplies? Stick them on Buddy Bot, who now has improved carrying capacity, and head over to the racetrack included in the Director’s Cut – in an apocalypse, sometimes we just need to blow off a bit of steam and burn some rubber.
'Better still, we can cut off a good portion of our between-cities journeys using the Cargo Catapult, launching supply crates as we would a mortar strike closer to our desired destination.'
I remember watching the Death Stranding trailers and feeling as if it was being explained in a foreign language. I won’t lie, it is quite hard to wrap your head around the game, but perhaps it’s not meant to be completely understood? Is there any way to fully grasp an apocalypse, a disaster of this scale? Either way, you don’t need to entirely comprehend the game to revel in it, this is part of the mastery underpinning Death Stranding. I hope I have not inadvertently given away any spoilers here, but all I can say is that it is very strange that the inception of the COVID pandemic occurred a mere month or so after the game’s release. Spooky. Death Stranding Director's Cut is one of the most impressive titles to date, and the PS5 cut is only set to make that clearer – Death Stranding is a real treasure trove for those looking for sombre but stirring open-world titles to wallow in over the Autumn period.
Images sourced from PlayStation