GSY REVIEW | PC, PS4 Tuesday, July 14, 2020 | 4:01 PM

We reviewed Death Stranding on PC

We reviewed Death Stranding on PC

Eight months and a pandemic after a PS4 release, Death Stranding has now been delivered on PC, which opens up a whole new market for Kojima Production. NVIDIA decided to add the game as a bundle for future RTX GPU owners to promote DLSS 2.0, which does an impressive job we must say. To celebrate the arrival of the game on PC, we have prepared a series of HDR videos and a written review for those of you who are curious to know what the port is worth. Enjoy!
Note: As usual, we used an i9 9900K and an RTX 2080 Ti to record our footage.

Harry Porter

The world of Death Stranding is without a doubt its main strength. Right from the start, it sucks us in and makes us want to understand it. It won't be a surprise to those who know Kojima a little, you will need a bit of time to apprehend it, to master its particular vernacular, but that's what makes it so exciting, it feels fresh, it's a nice departure from all those very similar titles we're so used to, whether in terms of game world or even game design. In Death Stranding you play the role of Sam Porter Bridges, a solitary man who owes his names to his function in the world and to the company he represents. Sam's job is to deliver goods to the isolated survivors of the Death Stranding, a disaster which saw the arrival of BTs (Beached Things), spectral figures of the dead who haunt specific places where it rains. Many things have changed in the world of Death Stranding, like the rain itself, which is now just as dangerous for people as it is for the things they have built and the packages Sam carries on his back. It's not even called rain actually, it now goes by the name of Timefall, as it now modifies the passing of time, causing people to grow older very rapidly and things to deteriorate until they are ruined. Despite all that, there is still a government in what is left of the US, now referred to as the UCA, the United Cities of America. Sadly, the president is very sick, she has terminal cancer and it endangers her life's goal, to make America whole again, to connect all the survivors to the chiral network so they can be united again. Wishful thinking some might say, but still, that's where Sam is going to come into play. Bringing in a lonesome man who has purposely put himself aside to bring people together, now that's pretty ironic, but his ties to the president and her daughter Amelie will eventually convince him to accept this last chance mission.

We're not going to say more, as we think Death Stranding is better appreciated when not knowing much about its main plot, but we're at least going to tell you a bit more about how the story is told. If you know Kojima's most famous saga (namely Metal Gear), you're already aware of the man's love for the movies, which explains why his previous games were so keen on featuring long cutscenes or dialogues. When Death Stranding begins, it leaves that same sort of impression that we are going to watch tons of cinematics and listen to a good share of conversations between the different characters, but once the prologue is completed, gameplay slowly replaces long narrative sequences. Apart from key moments in the story, where there are obviously very classy (but never over the top) cutscenes, most of the narration will take place during short mission briefings or sometimes Codec conversations which are never neither as long or as interactive as those of Metal Gear. What it means is that you won't be able to call someone, you won't have to check the back cover of the game's box to find a code, you will simply be called once in a great while and it will never last long. During the last part of the game though, long cutscenes are back, to the point the game will make you think it is just about to end. Playable sequences will continue to follow though, regularly interrupted by new narrative passages in what is undoubtedly one of the longest ending ever presented in a video game. Cutscenes are a real treat in the game, they look incredible and they all have that sense of artistic staging that makes them feel like they could belong to a real movie. Although the story isn't as difficult to follow as what Kojima did in the Metal Gear series, it is always very engaging, there are twists and turns, some expected, some not, and it's impossible not to want to keep playing to find out what is going to happen.

Bridges Jones

In a way, Sam is part Indiana part Bridget, he's the new kind of adventurer who's not after lost idols and who becomes people's savior, their very own idol so to speak, but he's also dependent on a child. Sam is a porter, a delivery guy if you will, so you're going to do a lot of walking in the game, and a bit of driving too. There is no secret gameplay agenda hidden by Kojima during the several presentations which occurred in the previous months, no Raiden trick up his sleeve. The whole gameplay relies on the notion of effort, on the idea that you must find the best route to reach your destination without ruining the goods you are carrying. It's clearly not going to be to everyone's liking, but it worked perfectly well with us, we can even go as far as to say we've been hooked. Hiking in the wild, discovering new places by pushing westward, facing the dangers of this unknown worlds while having to be cautious when crossing a river or walking down a slope, all this feels so fresh we couldn't get enough of it. How it works is pretty simple, when you accept an assignment, you get to place the merchandise the way you want on your back, so you can keep your balance and you don't damage some of the things you must deliver (some goods have to be carried horizontally for example). If you don't want to lose time and you don't want to play Tetris with your packages, the triangle button will sort things out for you in a single second. Other than your deliveries, you have to carry your own equipment and everything has a weight which will affect your balance and mobility. Your gear must be crafted first, so the distribution center where you are must have the necessary resources, but if you recycle your used equipment regularly, it will never be much of a problem. What makes the long walks exciting is that you must be careful, not just because of the possible threats you might encounter, but because the path to a good delivery is not always an easy one. Hence the importance of ladders, climbing ropes or even bridges, which are some of the things you can place or build in the world to help you progress more safely. Stamina is also important as Sam will get more and more tired, but thankfully, it never becomes bothersome, quite the contrary. Endurance can either be recovered by drinking Monster (we could have done without the product placement though), by resting in the wild or in one of his private rooms.

As we evoked earlier, Sam does not work alone, he has quite an original sidekick in the form of what people call a Bridge Baby, or BB. To make things clear, Bridge Babies are not normal children, they are not meant to live outside the box, their purpose is to serve those who venture outside, to allow them to spot the BTs. That's why Sam depends so much on the baby he's connected to, only he can offer assistance when their path crosses those of the threatening creatures. When you arrive in an area infested with BTs, the camera zooms in on Sam's Odradek (a reference to Kafka's The Cares of a Family Man), which serves as a sort of scanner, but the BB also starts to cry through the gamepad's speaker (you can set it to your TV speakers if you prefer). This and what you get to learn in the story will tighten the link between you and the BB, even though it keeps being presented as a mere tool you eventually people get rid of once they receive its decommission order. This link is strengthened by the fact that BB also needs you, to calm him down when he's agitated (you can rock him gently in first person view) so he can still do his part. There's a BB gauge to watch when he's under a lot of stress (which mainly happens when you're confronted with enemies for a certain period of time or when you fall down or get hit), if you let it empty itself, you will have to do without the little guy until it can be connected to his mother in the private rooms Sam can have access to in the distribution centers. Exploring without your BB becomes more dangerous, so it's always in your best interest to take care of him and to improve your connection with him. Running down slopes will make him laugh, provided you don't stumble, as will pulling faces in front of the mirror. Something else makes BB interesting and endearing, the different flashbacks which trigger every time Sam connects to the BB pod: because they're always very short, they are quite intriguing to say the least and it makes us want to put the pieces back together.

Charge Bronson

Finding the best route by either using the map or improvising a detour when facing an obstacle is not the only thing you're going to do in Death Stranding, you'll also be watching your steps for other reasons than terrain. Sam may not be a soldier, but he will still face some enemies in the course of his adventure. Crossing a (very) condensed version of America is not without a bunch of hostile encounters, starting with the main stars of the show, the BTs. Like we said before, they are invisible beings to the naked eye because they are entities floating in between the world of the living and the world of the dead. They seem to be willing to draw those they find to feed them to a much more savage beast, which can take several forms. Another important detail about the game's lore is that BTs are attracted to the dead when the bodies of the deceased start their necrosis and when it happens, it can cause a voidout, a huge explosion which destroys everything in a pretty big perimeter. At the beginning, Sam does not have anything he can use against them, so he must keep a low profile and hold his breath when he gets close to a BT, which drains his endurance bar very rapidly to add to the tension. After a few hours, he will be able to use specific kinds of grenades against them, but they will be more that we won't reveal here not to spoil anything. Even when armed against them, it's hard not to feel uneasy when trying to cross an area infested with BTs. When you get spotted and they try to grab Sam, things get trickier because of the tar which starts to cover the ground, making it much harder for Sam to walk, let alone run. The bigger entities you can be taken to cannot be defeated at first, but once you'll have the proper weapons to deal with them, they shouldn't be too much of a trouble, especially if you play in normal mode (something we advise against if you want a bit of challenge). There are also bosses in Death Stranding, after all it is a game by Hideo Kojima, and all of them are connected to the BTs. They are obviously all different (they come in all shapes and sizes) but one of them is recurring and will be featured in sorts of weird out of time nightmares in which Kojima takes an interesting visual approach and can broach the subject of the war and the trauma it causes.

BTs are not the only threat Sam will have to face. Being a post-apocalyptic game, it's not a surprise to see that some humans have turned against their fellow comrades for one reason or the other. MULEs are ex-porters gone wrong, they now look for merchandise to collect and they will definitely come for you if you're carrying cargo and their Odradeks locate your position. Thankfully, there are a lot of rocks everywhere, behind which you can hide, and you can also remain hidden in tall grass provided your cargo doesn't show too much. Facing human enemies implies you cannot kill them, unless you want to risk a voidout, so you will need non-lethal weapons to get rid of them. Lurking behind them is also an option as you can use a strand to tie them up, though Death Stranding does not rely heavily on stealth. It's possible to sneak into a camp to retrieve some stolen good and to leave unnoticed, but even when the alarm is raised you can manage by running/driving away (they usually have a truck just waiting for you), just be careful as they throw electric spears which can immobilize vehicles for a while. Also, something that happened to us once, don't get into a fight when close to a river as your cargo may fall in the water and the current can force you to run after it while being chased by MULEs. Other than MULEs, you will encounter terrorists, who work much in the same way except they don't really care what you're carrying and they want you dead. Using your Odradek to reveal their position or even watch towers (you can build them yourself or use those of the community) is a good way to stay out of trouble, but watch out for the enemies' own scans of the surroundings (at least until you unlock something to counter them). When engaged in a fight, Sam will need blood pouches (which he obviously has to carry) so he can transfuse himself or he can eat cryptobiotes (big wormy-like creatures which can be found in the game world) to regain health.

I am Sam

Death may be everywhere in Death Stranding, but Sam cannot die, he's a repatriate, which means he'll always be able to come back to life. The way it works is pretty simple, when you die, you find yourself underwater in first person view and you must find your way back to Sam's body. Before you do that though, you can look for the bodies of other players you can connect with. By doing so, you raise your affinity between you and that player, which can grant you some of his equipment when you reintegrate Sam's body. Something some might not be aware of if they have not followed the communication around the game lately is that Death Stranding features a community aspect which is very well integrated into the game's main plot. Remember what we said in the beginning, Sam's goal is to connect people together so America can be rebuilt. By becoming a hero for the population, Sam shows them the way and little by little other AI porters start to deliver cargo again for the greater good. When you start a game, you don't realize it until the prolog is over, but you are going to be able to interact with the other players. For you they will be other porters you'll only know by their PSN ID and so will you be for them. In Death Stranding, you won't be able to play co-op and to join a friend's game to give him/her some support, that's not how it works. What you'll share with the rest of the community will be everything you build or everything you leave behind. Say you're overloaded and Sam's physical state doesn't allow him to continue, you'll sometimes have to drop unnecessary cargo in the wild, which can later be picked up by someone else if you walk a certain distance. You can also leave equipment you don't need in shared lockers built by the community (if you can't build one yourself), you can deliver something for another player, even at his/her request, if he/she needs something.

What you will make the best use of though will be the different structures you can build to help you progress in the world. Bridges are one example, to build them, you need resources once you've set their foundations, which can be provided by other players if you don't have them with you. There is something very odd when launching the game the next day to see that they are bridges where there were none before, it really makes you feel like you're part of a community of people trying to help each other. Some might think it's a bit too easy because you can actually rely on others to do the "dirty" work, but it makes total sense in Death Stranding. You can use someone else's ladder or climbing rope, you can help players build new roads, actual ones which makes driving around much simpler. The first time we saw a piece of road which was being built, we did not quite understand what was going on, but then we saw that giving a hand could help complete it and it was quite an enjoyable moment. Much like on today's social media, there is a like system which is actually at the core of the relationship system between players, but also between the player and the NPCs. By getting likes, not only do you improve your character like in a role playing game, but you also improve your connection with the world. When you bring cargo to a distribution center and to an isolated survivor, you get a score and the more likes you receive, the better your relationship with them will be, which will unlock new tools or weapons depending on the person. That's where all the virtuous circle of the game lies, in the way it regularly rewards you with new features, even when simply progressing in the story. There's a sort of an upbeat tone to this aspect of the game, which obviously is counterbalanced by the darker side of the story itself. You don't have to play online though, offline mode is still an option if you don't want your game world to be "polluted" by online features, but you'd be missing out if you did.

Stranding ovation?

Time has now come to tell you a bit about the game's technical aspect. As you may know, Death Stranding runs on Guerilla Games' Decima Engine, which was promising to say the least. When seeing what Guerilla managed to do in Horizon: Zero Dawn in terms of landscapes, it was hard not to have great expectations, even though Hideo Kojima's studio isn't that big compared to most AAA studios. Thankfully, the team delivered and it actually almost sounds like an understatement considering what they have achieved. The natural vistas look absolutely amazing, with a geological and topographical realism you don't always get to see in other games. There is also a good variety when it comes to the types of landscapes you go through with mountainous areas, forests, swamps, deserts or even more desolated places. Sometimes it feels like travelling through Iceland, sometimes it looks more like North America, at other times we could almost believe ourselves on another planet driving the Mako. In more urban areas, aliasing is more visible and it is less impressive overall, but those places are very few and you don't get to hang around there for too long. Cutscenes will give you the chance to admire the amazing level of detail on the character faces, especially those based on real life actors and actresses. If you're old enough to have been in love with Lindsay Wagner in The Bionic Woman, you're in for a treat, but we've also been quite impressed by how real Margaret Qualley (Andie MacDowell's daughter) looks in the game, not to mention Mads Mikkelsen, Norman Reedus or Troy Baker of course. With such a great cast, technology had to be excellent and it is to a degree it's almost possible to forget they're just 3D renderings of the real artists. If your TV/monitor is HDR compatible, you'll have the best possible experience as HDR truly looks superb whatever the weather conditions and it helps a lot that lighting looks great in all circumstances. Let us also add the great implementation of DLSS 2.0 which even allows to get rid of some of the aliasing we could still see on buildings in native 4K. Image quality remains crisp as ever when using this technology, and even an RTX 2060 can run the game at 60 fps in such a resolution.

Not everything is perfect though and we're going to take a few moments to tell you what let us down a little. For starters, there is no day/night cycle in the game, which is a real shame as it could have added so much in terms of atmosphere and in terms of situation variety. It's not that we think we can teach Kojima a thing or two about making games, but we can only imagine what he could have done with night time sequences and BTs. What's odd is that Sam's Odradek has a torchlight function, but he can only use it twice in the game as it doesn't seem to be available outside of the 2 passages which features it... Another small disappointment is the ground textures, that we've found a bit to blurry to our liking, especially when paths start to appear where porters and players usually walk. Moreover, vehicles are not really fun to drive for 3 main reasons: one their physics engine is rather limited, two they are pretty slow, even with the boost on, three, terrain is not really ideal because of the rocks and bumps (it really looks awkward when driving off-road). Thankfully, the PC version finally allows to enjoy a perfectly smooth experience at 60, 120 or even 240 fps if your rig can handle it. In Native 4K our RTX 2080 Ti couldn't prevent a few drops in some cutscenes but we haven't been able to try the new drivers as our early access key was revoked last week. To end on another positive note, we absolutely loved Kojima's choice of songs to be included in the game's soundtrack. Most of them play as we walk in the wild, with the camera sometimes zooming out while we continue to move the character, something that reminded us the Marston's memorable journey to Mexico in Red Dead Redemption. We even wished there were a way to listen to the songs while delivering goods anytime we wanted, not just when Kojima had planned it, but at least we were able to do so while reading Sam's emails and data every time he was resting in his private room.

Verdict


By now, everybody knows that Death Stranding got a polarizing reception, just as we predicted when our PS4 review came out. As for us, we loved every minute of it, even those few moments where the game got a bit too lengthy for its own good, but we understand why some find it too boring to deserve praises. By focusing more on long hikes and exploration, Kojima took a risk, even though he didn't completely give up on the action part. Death Stranding is a story-driven game in which gameplay feels a lot more fresh than it looks, but not everyone can enjoy it the way we did. It features such a unique world that it can leave no one indifferent, but the same can be said about its gameplay really and it's a double edged sword sort of situation. Kojima's first independent project may not be as unifying as some of his previous games, which some might find paradoxical given the game's subject, but we prefer to see it in a different light: Death Stranding is just a game with a strong personality, something many titles do not bother to have these days. Now that it's available on PC, we're curious to see what the reception will be like. It's still a gorgeous looking title that can amaze even those who own a killer PC, but it remains to be seen if it will hit it's target amongst PC players.
  • On the upside
  • Unique and fascinating world
  • Superb atmosphere
  • Discovering an unknown world
  • Virtual hiking at its best
  • Breathtaking vistas
  • 60 fps or more
  • DLSS 2.0 works marvel
  • Geological and topographical variety
  • The Mako feel of truck driving in the wild
  • The different songs and the way they are used
  • Unlocking new features from beginning to end
  • A game like no other really
  • The community aspect which makes so much sense
  • Makes you want to keep playing
  • Very short loading times (including fast travel)
  • Character faces and facial animations are amazing
  • The names in Kojima's games are never random
  • Excellent longevity
  • On the downside
  • Poor vehicle physics and driving sensations
  • Ground textures are still a bit too blurry
  • No day/night cycle
  • A bunch of lengthy passages maybe
  • Secondary deliveries should have been more story-driven
  • Won't appeal to everyone

HDR footage #1 (PC/4K)
Download: MP4 HD
HDR footage #2 (PC/4K)
Download: MP4 HD
HDR footage #3 (PC/4K)
Download: MP4 HD
HDR footage #4 (PC/4K)
Download: MP4 HD

All comments

Commented on 2020-07-14 19:58:34
would love to play this game in VR. hoping Vorpx can do it.
Commented on 2020-07-14 21:35:51
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Commented on 2020-07-15 22:05:36
I thought it was good on PS4, not amazing but definitely worth a play through .  Will never play again, IMO replay factor is not there.
Commented on 2020-07-17 08:17:22 In reply to LEBATO
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