Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding divided a lot of people when it came out in 2019, and we totally get why. It's an unconventional videogame, that presents itself as something that was never done before, and that we might never see again. At its core, it's a game about going from A to B to C, and back again to A, with little to no combat in the middle. Some people found it boring, and even called it "the true walking simulator". On a surface level that's not wrong, but there's so much more to Death Stranding underneath.
Death Stranding is above all else a game about connection. There's a plot here, revolving around reuniting the cities of America after a devastating event called Death Stranding. It's a convoluted plot, with exaggerated exposition and lengthy cutscenes, but also great acting, amazing world-building, and mind-blowing twits. Classic Hideo Kojima basically. We really enjoyed the plot and the characters, and the world-building is among the most original and brilliant we ever saw in a long time. We won't explain it, but the way "beaches", Bridge Babies, chiro technology, DOOMS, voidouts, and all the other crazy stuff works and is integrated in the plot and the gameplay... we can't even start to comprehend how someone comes up with this stuff, it's brilliant.
That said, this is not what truly makes Death Stranding a masterpiece. While the plot is about connecting, the real connection in Death Stranding is among gamers - unknown players that never really see or interact with each other, but whose connection is truly felt and appreciated. The game purposefully makes it hard to go from A to B, and as such, you are encouraged to make your life a bit easier by creating structures, building roads, and positioning ladders, ropes, and other objects. That is, however, a herculean task for any single player, and that's where the asynchronous multiplayer comes into play.
The best example of this is the roads, and that's when the game truly clicks for most people, about halfway through in the third chapter. You can't build roads whenever you want to, you need to instead 'feed' set road construction machines, that will build specific parts of the road. These machines required massive amounts of materials, and feeding all of these machines alone would require a lot of time and effort. But, as all players will contribute to them, the job becomes easier, and everyone will benefit from it. That's what Death Stranding is truly about - making your life, and others, easier, with everyone working together.
Don't expect however to come into the game and have everything built for you. Before benefiting from other players' constructions and help in an area, you first need to reach that zone's habitats, and then you need to bring them online, connecting their base to the overall chiral network. Once that is done you will be able to benefit from other players' constructions and vice-versa. We're not sure how the game's code works, but we suppose there's some sort of algorithm in play, as only a portion of other players constructions will be made available - you will need to fill in the rest, in a kind of "you will receive as much as you give" structure.
Death Stranding is also a game about positive feedback, as you can leave "likes" to other players. Let's say you find another player's rope that really made your life easier - you can leave likes to that player as appreciation. It's a great feeling to come into the game and watch as the reports tell you that you got likes from dozens of other players and that your constructions were helpful to so many.
This is why Death Stranding is a masterpiece.
While the plot is great, it could have been told as a movie, a TV show, or a book, just like the stories in so many other games. Its overall message though could have only been passed along so effectively as a videogame. You need to go through the really hard and frustrating parts of the game to come and appreciate the connection and the help from other players later on. Sure, you can read about it in this and other articles, but to truly get the message Kojima is passing along, you need to play Death Stranding, and that's why it's a masterpiece - it uses the medium to its true potential, as a creation that would not work as anything else but a videogame.
Of course, the plot, the acting, the world-building, the superb production values, the graphics, the music... all of that contribute to make it an even greater experience, made better in this transition to the PlayStation 5. The biggest difference from the PS4 version is the possibility to play at 60 frames per second. You can play at 30 frames, with slightly better graphics, but the 60 frames mode has a far bigger impact on the overall experience.
The Director's Cut edition also has several new features and tweaks that make for a better-balanced experience. In the original version, the second chapter was rather difficult and painful, and it's where most players left the game. That's still true in the Director's Cut, but the introduction of a new weapon, a new exoskeleton for faster movement, a practice mode, and better tutorials, really do make it for a better-balanced experience. It's still a pain at times, and you need it to be to understand the game later on, but it's not to the extent it was before. The message is still there but without so much suffering or dullness.
The same is true for the rest of the game, with the introduction of new bridge types, package catapults, races, and gear. On top of that, you will also get the extras from the Steam version, including the Half-Life and Portal-related missions and items, plus the Cyberpunk 2077 collaboration (the Cyberpunk-inspired bike is great). There's also a new indoor area you can explore, promoting a Metal Gear Solid-style gameplay with a bigger focus on stealth. You will need to keep coming back to it though, as will only be able to access the facilities areas gradually. There's also a story here, but we will leave it for you to uncover.
Director's Cut also includes ramps for trips, and race tracks with leaderboards included, if you would like to bring out your more competitive side (driving is fine on the roads, but rubbish outside of them). Being on the PS5, this new version of the game also uses the Dual Sense features and the Tempest 3D audio. It's cool, and they do add for the overall immersion, but we gotta say we were expecting to see more out of Kojima's mind. Returnal and Playroom are still the best examples of how to use the PS5's unique features in our opinion.
As for PS4 players, yes, you can port your save game into the PS5 version, but you will need to use the PS4 version for it first. It's an annoying process, but at least it's there. As for the upgrade, you will need to pay 10 euros to get the PS5 version, although you will get the Digital Deluxe Edition for it.
We truly believe Death Stranding is a masterpiece, and this Director's Cut edition is indeed the game's definitive edition, but it's still flawed. Like so many other Kojima games, there's just too much exposition, and most of the time it's heavy-handed. Some moments can be truly frustrating, with constant interruption from other characters, most times to just say something obvious. The game could have been edited far more efficiently, but that can be said for every Metal Gear, so Kojima fans know what there's getting themselves into. The average human enemy AI could also be far better, and like we said above, driving mechanics are truly awful outside of roads.
A flawed masterpiece then, but a masterpiece. It's a game like no other, and a game that only works precisely as that - a videogame. This Director's Cut just makes that masterpiece better, offering a more balanced experience, fantastic 60 frames per second gameplay, a lot more content, and great new tools that increase the player's options on how to approach each situation. It might be too frustrating or "boring" for some players, but if you eventually decide to give it a shot (especially considering the second chapter is now a bit easier), just make it with the knowledge that you might only truly understand it around half-way the third chapter. It's a commitment, for sure, but one that will be rewarded in many ways.