Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 1, 2020 for Death Stranding's pre-release coverage and has been updated to reflect more of the experience and the Half-Life crossover quests now that the game has launched.
Like it or not, Death Stranding is a tremendously bold game. We recognized it as one of the best of 2019 and reviewer Kallie Plagge spoke to its qualities in the full review from last year. But why talk about the game in 2020? For one, it's quite, uh, timely with its theme of being an essential worker during a catastrophic event that leads to nationwide quarantine. It's also one of the few PS4 exclusives getting a proper PC port. I have been playing the PC version ahead of its July 14 launch day and I'm here to report that it remains a superb game enhanced by the fact that it looks and runs much better than it did on PS4 Pro, if you have the right PC specs.
For those living under a rock (and not to avoid Timefall), here's the short of it: Death Stranding is Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima's latest. You're a delivery man played by actor Norman Reedus amid a deadly paranormal phenomenon called the death stranding that forces the surviving population to seek refuge in underground bunkers. While the game has a fair share of third-person stealth and action, it's also quite literally a walking-hiking simulator where balancing your cargo and traversing harsh terrain are core elements. It's all wrapped around a heavily cinematic and somewhat bizarre story about human connection.
I know, playing courier with the occasional action sequence may not sound enticing, but trust me and my friends when we said last year that it's a stunning experience, if you have the time and patience. Its broader message of human connection is made manifest in the asynchronous multiplayer component in which the actions of others--such as laying down ladders, bridges, and roads--will affect your own game world. Everyone's just helping each other make their deliveries, stay alive on a hostile surface, and chug their oddly placed Monster energy drinks to keep on keeping on. Even though you never see your fellow players, giving them a few "likes" for their work, and getting a few in return, is sort of uplifting.
Death Stranding can be quite a stressful experience, especially when encountering the deadly and ghostly BTs who often occupy hostile zones en route to your objective, or crossing paths with rogue MULE bandits. But at the same time, Death Stranding is incredibly therapeutic. You have a lot of time to reflect on your actions and the story beats while soaking in the beautiful vistas and mountain ranges on your way to finish delivery orders as a soothing Low Roar song plays.
With Death Stranding being a largely visually captivating experience, this is where the PC version shines specifically: enhanced visuals and much higher frame rates further elevate those awe-inspiring moments. By no means was the PS4 version a slouch when it came to impressive visuals--the cutscenes starring finely detailed character models and environments are a testament to that. But when running native resolutions with antialiasing and better quality textures and effects, the natural world you explore in Death Stranding is all the more striking.
The enhanced experience is, of course, subject to your own PC's specs and performance will vary. I'm running a high-end build using an Intel Core i7-7700K, 16GB of RAM, a Samsung 970 Pro NVMe SSD, and the Nvidia RTX 2080 video card. I have every setting maxed out, using a resolution of 2560x1080 (21:9 ultrawide), and with Nvidia's RTX-exclusive DLSS 2.0 antialiasing enabled.
Note that anisotropic filtering is not a native option in the menu and you'll have to manually force it through the Nvidia control panel (or AMD equivalent). This is important because Death Stranding features long stretches of land and anisotropic filtering does the work in cleaning up the image quality of surfaces in the distance.
I'm able to maintain 90-110 FPS during deliveries out in the open world and heated moments intense action, regardless of how heavy the weather effects got. The initial loading time upon bootup took a bit longer compared to other recent PC games during the pre-launch phase, especially considering I'm running a high-end NVMe SSD, but it know loads in the matter of a few seconds, like every other instance in the game. Again, if you have the right hardware, it's a drastic an improvement over the PS4 version.
I won't say frame rate is critical to your success or the overall enjoyment, but it certainly bolsters the Death Stranding experience. Gameplay runs like a dream with silky smooth performance, which is jarring (in a good way) considering how many hours I poured into the PS4 version. This makes action sequences more manageable and the treks across vast plains more pleasing, and so far I haven't had any noticeable dips in frame rate. (You can refer to the official recommended specs sheet to give you an idea of what settings to run and the expected performance.)
Death Stranding looks great and runs well, and can even surpass that of the PS4 Pro, given you have the proper PC hardware. It often goes without saying, but this is good news--the broader takeaway here is that the quality of Death Stranding's PC port can speak to how Sony's first-party exclusives can get another lease on life on a new platform for a different audience. Death Stranding uses the Decima engine from Guerilla Games, the same engine and developer for Horizon Zero Dawn, which is also set to have a PC port launch this August. So, I think it's fair to expect Horizon to be of this caliber as well.
As for the exclusive content in the PC version, it should put a smile on the faces of Half-Life and Portal fans--it consists of six short side quests sprinkled throughout the game, which crossover with Valve's franchises. These quests are told through emails marked with the lambda (λ), and ask you to track down a companion cube out in the world. The story behind these tasks takes a rather lighthearted, mysterious tone, and the gear you get can be quite useful. While Gordon's glasses and the valve headpiece is purely cosmetic, the gravity glove lets you pick up cargo from a distance, the headcrab hat can use Sam's blood to replenish stamina, and the Half-Life truck better withstands deterioration.
I've put in about 15 hours into Death Stranding on PC so far, and it's been great to revisit one of my favorite games of 2019 with a number of noticeable quality of life changes, most of which can be attributed to having fairly high-end specs. Performance was stable and no bugs stood out, either. Although I wouldn't pass on it if the PS4 is your only option, the PC port is the definitive version of the game.
For a deeper dive into the game, be sure to read our original Death Stranding review. If you're ready to jump in, we have plenty of content to help you become an expert porter in no time, including a full Death Stranding walkthrough and guides to cover every aspect of the game.
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