Death Stranding Is One Of The Only Games I’ve Played That Can Justify A Director’s Cut

Death Stranding Is One Of The Only Games I’ve Played That Can Justify A Director’s Cut

It irritates me to no end when I see games trying way too hard to look like films. Ghost of Tsushima was pretty to look at, sure, but a lot of it felt gimmicky more often than it didn’t. The Last of Us Part 2 is exceptional, but occasionally I was just like, okay, I guess I’ll put the controller down and crack a beer for a bit. Death Stranding has several cutscenes that are 15, maybe 20 minutes long. It’s no Metal Gear Solid 4 – 71 minutes! – but Kojima definitely indulges in his cinematic influences. He’s 70% made of movies, after all.

The thing is, Death Stranding uses cutscenes to better effect than pretty much any other game I’ve ever played, and despite the fact its narrative is more convoluted than a 19-year-old college kid trying to emulate Pynchon, it deserves the director’s cut that was announced over the weekend.

 

Death Stranding is one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played no matter how you choose to measure weirdness. It’s got floating sperm whales flying over ethereal beaches that are also war trenches where Mads Mikkelsen oscillates between being Sad Mads, Mad Mads, Dad Mads, Bad Mads, and Rad Mads. Okay, that last one is just me, but come on – Mads is pretty rad.

But it’s also deeply precise in a way that most games are sorely lacking. Every idea Death Stranding has, it commits to both completely and unapologetically. Shoulder pincher fans are powered by babies in vacuum-sealed tubs of goo. These fans are primarily used to locate other babies who are now extremely long and otherwise invisible phantoms. You kill these phantoms by snipping their umbilical cord and they give you a like for it – essentially a “cheers bud, bye now.” That’s not to mention that the majority of the game involves little more than just… walking, hammering the left and right triggers so you don’t fall over because you accidentally attached an extra two kilos to your left leg halfway to the paleontologist’s gaff.

All of this together is what makes the rest of the game – again, convoluted as it may be – special enough to justify a director’s cut. Well, that and the all-star cast, obviously. Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Lindsey Wagner, Guillermo del Toro, Nicolas Winding Refn, Tommie Earl Jenkins, and Margaret Qualley are just some of the names that make up Death Stranding’s remarkably talented acting ensemble, with each and every one of them playing a stormer in their own distinct way.

This is why I’m so excited about the director’s cut, aside from the massive Metal Gear vibes it exudes. While I think games often lean way too heavily into cinema, for what I reckon is a strife for legitimacy in the eyes of a wider audience, Death Stranding basically has its own movie within the game. I firmly believe that the best and most important rule of game design is to establish a solid gameplay loop before committing to anything else. Every single game that I hold in high esteem is first and foremost exciting, intriguing, confronting, challenging, or even confusing to play. Death Stranding is all of these things at once, as well as visiting feeling one individually and temporarily for several times throughout the experience. This is why it has license to justify the film within it – when you’re playing Death Stranding, you’re emphatically playing the game. When you’re watching the cutscenes, you’re watching the movie. That might sound stupid, or ridiculous, or pretentious, but it’s not – this is a game that just isn’t like other games.

Put it this way, right. Obviously trekking is the most fundamental building block Death Stranding is based on – it’s the aforementioned gameplay loop that makes picking up a controller worthwhile in the first place. It’s also subtly directed with a very heavy hand, though, which is a pretty weird methodology to apply and experience to receive.

Consider Timefall Farm west of Mama’s Lab, down the south of the map in the remote parts of a lone peninsula. If you go off to the mountains, which serve absolutely no gameplay function, you’ll find a gorgeous cryptobiotic ring at the peak. Despite the fact you’re never asked to come here, Asylums for the Feeling by Silent Poets and Leila Adu will start to play as the camera pans out for a more panoramic shot. You’re still playing, mind – it doesn’t pull control away from you, it just redefines the framing of what you’re seeing. It’s cinematic and sensory and musical and experiential in the most ostensible ways possible, but it’s still a game. It’s this subtle combination that does all of the heavy lifting when it comes to watching Mama or Deadman do something weird in a ten-minute cutscene. It’s easy to think that the cutscenes are the dots and that playing is the line joining them, but that’s not quite it. The cutscenes are the dots, the semi-filmic parts like in Timefall Farm are the line, and playing is the pen you use to draw it – it’s a much more complete picture.

So when you tell me that Death Stranding is getting a director’s cut and I get excited, it’s not at odds with the fact I think games should learn from music instead of badly copying movies all the time. Death Stranding just has a much better understanding of which parts of film are well suited to game design. At the same time, it also uses music in a much more audible way than loads of other games, so it’s doing that at the same time you’re watching Norman Reedus and Guillermo del Toro whispering sweet nothings to each other in a fallout shelter shower.

There are so many parts of Death Stranding that amazed me – almost as many that made me think, “What on Earth is this shit supposed to be?” But that’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s absurd and wild and often stupid, but it’s also connected and committed and always knowledgeable of what it’s doing and why. I can’t think of a world in which the director’s cut doesn’t abide by all of those conditions and more, to the point that I’m more excited for that than I was about the game while I was playing it – which was pretty damn excited.

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