I understand the folly of trying to rush Death Stranding. Hideo Kojima's latest game is famous for making you take your time. It's a game about weighing your options, counting every step, and getting a proper lay of the land before you move forward. But I forgot about the long onramp before Death Stranding gets to the delivery, the game proper. Across just over two hours of play, I actually only played the game for around 35 minutes. Having played through the story once on PlayStation 4, there was some impatient tapping on my desk and checking Slack while I waited for Kojima Productions to get on with it.
I'm playing Death Stranding a second time because the game has finally come to PC, on both Epic Games Store and Steam. I played through the first time on PlayStation 4 Pro, which looked fantastic, but now the Decima Engine has shifted into high gear.
Death Stranding on PC is the same mess of strands, knots, BB, and BTs, as the PlayStation 4 version. What's changed is a host of graphical options available, allowing you to tailor the stranding to your rig. (My desktop in question is an AMD Ryzen 3600X, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060, 32 GB DDR4, with the game running from a Samsung EVO 840 500GB SSD.) You can change the resolution, though the developer limits you to only a few standard resolutions. There's also no setting for refresh rates that I could find.
Still, right out of the box, and not messing with any of the settings, Death Stranding makes a strong case for the game being suited for the PC in the first place. Compared to 30fps on the PlayStation 4 Pro, Death Stranding just looks simply better in motion at 60fps and above. Every one of Sam's shaky footfalls and hefty climbs with a full load of cargo comes across much better. In terms of play, Sam just feels far more responsive to your commands at the higher frame rate. The ping of the Odradek scanner rolls over the countryside like a gradual wave in 60fps; it's a pleasing effect.
Turning Vsync off unlocks the frame rate of Death Stranding, which boosted me into the 110-120 at 1440p. What's interesting is regardless of what I did, cinematics are locked at 60fps. I tried to hop back and forth between Vsync on and off depending on what I was doing, but I found not having Vsync on led to a great deal of screen tearing during cinematics on my setup, so I just left it on. There were other weird cinematics-only choices, like disabling depth of field only working in gameplay.
Not every asset benefits from the enhanced graphics though: in one early cutscene, Sam and Igor are smooth and clean, but the timefall rain coming off Sam's hood looked oddly low resolution. It's probably because it was a smaller detail in the console experience. That's a rarity in regards to the overall gameplay, however.
Other visual options like ambient occlusion and screen space reflection seem to be largely similar to the PS4 Pro version Death Stranding's world. There are also additional options in this PC version that I wasn't able to test out from a purely hardware perspective. You can enable 21:9 resolution, which letterboxes the game on a 16:9 screen, but would probably look fantastic on an ultrawide monitor. Death Stranding PC also has HDR as an option, but I wasn't able to test it because I don't have an HDR-capable monitor.
In terms of anti-aliasing, you have a choice between temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) and fast approximate anti-aliasing (FXAA). But I have an Nvidia RTX card so I turned on deep learning super sampling (DLSS) 2.0. This feature uses Nvidia RTX's tensor cores to improve image quality. It renders a frame at a lower resolution internally and then a neural network creates a high resolution, anti-aliased frame that the player sees. DLSS here has two different versions that will be familiar to PS4 Pro or Xbox One X owners: performance or quality. Quality prizes image quality, and performance prizes frame rate. Death Stranding with DLSS's flavor of anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering (the latter comes from a Digital Foundry deep dive, I would've guessed 8X.) runs amazingly well, while not losing out on image quality in any appreciable way.
DLSS 2.0 is Nvidia's buzzword feature, but damn, I'm impressed. Every building edge, blade of grass, and Sam's load of lost deliveries looks sharp as hell now. It feels like playing on 4K, while running at a much lower resolution. Combined with the improved frame rate, the presentation of Sam's bizarre adventure feels like what Kojima Productions was always aiming for. When Death Stranding pulls back the camera and puts on the chosen track from Low Roar or Chvrches—some of the game's best, most calming moments—the added visual clarity and frame rate absolutely draws you further into these lonely landscapes of a post-apocalyptic America. On some of the cutscenes, Death Stranding pulls closer to show off character emotions or gear, and those sections are also improved by the upgraded presentation.
Part of my rush was to get to some combat and BT scenarios, where Death Stranding's action gets heated. On PlayStation 4 Pro, following a couple of early patches, Death Stranding was locked at 30fps. The dips I did notice outside of cutscenes would come in BT attacks, with the earth coming alive with flowing tar and the larger BTs swimming around the landscape. Again, my play time here was rock solid, given that I had also settled on a set of settings that fit my desktop.
This is the version of the game that Kojima Productions always intended to deliver. (Seriously, Kojima Productions technical director Akio Sakamoto told Eurogamer that the game was originally designed in 60fps.) Backed by Nvidia's DLSS, Death Stranding is a fantastic technical showcase on PC. There are a few further options I'd like, but overall, this is a great port that bodes well for the upcoming Horizon Zero Dawn PC port, considering it's built on the same engine. PC players will likely crack the game wide open with mods in the near future, allowing them to put all sorts of nonsense in the United Cities of America. With that in mind, I can't wait to hopefully ride Halo's Warthog or the bike from Akira across the quiet wastes of Death Stranding one day.