PC Port Review: Death Stranding
PC fans have had to wait quite some time to get their hands on Hideo Kojima’s recent Epic, Death Stranding. Now whilst I might talk a bit about how the game is, this review will mainly be focused on the PC Port and how it performs, and the features it supports. However, if you want an opinion on the actual game, be sure to check out our full PS4 review where we said: “Death Stranding is nothing short of a masterpiece“, and honestly with what I have played so far, I am inclined to agree.
By now you might have read one of the other countless impression pieces of the game’s PC port, and you might have also noticed that most are fixated on graphics cards with Tensor Cores, responsible for Nvidia DLSS 2.0, a revolutionary AI-powered technology that basically has great performance benefits, giving you more headroom to enable further bells and whistles such as Ray Tracing.
As you can imagine, not everyone currently has RTX cards, as frankly not only do the worthwhile ones cost a lot, but with the Ampere architecture cards that will come with a massive ray-tracing performance boost potentially around the corner, a lot of PC Gamers like me are understandably holding off, which means that majority are still using Pascal or older cards, which do not come with the DLSS 2.0 benefit, making the older cards a much better judgement point for how the game performs.
For this performance review, we will be using a Maxwell card, namely the GTX 980ti. I understand that a GTX 980ti is nothing to scoff at, especially with it being the best and most expensive card on the market when I got it back in 2015 and still running strong. However, it is much cheaper now and as such something that is comparatively more entry-level with even a GTX 1070 matching its performance, another popular card on the PC currently. So, any benefits noted here with the 980ti will definitely be apparent with a 1070+ card.
Here are the rest of the specs used for this performance review:
- CPU: i7 – 6700K @4 GHz
- Ram: 32 GB
- Graphics Card: Nvidia GTX 980 TI
- Vram: 6GB
- SSD: crucial mx500 1TB
For your convenience, below is a 20 minutes gameplay video of the more non-spoilery parts of the game, which details the framerates as well as how much Ram, CPU, and GPU are being used by the game.
The first aspect you definitely see me examining right off the bat are the available options, and as you can see in the video, all of the popular sliders are available and you can tweak major aspects such as Screen Space Reflections, Ambient Occlusion, and even sharpness. All in all, a pretty good start! Admittedly, whilst we would have preferred the actual options to be more non-binary than an on/off choice to allow users to better balance the visual quality with the performance they desire, the game runs and looks really well for it to be a major issue.
The most exciting part about trying out Death Stranding for me wasn’t that I was running a major exclusive on the PC, but the fact that we finally get to see Guerrilla’s proprietary Decima Engine running on PCs. In my opinion, and as is evident with both Death Stranding and Horizon Zero Dawn, Decima is easily one of the finest engines in terms of visual to performance ratio currently available. So, it is an absolute treat to be really able to let the engine shine with all its bells and whistles as Kojima originally intended.
I remember reading when Horizon Zero Dawn was launched, that Guerrilla wanted the engine to make the game look so stunning that anywhere you looked, it would be as if an image from the pages of National Geographic had come to life. Of course, good art direction had a huge hand in helping achieve that but the engine was just as responsible for making it look that good, and the same is the case with Death Stranding.
Death Stranding is easily one of the most stunning games I have played on the PC, and would be inclined to say that not a lot of games exist on the PC that look as good as this. One of the key strengths of the engine that was also present in HZD was how good the draw distance looked.
In my opinion, something like the draw distance can easily make or break Hideo’s cinematic experience here, especially in a game where you play as a porter who has to judge his surroundings and distance to natural landmarks in order to find the best route possible. Fortunately, the PC version has a really impressive draw distance without drawing a huge cost from the GPU. One of the ways it looks to have achieved this is by cleverly having a layer of fog reside over distant lands, something that can help mask their lower quality.
Overall, the game looks absolutely stunning, with sharp colours and graphics as well as dense particle effects with depth of field that really help sell the cinematic quality of the game. As soon as I got control of Sam, I spent a good few hours just taking in the beautiful Icelandic surroundings. I mainly tested the game at 1440p as mentioned before, and whilst on Max settings, I wasn’t able to run the game at constant 60 FPS, I was comfortably getting around 50-55 FPS on average, which whilst not as smooth as 60 fps, is a night and day difference compared to 30. Overall, on a system like mines, you will easily be able to get the best visuals at a really good resolution and frame rate.
FidelityFX Cas helps a lot with this, being an answer for DLSS 2.0 for older cards, that seemed to give me noticeable performance boost the higher resolution I picked. Cas is actually believed to be better at preserving details than DLSS 2.0, whilst still making the game perform better. As you can imagine, based on these results, at 1080p resolution, something that most people play at, you can easily enjoy a 60+ FPS experience.
One thing I would advise is that you double-check your screen refresh rate for your display. Be sure to bump it up to 60hz as then v-sync will able to limit it to that frame-rate rather than 30, and you will really need v-sync in this game, as I noticed a lot of tearing, especially during cut-scenes. This is true for other games as well, as having your Hz aligned with your desired framerate will help a lot in reducing screen tearing!
I played the game at 1440p (2K) resolution, and it made the game really stand out. This is one game, which in my opinion is meant to be played at 4K settings that can really bring out the best this engine/game has to offer, with clear and sharp visuals. Whilst I couldn’t push for more than 35-40 FPS with my machine at the best of times on 4k, it is not a performance to take lightly and can be considered impressively playable on a 5-year-old graphics card. For comparison, it runs around 30 FPS on checkered 4K on the PS4 pro, so to see it run 30 FPS on native 4K Ultra HD resolution is nothing short of impressive.
If you do intend to play the game at 4K 30fps, I would advise that you turn off the AA settings, as well as lower the shadow resolution. Then by capping the fps at 30, you will be able to get a mostly consistent 4K/30 FPS experience without a lot of noticeable visual difference, especially at that resolution.
Of course If you have a Pascal or especially Turing card, it will be more consistent. Whilst the display I was using (SAMSUNG UE65RU7470UXXU 65″ Smart 4K Ultra HD HDR LED TV) does support Native 4K (4096×2160) for videogames, the game doesn’t have an option for that so I wasn’t able to test it.
The game luckily does have HDR available on PC, and the results are impressive, which isn’t a surprise as Horizon Zero Dawn also had a really meaningful implementation of it, with a difference that was clearly visible. With this also being a Decima game, the HDR is just as stunningly implemented here. Currently, Days Gone has the best HDR implementation for a PS4 exclusive, and this comes really close.
As you can see in the comparison above, you can clearly see more shades of green when compared with the Non-HDR image. Do apologise for the mobile photo, as currently, it’s a hassle to take 10-bit HDR photos on most PC applications, with results being aggressively washed out.
Speaking of photos, I just have to mention how good the photo mode in this is, giving lots of meaningful options that you can really use to frame your shots. I absolutely love that the mode allows me to tilt the character’s posture to either face the camera or to my own liking. It has allowed me to take some stellar shots as can be seen below. Sadly, as mentioned before I do have to turn off HDR every time I want to take a couple of shots, which means I can miss out on some key moments, but that has nothing to do with the game itself.
The final and perhaps one of the most important aspects to talk about is the game’s UI and Controls. Luckily the port manages to impress even on that front with menus and gameplay that can easily be manoeuvred by the mouse and keyboard as there are no bad accelerations or latency when played with a mouse and keyboard either and all the PC Quality of Life features such as quitting to desktop from game are present here. I really hope that more PC games will utilise the mouse wheel for navigation, with right-click acting as a back button, which makes the experience so much more intuitive.
One of the best parts of the menu systems is how the game manages its save files, giving you multiple different categories that include checkpoint save data, as well as manual and auto-save that can be sorted by ascending/descending date or alphabetically at the click of a button. It is a highly welcome addition that I hope more games will do in the future! Some rare tutorials on the loading screen do show up supporting controller buttons, but I think those were probably just missed whilst converting the game.
Overall, I am absolutely impressed with both Death Stranding and the engine Decima it runs on, especially as the game not only looks amazing on the PC with enhanced visual settings, but it runs just as well on even 5-year-old machines, meaning that even mid-tier PCs will be able to get away with impressive visual settings at 1080p, whilst the more beefy ones can expect to play the game at 1440p+.
The engine really is a technical feat, and well suited to the PC as it uses your GPU efficiently, utilising all the power it can get before adding load to the CPU. You can really see why the PC version benefited from the extra time that the exclusivity bought them.
Of course, the game itself is nothing short of a technical masterpiece as well due to its unique mechanics that really make the geometry you play around in, a vital character that needs to be judged and conquered. Not to mention, the cut-scenes are extremely well shot, but you wouldn’t expect any less from Kojima.
If you have been waiting for the PC version, despite the unfairly hefty price tag, it is definitely well worth the wait and truly makes the game shine as Kojima and co. had originally intended. If this is a taste of what to expect from Decima, bring on Horizon Zero Dawn!!!
Editor Note: Just a reminder again, you can read our full PS4 review of Death Stranding here.