Death Stranding on iPhone made me better appreciate Kojima’s vision

Hideo Kojima's "Amazon Prime delivery simulator" is one of the flagship iPhone 15 Pro games, and it's a good fit for mobile

Death Stranding exploration

I have a confession to make: I don’t like Death Stranding. 

When I reviewed the Kojima Productions game in 2019, I came away admiring creator Hideo Kojima’s unique vision but frustrated by its tedious gameplay mechanics and dull narrative. On paper, the idea of hauntingly isolated treks across a post-apocalyptic America to deliver packages was intriguing, especially as someone who loves “walking simulators,” but the game’s numerous management systems and enemy encounters kept getting in the way. After roughly 20 hours, I just gave up.

Over four years later, I find myself revisiting Death Stranding on mobile. Thanks to Apple’s beefy A17 Pro chip, the Norman Reedus-led action-adventure game is playable natively on iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Alongside the likes of Capcom’s Resident Evil 4, it’s one of the few AAA titles to be supported in Apple’s nascent plans for console-quality gaming across all of its devices.

I must admit, however, that even with its updated Director’s Cut version, Death Stranding still does little for me, although I certainly appreciate its unabashed strangeness even more in 2024. Having said that, there are plenty of people who do love Death Stranding, including MobileSyrup‘s Chris Brown, and I’m envious of them. As both a huge Metal Gear fan and an admirer of games taking bold swings, I certainly didn’t want to dislike it.

Therefore, I’d absolutely recommend people give it a shot to see for themselves, and if this new iPhone 15 Pro release helps with that, I’m all for it. That’s the mindset I tried to have when hopping back in after all these years, removing my own feelings from it all. It’s certainly much more appealing than yet another live service.

Thankfully, the iPhone version of Death Stranding seems to be quite solid based on the couple of hours I’ve spent with it. Right away, you appreciate how the game’s strong photorealistic visuals have been retained on the small screen. While I expected cutscenes to look good, the moment-to-moment exploration is just as crisp, be it the fuzzy moss, cragged hillsides, or serene streams in between. Other than a few brief instances, the game maintained a steady 30fps as well. For what it’s worth, MobileSyrup editor-in-chief Patrick O’Rourke, who’s been playing the game on Steam Deck OLED, briefly tried it out on my iPhone and said it seemed to run better on the latter platform. (It should be noted that some iPhone and Mac users have reported crashes, although I didn’t experience any myself.)

Death Stranding bodyIt helps that Death Stranding is largely a slower-paced game, outside of some enemy encounters. Generally, you’ll be walking around the world carrying heavy boxes, and those mechanics actually fit the handheld format well. In fact, they even made me appreciate the moment-to-moment gameplay a bit more; doing one or two deliveries on the subway makes that more palatable for me compared to playing for longer periods. Here, I could appreciate the world design, eerie atmosphere and Kojima’s eclectic needle drops all the more.

On the flip side, playing in situations like this where you’re removed from consistent internet connections takes away my favourite part of Death Stranding: the asynchronous multiplayer. When online, the game lets players across Apple devices and PC place navigational tools like ropes and ladders for others to use in their own worlds, share resources and more without actually joining each others’ sessions.  Even in my original review, I praised these mechanics for brilliantly reinforcing the game’s themes about reunification while offering a wholly unique multiplayer experience. Naturally, you lose that if you’re not connected online, which was disappointing for me. Some have argued that offline is the best way to play the game, though, so your mileage may vary.Death Stranding monsterIn any case, what will likely be much more unanimous is how people respond to Death Stranding‘s spotty mobile touch controls. Of course, this would be far from the only game that’s guilty of that; it is, undoubtedly, hard to translate experiences once made for controllers and/or keyboards to a smaller button-free display, especially for a game as menu-heavy as Death Stranding. Nonetheless, you’ll basically need a controller add-on (I used the Backbone) to play. (To that end, there’s even an official pee-coloured Death Stranding Backbone.) If you use a PS5 DualSense gamepad, you can even take advantage of adaptive triggers, which is a nice touch.

Ultimately, Death Stranding remains utterly fascinating, even four years later. Despite not vibing with much of the game, I can’t deny Kojima’s singular vision, which looks to get only more wondrously wild in the sequel. And because it supports Apple’s Universal Purchase program, this means you can pay once to play on iPhone, iPad and Mac. There’s even a limited-time 50 percent launch discount to make it even easier to recommend at least trying.

Hopefully, you have a better time with it than I did.

Death Stranding: Director’s Cut is now available on the App Store.

Image credit: 505 Games

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