First Impressions of Death Stranding on iOS

Posted by Campbell Bird on January 31st, 2024
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Death Stranding has wandered its way onto iOS, and considering it is yet another beefy and demanding title for iOS devices to handle that seem to be trickling out as of late, I took the liberty of trying the game out for myself, recording my first stretch of gameplay with it, and drawing up some impressions to share with anyone who might be interested in picking it up.

Read on below for some detailed analysis and info of the game at first blush, otherwise feel free to watch or scrub through the video posted above to see for yourself what it seems like.

I'll start with what--in my mind--is the most important thing about a mobile port and speak on Death Stranding's mobile-friendliness. As with Capcom's latest splashy ports to smaller screens, this game basically feels like very few accommodations have been made to make the game playable via touch controls. There's just an overlay of virtual buttons for the traditional control layout and there isn't even a way to navigate menus without using those buttons. I switched to playing with a bluetooth controller pretty quickly because the layout seemed both overwhelming and unlikely to be something someone would want to get used to, assuming they even could.

To make matters somewhat worse, Death Stranding presents the biggest challenge to even fitting the game on devices to date. The whole game is quoted to be just under 50 GB with multiple sections of being prompted to download assets and files. These downloads take a very long stretch of time (even on my pretty solid internet connection) and seemingly afford a small amount of game to play. The video posted above represents over two hours with Death Stranding, with over half of it being comprised of waiting at the download screen, including the end of the prologue which introduces a second download screen after about 45 minutes of "play," which I have in quotes because I was actually controlling the game for under six minutes total during that whole stretch. I expected this kind of dymanic from a game by Hideo Kojima who's games are famously cutscene heavy, but this seems pretty ridiculous even by those standards!

Another blow to the game's mobile friendliess is its strange iCloud backup settings. For whatever reason, choosing to back up Death Stranding to your iCloud makes it so the entire game gets added to your backup. I am not sure why anyone would want to do this, but it makes the space squeeze that Death Stranding presents on iOS a two-fold problem that is a pain to navigate. If you have a huge amount of both physical and cloud space, the only real pain points are the controls and also a pretty brutal initial load into the game that took a minute and a half on my iPad Pro (3rd Gen).

Complaints about startup aside, I actually was somewhat impressed with Death Stranding's performance. The game looks rather good and runs very smoothly without having to make any changes to the game settings. The resolution is such that things can look a little muddy at times, but I prefer that to any sort of instability or hitching, which I don't think I experienced at all during play. A quick note about my video: at a certain point in it the audio gets desynced, which did not occur during gameplay but rather somewhere in the recording process. This is the only apparent technical issue present in that video and has nothing to do with my actual play experience, which is a nice thing to be able to say when compared to the other technically demanding games that have come out recently!

As for the game itself, it's hard for me to say a whole lot about it. I have played very little and it seems intriguing, but all of the sore spots around actually getting to play it (including the long cutscenes that all--even this early on--seem like they could use editing). It's a weird sci-fi world that looks very strange and beautiful, and my understanding is I'll be doing a lot of running around in it. Sounds cool, but I need to make sure I keep clearing space off my iPad to experience minutes at a time, it seems.

I'll work my way through it and (hopefully) post a review. If I'm unable to complete it due to the extreme demands it makes on iOS devices, I'll probably settle for some kind of retrospective detailing these issues. Either way, stay tuned for more.

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