We take a look at the visual progression of Death Stranding throughout the years.
We opted not to go with a full-screen side by side comparison, because often the images would desync due to their difference in appearance and animations.
E3 2016 Reveal Trailer: What’s the Difference?
First up is the original 2016 reveal trailer. Now, before we get started with some image breakdowns, we should clear this up before the floodgates of comment stating that there has been a downgrade in visuals. That original 2016 trailer was nothing more than a concept trailer of things to come. At the time, Kojima Productions had only started their idea process and got this trailer out to show people that he was indeed working on a new game, though the selection of the engine had not been decided yet with rumors suggesting that that trailer was entirely CGI using an unknown engine from Sucker Punch. We may never learn the full truth behind 2016 reveal trailer, though if it makes people happy, the scene is in the very least still in the game, although this time is running in real-time on the DECIMA Engine provided by Guerrilla Games. You can watch the comparison video below, along with a handful of selected screenshots. Note that the original E3 2016 reveal has been edited down to match the length of the actual in-game scene.
There is a clear difference between the two, although again, one is real, the other was more of a concept. I will say that the original reveal has better coloring along with better facial expressions on Norman Reedus; however, it is a remarkable attempt to recreate the reveal and still produce an end product that is pretty dam eye-opening.
The Game Award Show 2016
The 2016 award show was our first true look at the game as a game engine had been decided on and Kojima Production had finally begun full work on Death Stranding. This will probably be the biggest leap in differences as the color tonnage has been completely changed along with tweaks to the character model and environment. While I prefer the character models in the old build, there has been a significant jump to the overall environment.
Taking a look at the screenshot above you can see a number of differences between the two, two being in lighting and tonnage used. You can see on in the final build that there are far more details, especially on the dead marine life. While the color tonnage is different, the lighting actually isn’t a whole lot when you look at the background to see that the same areas are lit up. The big difference again is on the marine life in the foreground as they now have lighting over them to show them better.
Reflections are improved, especially in the BB Pod as it now appears to bounce the environment back. You can see it’s character model has been altered to give is a more fragile look. One thing that may be hard to notice is when you look at the hands of BB you can see the flattening around the fingers happen as pressure is applied against the pod. 2016 reveal lacked this effect, and it’s a nice small touch that got added later. The soldier models have also changed a bit, but nothing drastic. The smoke coming out of the background is also thicker.
The character model changes is an interesting one. They seem to have made Del Toro character, Deadman, bigger in that first screenshot and slightly in the rest. His glasses aren’t as reflective in the new build as they were before, though the texture on his clothing is much more noticeable and gives more of a natural look versus the shine in the 2016 reveal. Again, lighting is also different with more of it in the final build. Tough to say if it’s an improvement as the tone of the scene is completely different.
Same screen as the one above, just something we thought we should highlight. The smoke effect in the newer build we feel in better as it’s denser and has more effect on it. They have clearly made some changes throughout the year, and if you pay attention to the part we circled it looks like they shrunk the size of buildings to make them appear a little farther, however they forgot to adjust the starting point of the smoke effect and in the footage, you can actually see where it’s starting as it just pops up from thin air.
The way light scatters from the BB pod in the new build is nearly gone. We aren’t sure if it’s because they made the tar/oil/water appear thicker, but it is a change. The overall lighting is darker, which makes more sense as the only light source is near the entrance and the end.
Cliff’s character design has also seen some alterations. He is now slightly slimmer around the face. There is also more reflection from the light source that he is standing under, bringing out more details around the nose area.
Overall the new build has more details added to their scenes and characters. While the lighting in some areas does look better in the 2016 build, we think the tone change plays a major role in that. We do prefer the newer look as there is more coloring. However, we can see some liking the older style more.
The Game Awards Show 2017
I didn’t think there would be much of a difference in the final retail and the 2018 trailer, despite there being almost a two-year gap between them. I was wrong, and in fact, it’s an improvement overall. Again, you can find a video along with a handful of screenshots we picked out that we thought showed the changes between the builds.
I’ll start with the first significant differences, and that’s with BB. There has been a change in the coloring and transparency of the BB Bod. Whereas in the 2017 trailer, it comes off as a clear liquid that you can almost see-through, it has now been altered to give off a more dense look with a yellow color to it. The final retail build makes it evident that it’s not just water. Looking at the pod in both screenshots above, you can see that there is now light bouncing off characters and the environment, something the 2017 build lacks. We can also view this on Sam’s protective gear, though it’s less noticeable. All the images (the 3rd mostly), you can see that the BB model also has changed, as BB now appears to be slimmer. Again more reflection and an increase in lighting in the final build.
Another thing to pay attention to during the video is that Sam’s suit also has more details, giving signs of wear and tear as it’s all scuffed up with dirt marks. That last shot with Sam laying on the ground, we can see that not only does BB pod has a reflection now, but it also has some texturized pattern on it, giving it a more grippy look.
The BB Pod on Higgs’s chest now glows in this scene. General lighting is brighter in the scene, and coloring is far more vibrant, as shown in the BB Pod and truck.
Muzzle flair is different (left retail, right 2017 trailer).
Besides Sam now being blue, the details remain. They have even added chest hair in the final release.
Different color tonnage used, but overall the same quality.
While the previous two listed comparisons above do show some minor improvements here and there, 2018 vs. final build is far more noticeable when it comes to these changes, from improved lighting, reflections, to even more detailed textures. As old as the other builds were, the improvements over the one from nearly a year ago is by far the most significant in the 2018 build.
One thing that I did notice near the start of the trailer is that the team changed the shown photo above. Whereas in the original (2018), the character models appear to be far more “realistic” in the sense that it looks more like a concept drawing, the newest one seems to be in the least using the actual in-game models. It’s an odd change, but perhaps it was done to maintain some visual consistency.
In this shot, we can see that reflections have been added to help better portray that Sam is in a cool, dark, wet cave as it bounces from the respective light source. Not only that, but it also helps by bringing out more details in Sam’s skin. You can now easily make out the pores and wrinkles.
Same as the last image, better lighting/reflections that bring out more details.
The images above really show the changes to textures, as the goosebumps are far more protruding than the 2018 build, where they appear to be flat. It’s disgusting (retail) if you ask me, but they come off more lifelike than the previous one. Looking at the last shot, you can see textures have been added to the glove giving them more of a grippier look.
Once again, better lighting and reflection bring out more details.
The lighting here is seen coming from an actual source; the early build lacks it entirely where the new one adds it is not only on Sam but also in the environment itself. Handprints formed by the BT now reflect light as the liquid that fills them wave around. The ground now produces a wet look that one would expect after a rainstorm.
A showcase of more improved lighting, details, and reflections are all enhanced. One thing to point out is in the last image above, the tear that is running down Fragile’s face now appears better, and the improved textures help make it shine rather then blend in with it now seems as if it’s running along with them. You can see more twinkles as the teardrop gets raised towards the light source.
The last shots showcase the environments. For the most, it remains the same graphically outside the general improvements we mentioned above. Foilage has been changed a bit here and there to add more color and variety. The final screenshot is from gameplay. It does lose some minor lighting effect due to now being a dynamic scene that the player has control over, though most details are retained.
Overall, the visuals have seen improvements since the TGA 2016 build reveal. The lighting and shadows have been changed to bring out more details along with a significant jump in textures. Some set pieces have also received more color, though whether that’s an improvement is entirely up to the reader. Fans should, however, be happy to see that the game hasn’t received any substantial downgrades, and if there was any it’s very minor. I do believe that Kojima Production was able to deliver on what they showed prior to release. Plenty of titles tend to show a significant downgrade, but PlayStation has been setting a gold standard when it comes to the end result. I will say that out of any PlayStation-designed games, this one is by far the best result when it comes to comparing the differences.