Death Stranding on iPhone is an impressive achievement, but these 5 things need to change before Death Stranding 2: On the Beach gets a port

Death Stranding themed BackBone One controller for iPhone
(Image credit: BackBone)

Death Stranding, the post-apocalyptic open-world walking simulator that Hideo Kojima decided to make his first major project after walking away from Konami and the Metal Gear series he created, is seemingly about… a lot of things. But the man himself would probably tell you that it is ultimately a game about connection. So you could make an argument that the iPhone — very much our primary go-to device for connection — is Death Stranding’s natural home. 

Death Stranding Director’s Cut is the third modern AAA console game to take advantage of the power of the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max, following Resident Evil Village and Resident Evil 4 last year, and probably the most ambitious endeavour of the three. Like the Resi games, this is a native version of the game built specifically for Apple’s family devices (you can also play the game on Mac and the best iPads — those with an M1 chipset and above), rather than a straight port. 

The fact that what was one of the PS4’s flagship games can run at all on the completely fanless phone I carry everywhere in my pocket is kind of a miracle in itself

For those unaware, Death Stranding is an action game set in a post-apocalyptic United States attempting to rebuild itself. A series of supernatural events leave in their wake otherworldly creatures that roam the ravaged land of the living and trigger explosions when they feed. You play as Sam Porter Bridges, a deliveryman tasked with reconnecting the settlements that were once America’s cities by transporting cargo and hooking them up to Death Stranding’s version of the internet. You’ll soon learn that our hero has a much bigger part to play in this new world than he knew, but I don’t dare try to succinctly summarise the plot of this game here. 

Death Stranding running on an iPhone

(Image credit: Future / Kojima Productions)

I played through Death Stranding in its entirety on the PlayStation 4 and found it to be one of the more memorable games of the last decade. Brilliant, baffling and boring in equal measure, there really is nothing else like it, and I was very keen to revisit the game — with all the Director’s Cut enhancements and added content — to see how my iPhone 15 Pro would handle Kojima’s most recent masterpiece. I was even more excited to jump back in after watching the new trailer for the currently in-development sequel, Death Stranding 2: On the Beach (yep, they’re really calling it that), which somehow looks even weirder than its predecessor. Quite a feat. 

The fact that what was one of the PS4’s flagship games can run at all on the completely fanless phone I carry everywhere in my pocket is kind of a miracle in itself, and further evidence that Apple’s latest blower is an incredible piece of hardware, but it’s not an experience I can wholeheartedly recommend right now, especially for first-time players. If Death Stranding 2 ever makes its way to a future iPhone, here’s what needs to change. 

Death Stranding running on an iPhone

(Image credit: Future / Kojima Productions)

1. Better visuals 

A lot of the time the iPhone version of Death Stranding Director’s Cut is visually comparable to the PS4 original, and booting up the game for the first time I was pretty impressed with how much hasn’t been compromised. Cutscenes look lovely on the OLED display too, which is a relief given how many of them you’ll be watching. But as you start exploring the open world it becomes clear that image clarity takes a big hit. To my eye it looks like the iPhone version uses dynamic resolution scaling to help it manage the load, which probably makes sense, but when the camera pans out during one of Sam Porter Bridges’ many epic strolls through the American wasteland, things can start to look pretty soft. Motion blur is enabled by default and can’t currently be disabled, which not everyone will like. The visual performance is never terrible by any means, and the smaller iPhone 15 Pro display helps to mask some of the obvious drawbacks, but it’s an obvious step down from the console version. 

Death Stranding running on an iPhone

(Image credit: Future / Kojima Productions)

2. A more consistent framerate

Death Stranding Director’s Cut for iPhone 15 Pro doesn’t offer any graphic options to players, so you can’t make any tweaks if you’re not happy with what you’re seeing on the display, and that means you’re stuck with what is a very inconsistent frame rate. The game targets 30fps and often maintains it fairly well when not much is happening, but big dips are sadly something you’ll have to accept when the action ramps up, and even uneventful world traversal when the camera is zoomed in is prone to stuttering. Without having any control over the fidelity settings, there is nothing you can do to smooth things out, so I’m hoping for patches down the line. It’s definitely not unplayable, but Death Stranding is a beautiful game that should be experienced at the very least at a solid 30fps.  

Death Stranding running on an iPhone

(Image credit: Future / Kojima Productions)

3. More intuitive touch controls (if that’s even possible)

I’m going to come right out and say it: you should not play Death Stranding Director’s Cut with touch controls. The vast majority of my time with this version of the game was spent with my iPhone lodged in a Backbone One (other excellent game controllers for iPhone are available) and I’d absolutely recommend this approach. When I did experiment with the touch interface, things went south pretty quickly. Basic movement using the virtual joysticks is fine, but this is an input-heavy game that’s almost impossible to intuitively map to a touch screen. You’ll frequently need to use the trigger buttons which by default are at the top of the display, and I couldn’t find a comfortable way of using them while also moving and controlling the camera. You can customise the size and arrangement of the face buttons in the settings, but I just couldn’t make it feel good, and they just look ugly on the screen. I get why as a mobile game this needs to be an option, but right now it isn’t a good one. 

Death Stranding running on an iPhone

(Image credit: Future / Kojima Productions)

4. A more easily readable UI 

If you’ve played Death Stranding before then you’ll already have a good understanding of how important menus and maps are in the game. You’ll frequently be in the former managing your cargo, while effective management of your compass and map is essential for the game’s more challenging deliveries. The problem is that a lot of the icons and text that make these up is hard to read on a phone display, and I found myself squinting more than I would have liked. Admittedly this would likely have been less of a problem on the larger iPhone 15 Pro Max, but I would have appreciated a UI that was better tailored to smaller displays. Even just the ability to pinch and zoom on particularly hard-to-read HUD information in-game would go a long way. 

Death Stranding running on an iPhone

(Image credit: Future / Kojima Productions)

5. More gameplay variety

Death Stranding is essentially 50+ hours of drawn out fetch quests interspersed with even more drawn out cinematics featuring Hollywood A-listers playing characters with ridiculous names. For all the monotony and repetition, once you settle into the game’s unique rhythm it can be a strangely meditative and poignant experience, and one I’d recommend everyone who enjoys Kojima’s singular approach to game design at least give a try. But there really is very little to do beyond collecting cargo and delivering it. The Director’s Cut version improves the combat sections and, for some reason, adds a race track, but most of the time you’re walking between points on a map. I don’t expect this to change a lot in the sequel, but some more bite-size, non-delivery missions and mini-games would make it a more palatable mobile experience. Sam has all the time in the world to make his cross-country deliveries, but as a mobile gamer sometimes I only have 15 minutes. 


It’s a singularly weird game then, and continues to be as barmy as it is brilliant on iPhone. The fact such a recent triple AAA game can run this well on a phone at all remains commendable. But with Death Stranding 2 in the works as we speak, Hideo Kojima, now armed with the knowledge that these sort of ports are even possible, should look to factor in as many mobile-friendly optimizations for the sequel as can be managed.

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Matt Tate
Contributor

Matt Tate is a freelance journalist and contributor at iMore. Formerly Stuff Magazine’s news editor and based in the UK, he’s been writing about consumer tech for around eight years, with a particular focus on gaming (hardware and software), home entertainment and, of course, Apple gear. Matt’s fascination with Apple started in the early 2000s, when his friend turned up to their local skatepark with an original iPod loaded up with ska punk tunes in his pocket. He sadly never scraped enough pocket money together to get one of those, but he was a proud day one owner of the very first iPhone some years later, and near enough every one since. These days Matt follows mobile gaming closely, and is always looking for the latest Apple Arcade game that he can comfortably play using one hand. 


For his sins, Matt is a huge Tottenham Hotspur fan and unfortunately spends a lot of his time scanning his published work for Spurs-related digs that may have been slyly inserted by editors. Otherwise, he’s often buying Lego sets he can no longer accommodate and trying to perfect his carbonara recipe. He can be found tweeting (mostly about football and video games) at @MattWTate.