Death Stranding mobile - What does this new wave of premium games mean?

Death Stranding mobile - What does this new wave of premium games mean?

So, as of a few days ago, it seems that Hideo Kojima’s atmospheric, psychedelic pizza-delivery simulator Death Stranding will be coming not only to Mac but also to iPad and iPhone. The title was recently confirmed via the App Store and will be priced at a pretty reasonable $19.99.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a major AAA property come to phones, of course. Both Resident Evil 4 and Village made the jump to Apple’s flagship hardware with mixed results, but clever technical innovation to bring these computationally-intensive games to handheld. There’s also been porting stalwarts, like Feral Interactive (seen below) and Playdigious, bringing across games for many years - but the energy now, with these major, AAA titles, feels different.

But when the novelty of seeing games like this on mobile has worn off, where does that leave us? What purpose does having these games on mobile serve, and is this really the next big wave to carry us into the future of the platform?

Through the Looking Glass

Now, we all know that Resident Evil on iPad and iPhone is a port that's one of many console and PC games on iOS. Shooting for 30fps at roughly 720p is still impressive, the appeal was more being able to take these titles on the go with you than having exact parity with other versions. Either way, we’re discussing the long-term here, and it’s more likely than not that soon portable hardware will easily be able to accommodate games like this.

When Death Stranding was originally being promoted the focus was not necessarily on graphical fidelity - although the game’s art-design as seen in the PC screenshot below is undeniably strange and captivating - but this is not a lightweight title by any means. Still, after seeing games like Resident Evil 4 make the jump to phones? The sky, as we just said, is the limit. Either we’ll see hardware keep up or, perhaps more interestingly, we’ll see games once more downscaled to fit onto portable hardware.

But what does this mean for our consumption of media like Death Stranding? There is something to be said about whether certain games really can function as easily accessible short-form entertainment. And whether having big, high-production titles on phones cheapens the intended experience.

Getting the whole experience in your palm

After all, if any game is noteworthy for the robustness of its content and (arguably long-winded) playtime, it’s Death Stranding. This is a game that takes the title of walking simulator and proudly runs with it. It's as much about the atmosphere of the long journey as it is about any of the exciting moments where you have to escape with the precious cargo you’re carrying. It’s a game that engages with you, so long as you engage with it.

But okay, let’s get outside of subjective artistic stuff. Functionally, Death Stranding is very, very different to Resident Evil 4. While Resi 4 follows a fairly linear level-based structure with points to rest and save, Death Stranding virtually forces you to sit down and engage in a journey that can take close to an hour depending on the chosen cargo and delivery route. This is not a game you pick up and play for five minutes on your bus ride to work.

However, playing Devil’s Advocate, I’d also argue that putting a game as great as Death Stranding into the hands of more players is a godsend for gaming. For many people buying a console, let alone a gaming-capable PC, is prohibitively expensive. However, having an iPhone or iPad that serves multiple purposes is far more common. That’s actually how smartphones have thrived: we don’t need to carry around a calendar, address book, calculator, notepad or torch, they’re all right there on the device; and that’s before we even talk about social media, productivity apps and access to emails.

The hardware argument

One additional topic we need to talk about is the recently announced Backbone controller made as a limited edition for Death Stranding. This device basically provides the same controller experience as you’d have with a console or PC. It’s interesting to note this has been released as it’s a clear sign of hope for long-term support of more games and an acknowledgement of the barrier for entry which is the feasibility of using controls on phone screens.

Regardless of whether it’s a subscription or AAA release, games like Death Stranding demand a better controller experience. And the investment in this new hardware by companies indicates there’s a lot of faith in this being the new wave of the future for mobile gaming.

What’s it all about?

One proponent of the ‘single-screen singularity’ is our editor-in-chief, Dann. And he makes a convincing argument, pointing to the growth of subscriptions and multiplatform games. The idea is that we’ll all be able to access any of our subscriptions or services through any screen, rather than thinking of things as a PC experience, or a TV experience.

With Death Stranding this adds further weight, but I would also posit an inverse of this. Games industry analyst Mat Piscatella recently rebuked the idea that subscriptions were the wave of the future and said that they were more ‘additive’ than cannibalistic (i.e. taking away business from premium games). This puts a slight dent into the throughline of games being playable on any platform, and being hardware-neutral.

But, Death Stranding surely rebukes that, right? Maybe, but as I said there’s also the more subjective question of whether the experience is the same. Can you get as immersed in a game when it’s on a different platform than it was originally designed for?

The emulation argument

One topic that has cycled back around again lately is emulators. Now, some of you may be familiar with the distinction seen in pixel art between HD and CRT monitors: The distinctive jagged edges of pixel art were much smoother on CRT monitors due to what was, in effect, a primitive form of antialiasing. But when these games were brought to HD devices, officially or otherwise, this effect was lost and essentially it was assumed that this was how these games were intended to be seen.

Similarly, on a smaller screen, there’s so much detail that stands to be lost. And with that is engagement and immersion, and with THAT comes the potential for mobile gamers who might be the audience which studios hope to convert bouncing off these new games. Readability and accessibility on mobile devices is a constantly evolving challenge for studios, and as shallow as it may seem, it may be one reason these titles could struggle to find an audience.

I would argue that Death Stranding could be a litmus test. After all, if games like this become easily available on hand-held and achieve parity with other platforms, could it be that people would prefer to own and install a game for lifetime offline play rather than rely on services like cloud gaming? Will this itself be additive to the existing mobile gaming market, or cannibalistic?

Death Stranding on mobile is no landmark, I’d argue, but it is a sign of changing times.

And if you're a bit cautious as to whether your iPhone can run it, or if you're *gasp* on Android, then why not check out our list of mobile games to give you a similar experience to Death Stranding?

Iwan Morris
Iwan Morris
Iwan is a Cardiff-based freelance writer, who joined the Pocket Gamer Biz site fresh-faced from University before moving to the Pocketgamer.com editorial team in November of 2023.