In my line of work (the gaming side), I review a lot of games and speed through them quite a bit. Once in a while there will be a game I’ve been waiting for that will occupy my time: that game is Death Stranding, from Kojima Productions.
For about four years I patiently waited for this to come out. Ok, so I wasn’t marking an X on a calendar that I’m going to link in a montage, but Death Stranding was arguably the game I’ve been looking forward to since I saw the first trailer.
Though I got this on the release date (the Higgs version, and also an Amazon affiliate link – no animals will be harmed if you purchase from the link, but I’ll love you forever), it was only recently that I finished the story after once-a-week sessions that were always less than planned. Well, thank the calendar for Christmas as I was able to blitz it and some 88 hours (count ’em) later, I finished the main story. There’s still lots to do, but I’m in the position where I can give a fair review.
Death Stranding is a masterpiece.
Out For A Walk
There. I said it. Yes, I read a handful of reviews too about the game being a walking simulation and that whatever you do in the game makes no impact on the cutscenes or general narrative. To some extent, that’s somewhat true, but I could care less on those reviews, as I know from my experience, it was fantastic.
When a game has you thinking about it between plays – not because you’re working out how to get past a boss or solve a puzzle, but because you’re thinking about the characters or the story, that’s magic for me. Titles that affect me like this are games such as Alan Wake, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Catherine. There are many more, but these are the sorts of narratives that I find compelling and go on to intensify my connection with videogames.
Death Stranding isn’t as complicated as some have said, but it is layered with nuances that can be easily skimmed over both intentionally and through simply not knowing. Take for instance in the game the emails you receive from NPCs, interviews relating to the history of this game world, in-game tips and much much more. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and in some cases I skipped over some features, not realising I could do them until about 60+ hours in.
Don’t Call Me
But I’m jumping ahead of the gun. Forget about the convoluted story and any of the negative press associated. How does it play? Death Stranding is unique. I’ll give it that. The overall feel and controls are excellent but stripping down the actual gameplay seems incredibly dull: transport a series of packages from A to B. That’s it in a nutshell, but throw in a few curveballs like difficult terrain, corrosive weather that damages your load, groups that are out to steal your gear (or kill you) and of course, the enigmatic BTs that you can only see with a Bridge Baby, BB.
The number of acronyms in Death Stranding is borderline excessive, but it neither dumbs everything down nor skips over anything you want to know more about. For the first 10 hours or so, I was quite ignorant to the story as it was a little too much at times and in some respects, pretentious.
So much emphasis has gone into this being a Hideo Kojima game, but like the film auteurs before him, it isn’t the work of one person. A lot of research has gone into this – fitting it all into one game to appeal to such a wide range of people is a feat in itself. To not stray away too much from the actual gameplay, you can access a database that will answer most of your questions. Most.
You’re Nothing Without The Likes
It’s very hard to explain the story of Death Stranding in simple terms and also without ruining it if you haven’t already played it. I made a very specific point of not looking at any reviews, clips or social media for the majority of my time playing the game. And I’m glad I took that approach. I made my own assumptions and in fear of sounding cocky, a lot of my conclusions were accurate, yet I wasn’t one bit disappointed with the times I was right. Other times I thought I knew what was happening and clearly overthought it.
So what’s it about at the very least? In a near-apocalyptic future, the United States is no more. There has been a series of void outs which has wiped out populations and destroyed and swallowed up everything within the vicinity. The remaining survivors are disconnected with one another but the current President wants to reunite the remaining cities via what is known as the chiral network.
Connecting these survivors requires someone to physically go to the locations and set them up. That’s where Sam Porter Bridges comes in to play. A legendary porter who gets deliveries done on time and without fuss. Retaining the fundamental duty of his job, he travels on foot carrying orders from one place to the next. The amount of what he can carry depends on the weight, and whether he has the equipment that helps with weight distribution. Later he gains access to a reverse-trike or truck.
Each completed delivery gives you a ranking and each location has a person of interest that gives you likes and improve your reputation. If you fill the five available stars with each person, they award you with new equipment and customisations of your loadouts such as your trusty backpack and a plethora of colour options. It’s not a requirement to get all these ratings as you could effectively finish the story as it is. I chose to milk it as the experience is brilliant.
Open Combat, Just Not So Frequent
Strolling through the wastelands is strangely hypnotic and not seeing a living soul for long periods of time was also quite endearing. I hate people. No, not really. Well, large groups of loud ones. Anyhow, the landscapes stay the same in aesthetic, but not one area is similar to the next. With the exception of the snow areas (an absolute pig to navigate), it’s mostly rocky terrain with the corrosive rain known as timefall.
I wasn’t particularly aware of the split opinion on Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but what I do know is that I loved it. The predecessors were fantastic games, but I wouldn’t say I was a Snake fanboy. With Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, I did exactly the same as Death Stranding and milked each area. Until I lost Quiet, thus my interest in raids. Death Stranding is very similar to this, but the focus is on non-lethal combat and in reality, you don’t really see that much action.
When you do encounter enemies, you can typically take them out by charging at them and knocking them out. Later NPCs carry a lethal arsenal and while I wouldn’t advise fighting fire with fire (there’s a connection with death and void outs), you’ll most likely need assault rifles to get through it. Saying that, combat is really easy. Normally I wouldn’t like this, but as I was more focused on the story and preserving my orders, I wanted as less hassle as possible.
Stumbled Upon A Low Roar
I say it’s a masterpiece (opinion, people – I also think Eyes Wide Shut is one when most think it’s self-indulgent nonsense), but it, of course, has flaws. Climbing the terrain can be monotonous, especially in the snow, but when you have a heap of equipment and put your foot wrong or Sam can’t detect the height of a rock, you damage all your gear and ruin the quality of your haul. This means fewer likes, and as social commentary, that’s what it’s all about in the end. There’s never a complete game over as Sam is a repatriate – in a nutshell, he can’t die, but it’s a game device for infinite continues.
If you break it down, the orders are pointless a lot of the time as you could complete the game with the equipment awarded for the main story. However, as I said, I was happy to explore more and was wholeheartedly satisfied with the journey, despite the imperfections here and there.
On a personal note, the whiny music that kicked in at pivotal trekking moments really got on my nerves. No doubt life imitates art and Low Roar has more likes on YouTube, but it wasn’t for me. I suppose the score represents for most the feeling of isolation, et al, and I’ll no doubt enjoy listening at a later date, but in the game, I wasn’t a fan, with the exception of BB’s Theme. I had a connection with that, as I’m sure a lot did.
The breaking of the fourth wall was a little too much at times. Monster being the recommended drink to keep your stamina up was lame and advertising Norman Reedus’ reality show, was more of Kojima’s ‘witty’ in-jokes and self-awareness. He’s like a variation of Quentin Tarantino as he clearly knows his stuff, but for the average gamer and filmgoer, it can be a little overwhelming. I’m having flashbacks to Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and some exposition. Aaarrggghh! Then again, I lapped it all up. I was all over that.
In the end, I’ve put out my review of the game and happy with what I’ve concluded with. If it’s not for you, then that’s absolutely fine. This isn’t me telling/forcing you to buy a game because everyone else is or that I’ve been coaxed to do so, but because it’s my opinion and if that has any clout, I hope it gives you an indication of what to expect. If you have read through this review word for word and think it’s a waste of time, consider yourself you didn’t put in almost 90 hours (so far) into the game. As for me, I’ll be heading back into the UCA to get my platinum trophy.
And finally, without giving anything away, when you get to the epilogue(?), the cutscenes are just a bit too much with little game time between. Sure, they explain a few gaps here and there if you weren’t following, but from a connoisseur of the FMV, even I thought it was a bit too much.
Tomorrow is in your hands.