Death Stranding - Review
If there is one name in the video game development world that gets people’s attention, it is Hideo Kojima. The mastermind behind the now legendary Metal Gear Solid series. A franchise that pretty much invented its own genre, or certainly popularised it.
The story of how ‘Death Stranding’ came to being was a rather tumultuous one. In 2015 Kojima’s fruitful relationship with Konami, whom he worked with for nearly 3 decades, came to an unceremonious end. Internal struggles which haven’t been fully explained to this day caused a rift between creator and publisher. Metal Gear Solid V was just about to release and infamously Kojima’s name was removed from all the promotional marketing material. Prompting many retailers to create their own signs on their displays of the game declaring it as “A Hideo Kojima Game” in a show of solidarity.
In turn, the new Silent Hills game he was involved in was canned. A bitter disappointment considering just how much the teaser for the game, P.T., was widely regarded as one of gamings greatest horror experiences of recent years and showed real promise of what was to come. This event however would largely influence him in his next venture. Notably the friendship he had struck up with both director Guillermo Del Toro and actor Norman Reedus, whom were both involved in the cancelled game.
Hideo reopened up his own studio later that year in an exclusive partnership with Sony Computer Entertainment. Now as an independent studio, Kojima Productions announced their first title, ‘Death Stranding’. Del Toro and Reedus would re-team with Kojima and join the new project.
As soon as the first trailer was dropped, opinion was pretty much divided. No-one knew what on earth the game was about. The more we saw of it, the more questions everyone had. It was beyond description.
In a world devastated by the event known as the Death Stranding, you play Sam Porter Bridges. A courier whom is tasked by the Bridges company to connect various settlements across the United Cities of America to what is known as the Chiral Network. A way to link and transfer data to help the country rebuild from the disaster. In order to do this Sam will have to traverse, largely on foot, across a wide range of terrain including rivers, valleys and snowy mountains carrying various loads of cargo that must be deposited at various sites. Along the way, he will need to combat cargo hoarders known as MULES and evade BT’s, beings that exist in the world between the living and the dead.
Encountering BT’s is a tense affair. The atmosphere takes a dark turn and you are suddenly placed in to a situation of stealth and are required to remain calm under pressure. Crouching past the BT’s sort of feels like you are playing one of those buzz wire games, going from A to B trying not to disturb what’s going on around you.
At its heart, Death Stranding is all about connections. Connections between people and connection between worlds. The game features a very clever social aspect. You never meet other players; this is wholly a single player experience. However, when you are connected online, you have the ability to find structures like ladders and ropes that other people have built in their games that you can use in yours. In turn, a structure you put down could appear in someone else’s game to aid them in their journey. The most impressive of these is the ability for players to independently supply materials in order to create a large road network that spans the map. All this deepens the connection theme and it can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience knowing you’ve helped other players along the way.
Death Stranding is a pretty game, a really pretty game. The gorgeous vast landscapes are rich in textures and you can’t help but feel overwhelmed and dwarfed by its scale and your position in it. The Decima engine, borrowed from Horizon Zero Dawn developer Guerilla Games, is used to stunning effect.
On a gameplay level, this however will not be to everyone’s tastes. It is really rather slow paced. There is very little in terms of high octane action, especially in the first half of the game. It is very much an experience. With a haunting but beautiful quality to it as you slowly make your way across this tarnished environment.
Many people might find the inventory management system a chore too. You literally have to organise all the cargo on your back in to the most optimal position as to prevent Sam from falling over. Make yourself too top heavy, and Sam will go tumbling down a cliff face and wreck everything he was carrying. Ruining the whole trek you had done up to that point.
Chapter 3 is where the game opens up, and this is the part that provides the opportunity to unlock equipment that will make your job much easier. If you choose to put the work in first, that is. It is this chapter which I feel is the crux of the game. The part where people will either push on or give up on it. I probably spent about a third of my whole playthrough in this one chapter trying to obtain the best equipment to help me for the rest of the game. As you make your way to the latter stages, the chapters do get shorter. Overall though, expect to put some serious hours in to this. I finished with a playtime of 65.5 hours.
As you progress you do have to ability to make vehicles, including bikes and vans. These make travelling the map a lot quicker. They are however quite fiddly to control and a number of times I found myself in precarious positions really struggling to go anywhere in places where no roads had been built.
I didn’t love the game, but did like it quite a lot. It is completely understandable why some people have taken against it. There is no doubt the game can be a grind and to some can be seen as asking too much of them. The convoluted plot could easily put people off too.
Despite my personal faults with it, I admire the bravery and bizarre nature of Death Stranding. The absurdity of the plot and gameplay I found oddly enthralling. I quite like that it is a game that has forged its own path and not been afraid to take a leap of faith. I want games to not always follow the same tropes. Whatever your thoughts on Kojima, he is a visionary willing to be bold in his work.
After completing the story, I don’t really have much desire to go for full completion of it. It genuinely fatigued me as if I had done all the walking myself. I also don’t really know if I shall ever play it again. However, for me this was very much a game about the journey, not the destination.
by Mark (Joking Dolphin)