We’ve been waiting for Death Stranding since 2016, Hideo Kojima’s first game since his messy divorce from Konami. The long wait has been down to the fact that Sony has given Kojima and his team of developers at Kojima Productions all the time that they need so that Death Stranding can be the game that is envisioned by the legendary developer, with no pressure to get the game released by a strict deadline, a somewhat of luxury in today’s generation. A huge part of Death Stranding’s appeal has been the mystery that surrounds it and despite releasing multiple trailers over the past 12 months by the bucket load, I’ve only watch two of them, as I wanted to go in as blind as possible. So with that said I will only gloss over what I have made of the story and I will be keeping this review as spoiler free as possible, so you can rest easy and read on.
The world is in turmoil, following a catastrophic event known as “Death Stranding” where alien-like ghost creatures known as B.T’s, have the ability to simultaneously exist between our realm of the living and the dead, and they roam the earth wiping out what remains of our existence, and if it’s not the B.T’s that are the threat, its ourselves. Amongst all the chaos is you, Sam Bridges played by The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus. Sam is a member of a very powerful family in the United States, but in an extreme effort to isolate himself from them and as much human interaction as possible, Sam is a Porter, a deliverer of special cargo for a company known as Bridges.
In this world that now exists, his job is extremely dangerous and the chances of anyone surviving beyond a year, are very slim. Yet Sam has a unique power and tolerance that allows him to connect to the afterlife, a power that sets him apart in what remains of our fractured society. However, in an unexpected turn of events, Sam is called upon by his family to re-connect what remains of humanity, but nothing could truly prepare him for the fate that now lies within his hands. A man that pursued isolation is now humanities best hope from keeping us connected and saving us from extinction.
Since its release, you may have heard Death Stranding being dubbed a “walking simulator”, but nothing could be a more unfair assessment, because despite this game featuring A LOT of walking, Death Stranding is so much more than that and after a few hours of settling in with how everything works, you’ll likely soon discover that there is something unique about this game. Granted, there are a lot of “fetch quests” and plenty of back-tracking, but without sounding cynical, that’s just the filler, the appetiser to what is a luring story that will keep you hooked wanting to learn more and beneath its surface, Death Stranding has a powerful message about human connection and how we can be stronger together, as one unity and not fighting within a fractured society. Then the icing on this intriguing story of mystery, it’s a wealth of charismatic performances, a mesmerising soundtrack and chilling creatures that offer more than just being ghostly spirits. All of which make for a game of the year contender and a game that can potentially live up its hype.
Now, without giving away any spoilers, let’s talk about the core gameplay mechanics. As I’ve already mentioned, Death Stranding involves a lot of walking and if this is something that may put you off, it may not be for you, but I would at least urge to borrow it from a friend if you can, should you be sceptical. Thankfully for me, I’m the kind of player that loves to explore, but not only that, I’m also the kind that doesn’t use the fast-track feature in Red Dead Redemption 2 all that often, as I just love the sensation of exploring, curious of what lies beyond the far-off valley. Death Stranding has given that feeling of being a child, wondering off on your own mini adventure and a sense of adventure is much of what Death Stranding is about.
However, the walking aspect does play into the role of the courier with our protagonist. You will pick up tasks, deliver vital packages to recipients as you aim to earn their trust in the hope that they will connect within the Bridges network in an attempt to make the United States whole, not only with safety in numbers against the B.T’s, but also terrorist that want nothing more than to capitalise on the fractured society. Once you connect with certain characters, you will also open more areas on the open-world map, which ultimately connects you to other player’s activity, but more on that later. And unlike the generic UbiTowers, the ‘tower’ like mechanic actually as a strong sense of purpose of the telling of Death Stranding’s and is not just mere congestion to fill out the map.
While on your adventures, as well as being wear of B.T’s, you will encounter bandits that will kill you for your loot and to take your cargo. However, the B.T’s are ghostly creatures that will pull you into their world beyond ours if you’re not careful, and in true Hideo Kojima fashion, stealth will be absolute key if you are going to make it safely through their zones. Thankfully, as you may have seen, you have a very special companion to help you on your perilless journey’s with a baby in a jar or officially known as, B.B’s. Again, without giving too much away, B.B’s are taken from their “still mothers”, babies that survived birth, but sadly their mothers did not. As a result, B.B’s have a special connection to the after-life, something that is not truly understood, even within the world of Death Stranding.
However, thanks to their special abilities of being able to connect to the after-life, as a result, they can detect the ghostly B.T’s within your radius, without them, Sam Bridges would not survive. But you will still need to slowly sneak passed and hold your breath to avoid them being alerted to your presence, even with the help of the B.B’s and some gadgets that you’ll acquire later on in the game. A character that seems to have a greater understanding of the B.B’s, is that character that you may recognise with Guillermo del Toro likeness, aka Deadman, who tells you that you must not make an emotional attachment to your B.B due to its very short life-span, but seeing as you are carrying this baby with you almost from the beginning of the game and that you care for it, naturally you will form a bond, something that Death Stranding plays very well into.
As you make your way through all the merciless dangers that lie ahead, keep the cargo goods that you are carrying is of the utmost importance, not only from a profession standpoint, but this can be the only way of gaining trust from some that you want to connect with to the Bridges network, however you won’t just be exporting goods, as some will require you to be sent dangerous missions deep within enemy territory. There is also some assumption, that Death Stranding doesn’t feature any real combat, now the game does encourage a none-lethal approach, but rest assured, combat is most certainly present in the game and all being said, it’s competent enough, just don’t go expecting anything to the level of the Metal Gear Solid series. However, if bandits and B.T’s weren’t hazard enough, you’ll also have to tackle the unforgiving terrain and mother nature. Death Stranding is full of mountains, deadly cliffhanging heights, deserted wastelands and more. You will have to carry goods stacked on your back, arms, legs, by hand, basically any method of being able to carry items, you will need to do it. So inventory management is key as you aim for the perfect balance as you trek across the wildlands.
As you progress in the game and level-up your expertise, you will be able to carry more items, but regardless of your level, you will always have to get the balance just right and even then, the terrain will challenge you no matter what, no matter the enemies that lie ahead. As a word of advice, I would leave 30kg-50kg free if possible, to make room for any lost luggage you may find along the way, not to mention that the load is easier to manage on your journey. Thankfully, the further you get into the game, you will unlock gadgets, accessories and vehicles that you make your journeys a little easier to manage, but then the more you manage, the more danger that will be present. One other fierce danger is the rain, not just because it can result in you slipping on the backside, but this mysterious rain also causes an additional aging process, not only to exposed humans, but also your cargo. So this is something that you must be aware of and if you can’t find a nearby cave for shelter, thankfully you can craft a spray that will repair your goods, which also goes to improving your end of delivery rating, if you cargo arrives in good condition.
As I’ve already eluded too, much of Death Stranding is about connecting humanity and Kojima Productions have implemented a clever way to introduce multiplayer, especially for those that perhaps might not like multiplayer, at least in the traditional sense. In your shared-world (if you will), you will be able to build bridges and roads, to not only make easier paths for you, but they can also be used in other players from their Death Stranding campaign too. So if you build a bridge, as long as you are connected online (and I urge that you do, to get the most out of the game), your structures will be present elsewhere and vice-versa. Better still, if you do not quite have the resources to finish building that bridge, other players can add to it and help you finish the job, which is quite symbolic for the nature of this game.
Even little things such as leaving ladders to climb rocks or cross a small stream, a rope to climb or descend a steep slope, leaves you a great feeling of satisfaction, a feeling of being in it together, knowing that the tools you leave behind are being left to good use. Likewise, you can pick-up lost cargo while out and about, which may have been left by other players for whatever reason and as such, you will not only help to conclude the job they were unable to finish (possibly as a result of being chased off by B.T’s or bandits), but you will get some social media inspired Likes for lending a helping hand. You can even share jobs with other players, leave items in a shared locker, leave signs of encouragement in the world or warn of dangers that may lie ahead. There’s so much I could say about the social aspect of Death Stranding, but coming from someone that struggles daily with social interactions, whether its human interaction in person or even sometimes via traditional online gaming, Kojima Productions have created something quite unique with its approach to online gaming, something that I commend whole-heartedly, especially if you suffer with any form of social anxiety.
As I come towards the end of this review, I cannot end it without mentioning the amazing performances from all the characters that feature in Death Stranding, not only with the star-studded cast such as Norman Reedus, but also Mads Mikkelsen, Léa Seydoux and Troy Baker, but also all the other supporting cast, right on down to the lower-end NPC’s, every character is portrayed in charming to chilling ways, offering not only one of the most diverse cast of characters that I’ve ever seen in a game, but also the high level of performances and that includes the cameo inspired characters too. Then we have the amazing soundtrack, which not only helps to draw added emotion from the story, but it also has a brilliant knack of timing that does a superb job in the pacing of the story being told. Oh and then we have the visuals, and my, everything about Death Stranding looks stunning, from the terrain, decayed buildings to character animation and more, Death Stranding is simply a joy to behold and easily one of the most visually impressive games of this generation.
To conclude, Death Stranding is certainly dividing opinion and as the old saying goes we’re all “each to our own” and quite possibly, no game in recent years is arguably more polarising then Hideo Kojima’s latest work. In my humble opinion, Death Stranding is nothing short of a masterpiece and will most certainly be regarded as one of my favourite games of this console generation. No matter what side of the fence you’re on, it will at least form on opinion from you and I can’t urge you enough to consider picking-up this game (even if it does mean borrowing a copy from a friend), as its like something that you’ve never experienced. You may very well find that you hate it, but if not, this could very well be your Game of the Year, and with a game as “connected” and polarising as Death Stranding, it will no doubt keep us talking, theorising and speculating for years to come, and that is truly something spectacular.
- Death Stranding will release for PC during Q2/Q3 of 2020.