In this review, I will be trying not to spoil anything story-wise and will try to keep all screenshots, other than those of mechanics, to the first half of the game as not to reveal any story progression. But if you are a Kojima fan and like to go into experiences blind – Skip this and just go play it.
I did media blackout on this game, but for once – I wish I knew what this was beforehand.
|Release Date||November 8, 2019|
|Genre||Um… Stealth Action Walking-Simulator|
|Platforms||PS4, PC (Summer 2020)|
*A copy of this game was provided to FYIG by Kojima Productions for review purposes.
There is something you must know out of the gate:
The actual gameplay of Death Stranding is making deliveries.
There are light stealth elements, light combat elements, and of course a Kojima story, but what you are getting here, for the most part, is a game where you are delivering cargo from one point to another with long stretches of essentially nothing. The game in that has more depth than you would think, but if the idea of a game about traversal turns you off, there probably isn’t a lot for you here.
However, every once in awhile, it’s beyond good to have a game that you can put on and start a podcast and just go. I think that’s what Death Stranding will be for me for a long time. That isn’t to say it’s mindless though. Similarly to Breath of the Wild’s reinvention of traversal, Death Stranding goes the extra mile to put something as simple as walking under a microscope and innovate it. As you make deliveries you have to think about endurance, weight, inventory management, where you are stepping, your balance, enemies, weather, and your ultimate route. All of this makes Death Standing ostensibly the grandest walking simulator we’ve seen so far.
Rather than being an unstoppable hero with dozens of guns on him at any given point, you find yourself taking control of a very limited human (sorry Norman Reedus) where even the most simple tool on your trip takes up space that you need to think about. Do you want to take the biggest load you can with the risk of damaging cargo easier, or do you run with limited goods and a set of tools to ensure the easiest trip but less payout – There ARE different ways to play Death Stranding. But what you are getting here is mindful travel in a barren world with moments of serenity. You’ll find yourself in eyeshot of your delivery location on the horizon and you know that you made it. Then the game puts on a song from one of many real artists that contributed to the game, creating a strange, relieving, and often melancholy thoughtfulness to these experiences.
There are times where you find yourself threatened by the mysterious “BT’s”, shadowy creatures that threaten to pull Reedus down and face off against what is essentially a boss. These encounters begin as a very tense and even horrific break to the gameplay, but it became hard not to find them as a nuisance to your trip later on – which is also a valid creation if that was the intention. You will also sometimes find yourself facing off in combat encounters with human enemies know as “Mules” who are just after as much cargo as they can get their hands on. These encounters do harken back to Kojima’s yesteryear with metal gear, albeit with a much less in-depth system to it. Where this was the main hook of those games, this one is travel in the barren countryside.
Things aren’t all barren though.
You are set across a barren landscape assigned to bring people together by delivering them goods and connecting them to what is called the “Chiral Network”. As places connect to the Chiral Network it also begins to cover the landscape in work from other players.
Death Standing takes the type of multiplayer that was popularized by the late great Dark Souls, where players were able to leave messages for other players and could even see replays of deaths that happened in that area. This brought a strangely dynamic reaction in that players could help each other from a distance by letting them know about traps, secrets, and strategies. Death Stranding takes this concept to the next level.
Death Stranding players can leave messages, tools for traversal, and even structures such as boxes full of equipment, vehicle charging stations, bridges, and of course the now famed long-ladders. When you come to a new area your faced with a harsh land of frustration and celebration as you finally overcome and get to your destination to bring them online – then the player finds themselves in a world with helpful things in place and little touches of humanity all over. The game uses this Chiral Network system as if it were a social network where the incentive to help players is to get likes and vice versa – expanding your reputation in being a good way to connect a community in what first felt like a barren world.
In such a bleak backdrop, Death Stranding’s optimism in humanity is something rarely seen in media, essentially acting as the inverse of a Black Mirror episode. Where social media can be a force for good and seemingly invasive human structures can be a catalyst for human connection. In our society that is obsessed with entertainment that centers around technology being the source of the end and it was fascinating to see technology from the perspective of rebuilding humanity and connecting people. At times seemingly problematic and brain-rattling, Death Standing at least brings a new perspective to a discussion and without a doubt the gaming industry.
I will not go too much into the story because it is quite a thing to unpack and I don’t want to spoil a single moment for those who might want to pick this strange beast up, but what I will say is this is Kojima off his leash. What I mean by that is there is crazy naming, conversations made of metaphors, cryptic backstory, weird wording, and loads upon loads of flavor text – And its just as lovable as ever if that is the taste of your tea. You could lose an entire afternoon pouring through the messages and interviews offering more to the characters that you may have just seen in one hologram.
Is Death Stranding a good game? No. Rarely did I ever feel that I was having fun. Was Death Stranding a good experience? Absolutely. Death Standing was thought-provoking, frustrating, challenging, and rewarding on several levels and worth experiencing. Sometimes it was difficult to tell if these meanings were just extrapolations on something simple I wanted to believe was bigger (seeing the Monster Energy product placement didn’t make me feel at ease there) but ultimately art is validated through what the audience member takes from it – and damn did I love picking this apart. If you’re looking for a game that you constantly look forward to playing, it’s probably a good idea to look somewhere else. But if you want to try something brand new and want to challenge yourself mentally – this is something that is a must-play.
|Innovative Multiplayer||Frustrating Gameplay|
|Fascinating concepts and story||Combat lacks depth|
|Kojima Antics||Kojima Antics|