I’ve written plenty about Death Stranding. It’s equal parts weird as it is fascinating or fun. Sometimes bordering absurd, but never ever sacrificing the vision of Hideo Kojima.
I can wax lyrical about how it makes you feel. How it’s potentially one of the best gaming experiences in recent years, if not ever. But that’s all hyperbole without some objective critique. Death Stranding, thankfully holds up to a lot of the usual checks (which I’ll come to). But it definitely can either lose itself, or perhaps lose the player on the journey to the completion of the story.
Let’s get to the brass tacks of Death Stranding. Mechanically, visually and audibly. Things I judge all games on.
Visual judgement isn’t just about graphical fidelity and frame rates to me. It’s all about the overall aesthetic. Does Death Stranding deliver a consistent theme? Does it feel cohesive and visually work?
Death Stranding delivers. On pretty much all points.
The menus are modern, clean and functional. You don’t get too lost in navigation, things make sense (after a little while) and the delivery likes/reviews work on a current day and post-apocalyptic delivery sense, whatever that means.
Environments and the landscape look incredible. Running water, drifting snow, jagged rocks and desert sand. Tied-in with lighting that feels natural and maintains the cinematic vibe the Hideo Kojima is clearly working towards.
Cutscenes are shot really nicely with camera angles taken straight from the big screen.
There’s nothing that I don’t like aesthetically in Death Stranding. It works, and it feels natural.
I never felt any frame drops when the action picked-up (a rare, but fraught experience). The weather really shifts your mood and your approach. Rain and darkened skies are the only visual clues you need to know that things can go badly.
Sunshine and rays of light through the clouds, highlight a more carefree and relaxed approach. If there was no audio, I think that the visual clues would give you enough to work from to get through your expeditions.
Death Stranding looks gorgeous and delivers tone and mood with ease.
Whilst Death Stranding looks fantastic, it sounds even better.
Between a star-studded voice cast and a Low-Roar laden soundtrack, you’re treated with atmosphere and drama in equal measure.
BB (Lou) cries, BT’s are in the area. You know about it thanks to excellent audible clues.
Norman Reedus delivers the script with enough emotion, although I feel like he’s purposely quite wooden and “gritty”. On the other end of that scale, you have a more energetic delivery from game voice-acting royalty Troy Baker.
The soundtrack and the score are nothing short of perfect in Death Stranding. Again, delivering mood and tying-in with the feel of the environment. Having some soft “Low Roar” tune play as you see your goal on the horizon, or after you’ve got yourself through a potentially ropey situation. It works so so well.
Footsteps over different terrains, electric vehicles, exo-skeleton leg joints. The sound design is something else here, with a real attention to detail. Death Stranding is a genuine audio treat.
“Mechanics” is a broad term, but there are the mechanics of the game, and then the mechanics of the engine/movement and “feel”.
I’d start with how Death Stranding feels. There’s a definite sponginess in the movement of Sam Porter Bridges, and it reminds me massively of the movement in Horizon Zero Dawn. It’s not awful, but it doesn’t feel super-sharp and I feel like it’s just a little too “soft”. It’s really hard to describe, but 10 minutes of turning around and walking about will highlight that it’s not quite as punchy and responsive on the thumbsticks as you might imagine.
The mechanics that the game has created, though, are on a different level.
The weapons and items are creative, useful and always worth keeping. The reliance on blood transfusions into your weapons is a fascinating tactical limitation on top of ammo count. You need to keep blood bags on you to fill them up, because Sam’s blood is one of the only effective things against BT’s!
Ladders, ropes, trucks and motorbikes. Guns, rocket launchers, grenades, Monster Energy Drink and melee attacks. You’re always unlocking new ways to effectively traverse the world of Death Stranding, and always finding more powerful weapons to help you move through difficult areas.
Gravity isn’t your friend, especially when you have stacks of boxes that are twice your height, on your back!
It borders being a little to safe to quickly get down an almost sheer mountainside, but you feel the weight of what Sam is carrying, and the worry of dropping it all never leaves you.
The movement and vehicles are a little lacking, however the game and the world it brings with it work wonderfully. Death Stranding introduces some cool weapons (I love the Bola gun!) and I’ve never been more happy to 3D print a generator in the middle of a mountain range, in my life.
Good voice acting can’t solely carry a script. Some games can take themselves too seriously, or miss the mark in comedy and timing.
Death Stranding takes itself seriously, no doubt. And it definitely loses the player along the way, from time to time. I’ve been scratching my head on occasion, and then trying not to sound like a crazy man when explaining to people in real life.
Hideo Kojima is know for his strong and crazy narratives in the Metal Gear Solid franchise, and renowned for pop-culture references and real-world influence. Death Stranding is no different.
For the bulk of the game, I kept-up, but in that back third of the game, especially the final few hours, I lost my way and struggled to fully keep track of what was going on.
It didn’t put me off, and I enjoyed trying to un-pick, and questioning what I thought I had understood. It left me perplexed but it also left me intrigued and spending time outside of playing it, to try and understand.
I can totally see Death Stranding getting in the way of itself an putting people off. Especially towards the end when it really gets heavy into cinematics. But I’d invested enough time, and opened-up enough into the game to just let it happen.
Easy to criticise as too serious for it’s own good. Death Stranding is a game with a strong narrative vision, that for better or for worse, I feel is delivered without compromise. Sometimes, that’s as important.
Unique and unwavering in it’s focus. Death Stranding delivers a narrative that’s at times obscure and sometimes quite emotional. No matter where you are though, you’re intrigued.
Death Stranding is like no other game ever made, and I think it’s all the better for it. It looks great, it sounds great and the gameplay is built on strong traversal and environmental interaction.
Sometimes hard to understand what the hell is going on, you can feel as lost and isolated as Sam on a delivery to a new knot. It’s transformative and genuinely pulls you in.
A game that’s more about atmosphere and mood than many that I’ve played before. It’s unique, fun and ridiculous. An experience if nothing else, and one of the best gaming experiences of all time.
It’s easy for me to rate Death Stranding as “Exceptional” because I feel like it’s the only word to really describe it.
If you’re on the fence, go an play it. If you think it looks too boring and crazy, you might be right. I don’t think Death Stranding is for everyone. I do think everyone should give it a try though. It may very well be a surprise.
Go on, give it a go, it might just change your mind as to what a game should or could be.