How do you review or even describe a game like Death Stranding?
I honestly don’t have the answer, nor do I necessarily have the ability to put it into words as much as I would like to. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to try, though.
Whilst I’m nearly finished on my Skyward Sword HD playthrough, I wanted to get on the Death Stranding train again, after unsuccessfully starting it on PS4 over a year ago. This time, I got a good deal on the Epic Games Store and started a playthrough on PC.
Certainly, this coincided nicely with the release of the Directors Cut. So it’s likely the marketing and renewed hype around it, got me thinking about playing it.
This is a weird piece with no real aim, but I needed to get some of it out of my head. So here you go! Ramblings of a man trying to understand Hideo Kojima.
This is the second time I’ve started Death Stranding. Not due to fault of the game, necessarily. I just tried to get into it months after having a son and well, my time was better spent elsewhere. So I dropped off it and never really came back to it.
After building a PC, my consoles have sat a little quietly and I just haven’t gone back.
So here we are. I’ve embarked upon what I can only describe as the weirdest game I’ve played in a long long time.
From the mind of Hideo Kojima, Death Stranding is something else. I’m about 15 hours in and I have a vague idea of what’s going on now.
Known mostly for his incredible Metal Gear series, Hideo Kojima has often provided me with experiences I’ve loved and spent a lot of time on. Hell, there are very few games I’ve played and finished in one sitting, and Metal Gear Solid 2 was one of them!
I’m a fan of his style, his crazy commentary on society, the future and even pop culture references. There was no way I wasn’t going to play Death Stranding, but I couldn’t find anywhere that explained what it’s like.
It turns out Death Stranding isn’t actually like anything else……so it’s quite hard to find a reference point for it.
What’s it like?
Death Stranding often gets broadly described as a delivery simulator. Playing as Sam Porter Bridges (played by Norman Reedus of Walking Dead fame), you traverse the landscape delivering parcels. So that makes a bit of sense.
Parcels aside, though. You’re navigating a massive, awkward landscape. Slowly trudging over rocks, rivers, streams, sand, snow and more. Worrying about replacing your boots before they wear down, or concerned that the rain will damage your goods beyond repair.
You see, Death Stranding is a micro-management game in an open-world setting. With some unique lore and features that make it something new and fresh. I can pretty much guarantee you will have never played anything like it.
Traversal simulator, stealth game, inventory management, crafting and resource managing. It sounds ridiculous on paper, but it just works.
To call it a delivery simulator is a little broad and doesn’t reflect the ideal of the game. You’re out trying to rebuild America, by connecting sites together and getting everyone onto the “Chiral network”. Sure, that means carting goods all over to help them repair, re-build and move forwards. But the deliveries aren’t always the main driver of the narrative.
Don’t forget the BB, BT’s, the timefall and Mads Mikklesen!
BB is a what now?
BB is your “Bridge Baby”, and it is quite literally a baby in a tank, strapped to your chest. I can’t say that any other way. You have a baby strapped to your chest whenever you go out to deliver.
Death Stranding is unique.
You carry your BB around with you and he has saved my ass more times than I can count already, even in the relatively short space of time that I’ve been playing.
Bridge Babies can sense BT’s. BT’s are an unseen souls of the dead, stranded on the mortal plane. Look, I don’t fully get it either, alright?
BT’s are an invisible enemy that appear in rain and honestly always at the worst possible time (by design, no doubt). You use your Bridge Baby to help you sense where they are and help you navigate the world and avoid coming into contact with them. The baby acts as a bridge between the living and the dead, I guess?
But then “Bridges” is also the name of the US Government-led delivery company. Created to re-connect the US. Acting as a bridge within society?
Right, Death Stranding is about connections with other humans. Strands between us. Taking a place in a world where there have already been multiple extinctions, death and life seem intermingled and strands on and between those planes exist to connect us all. And sometimes you need a baby on your chest to navigate the way….
I sound like I’m being harsh, or perhaps stupid. But the fact is, I’m 100% in on Death Stranding. You could suggest that this is all nonsense, and in the right light, you may be absolutely right.
The driver that makes Death Stranding what it is, is Hideo Kojima’s clear and unwavering vision. Say what you like about the guy. He knew what he wanted and delivered it with sincerity.
I suppose this is the first signs of what Kojima can be without the restraints of working for someone else.
You deliver parcels in this weird world. Yet it’s so much more than that. A lesser game designer, or perhaps development house would fumble the delivery. Hideo Kojima clearly knew what he wanted Death Stranding to be, and here we are.
Take a minute and think of games that haven’t quite lived up to the hype due to what likely stems from board pressure to deliver on-time, regardless of quality. Think of those features you saw in a demo, that were cut from a game, because a committee decided to cut them for the sake of time.
Sure, the end product is designed to generate money. But Death Stranding, if anything else, is a sincere and complete package. Well polished, properly realised and fascinating.
Looks good feels good
Recent release of Directors’ Cut aside, the PC version must surely be the best version available. Holy crap does it look good.
Sure, I have the “Geforce Experience” optimisation, but my little 1660 Super handles Death Stranding like a dream. A solid 60 frames per second at 1080p all the time. Sure, it’s a sedentary experience for the most part, so frame rate shouldn’t be an issue, but this is butter-smooth.
The environments look great, the terrain feels rugged and hot, or cold, or wet. Norman Reedus and other character models are highly detailed, and I know I’m looking at Mads Mikkelsen when I attach my BB and go to a flashback.
Built on the engine created by Guerilla games for Horizon Zero Dawn (working on that one day, too!!), it’s evident that Kojima Productions were given the right tools for the task. Presumably with plenty of support from their fellow Playstation studios colleagues.
Movement feels suitably weighty when you’re overloaded. You can see in the animations, the toll that a stack of boxes is taking on Sam. The post-extinction-modern aesthetic of clothing and cities etc looks clean and sharp. Super futuristic.
3D printing is the future
One of the big things Death Stranding does is show how cool future 3D printing could be.
Portable devices used to quickly print structures and items as you go. It’s so cool to know that even if I’m stranded with my motorbike or my exo-legs out of battery. Use a PCC (portable chiral constructor) to print a generator!
Wide river need a bridge? No problem, print one out!
Yeah it’s an extreme version of 3D printing as we know it. But as houses are being slowly “printed” in countries across the world. It isn’t so unrealistic to suspend reality, especially within the world of Death Stranding.
It’s practical and clever and it adds to that micromanagement of gear. You can’t have unlimited PCC’s with you. Like everything else it weighs you down. Sam needs ladders, climbing ropes, PCC’s, boots and a whole host of other gear. This is just to make a journey manageable. Add to that the cargo you’re transporting, and you suddenly have some serious planning to deal with.
Managing your essentials, your luxuries (do you need that many ladders?!) and your cargo is instrumental to the core loop of Death Stranding. Add to that some route-planning with a map that doesn’t always display the terrain as well as you would like. You’re preparing for the unknown, based on little-knowns.
I think this is what makes Death Stranding fun. Fetch quests aren’t exactly groundbreaking. But much like life, the journey is the joy, not the destination. It seems to me that Hideo Kojima has perfected the formula, and distilled the essence of fun fetch quests.
What am I trying to say?
If I’m honest, I’m struggling to find a point to all of this writing. It’s a very long time since a game has hit me like Death Stranding has.
Weird reliance on Monster Energy drinks in the future is a strange call. But if Kojima Productions needed to finance the game, then fair enough. It’s a weird mechanic, but Death Stranding makes it work within the context of the job you’re doing.
Cutscenes are great, and there’s that good old Kojima “fuck it, make it as long as we need”. Again, uncompromised vision. Something that’s rare these days.
The truth is that I’m really quite impressed, and instead of wait to compile thoughts and not get a piece out (you should see the stuff I’ve written, and the videos I’ve half-produced without publishing them….), I wanted to go for it. This isn’t a review, it’s a “Death Stranding does a lot and you should try it” kind of piece.
People will write it off, some just won’t enjoy it. The story might not be eligible for awards in writing, but it’s sometimes heavy, sometimes quirky. Always cinematic, I think it’s clear that Hideo Kojima loves cinema and this is his way of delivering that in a more tangible experience.
If you’ve been unsure, just give it a go. Death Stranding is a whole lot of things, but it isn’t dull and it isn’t something you’ve every played before. We should celebrate originality, whether or not you enjoy it, at least it isn’t another version of CoD or a new Battle Royale.
I’m no way near finished with the main story but I’m pretty invested at this stage. I need to understand the world and see how the story pans-out. If I can, I’ll review the overall experience. It’s been a great game to stream, low-action and little distraction means you can talk to people and just relax a little.
I don’t know what else to say. Death Stranding is the most Death Stranding game you’ll ever play. That’s a great thing.
If you can, give it a try. I’m fairly certain it’s going to be a genuine classic.