Death Stranding Review

Developer: Kojima Productions
Platforms: PS4
Reviewed By: Pat Klein

If you ask any gamer to name three influential gamer designers, chances are one of those names would be Hideo Kojima.  Kojima is known for creating vast cinematic experiences that is married with borderline weirdness. After an internal disagreement with the gaming company that he has worked at for most of his career, he parted ways and quickly created his own production studio: Kojima Productions.  With that announcement, he was quick to present a project that was at the forefront of his mind, Death Stranding. The trailer which contained dead sea creatures beached, a naked Norman Reedus of the Walking Dead fame, and a baby, would be the first showcase of what people called “Kojima Unleashed.”  As the years went by, many more trailers were shown with big name actors and even weirder themes, leaving people to ask the question, “What is Death Stranding?”

As with most gamers, I was excited to finally get a chance to play Kojima’s unbridaled vision, and finally see if the finished product matched with the hype.  I was not disappointed.

So what is Death Stranding as a game?  Death Stranding is a game where you play as a package handler in a post-apocalyptic United States of America.  You go from point A to point B delivering requested orders while also picking up additional lost packages on the road along the way.  While the premise may make you raise an eyebrow, this actually works quite well with the themes and story that Kojima wanted to tell.

The story is about a package carrier named Sam Bridges who has Anthropophobia.  That means he’s afraid of people or more specific, interpersonal relations with people.  As such, he pretty much has lived his life alone. Sam gets an order from the last president of America to help connect the remaining cities of the country to an information network.  To do this, he will need to travel to each Knot (city) and manually connect them. Sam’s not alone though. He will have the help of a support team from his employer, Bridges, other carriers along the way, and an unborn fetus in a tank named BB, that serves as a radar/scanner for Sam.  He will also run into terrorists that will try to stop him from his goal of a united country.

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The world is empty and mostly a wildland of flora.  The effects of an apocalyptic event known as a Death Stranding, has taken most of life and replaced it with undead specters called BTs.  The BTs are attracted to those still living and will instinctively hunt them down. Along with the BTs, the rain has been replaced with a substance called timefall which rapidly ages whatever it touches.  Young becomes old and pristine becomes corroded. These, along with terrorist cells, will try to hinder Sam from completing his deliveries and connecting the cities to the information network.

So how does a post-apocalyptic package handler game play?  The gameplay is definitely different. First off, this is not an action title, even though there is plenty of combat and stealth segments in the game.  Your primary mechanics are to review and plot a path of travel from your departure destination to your place of arrival. As you plan, you have to consider what tools to bring with you that might make your journey easier, such as ladders or ropes.  You can’t bring everything though as you do have a weight limit you must consider as well as a center of gravity that can trip you up if you you are carrying too many objects. You will learn quick on how to balance using your shoulder buttons, as well as scanning the layout of the terrain so you don’t trip and lose all your cargo.  Later, as you work with connecting the cities, the people you meet will help you create better tools that make it a lot easier to travel the wildlands as long as you build up your relationship with them by delivering packages addressed to them fast and in pristine condition.

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Overall, the gameplay is pretty average.  Your gunplay isn’t the greatest, there’s nothing new with the stealth mechanics, and the game’s pacing is slow.  If you’re looking for stellar gameplay, you probably will be a little disappointed with this game. What Death Stranding excels at are it’s cinematic elements.  The graphics are beautiful. The environments looks pristine and have a lot of small details packed into it. The character models are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a game.  Most actors have their likeness mapped into their respective characters, and if it wasn’t for the more sci-fi looking places where the scenes take place, you’d feel like you were actually watching live actors.  The models do a great job portraying their character’s emotions and mannerisms. For example, Norman Reedus’s character, Sam, doesn’t speak a whole lot throughout the game, but his body language does enough speaking for him.  It’s clear he doesn’t like being around people when he’s constantly scrunching his body or not keeping eye contact with the people he’s talking to.

The soundtrack also works really well with this game.  Most of the music is melancholy and give off the vibe of the empty world world.  Occasionally, as you are wandering the lonely land, one of the tracks from the games large library of licenced music will come on to deepen the immersion.  Kojima understands that music can make or break a game and he wanted to be sure that the artists that contributed to the game also had a passion for gaming as well.

Where this game shines is on it’s theme of connection.  You can’t look anywhere in this game without seeing this theme in action.  The story constantly stresses that mankind will not survive if it doesn’t learn to rely on each other and share the knowledge and wisdom with one another.  Even when you’re not looking for it, connection still plays a massive part of this game. Your game world is connected with other players’ game worlds. It is very possible that someone else had already traversed over a river that you’re heading to and used their resources to make a bridge, all so that you don’t have to risk losing your cargo down the stream.  Later in the game you will run into stations that will allow you to build roads, but they usually cost way more resources than the average person carries on them. Gamers can unite and spare what resources they can and build the road together. As you are wandering through tough terrain, another gamer might have left a holographic sign encouraging you to keep going, or letting you know that you might run into BTs along the way.  There are just so many signs of what other players have done that you will never feel truly alone in what would otherwise be a harsh land to travel.

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Again, this is not a game for everyone.  I would recommend this game to someone that is looking for a gaming “experience,” rather than a challenge or a quick game to beat.  This is a game where you are meant to take your time and immerse yourself. After 50 hours of playing, I reached the emotional end of Sam’s journey and it left me wanting more.  Not just another Death Stranding game, but another experience of themes being incorporated into the gameplay and a story that made me reflect on all that I did. Hideo Kojima, in my opinion, created a cinematic masterpiece.

Rating: 10/10 Likes from BB

Pros:
-A changing world connected through efforts of others
-Amazing motion capture work acting from a stellar group of actors
-The warm, fuzzy feelings given to you when you complete a delivery and get likes

Cons:
-Hitting a pebble and coming to a full stop or just straight out tripping on it.
-The back & forth of going through menus just to organize inventory
-The amount of pushing or holding buttons just to confirm your choices.