Ever since the first cryptic trailer for Death Stranding dropped a couple of years ago featuring a naked Norman Reedus holding a baby while crying on a black beach, we’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of this Hideo Kojima-led project.
With the high-profile Japanese game developer famously and publicly splitting with Konami and the Metal Gear Solid franchise, it has proved intriguing to see what he has been able to dream up in this latest PlayStation-exclusive title.
And yes, Death Stranding is a bit of a fever dream, and despite several lengthy trailers dropping ahead of its 8th November release date, the actual plot and storyline have been difficult to decipher. This in spite of internet theorists trying to patch together all the disparate elements we’ve seen throughout.
The mystique surrounding the game has also added to the anticipation, with it offering up an opportunity to find out whether our own theories have panned out. Without giving away any spoilers, we can safely say that whatever you thought you knew about Death Stranding… it is not the case.
So let’s dive into this new Kojima title, and find out if it is indeed worth the wait.
Playing catch up
As mentioned earlier we’ve poured over every minute of video that Sony has deemed fit to reveal for Death Stranding prior to launch, and still we were none the wiser heading into our first time playing the game.
For the opening prologue, as well as many of the first few chapters of the campaign, you are playing a lot of catch up. This as our main protagonist of Sam “Porter” Bridges is less than keen to hash out the events that led to the world of Death Stranding being what it is.
The unwillingness to dredge up the past, along with Sam’s desire to simply get on with his courier duties, as well as being the prototypical reluctant hero, make for an interesting mix. This makes the cut scenes between Sam and other characters enjoyable to watch, which is likely why Kojima and co. created an easy difficultly mode for those who are more interested in the storyline.
Much like MK 11, there is certainly scope for Death Stranding to be developed into a standalone film, or at the very least have a companion movie to fill in any gaps that the game may not have been able to address.
Either way, when it comes to story line, this campaign is a bit of a slow burner, as things only start heating up from about chapter three onwards. Up until then there is a lot of tutorialisation that takes place. It is necessary in many respects, especially for the non-central elements of gameplay, but it does detract from the story telling taking place, and as such it does not feel as if much “action” takes place.
If you can stick it out though, Death Stranding has an Alice in Wonderland-like nature that gets better the deeper the rabbit hole goes.
Much of Death Stranding, particularly in the early chapters, is spent walking alone. Sam is a courier after all, and his job entails delivering packages to remote areas of the United Cities of America as it is called, for fear of being killed in a rapidly ageing form of precipitation known as time fall.
The result is that you’re routinely walking in solitude, left with only your thoughts and beautiful landscape to keep you company. During your long treks to make deliveries, Sam routinely talk to himself to provide encouragement, as well as glance back providing an almost semi-fourth wall break.
There are also in-world elements that have a distinct social media feel to them, with Sam capable of leaving markers for other couriers or travellers, letting them know if danger is nearby, or clues on the best way to navigate a steep cliffside or fast flowing river. These kinds of tasks can result in “likes” for Sam, which in this post-apocalyptic world feel quite insignificant.
We’re assuming that is what Kojima was going for, that the notion of connection and interaction are even more detached in Sam’s world than they are in ours, but let’s not get too meta for now.
Now for gameplay and those expecting a Metal Gear Solid-esque experience may be out of luck. Yes, there are indeed nods to some of the elements we’ve seen in Phantom Pain, but Death Stranding is a game where close quarter combat is the last option.
Instead Sam is very much flight over fight protagonist, and even the boss battles are more about evading and waiting for the opportune chance to strike.
One of the interesting mechanics throughout the game is balance, with the left and right trigger buttons on the DualShock controller facilitating this process. Depending on the number and weight of packages that Sam is carrying, the ability to balance while negotiating terrain is effected.
This plays a crucial role if Sam is trying to run downhill, wade through deep water or evade people trying to steal what he’s trying to deliver.
All of these elements though seem to play a backing role to Sam’s primary objective, which is to link up major cities (many of which are bunkers underground) called knots, and setup the chiral network. This is important as it will allow said cities to better communicate with one another and facilitate the need to connect, which is a central theme to the story of Death Stranding.
Speaking of chiral energy, the Death Stranding or BTs, which are the shadowy floating entities you’ve seen in the trailers are also a key aspect to the gameplay, or rather avoiding them is. You use the Bridge Baby (BB) strapped to your chest in order to detect these entities, and should you be caught, they’ll try to drag you down to your death.
Should you die, there is a an interesting mechanic that taps into Sam’s unique ability to resurrect himself for lack of a better term, but going any further into this will ruin the story line so let’s keep it at that.
There is a lot to be said about hype, and whether Death Stranding could ever live up it is unclear.
In recent years the only game that lived up to such a billing was God of War in our opinion, and while Death Stranding delivers on much of its promise, it may also be a victim of its own overhyping.
If we were to critique the game for anything, it is the pacing, with the first half of the game feeling like a chore at times, before the truly interesting aspects of the story unfold.
If you can hold out until that point, and trudge through the more boring trekking elements, there is a story here that does not disappoint and delivers in the usual insane way that a Hideo Kojima game is expected to.