Hideo Kojima’s inaugural game in the post Konami era of his career, Death Stranding certainly took its time getting out, and in true Kojima style it left people scratching their heads in confusion in the the years leading up to its release as the only shreds of information on the game came from cryptic trailers and lots of celebrity pics from its director’s social media accounts.
When it finally hit PlayStation 4 late last year, however, Death Stranding proved to be as bombastic of a game as Kojima’s previous hit series Metal Gear Solid, albeit with a somewhat more controlled scope and certainly a unique spin to what he spent almost exclusively the last 20+ years of his life working on. It was above everything else a game about a delivery man.
Sure, Death Stranding place in a post-apocalyptic version of the United States that has somehow turned its map into a mishmash of Iceland with very little in the way of human presence and a whole lot of spooky invisible monsters, but it all boils down to getting packages from point A to point B, alongside a whole lot of weird story exposition and of course, cute babies.
In the shoes of Sam “Porter” Bridges, a courier in the service of the aptly named Bridges company, played and modeled after to a grunted ‘T’ by The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus, you’re tasked with continuously more demanding delivery jobs as you head towards the US east coast in the hopes of connecting the country back together into what’s called the “chiral network”, a futuristic internet of sorts that the remaining president and their staff hope will be enough to save humanity from extinction.
It wouldn’t be a Kojima-directed game without a whole lot of weird, and Death Stranding certainly delivers in that regard. The gist is that a cataclysmic event called the Death Stranding destroyed almost the entirety of the world, basically shattering the divide between the living and the dead, and now those who pass away are doomed to live out their afterlife as ghosts that prey upon the living as BTs (short for “Beached Things”, entities stuck between these two realms), who are invisible to most humans, unless their bodies are burned before they necrotize.
Certain individuals can have DOOMS, though, which depending on their level can sense and even see BTs, not to mention the repatriates, who simply cannot die even if they’re killed by the BT. Luckily for us, our hero Sam is both, and while his DOOMS is fairly low and only grants him the ability to sense BTs, that’s soon remedied once he acquires a BB (“Bridge Baby”), yet another one of Death Stranding’s cooky story elements: it’s one of the many stillborn mother’s babies who are used to track BTs due to their umbilical link to the world of the dead that somehow can connect to a sonar-like Odradek terrain scanner that can emit a pulse and show for a few moments where BTs are located if they happen to be in your vicinity.
If that info dump still hasn’t turned you away, good, because even though there’s a lot of weird going on across the board in this game, it still managed to grab me now that it’s finally out on PC. While I’m not 100% it would have been as effective if the world was anything close to normal at this point in time. Still, I think a lot of my interest in Death Stranding is also thanks to other similar in overall goal games like SnowRunner that are slow and surprisingly to the point about your objectives. For as convoluted as Death Stranding can get at times, its main thrust of having me deal with the challenge of overcoming difficult terrain all while trying to keep my cargo in one piece and most importantly in good condition was the main thing that keeps me going.
That’s not to say that its story isn’t maintaining my interest. It is, to an extent. I’ve played a number of Kojima games over the years, and while I mostly came away from them quite appreciative of the lore that they built, especially in regards to Metal Gear Solid, by the time Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain rolled its credits, I was frankly done with that series. Death Stranding so far hasn’t gotten to that point yet and I’ve enjoying the way it exposes the backstory of its cast, and for as cringy as it sometimes can be with some of them — like Mama’s who story arc around half way into the game — it does a decent job at somehow weaving in the concept of death to each and every one of them in a somewhat satisfying manner.
The only real aspect of the main narrative to Death Stranding that has never ceased to cause my eyes to roll is its fanatical way of trying to enforce the importance of the United States (Murrica!) in the rebuilding of humanity, and how it’s the only way of saving what’s left of us in this fantasy sci-fi version of the future of our world. I get that Kojima is a big fan of American pop culture and all, but come on. For the entirety of the game it’s America this, America that, and for anyone outside of the country, it’ll probably get really tiring as it did for me oh an hour into playing the game. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s certainly a beef I have with an otherwise pretty enjoyable experience.
There’s been many moments in playing Death Stranding that I would call memorable, and to be honest almost all of them came from when I was struggling around doing deliveries. Whether it’s getting caught in the middle of torrential Timefall — another part of the game that I haven’t mentioned, how anything caught in the rain in the world of Death Stranding ages and dies, or is the case of your packages, they slowly are consumed and are eventually destroyed — without any means of building a shelter or having to fight off two BT bosses at once with a handful of hemostatic grenades and a back full of urgent time-sensitive parcels, my thirty hours playing have provided many thrills and exciting pinches.
I’m also positively impressed with how well online features are weaved into the gameplay experience of Death Stranding. Every time you connect a new region to the network you’re able to access and use structures built by other players as well as lay down your own in a sort of online cooperative session without any players seeing one another at any point and little in the way of interacting outside of leaving ‘likes’ or useful items in boxes for others to make use of, as well as helping them deliver parcels to their destinations that for some reason got left behind on the way. I found it to be a lot of fun to help others out and really rewarding to see them making use and appreciating my help, as well as my own use of their contributions during my time playing and going through the same courier journey as them.
The progression in the game works really well in giving you more meaningful tools to help you in doing your job more effectively, and it’s been neatly integrated in the grading system that rewards you with new recipes and plans to 3D print out while on the field, from those structures that I mentioned that can range from shelters to protect you from the deadly aging rain to generators and my favorite, the grapple points which come painfully far into the story but are goddamn lifesavers, to a variety of equipment that can make your life easier and allow you to carry even more packages. It’s also where most of the play time of Death Stranding pumps more hours in with plenty of optional deliveries in the form of standard orders that can be done at any point or skipped if you prefer.
Calling Death Stranding a glorified walking simulation as I saw in some articles from before getting a chance to play it is really unfair to the play-to-play that it offers. Sure, it’s way slower than your usual action game, but it’s got more going on than merely walking from one point to the other, and from what it lacks in gunfights — there’s lots of shooting, trust me, but not exactly in the way you might expect — it most certainly makes up in providing meaningful and story relevant ways to avoid killing that really help set this game apart from other Kojima games from the past.
It’s easy to dismiss his and KojiPro’s creations as overly pretentious and nonsense fluff that has no real meaningful content and I’ve come close to completely shutting myself away from Death Stranding full go just from its pre-release coverage and slow drip of info throughout the years, but I’m glad that I didn’t because for as true to that notion that the end result of a game ultimately is — there’s so much silly product placement and weird overly auteur-ish things in this that could only come from Kojima — I’m having a good time with it, just maybe not exactly due to the main intended reason.
Yes, I could very much do without a lot of its lore and over exaggeration of exposition and drawn out dialogue, but I’ve managed to look past those and still find something to really enjoy playing and at the same time appreciate how a game like this could come to fruition and succeed as much as it does in providing a worthwhile time. No, the game didn’t need a star-studded cast with the likes of Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, or even Guillermo Del Toro nor lots of licensed music hand-picked and recruited by the director in order to be in the game for it to be out there as it is, but here we are.
As for the quality of the PC port, coming in eight months after the original PlayStation 4 release, it’s quite excellent. My computer is a mishmash of parts that came together five years ago that includes a fairly old GPU, a GeForce GTX 970 and three RAM sticks totalling 24GB of RAM and it managed to run the game on default ‘high’ settings and stable 60 fps with few instances of slowdown. For anyone with a more powerful machine than mine, it’s sure to provide an even better performance at higher resolutions, and if you own an ultra-wide monitor, you’re in luck since the game supports those.
Death Stranding is a beautiful looking game regardless of the graphics quality you can manage to play it at, thanks to the gorgeous vista its eerie representation of a futuristic desert that the US have somehow turned into the near future, as well as some of the best looking character models so far in the generation. This is one of the most visually impressive games you are likely to play before the new consoles and technology drops in at the end of 2020, and it makes brilliant and thoroughly efficient use of the PC hardware with a really well optimized port.
If you were hesitant like me in regards to this game, it’s very worth a look. It’s definitely not for everyone and it’s on par with other Kojima creations in a variety of departments and no stranger to his flavor of the bizarre and out there mixture of real work and fantasy tech that have permeated his games for the last three decades. Death Stranding is a game that really revels in its weirdness and it’s frankly all the better for it. For as much as that can also get in its way at times, it still manages to get to where it’s going quite well.