It’s Hideo Kojima’s first game since leaving Konami. It has major Hollywood stars in it. It’s a graphical tour de force for the PS4. Babies are used to see ghosts. Rain that makes things age faster. It’s a delivery man simulator. It’s incredibly weird.
All of those sentences? They’re true. Every single one of them is true about Death Stranding.
So the final question one has to ask is; has the wait been worth it?
What is Death Stranding?
Death Stranding is the first game from Hideo Kojima and his Kojima Productions studio. Published by Sony, it’s a third person action game, and is exclusive to the PS4. There’s no multiplayer but cooperation between players is possible, provided you’re online while playing.
It’s safe to say that the majority of the world had no idea what to expect going into Death Stranding. I’ve seen glimpses of it online and at TGS but for the most part I was ignorant of the game.
Purposely so, I didn’t want perceptions to color my expectations. Now that I’ve logged in some serious time in its world, I’m very glad that I went in blind because the premise behind it is absolutely gonzo.
That’s because at its core, Death Stranding is a delivery man simulator.
Yes, I didn’t write it wrong. You’re basically playing at doing what a lot of people do for a living; delivering stuff.
Norman Reedus’ character (who you play as) is a courier in a post apocalyptic Earth, where an event called ‘The Death Stranding’ has upended the balance between life and death. The USA is no more, with only scattered remnants of humanity huddled underground in shelters.
The surface isn’t safe anymore…as now the dead walk the Earth as invisible ghosts. They’re called BTs (short for Beached Things) and they’re very bad news whenever you encounter them.
BTs are ALWAYS preceded by Timefall (think rain that makes things age faster) so you’ll know when they’re around but that doesn’t make things that much easier.
You’ll be helpless at first, having to sneak around them slowly; even going as far as holding your breath (a real in-game mechanic) so that your breathing doesn’t give you away.
As you play though, you’ll slowly gain the upper hand.
You’ll get new technologies that at first serve as a deterrence against BTs and then later, as active measures to take them out.
Despite that, Death Stranding isn’t a horror game. At least not in the sense that PT or Silent Hill was.
Surviving is just part of the equation.
The post apocalyptic postman.
The other part is delivering your cargo.
That means making a delivery with the stuff in reasonably good condition, under a certain time (for some deliveries) and with all the pieces accounted for.
Deliveries not only advance the plot, they’re also essential to making your character (Sam) stronger and unlock stuff.
As your delivery ratings go up, so does your stats. You’ll be able to carry heavier loads, get more Likes from deliveries and other improvements to your character. In that sense, Death Stranding is like an RPG, though that’s the extent of the genre’s influence.
What Death Stranding is, is classic Kojima.
It’s filled with technobabble, outlandish characters (such as one named Die-Hardman) and a dense backstory that you could probably write books about. If you thought Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid games were hard to wrap your head around, know that this is more of that except in a completely new universe.
All that’s just to accompany the main gameplay cycle; deliver stuff, evade/eliminate BTs/ MULEs and get a higher rating…so you can do it all over again to progress.
Combat is a bit of a hit and miss; the gunplay’s fine but melee combat is sluggish and boring. I do like the slowdown effect every time you knock a MULE (crazed human delivery men) out but fighting them barehanded is a chore. Sam moves slowly, responds slower and everything feels like you’re underwater.
Luckily, combat with humans aren’t that frequent…at least until later.
A different kind of magic.
Not everybody will get Death Stranding (play through the first 3 Episodes, it gets better I promise) but those that stick by it will find that Death Stranding gives you a zen like few games do.
Finding the shortest route, arranging your loads to achieve the optimal balance, packing the right gear for the right job…it all combines to give the game a feel like almost no other.
That’s because while you may be alone in the world, you’re not alone.
Other players are playing alongside you, and you can cooperate with them by sharing resources; whether it’s left out in the open, in constructed lockers or even to build infrastructure that will benefit other players. You won’t be able to see them but you’ll definite feel their influence, and they, yours.
Placing a generator in your world will make it appear in others too, so if you’re smart you can save somebody’s ass by making something that everybody needs. It’s an awesome twist on a multiplayer game, one that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.
Yup, like a post apocalyptic Johnny Appleseed, Sam will traverse the ruined United States (now called the United Cities of America) and hook everybody up…except instead of apple trees, Sam brings a version of the world’s internet called the Chiral Network.
Quite a looker.
By now, you know that the game’s a mighty impressive looker. Norman Reedus and gang look like they’ve just popped out of the screen and gotten zapped into a game.
What not everybody realizes is just good the rest of the game looks. The vast, wide open vistas you’ll traverse look stunning, with incredibly long sight lines that reach out to the horizon.
There’s very little draw distance that I’ve noticed…even object pop-in is minimal. On a 4K TV, Death Stranding is visually breathtaking, especially when you take into account its rocksteady framerate.
Accompanying the visuals, the sound is just as good. The tracks are a bit weird (certainly not what I’d have picked) but they do capture the loneliness and melancholy of the game incredibly well.
The voice work is pretty good too, especially Norman Reedus’. He sounds a bit like Snake at times (gravelly and gruff) but that’s fine. I’d imagine he’d make a good Snake voice actor too if David Hayter’s not back in future installments.
The bottom line.
Understand that as hyped as Death Stranding is, it’s not a game for everybody. It’s insanely boring at times, the combat is sluggish and simplistic and there’s really not much to the game other than deliveries.
For some people (like me), the unique premise and the way it’s handled will be enough. For others, it’s a dud.
You’ll definitely need to play through the game a bit (reach Episode 4 at least) before making up your mind; the early hours are a mind numbing slog as you trek sloooooooooooooooooowly across huge distances.
Stick with it, the game does get better though perhaps not good enough that everybody will like it.
Try before you buy if possible. Awesome game but an acquired taste.
– Delivering is fun!
– The visuals.
– Unlocking stuff.
– Dense backstory.
– Poor melee combat.
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