Death Stranding is different, it is not the hot dumpster fire many people wanted it to be, it is also not the best game ever made. I have been following Death Stranding since the cancellation of Silent Hills and Kojima’s departure from Konami. People around me and online were all worried and bummed out that Silent Hills was cancelled, even I was frustrated that we would not have a new Silent Hill game in an era where the survival horror genre was dying out. Looking back at it, I could only call this a blessing in disguise, without the cancellation of Silent Hills we would not have gotten Death Stranding.
Death Stranding takes place in a post apocalyptic America, one divided and torn apart by the Death Stranding, an event in which the world of the dead mixed with that of the living and since then everyone has lived in fear of the “beached things” also known as BTs. The survivors sought refuge in specialised bunker cities which protected humanity from the outside threats of the new world. We are placed in the world as Sam Porter Bridges, our protagonist who is a porter, someone who delivers cargo and supplies to cities and to those who need the help, essentially a mailman with extra steps. Without getting into spoilers so we do not ruin anyone’s experience of the game, the story truly begins with Sam’s mother, the president of the United States, or at least of what’s left of them Bridget, whom is dying from cancer. In her final moments she tasks Sam with finding his sister, Amelie, who was out on an expedition to unite and form the United Cities of America in order to help people to come together in the dystopian new world. Amelie was kidnapped by terrorists who did not agree with the presidents vision and held her in Edge Knot City, the furthest city west in the continent. Against your will and forced to undertake your mother’s mission by the company Bridges, Sam’s epic begins.
Death Stranding is an immensely cinematic game, there are many hints and messages which are not conveyed by words but rather by actions. For some people who like fast and action packed video games, you will not like this game, if you are here to play rather than experience then this game is not for you, plain and simple. Calling Death Stranding a video game is also somewhat misleading as it breaks all conventions and redefines what a video game is and what it can be. Death Stranding is ever changing, the game constantly throughout the story and honestly could be considered part of all genres and no genres at all simultaneously.
I was at Gamescom’s 2019 Opening Night Live, where Hideo Kojima himself explained briefly what the game would look like and what you would have to do, and there was some confusion in his face, as truly without giving any spoilers is very difficult to define, in Kojima’s own words he said the game is about uniting people, and that there is no game like Death Stranding, that it would revolutionise gaming as a whole, and to be frank, looking back now, I think Kojima was right.
What I enjoyed about Death Stranding’s gameplay was that it was ever changing, I’ve heard people call Death Stranding, the UPS simulator, and it is somewhat true, the core of the gameplay is to deliver cargo to settlements that need it, however there is so much more, from BT encounters which were like playing a survivor horror game to stealth aspects as to not trigger off MULE camp alarms which are essentially human enemies that would try to steal your cargo. Being prepared and having the right equipment was very important, some people may not like this micro management of inventory and might feel like it is tedious but I for one think it adds a layer of depth to the game as you would have to constantly think what you would want to bring with you and what you need versus what you want, being ill prepared or over cumbered would have dire consequences in games, there were times where I lacked the proper equipment such as ladders and found myself having to a long and taxing route which could’ve been easily avoided had I paid more attention to my inventory.
You can also not carry everything and equipment deteriorates and some runs of batteries such as vehicles which would in turn make the player think and plan on what would be the optimal logistical route to take. What I enjoyed the most of this UPS simulator was the fact that I constantly discovered new things, there is no optimal way to complete a mission but the game allows the player to express that freedom to find his or her style of gameplay, for example one of the most memorable side missions was one in which you would have to deliver pizza, a simple pizza delivery, but there was a catch, you could not make the pizza tip over as doing so would have you ruining the pizza thus failing the mission. You could either arrange your cargo or use vehicles or other means of transport as to not ruin the pizza, the choice on how to do the job was up to the player.
There are also very intriguing boss fights and encounters with BTs as well as the human enemies in game known as MULES, there is also a myriad of equipment to choose from in order to fit your play style. Helping certain settlements and getting likes, which is the game’s way of rating a player to see how well he is engaging with helping people in the chiral network (cities connected in the United Cities of America). There was also a multiplayer element in which players can help build in world structures to facilitate everyone’s journey through the world, in turn players can give likes to other resulting in increased porter levels and efficiency. There were times in which I was in a bind and suddenly a player had built a structure which I needed which really help build an intrinsic connection between players. I was also constantly surprised by the turns in which the gameplay took, without spoilers, there were times where I would think about something that would be cool to have or that could be helpful and later there would be an item for it. It was as if seeing Kojima and his team nurturing and reshaping their project piece by piece.
However despite all the fun and good that the gameplay had, there was some bad. For example BTs although very menacing at first are quickly rendered a non-threat, at first I was almost crapping my pants at how scary they could be but then after obtaining anti BT equipment the threat quickly vanished. The second is sometimes traversing through the environment can be tedious, I found myself falling randomly for no reason which became quickly frustrating as my equipment would be damaged and it was not the players fault. Some segments also felt drawn out and unnecessarily long as you would walk with nothing in sight. The world also felt very empty, which is expected from an post apocalyptic world but even then there was no life, of course we had our cast of characters but no NPCs besides your occasional porter, some cities in game have populations of 70,000 or more but you do not see any hint of life anywhere.
Death Stranding is very character focused, we have our main cast of characters which are introduced throughout the chapters. Each character has a detailed and heavy background to them. My personal favourites were Heartman and Deadman, the game and story revolves heavily around character interactions and bonds, by the end of the game these strangers feel like family and a core part of Sam’s being. Sam’s journey with his BB (bridge baby) is also heartwarming and thought provoking, we see their transition in game from the BB being nothing more than a tool to a partner in Sam’s journeys, Sam is an individual who wants noting in the world to slowly mould himself into it.
Unfortunately, the best parts of Death Stranding are spoilers, and doing my best to not spoil anything to the readers I can only say that it was an incredible experience, the first three to four chapters in my opinion were nothing special but they server to build the world and for you to understand the implications and Sam’s position in it as well as getting to know the new people of America and their lives. I can see why people dropped the game as the first chapters took me around 21 hours to complete which could be considered lacklustre to those with no patience or time, or could even be seen as a high barrier to the enjoyment of the game and that is completely understandable. After beating the story I constantly think about it and cannot get it off my mind, I do think that Kojima and his team created something great and will be looked fondly in the future, the boundaries of what video games are and what they can be has been expanded and our old definitions have been shattered.
Could I even recommend this game? I would have given Death Stranding our rating of Recommended for Target Audiences but the thing about Death Stranding is that it has no target audience. Coming to a verdict is rather complicated as I believe everyone should play the game given the chance but I do not think it is for everyone, there are a lot of barriers and investments one must make in order to enjoy the game, perhaps some concepts may also fly over your head henceforth the enjoyment of the game will be entirely subjective on the individual playing it and due to this I would only recommend it for people who are looking for a piece of modern literature more so than looking to play a video game. Oddly enough after having finished Death Stranding I thought of Roger Ebert, he was a film critic who died with the belief that video games could not be considered art, I wholeheartedly believe that Death Stranding is a turning point in the medium by having broken that notion.