“Death Stranding is a lot, but everything about it is strangely compelling to interact with.”
Death Stranding received more hype ahead of its initial launch than I have witnessed for perhaps any other video game. The freshly freed mind of Hideo Kojima was finally set free from the limits which had kept him following the beaten track had finally been removed, and fans were ready. At the time, I didn’t understand this excitement. I had not had much experience with the man or his work aside from a flurry of stories and rumours, and the game’s marketing had been suitably cryptic even for his greatest fans. Indeed, Death Stranding itself has been my first delve into the mind of the legend that is, and I chose to go in largely blind as to what I should expect. As such, this review may be unlike others on the subject, but equally, I am very glad I made the choice that I did.
Normally I would start here by outlining the story. Truly, though, I feel that is something that must be experienced first-hand to get the most out of its delivery. The way in which the story is put across to the player is nothing if not abstract. With major actors facilitating its delivery and smart writing, the way in which the story is delivered cannot be done the same justice in a written format as it is in the game. Although it is complex and even baffling at times, the experience of learning the lore and ways of this world is enticing and addictive throughout. For the purposes of this review, though, and to give an overview whilst avoiding key spoilers, here are some key elements that you need to know going in…
The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic, scientifically advanced North America. In this world, a catastrophic event, stemming from the “Death Stranding” incident, took place and wiped out much of the population and built environment. Even now, the world has not recovered and the repercussions have ensured that humanity’s perils endure. Bleached Things (BTs) stalk the wilderness attempting to drag the living to the mysterious “Beach” and consume the dead; their success in which causes massive explosions know as “voidouts”. These creatures are invisible to the naked eye, with the only sign that they are near being Timefall; a rain-like event in which the water ages everything it touches. Despite the significant threat that these creatures pose to what remains of humanity, very little is known about them in the world, with you and your peers still learning new ways of evading them as the story progresses. Luckily for you, your character is able to see them.
In Death Stranding, you play the role of legendary courier Sam Porter Bridges (as played by Norman Reedus). Sam is one of a few brave souls in the United Cities of America who braves the perils of the wilderness to make deliveries between the remaining Knot Cities. Sam is a repatriate, who has seen the mysterious Beach and is subsequently able to return from near-death by drawing on its power. He is also blessed/cursed with DOOMS, which allows him to sense and interact with the BTs. Whilst he is not immune to their effects, Sam’s ability to make his way through lands which others can’t or won’t cross has made him uniquely talented and sought after in his line of work. As such, Sam has been given a task far above that of a normal delivery in Death Stranding; to reconnect the Knot Cities across the UCA via a new network which draws on the Beach’s power and will allow the country to return from the brink of total collapse.
To aid him on this journey, Sam has been given a Bridge Baby, BB-28, which enhances his DOOMS ability to see and evade BTs in the world. This is perhaps the very weirdest part of the game, in that Bridge Babies are unborn fetuses which have been adapted to be used as equipment by the Bridges Company in this way. It is a little disturbing, though thematic and well explained in the game, and could hit home a little hard for some players. Nevertheless, BB-28 has a story of its own to tell, with Sam occasionally having visions from BB’s past when physically connecting (yes, that’s right) with the baby’s pod. Here you are blessed by the dulcet tones of Mads Mikkelson, whose character also develops dramatically as the story goes on…
There is so much more still to the story than this, but it would take hours upon hours to explain all of the elements. Again, this game is complex; to the point where your introduction to the world comes in the form of almost an hour’s worth of cutscenes with little gameplay in between them. Even several hours into the game, new story elements are still coming to light, and so it would be impossible to directly touch on all of them. In a world where there are few people remaining to interact with, the key characters are represented and acted with such quality that your conversations are consistently enticing and informative, driving you on to the next major discovery. Indeed, you certainly shouldn’t be fooled into believing that a game about a courier is anything close to simple fetch quests. The story, as the gameplay, is deeper than I could have anticipated.
The gameplay is, as you might expect, a series of deliveries made from A to B (or more commonly A to B to C to D and so on). How you get from A to B, though, is where the really compelling gameplay takes place. This begins with stacking your cargo. As well as the delivery goods themselves, you will want to ensure that you have the right equipment for the job on your person. Spare boots, ladders, climbing hooks and eventually some complex but non-lethal weapons are all essential for crossing the surprisingly green, clean and mountainous UCA. Leaving this equipment behind can be a grave error of judgement, however, the Dark Souls-like asynchronous online aspect of the game does at least mean that other players can leave you water crossings, climbing points and even post boxes in the world to aid you. This feature is well implemented, ensuring that the game is not overwhelmed by vast amounts of the same equipment in one place and that players of reputation are more likely to have their structures shared. As you progress, these transition from simple ladders to large structures such as bridges and generators and later onto shelters and luxury private rooms in the wilderness.
So you have your gear ready, you have picked up a mission and you have loaded an inordinate number of boxes onto Sam’s back ready to set out. Now it’s time to plot your route, and this is as crucial as wearing sensible footwear on the way. Whether you are taking a vehicle on the journey or trekking on foot, the threats both topologically and living in the world can stop you in your tracks if you have not plotted your journey sensibly. If there are rivers in your path, your vehicle is likely to be useless and your cargo could be lost in the stream. If there are steep hills or mountains, you are going to need a lot of equipment to pass them. Most importantly, though, if you are going to be passing through BT or MULE (the human bandit factions in the game) territory then you need to ensure you have a plan for either evasion or engagement, but you certainly don’t want to go in unprepared. As the game progresses, this aspect of play becomes more refined and easier, with weapons at your disposal to make your way through this type of territory, more advanced structures and vehicles to utilise and better means of planning such as forecasting for Timefall events. The more you are able to and successful in travelling the land, the more rewarding the experience feels. You just have to remember to keep your balance as you go, too.
Solid, enticing and complex gameplay is met by a story of equal proportions, and all of these are benefited immensely by the aesthetics of the world. OK, so a Monster Energy brand deal feels a little bit crowbarred into the mix, but the look of the world, its environment, its structures and its inhabitants is crazy cool, and the audio from voice acting to the soundtrack is moody, atmospheric and a clean match for the action. The visuals are the big seller for me, though. The rolling hills and mountains look outstanding, especially when combined with smooth, realistic weather effects. Every aspect of the design of characters, objects and gameplay features fits the stylisation concocted in Kojima’s mind. Even when these visuals make no real-world sense, they are presented in such a way as they make you want to interact with them more and more. The game’s trailers may have looked weird, and weird they were, but in the context of the full game it all somehow falls into place and just works. I cannot explain how because in trying to write this review I realised how mental some of these concepts sound, and I didn’t even mention to dolphins! But it works, and in what is truly a highly complex game that is crucial.
Death Stranding is a lot, but everything about it is strangely compelling to interact with. The story is incredible, once you open yourself up to it fully. Suspension of disbelief is essential upon entry, but doing so will be highly rewarding for you. The gameplay, which when described sounds much less exciting than it truly transpires to be, is challenging, intense and rewarding. Through both the story and the gameplay, the aesthetics and delivery fully seal the deal. This is a game that, despite its strange and complex nature, is very worthy of going down as one of the great, unique games of a generation. Having gone in with little more context than the trailers and no real experience, other than word of mouth, of Hideo Kojima’s previous works, I truly cannot recommend Death Stranding enough.
This review is based on the PC version of the game which can be purchased on steam for 54.99 here.
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From legendary game creator Hideo Kojima comes an all-new, genre-defying experience. Sam Bridges must brave a world utterly transformed by the Death Stranding. Carrying the disconnected remnants of our future in his hands, he embarks on a journey to reconnect the shattered world one step at a time.
Product Currency: GBP
Product Price: 54.99
Product In Stock: SoldOut