When Hideo Kojima left Konami back in 2015, there were a lot of lingering questions over what his next move would be. Having established Kojima Productions a decade earlier as a subsidiary of Konami, the illustrious Metal Gear series creator decided to reform his company as an independent studio and announced that he was working on a new single-player game with multiplayer functions for PlayStation 4 and PC.
Fast forward to E3 2016 and the official worldwide reveal trailer of Death Stranding during PlayStation’s Press Conference. Described by Kojima as a new action game/strand game or social stand system genre, Death Stranding succeeds in offering players something different provided that they are willing to devote the time, effort, and energy needed to embrace the overall experience. Here are more of my thoughts on this highly anticipated title and why it may or may not be right for you.
Set within a dark futuristic world, Death Stranding follows the trials and tribulations of a reputable delivery man in Sam Porter Bridges played by The Walking Dead Actor Norman Reedus. After a mysterious explosion referred to as a voidout wipes out more than half of the earth’s population and leaves behind stranded spectral creatures called BTs, Sam is given the arduous task of traveling across the continental United Cities in hopes of slowly reconstructing an entirely fragmented world. Taking direct orders from Bridges Commander Die-Hardman and several others along the way, your goal is to make crucial deliveries and use a specialized Q-Pid necklace to expand the range of the Chiral Network in an effort to share resources and information, establish unity and build a better tomorrow for everyone today.
On the surface, the basic idea of creating a video game about saving the world (or in this case rebuilding a fractured society) isn’t exactly an original concept. The plot touches upon themes of politics, the threat of terrorism, and the cetacean stranding phenomenon alluded to in the game’s title. However, what ultimately sets this video game apart from others lies within how Kojima beautifully expresses his creative vision through engaging storytelling and meaningful characters that develop over time.
If you enjoyed Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and how the Cobra Unit members were portrayed as three-dimensional characters with backstories, weaknesses, and motivations, then you’ll absolutely appreciate how Death Stranding handles its talented, diverse cast. In addition to learning more about Sam’s personal origins and why he is committed to the mission at hand, players will also gain insight into how the voidout impacted the lives of others and what can be gained by connecting every region to the Chiral Network. It is worth noting that the story gets noticeably more interesting by the end of Chapter 3 and you’ll remain hooked from there right up until the very ending.
Developed entirely from the ground up with improvements to the Decima Engine, Death Stranding is without a doubt one of the best looking PS4 games currently on the market. While Until Dawn and Horizon Zero Dawn both look amazing in their own right, the insane amount of detail in character models, weather and particle effects, tool depreciation, open-world environments, and animations are simply on another level. I played this game from beginning to end on a base PlayStation 4 and can only imagine how much crisper it will look for those who have both a PS4 Pro and 4K TV with HDR support.
These beautiful visuals also carry over effortlessly into the cutscenes. Each transition to in-game graphics looks stunning in terms of quality and performance. The motion capture technology used to recreate Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Léa Seydoux, Margaret Qualley, Tommie Earl Jenkins, Troy Baker, and others is equally impressive and their outstanding performances serve as the perfect connective tissue to breathe life into these characters.
Since Sam’s primary job is fixated on delivering to various distribution centers across the globe, the gameplay mechanics consist of accepting new orders and successfully transporting various types of cargo from one location to the next. When you take on a new order, there usually is a briefing with specific instructions on what items need to be delivered along with an emphasis on speed and keeping each package in perfect condition.
Due to the fact that you’ll be traveling across rough terrain and steep mountains by foot, you are given the ability to fabricate tools such as ladders and climbing anchors designed to help make your expedition easier. As you continue to establish new connections through your deliveries, you’ll get access to upgraded and additional tools in the form of non-lethal weapons, floating carriers, vehicles, and more.
It goes without saying that paying close attention to cargo management is the key to navigating throughout this world. Sam can carry items on his back, by hand, and in most cases leave certain tools attached to his suit. However, amassing all of this weight can definitely take a toll on your character. You’ll not only lose stamina quicker but carrying too much also leads to you moving slower, having to constantly press L2 and R2 buttons to keep balanced and prevent from falling over which instantly damages cargo.
In addition to the challenges of managing packages, Sam also has to contend with dangerous obstacles in the form of BTs, Mules, and unpredictable Timefall weather patterns. As I described above, BTs or Beached Things are the remnants of creatures stuck between the world of the living and the dead with a desire to eat you. Holding your breath and moving away from their location is the best way to avoid them. Mules are former couriers themselves who are obsessed with stealing your packages and will use excessive force to get them. Timefall rain and snowstorms rapidly age whatever objects they come into contact with, gradually deteriorating their protective containers and eventually the items themselves in the process. The tools that you acquire through newly formed connections all aid you in dealing with these encounters.
However, the most important tools that play a role in your survival are the Odradeck Terrain Scanner, Bridges issued cuffs, and your Bridge Baby referred to as BB-28. By pressing the R1 Button, Sam is able to use the scanner to quickly survey the area and reveal not only lost cargo but also where a BT might be hiding. The cuffs Sam wears around his wrist provide easy access to review order instructions, look at the map, read emails and interviews, and check on how much damage your cargo has received. Much like the BTs, BB-28 is stuck between the world of the living and the dead and can easily detect these creatures. Knowing this information helps you strategize how to approach enemy encounters whether you decide to use stealth or the weapons you acquire. Sam is also a repatriate meaning if you are killed in combat then you’ll come back to life.
Once you complete an order, the receipt appears as a hologram at the distribution center, evaluates the condition of the package received and Sam is awarded likes and a grade for his overall performance. Likes are designed to increase your reputation and boost your ranking which then gives you bonus perks like the ability to carry more items etc. If you do enjoy making deliveries then you can opt to do additional standard or bot deliveries to increase your ranking and reputation even further. This whole grading system is very similar to how you are evaluated in the Metal Gear Solid games which fans of that franchise will feel right at home with.
If there is one noticeable drawback to Death Stranding that may turn some people off then it lies within how repetitive the whole delivery process can get after awhile. Even though some deliveries are optional, there’s still a significant amount of them that are crucial to progressing through the storyline. Furthermore, some fans might become frustrated by the idea of backtracking certain locations and still having to deal with adversaries and harsh weather along the way. As you get deeper into the game, some of the items being transported are also the same which again can get very stale and may cause you to take frequent breaks from playing.
However, one of the smartest additions to this game that makes it a worthwhile experience rests on the shoulders of how brilliantly constructed the multiplayer actually is. As you start to build connections across the states, you’ll gain access to structures that were built by other players. There are even incentives to use and help rebuild roads, zip lines, bridges, and other structures that are designed to make traveling easier for everyone. This is once again the online connected world concept that Kojima aimed to express and the fact that this ties into both the narrative and characters just goes to show how much thought he put into this ambitious project.
Death Stranding‘s soundtrack perfectly complements the astounding visuals and equally impressive performances by all of the key players on the cast. Composer Ludvig Forssell succeeds in matching the emotional tone whether it be a tense action sequence or calming music that starts playing as Sam is approaching a newly found distribution center for the first time. For a very long game that can take anywhere from 30 – 40 or more hours depending on your ability to complete everything, it’s absolutely essential that music, voice acting, visuals, and story all stay consistent and for the most part every aspect remains intact.
As a complete package, Death Stranding is an extremely well-crafted experience from beginning to end. Blurring the lines between movies and video games, it’s evident that Kojima is still a master of his craft and the themes communicated throughout the game will certainly spark some conversations long after people have stopped playing. While the deliveries can certainly get repetitive fast, the intrigue behind the story is certainly enough to keep you engaged. The real question is if you truly believe tomorrow is in your hands and if your answer is yes, then you truly won’t be disappointed.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Death Stranding for the PlayStation 4 provided by Kojima Productions and Sony Interactive Entertainment.