Death Stranding marks Hideo Kojima’s first title under Kojima Productions and had one of the strangest lead-ups to a game’s release yet. While there was no shortage of teasing content and trailers, this is one of those few games that I had no idea what to expect when I loaded it up. Death Stranding was dubbed as a walking simulator or laddering game, and while some of that is true, it is also much more than that.
What the Hell is Happening?
It is nearly impossible to describe much of what is going on in Death Stranding’s story without spoiling significant portions of it. At its core, Death Stranding is set in a future America where an apocalyptic event has decimated the population and changed life forever. Playing as Sam Bridges, your job is that of a courier. A delivery specialist that connects the few and scattered survivors. As you are drawn into the larger story line, and there is one, you find out your tasks are much more critical than merely delivering parcels to preppers hiding out in their shelters.
A critical task is the reconnecting of disparate cities and outposts to the greater network. You’re not merely a UPS guy, you’re also the ISP installer. Connecting areas to the network has the benefit of opening up more data and information in those areas, something that eventually becomes extremely helpful to Sam. While the mere act of carrying heavy and oversized cargo can be difficult, Death Stranding tasks you with the delivery of all manner of bizarre things you’d never be able to drop off at the local post office. Whether you’re carrying a body bag or an anti-matter bomb that will go off at the slightest stumble, the navigation across the beautiful yet desolate lands is strangely calming. The controls have been built in such a way that balancing your cargo takes some concentration, and you’ll find yourself regretting taking specific orders.
Working Together Without Multiplayer
Fortunately, there’s help along the way. Once an area has been reconnected to the network, Sam can take advantage of structures that other players have built and can also contribute to this infrastructure. Death Stranding is a single-player game with a sprinkling of multiplayer. You will never run into other players, but you frequently connect with them via Bridges. Anyone can build structures, ranging from useful post boxes that can be used to drop off cargo for other players, or to the game-changing road system that can be built with significant material resources. As you traverse the world, you’ll stumble across cargo that’s been abandoned by others, and if you’re able to, you can carry it further towards its intended destination. You’ll earn Likes for performing these actions that are eerily similar to Facebook likes. Frankly, I’m not sure I’d want to live in a future where we use a system like that to reward each other, but it’s certainly relatable.
Death Stranding clicked for me when I first contributed materials to a piece of road that was under construction. Completing this segment of the road not only made travel through treacherous territory much more enjoyable, but it also helped other players I’d never meet. How do I know this? Because I received Likes. In the future, you’re not taking Instagram selfies for popularity, you’ll be helping to rebuild vital infrastructure to help your fellow couriers. It was a unique feeling unlike anything else I’ve experienced in a video game before. Now, I’m not precisely sure how Death Stranding determines which structures you get to assist with and whose building you see, but it doesn’t matter. It made the world feel alive without cluttering it with other players and their potential to interfere with my game.
I Think I’d Rather Walk
At some point, you’ll be able to graduate from walking across the country to driving a variety of vehicles. Okay, variety may be a stretch; it’s just a motorcycle and a pickup truck for lack of better terms. Both serve their purpose and are extremely helpful when it comes to moving large amounts of cargo. However, hopefully you’ll have spent some time rebuilding roads, because the driving mechanics are downright dreadful. I’m not sure if the intent is to get you to do more walking, a very fine-tuned experience, or if the handling is just the worst I’ve ever seen coded into a video game. On occasion, you’re forced into a scenario where you can’t use roads, and your choice is between walking or driving a truck cross-country, and here’s a word of advice: walk.
Death Stranding is one of those rare titles that I will be revisiting to continue doing more of the seemingly mundane. It ranks in a unique category of gaming alongside titles such as Euro Truck Simulator 2 for me. Delivering cargo is genuinely enjoyable and your efforts can be rewarded by upgrading cities, which in turn will provide more materials for you to expand the network’s infrastructure with. I wish I could continue playing Death Stranding like that, without some of the more frustrating elements.
This is Where Things Get Weird
In true Kojima fashion, the story is unnecessarily convoluted yet fascinating. Until the very end, I was glued to the edge of my seat, not unlike a great dramatic movie. Side note: one could be forgiven for thinking of Death Stranding as a movie considering its massive cut scenes. Along the way, the characters you meet are bizarre, with many featuring strange masks for no particular reasons, and names there were seemingly chosen to add to the confusion. It is worth it to make it to the end, however, because otherwise you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering what the heck is going on. You’re likely to feel a bit unsatisfied when you get there, but at least you can say you’ve done it.
Death Stranding also features a few combat situations that I didn’t find to be particularly well executed. Sam’s movements are dialed into the navigation of difficult terrain while carrying cargo that truly impacts your movement, but none of it translates particularly well to battles. Fortunately, they’re few and far between and you can avoid a good portion of them.
More of This, Please
Visually, Death Stranding is stunning and proves just how well developers can optimize on hardware that is near the end of its lifespan. The fact that some of the environments look as detailed as they do on the PlayStation 4’s aging hardware is a testament to the talented team that Kojima assembled. Everything from the minimalistic UI to true white-out snow conditions brings the word to life.
Perhaps even better than the graphics are Death Stranding’s soundtrack and atmospheric audio representation. I’ve been listening to its soundtrack frequently even after putting the controller away. It’s just a shame that while you can start playing any of its songs in-game, you can only do so while sitting in your private room, and you can’t turn on the audio while out and about walking. The music does start playing on its own during certain scenes, but it’s far too few in between.
The sound effects, meanwhile, range from subtle to outright terrifying and match the environments exceptionally well. Voice acting is provided by an extremely talented crew, not counting a few token celebrities thrown in for who-knows-what reason.
Well That Was Different
I have a tough time describing Death Stranding to anyone, but I can say with absolute certainty that you should play it. If you can manage not to get frustrated with a few of its game mechanics and you’re able to find enjoyment in the actual act of navigating a world with a purpose, then you’re going to love this game. If you’re a Hideo Kojima fan, then you’ve purchased it. It’s hard to compare Death Stranding to any other current or past title, so perhaps Hideo was correct when he said this would create a whole new genre. It’s up to you whether you’d go as far as that, but making it through all of Death Stranding will give you a unique experience, without a doubt.