Death Stranding is one of the oddest games I’ve had the joy to play to date. It’s a post apocalyptic delivery simulator, coupled with a deep, desperate story-driven enigma. It’s got moments of action, but what I enjoy about it the most is just driving or hiking through the wind-swept wilderness, hoping I won’t have my soul sucked out of me by unseen ghosts, determined to take my package from A to B.
It has haunting moments where you’re making your way across the landscape, the music switches on, the game zooms out, the clouds are in the distance, and there’s just a moment of pure video game zen. Death Stranding captured a certain je ne sais quoi that I really wasn’t expecting.
If this sounds like the most boring thing I could possibly describe, and for some, it will be, then the game isn’t for you.
The story is bizarre, with mind-boggling backstory that’s often info-dumped. The exposition in Death Stranding is clunky. Kojima has never been subtle and some of the story telling feels like being hit with a hammer, repeatedly. But even so, the world building is fantastic. Creative, unique, an aesthetic that really complements the setting, buildings and machinery that are futuristic and otherworldly, yet fit perfectly into this messed up version of Earth. The cut scenes, whilst indulgent, are top quality. Norman Reedus as Sam Bridges brings the game to life, but the whole cast of experienced actors bring the story to life. I really want to read the book, watch the movie.
I loved the social commentary. The country is divided, isolated, afraid. We’re making America whole again by connecting it together, sharing information and resources. Likes are our currency. We’re isolated and alone, even as we’re connecting the country with our magic-internet. Sam’s journey across America is an epic test of faith, a belief in an idea, the trust that it will be worth it. Sometimes when I was on a long journey, overburdened, staring at a mountain that I knew was going to take 45 minutes of painstaking walking to traverse, I also had to draw on that faith.
The gameplay is fantastic, if it’s a hiking simulator you’re looking for. Terrain has to be traversed, equipment has to be unlocked and upgraded, progression is steady and rewarding, with both practical, informational and cosmetic options. Packages degrade and have to be carried careful, you must manage yourself as much as your journey. You have to think ahead. Construction helps you navigate, making subsequent journeys easier and this is beautifully implemented with an online network that means other players can affect your world; and you theirs. Connecting you with your fellow gamers, even as you play alone.
The least fun part of the game is the weapons and the action scenes. The enemies become tedious making me avoid them out of boredom more than fear, and the bosses are repetitive. Grenade out, rinse and repeat, anticlimactic. I don’t think the game would have lost anything if the combat had been removed completely; it might even have gained something. It would have felt tighter, more together. Death Stranding is a terrible action game; but it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played.
For me, Death Stranding has been an epic journey. Tough and sometimes frustrating, but also relaxing, rewarding and at times, even awe-inspiring. An experience.