Delivering supplies in a fractured society
Death Stranding is one of the most highly anticipated video games for the past five years. Hideo Kojima, a legendary video game designer responsible for creating the famous Metal Gear Solid franchise has been developing this game. Kojima is known for developing the ‘Stealth’ genre back in 1987 with his game, “Metal Gear.” While most games directed the player to defeat enemies, Hideo pondered, “What if the player could avoid detection and pass-through levels without having to kill?”
Over 30 years later, having won numerous awards and changed the industry of video games forever, Kojima had a falling out with Konami, one of the biggest Japanese video game manufacturers. During this time, the world was upset with Konami, as they had not treated him fairly, having denied him the privilege of accepting recognition at the VGA (Video Game Awards) show in 2015. Host Jeff Keely was indeed distraught by the whole situation, and so was the entire video game community.
Hideo Kojima not only has made incredible video games, but his creative form of storytelling and bringing his passion for directing film into video games forever changed how games should be played. Hideo Kojima left Konami and founded his independent studio, appropriately named Kojima Productions. This was the moment where Hideo Kojima could finally invest his time and money into producing another new type of video game.
For years, Kojima teased fans with fantastical and surreal trailers about his upcoming game, Death Stranding, which captured the minds of millions. The thing that caught most people off guard was the usage of sci-fi, the themes of life and death, using a capsulated fetus to see the dead, and the appearance of actors Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelson, and Guillermo Del Toro. No one understood how the gameplay worked, how objectives and levels were constructed – it all seemed foreign, which is very reminiscent to Hideo Kojima. Nonetheless, his ability to creating quality content had me (as well as many others) hooked on his new idea.
Death Stranding was released on November 8, 2019, and of course, I bought it. I’ve been waiting a very long time to play Death Stranding, and my anxiety finally reached an end when I had my physical copy in my hands. It’s time to dissect this game and decide whether or not; Death Stranding is another one of Hideo Kojima’s most beautiful creations. With a superb cast of Hollywood actors, was Death Stranding worth the wait? Or was the hype for the famed video game designer just a waste?
The above video shows the first hour of playing Death Stranding! 🎞🍿
You play as Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus), a courier who delivers supplies to various colonies after a post-apocalyptic event called the ‘Death Stranding’ occurred across the United States. The United States has been torn apart, and now only a few territories remain spread across the country. Sam’s job is to reconnect each of the colonies to make a brand new America.
The big shocker that left everyone stunned the first time they saw a trailer of Death Stranding was the reveal of the Bridge Baby, BB, a baby encapsulated in a pod that has been taken from a still-mother to be used as tools. Connecting to a Bridge Baby establishes a trancelike connection and the ability to sense BTs (Beach Things), entities whose souls are stranded in the world of the living. As an added bonus, some celebrities act as special guests in the game.
Apart from cinematic cutscenes, you’ll also engage in CODEC calls which is a signature element from the Metal Gear series.
Hideo Kojima has taken the concept of traveling from different areas to the next level. In many ways, it feels as if it’s a parody of how video games are played and interpreted. In every game, you’re the errand boy. Everyone needs something done, and you’re going to have to solve their problems, and you usually save the world from total annihilation at the same time.
In most cases, it’s relatively simple; you start from point A and need to reach point B. Sometimes you have to complete the task under a specific time limit, take a valuable object to its destination, or a mixture of both; this is where Death Stranding’s core gameplay lies. Of course, it’s not easy; you’ll need to avoid obstacles (Example: rocks and debris, BT’s, MULE’s, Timefall) that obstruct Sam’s journey towards reconstructing America. Death Stranding is not just a game; it’s a cinematic experience where you traverse across a desolate world.
As the game begins, we’re presented with Timefall, the rain that accelerates the aging process of time, destroying Sam’s cargo, vehicles, and living beings such as plants, birds, and humans who get caught in the rain. You don’t want to stay there for a long time because Timefall diminishes the quality of your parcels, resulting in a poor score for damaged goods upon delivery.
Timefall also signals BT territory, making these areas the most challenging sections of the game. While in regions surrounded by BT’s, Sam will have to walk and hold his breath to get past danger slowly. Players will want to move as quickly as possible, but doing so will alert the BT’s and cause them to attack Sam by surrounding him with a large pool of tar.
BT’s will begin emerging from the tar, trying to drag Sam into the center of the tar filled area. The player can tap ‘square’ various times to shake the BTs off and escape. Once Sam manages to escape, the tar will evaporate, and the area will become safe. If the player gets dragged to the center of the muck, a BT known as Catchers will engage in battle.
Sam can defeat BT’s using his fluid body samples (blood and urine). If the Catcher does devour Sam, a voidout will be triggered, leaving a crater in Sam’s wake, making the area inaccessible to the player. Eventually, Sam is given the ability to cut the umbilical cords of the BT’s, allowing them to be “released” or rest in peace finally. In their place, they leave Chirilum crystals in the shape of human hands.
Sam is a “repatriate,” meaning that he can return to life from the place known as the Seam when killed. In the Seam, an underwater rendition of the world where players follow the “Strand” to guide Sam’s soul to his body to bring him back.
The red bar is the blood gauge. When it reaches 0, Sam will die. The blue bar is the Stamina Gauge. As it depletes, Sam moves more slowly, and maintaining his balance is more laborious. When the gauge fully depletes, Sam can no longer bear his load. He will become tired and stop moving altogether, ignoring the player’s button input. Be sure to take a seat and rest, massage your shoulders, or drink water to prevent this from happening.
To complete this arduous journey, Sam is equipped with a handful of intricate tools. One of which is called the Odradek, a cargo scanner which scans the nearby area for cargo tags indicating where to deliver. By pressing R1, the Odradek will in which the camera is facing, detailing safe, rough or dangerous terrain.
By pressing L2 or R2, the player can decide if Sam’s left or right hand will carry cargo. This creates an incredibly intriguing balance mechanic. If the player picks up the load from one side, Sam will lose balance and sway in the opposite direction, but Sam can use his other hand to hold onto his equipment to maintain balance.
Sam can also allocate the cargo on his back. The player can place more equipment on top of him, making movement difficult until rending him immobile. Players will have to organize how the equipment is placed on Sam and strategically plan every trip to a new destination, making every journey count.
To heal Sam, you must enter a Private Room which is located in only certain areas of the overworld. The Private Room becomes more of a Dating Simulator with Norman Reedus. The player can interact with Norman by zooming in on one of his body parts, and he’ll react in different ways, breaking the fourth wall throughout this experience. Norman will wink at the camera, ask the player to allow him to brush his teeth, or he’ll move his hands if you’re facing the door, signaling you to leave.
Take a shower, view your equipment, and other goodies that can only be done here like, Fast Traveling. After healing yourself in a private room and leaving through the elevator, you are unable to re-enter the private room if you forget something or would like to fast travel, which limits the options.
I spent a large amount of my time constructing roads and building zip lines to help me travel quickly and over vast distances. Doing so, however, took me a significant amount of time, spending 3 – 5 hours finding materials and fabricating the resources needed to place them in the most optimal position.
Death Stranding pushed the boundaries for video game graphics in 2019. Each environment in Death Stranding looks incredible. The moss on rocks and the tundra in the mountains are almost lifelike. Even areas like the dry arid desert-like have a depth to the atmosphere.
There is no music while walking out in the world of Death Stranding. Instead, the player will only hear the sounds of the environment. I love the sounds of the flowing rivers, the wind of a blizzard, and each footstep either on grass or sand feels authentic. Sam’s behavior and movement across the terrain are genuine in this bizarre world.
In many areas, it’s not a surprise that you’ll want to stop and enjoy the breathtaking views. The architecture and UI (user interface) have an indistinguishable Hideo Kojima design to them, modern and minimalistic. Though everything presented has an almost identical similarity to Metal Gear, which comes to no surprise.
The UI is way too complicated. The player is bombarded with several visual elements that appear on the screen which becomes overwhelming at first. This also translates over to the tedious organization of Sam’s inventory. Holding down buttons and confirming repeatedly becomes tiresome and slows the pace of the game. Even for an experienced gamer, it’s a lot to take in.
Some of the greatest moments in the game are when Sam discovers a new territory. The scenes are beautiful and a licensed song will begin to play in the background, adding a layer of cinematography.
Once the game is complete, there are collectibles to be found and more colonies to connect. The special guests are a nice touch and their acting is great. An online mode is present since the beginning of the game, but you’re not directing interacting with other players. Instead, you can build structures in your own game world, and they can appear in the world of other players. You’ll come across already built bridges and ropes to help you along your journey, which does help in many instances.
It feels like someone else did the work for you, and we’re getting away too easily. In other situations, the structures of other players are misleading and aren’t constructed properly. This can become bothersome, but you can delete them from your server.
The story is there; it’s not bad, and a lot of the things make sense, but some of the dialogue is horrible. Some concepts are not fully explained to the audience. DOOMs, for example, which is mentioned briefly in the beginning and never again or explained thoroughly.
I’m never going to forget how cringey and horrible the running along the beach scene is. During the end game, you’re stuck listening to an hour of a pure monologue between the characters; for the man who created the incredible Metal Gear Solid series, this was another downhill turning point.
Death Stranding does a lot of innovative things, and it works in many cases. Breaking the fourth wall, viewing nightmares, and attention to detail is what makes Death Stranding unique. A lot of what makes Death Stranding great is not as apparent to the typical player. There are a lot of juicy and beautiful details spread throughout the game that does make it an enjoyable experience. I had a great time, but I expected more.
I did enjoy the game. I had fun, and in many parts, I knew it got slow, but the pace picks up, and you'll find many cool gadgets that augment Sam's abilities, and it improves the gameplay experience. A lot of the moments with music are welcomed, but it would be nice to take music out with you into the open. I feel its a cinematic experience, but the problem is that many people don't know how to play cinematically.
Amazing sense of atmosphere
Innovative gameplay and storytelling elements
Many slow-paced moments
Climbing feels clunky
Fast traveling is not as simple as in other games, requiring you to go to your Private Room and skip through cutscenes to be able to do so
Boss fights are incredibly easy