Zone of the Enders 2, Metal Gear Solid 3 as well as Peacewalker would probably be the top 3 reasons why I would tell you I’m a Hideo Kojima fan. Back then the idea of mixing up cinema, role-playing and game mechanics was a pretty alien concept, resulting in an immersive narrative experience that came along with some pretty unique and amazing gameplay. Death Stranding comes along to be presented as Kojima’s unimpeded artistic vision, and it generally comes to us with, let’s say mixed reactions from the broader audience. It’s kind of funny that the game created with valuing connections and relationships as its theme has ended up with such divided opinions.
Finally having some time to sit down with this title has had me go on a journey of, well, many emotions. Mostly leaving me wondering, where are we going? Join me as I attempt to deliver the review of Death Stranding on the PlayStation 4.
Production (5 / 5)
The first thing that completely struck me are the amazing face rigs of this title. Capable of making complex expressions, somehow avoiding the uncanny valley and making strikingly great resemblance for every actor that Kojima had decided to put in his game. And they’ve certainly capitalized on the thorough work they’ve put into this by giving you your own Norman Reedus aquarium. Yes, while I do know that the character is actually called Sam Porter-Bridges, yet you spend so much time looking at things the character does that he’s much easier to identify as the actor rather than the character he’s portraying.
Aside from the fact that most of the living characters are simply phenomenal-looking, the same can be said for the scenery that you get to traverse through the game. One of the really cool things about it is that pretty much the entire map is traversable, that is if you have the tools required to do so. And the scenery does tend to get old over time, so I hope that you really like what you see because you’ll be seeing it for a long time to come. I think the most impressive part of this 3D world is how well the water and rain renders in the game, I don’t think I’ve seen any other game do that better.
The UI is very minimalist and beautiful, as you would expect from Kojima’s tastes, I really wish I could say that they’re also useful. But that wasn’t exactly the case, however, we’ll talk about that further down the line.
The audio experience for Death Stranding is truly something, with actors really putting their best foot forward for each role they had taken on. I would say that I particularly enjoyed Troy Baker’s performance of Higgs the most, if I had to pick favorites, he just pushed the character as far as he could every time. The music, while mostly good for a relaxing time with all the travelling, unfortunately was a cause of concern for anyone who was planning to stream it.
Mechanics (2 / 5)
Patience would be one thing you’re going to learn to cultivate when playing one of Hideo Kojima’s titles, and boy, Death Stranding was no exception to this rule. Suspicions of this game being a walking simulator may be a bit exaggerated, but it’s not too far from the truth. Generally you’re managing your balance is the constant issue the game has you deal with, as falling over while carrying precious cargo isn’t what a delivery man should be doing. You manage this in two ways, arranging your cargo in such a way that you’d find it efficient, and you scan the terrain for anything hazardous to your balance and react accordingly.
Honestly, while the balancing act seems pretty well-worked out, the rest of the business you’re doing as a courier doesn’t seem that well-thought out. Managing your cargo is tedious every step of the way as disposing or rearranging them is a huge chore. It becomes difficult to plan or switch out your tasks because there’s no easy way to manage your cargo. You’d likely want to have more tools if you’re trying to reach a new destination and you’d probably want to be much lighter and nimble if you’re going into hostile territory. Something like a load-out system would really do wonderfully to make switching between missions easy. Replenishing gear becomes confusing because of this and it became really easy to double up what you have because you forgot that you have an old repair spray stocked away somewhere or something to that effect.
Another thing is that you can’t really tell much about your cargo except for what it is, so in case you got lost in your thoughts or decided to check what you have because you got your destinations mixed up, checking the items themselves doesn’t tell you where they’re supposed to go. Which has caused me a fair bit of grief when early starting in the game when I realized that I had brought the wrong cargo to a certain destination. Note that a lot of quality of life features unlock quite late into the game so you’re pretty much on your own for a long while. Reviewing the map seems utterly pointless as well. You see, even if you try to plan a route, unless you do the gimmick with the map on your menu you can’t actually tell if you’re about to walk off a cliff, the scaling is hard to guess as well. While other players ideally fill up the map with information for you to use later, some bare-bones information like terrain type would have been very helpful so you can tell what should be bringing.
Now coming to the social aspect of this game, I actually think it was rather brilliantly executed. In a nutshell, it generally seems to be a mash-up between Dark Souls, Journey and Minecraft. As soon as you’re through the initial trudge of the area, you are to successfully connect it to something called the ‘Chiral Network.’ This is your long-term objective for this game and what effectively makes your travels more convenient. The biggest effect you’ll feel from the chiral network would be the appearance of communal structures, tools, vehicles and information left around by other players within your game server. You never get to actually meet other players, but you’ll know who they are with the legacy you they leave behind. The same could be said for you, as you can do exactly the same for them.
Leaving notes and some simple structures does help the trip become easier for you and others, the ones that truly make the bigger differences are the roads, as they’re pretty much the easiest and safest way to get around areas. And since only players build structures outside of cities, you’re expected put these roads up as well. But the required resources to pull these off are daunting to supply alone. This is where the collaborative efforts of several players really come together.
Considering you’re only going to use certain roads for a short while, the effort you have to put in to get it done seems too much work. But building these knowing others will have a much easier time thanks to your sacrifices does give you another form of satisfaction. This is probably one of the things Kojima was really aiming for, in a world riddled with PVP and competitive play, this whole project built on trusting everyone will come together was a pretty amazing thing to be a part of.
The opposing forces you face actually fall on the more disappointing side of things, I’d say that dealing with the travel alone is a far rougher enemy to face than anything in this game. BTs, MULEs, and Separatists are pretty much things you can run from if terrain allows it and it’s not a story battle. So long as they’re not willing to use guns, you can deal with all of them pretty handily as they try to come at you one at a time. Combat does feel refined when the game finally lets you do that, but it’s generally hardly challenging.
Content (3.5 / 5)
Kojima once said that subtlety is for cowards, and boy did he go ham on this one. A lot of story elements and conversation pretty much goes beyond on-the-nose for Death Stranding, in fact the metaphors have become its own nose to place itself upon with their writing. I’ll skip on talking about the story as it feels pretty convoluted at first (which is later cleared up with excessively explicit explanations of each storyline), but a friend and I have generally agreed that it’s more or less a lot like Evangelion.
For what you can do, you can pick 3 general tasks, one is to hunt and gather, another is to build structures and third is what the game actually assigns you to do, deliver things. Apart from that there isn’t a lot of variance to go with in terms of what you can do in the game. Which really hurts when the game’s conveyance is repeats things so often that it’s annoying, I ended up skipping a lot of conversation because of this.
In general, the game really opens up by chapter 3. Which doesn’t sound too bad until you realize it takes about 10 hours to get there. For some reason Death Stranding really wants to make you suffer before getting to the more engaging points of the game. I get that it’s trying to produce something different, like Journey. The big difference between those artful types and this is that you’re usually done or in the full-swing of things within the first hour of the game. For Kojima to really drag its pace like this is something I find rather questionable.
Features (3.5 / 5)
Generally the extras you get in this game are pretty much all found in the Private Quarters, where you can study BB, watch Norman Reedus drink 5 cans of Monster Energy, look at models of things like they’re little green soldier toys, and even play some of the music you have available to you.
You also get to know how often the stuff you made are used because of the social function of adding likes to it. I’m actually not entirely sure if they affect you in the game in any real way, but hey it’s nice to know people like what you posted, right?
Finally it’s possible to share resources in the game through requests and shared lockers, there are times I find extra ceramics or metals that I badly needed to complete a nearby bridge, and the friendly aid of other players also give me a much-needed supply drop when I find myself ill-equipped in the middle of a battle.
Death Stranding is difficult to say if it’s something I actually enjoyed. But I would say that being able to slog through the introduction and tutorials of this game, I found myself continuing to play because things were finally coming together. Connecting new cities uncovered more capabilities for you and got you stronger or more capable of doing things, which made me want to see how much further I can take it. In fact one of the odder experiences I found myself doing was playing the game simply to complete more and more structures to make playing the game that much more convenient for others.
The attempts to tell a visceral story are marred by inefficient user interface and constant interruption of game flow by exposition dumps of either plot points or new things in your game. However, when the game finally lets the story breathe and the characters can do their thing, it can feel meaningful.
I can see what Death Stranding was going for, but I wish I didn’t need half a day to get there. Much of that spent trying to make heads or tails of what the game wants me to do or experience. Feeling isolated and lost, not sure if how I was playing was what the design had intended. If Kojima makes a new game, I hope he takes to heart certain mistakes he may have overlooked while making this one, but keep the vision he had laid out intact. It’s certainly has its interesting points, but you seriously have to work for it.
Death Stranding is hanging on the ropes, with a 3.5 / 5
Currently available on the PlayStation 4