I have always been a massive fan of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, Hideo Kojima’s previous work before Death Stranding, so in the build-up to this game’s release, I knew I was going to buy it no matter what. The occasional headlines I saw showing off Kojima’s usual eccentricities sealed the deal for me. As soon as I saw characters with names such as ‘Deadman’, ‘Heartman’ and ‘Die-Hardman’ I knew it would be unfiltered Kojima. Of course, this carries a certain danger to it; if an artist is not being told ‘no’ by a producer, then it is easy for their creation to become an ego trip. Sony certainly gave Kojima much more freedom than Konami, letting his studio take full creative control. Thankfully, the product is pure, unfiltered Kojima brilliance.
The novelty for me with Death Stranding was the fact that it would be the first time I could enter a universe written by Kojima and experience it all on my own for the first time. The stories and hard-hitting moments of Metal Gear Solid were all being praised far and wide by the time I got around to playing those games, yet I was able to cover my ears and avoid any Death Stranding spoilers during my time playing it. This benefitted my playthrough, as I got to observe this new universe and the themes, characters and storyline that made it come together so masterfully.
This review may seem quite late seeing as the game came out last November. Six months since its release, however, the story and its themes have become more relevant than we could have wanted them to be. You play as Sam Porter Bridges, a deliveryman who carries out tasks for citizens of the UCA, the United Cities of America. Everyone lives indoors and rarely makes a venture into the outside world for fears of timefall, BTs, MULEs and terrorists, so it is your job to deliver to them the packages and parcels they need. Your overarching mission in this game is to reconnect the UCA via the chiral network, so that you can bring humanity back from the brink of extinction. In a time of lockdown due to COVID-19 fears, sadly the premise of the game and its universe seems more familiar than I’d like it to be.
There is a constant sense of trying to keep people connected and reconnect others in trying times
The threats listed above are the ones you have to deal with in your journey, with MULEs and terrorists being more akin to standard video game enemies. BTs are different. You cannot see these ghost-like creatures who track you by sound, meaning you have to weave your way around invisible enemies while making as little noise as possible. A very tense affair indeed, made tenser by the presence of timefall. To explain timefall briefly, imagine if rain aged you horribly. This will not help the condition of your cargo, something you also have to pay attention to in Death Stranding. As well as these hazards, you have to watch out for scaling cliffs, rivers and balancing your cargo on your body correctly to ensure your cargo is delivered safely.
Death Stranding’s gameplay is slow; it took me 45 hours to beat it with a good friend of mine (the only thing tenser than fighting BTs for me was watching him do it). There are many times where you are traversing terrain without the threat of MULEs, BTs, or anything else. I, personally, really enjoyed this element of the game because it really allows you to have the time to yourself to consider the story and it really puts you in the headspace of the main protagonist.
Sam is naturally a lonely man, his profession is one that requires him to be working alone. Throughout the story, there are many times where the themes of isolation and connectedness are brought up, yet what Death Stranding does which set it apart for me was make you partake in those themes through gameplay. While you are left alone to your own thoughts while traversing terrain, through the multiplayer components of the game you can use auxiliary structures and vehicles that other players have built to help you on your journey, in line with Death Stranding’s message that ‘we are all connected’.
Many individual character arcs in this game require you to reconnect people who have become estranged to each other. There is a constant sense of trying to keep people connected and reconnect others in trying times. Kojima said that this was a game where he felt he could make comments on events such as Trump’s election and the Brexit referendum, where people chose to isolate themselves despite the fact that, together, we are capable of so much more. Instead, it seems Kojima had more of a ‘Simpsons moment’ where he predicted what our society would become within the next year of his game’s release.
Throughout the story, there are many times where the themes of isolation and connectedness are brought up
There is a consistently bleak yet hopeful tone throughout the game as well. It is, after all, about our species trying to fight back after an extinction event. Tonally, I would say it was similar to the film Interstellar where the same bleak-yet-hopeful tone reigns throughout. The key to creating any immersive experience for players is to create a great atmosphere: think Silent Hill 2 or the Batman: Arkham trilogy. Death Stranding manages to immerse players in a thrilling atmosphere, created by the slow pace and soundtrack of the game.
Most tellingly, I have not really spoken much about the story apart from its themes and its premise. The main reason is that the game is best experienced if you know as little about the story as possible. Just know that Death Stranding includes a compelling story, supported by quality acting among the whole cast of characters who each have unique, individual stories that flesh out the universe, my personal favourite character being Heartman.
If you are a fan of Kojima already, there is a high chance you will enjoy this game. If you are unaware of his work, just be prepared for some very long cut-scenes. The first two hours of the game are pretty much all cut-scenes, as are the last few hours of the game. But for me, it’s completely worthwhile.
Lockdown will likely be here for a while, so you may as well tank all 45 hours of this game. I would advise you to read through the in-game interviews where supporting characters explain elements of the world of the game. This was a highlight for me; I loved watching these scientists react to the world-shattering events of the game by presenting new philosophies, new scientific theories and quoting lots of anthropology to me. Regardless of whether or not you choose to pick this game up, it has quickly become one of my favourite games and I think it has worthwhile commentary that we need to hear, no matter what situation we’re currently in as a species.