Back in 2015 the gaming world was shocked by the departure of director Hideo Kojima from Konami. He has since been on a tour of all the former studios he used to work with on a mission to amass as much knowledge as possible, regarding what makes a game good. Now with his very own production studio aptly named Kojima Productions, he is on the brink of their first ever release. Death Stranding was announced as far back as E3 in 2016 and has since built up quite a large amount of hype and expectation. This is mostly down to being accredited to a Hideo Kojima game but also because of the concept of the game, which we will explore more in this review.
The first major talking point of Death Stranding was the cast of regular faces that were announced to be characters in the game. The main character is played by Norman Reedus, known for starring as Daryl Dixon in the AMC series The Walking Dead. Alongside Reedus are the likes of Mads Mikkelsen, Lea Seydoux and Troy Baker amongst others. There is also quite a few cameo appearances from various celebrities throughout the game which some people may find questionable but they bring a familiarity to an otherwise confusing and sometimes downright bonkers story.
At the start of the game, we find the main character named Sam Porter-Bridges in a world that quite literally has turned upside down. Sam is a “porter” and his job is to bring deliveries from one destination to another. Sounds simple right? Not so much when the world that Sam inhabits has an alter dimensional side that allows “spirits” that go by the name of BT’s walk amongst the human population. These BT’s are invisible to the human eye but scientists have found a way for humans to sense them. This is where the game starts to get a bit far out there.
BB’s are actually kind of human baby’s that are synced to people in the game to act as a form of radar. They react to the presence of the BT’s and let the wearers know they may be in danger by the way of a shoulder mounted light. This light twitches and flickers when you are nearby a BT, and this can genuinely be frightening, which adds to the layers of suspense the game builds so well.
After quite a lengthy intro that will have you scratching your head to say the least, we find out what exactly we will have to do during the game. It’s mainly trying to reconnect America to its former glory. By reconnect I mean that in the years prior to the game setting, America was nearly wiped out. Since then it has been a number of disbanded communities fighting for survival. The newly formed government is working from coast to coast getting these communities to enroll in a united America once again.
The gameplay in Death Stranding is as unique as its story, with a strong emphasis on physics and how your character reacts to the world around him. This is most evident when carrying cargo around this massive open world. Being a porter you will have to carry various items, be it on your back,arms,legs or hands. How you distribute this weight on Sam will impact how he moves and how prone he is to falling over. It seems to be a constant battle keeping him upright but what this does is makes you feel more involved in the journey, more so than simply walking from A to B.
Traversing the landscape requires equipment such as ladders and ropes to climb and descend from cliffs and valleys, making what may seem to be a straight forward journey into an expedition. During the more mundane segments of longer journeys, Kojima has cleverly used some very atmospheric music to break these up. Encounters with BT’s are daunting but for the right kind of reasons. Genuine fear sets in when your BB reacts and in no time your crawling at a snail’s pace and holding your breath until you’re clear from the threats. This is why Death Stranding is not exactly an action game but more falls into the stealth genre that Kojima did so well in his past venture of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. If you have played any of those games, you will see some similarities but not so many as to detract from what makes Death Stranding so unique
There are online/multiplayer aspects also. When out on your travels you can come across “signs” and “flags” left by other people that may help guide you along or point towards areas of interest. Players can choose to “like” these and so reward the players that left them to say thanks and gain recognition for helping others. You can also deposit some of your cargo in post boxes and entrust other players to either finish off your delivery or hope that they dont lose or damage it beyond repair. These features add a depth to the game that helps to take away the feeling of being a lone wanderer.
First things first, this game simply looks amazing. A large amount of time and effort has gone into making the environment and characters as true to life as possible. When the game starts it is set in a rural location with grass lands and rocky mountains surrounding you. It’s this first encounter with the visuals of Death Stranding that sets the game up for greatness when it comes to graphics. By just walking around you can find yourself almost being a tourist within the game, going off the beaten path to see how beautiful the surrounding areas are.
Motion capture has been heavily used to give the characters a realistic feel so that they seem very grounded in the world. The cutscenes throughout are as close to real life as possible with the capabilities of the current gen Playstation and at times, it’s easy to forget your playing a game and not watching a movie. This is important because, especially during the first few hours, almost all of the game is a cinematic. Kojima has tried to blur the lines between video games and the movie industry and in my opinion he has succeeded. The story flows well with the aid of the great visuals then throw some great actors/voice actors and the whole package comes together really well.
Death Stranding has been a long time in the making but like all good things, it has been worth the wait. Although the gameplay and story may not be for everyone, it’s a surreal enough experience to warrant the hours that will have to be invested in it. If it’s just for the reason of trying to figure out exactly what’s going on, then it’s worth it. The cast of actors will grab a lot of the headlines along with the bizarre side of having aBB strapped to your chest but at its core Death Stranding is sure to be a contender for Game of the Year at many of the future games awards. Kojima and his production team have pulled off something that can’t be easily pigeon holed when it comes to genre, but to me, that’s a good thing. It clearly stands out from the crowd and it’s not afraid to flaunt its quirky side. The only thing we can hope for is that we won’t have to wait so long for Kojima’s next release if Death Stranding is anything to go by.