Since its announcement in 2016, fans have been trying to figure out what game designer Hideo Kojima’s newest game Death Stranding is actually about. Now that the game has been finally released, has the wait filled with wild speculation been worth it?
Death Stranding is certainly a fairly unique experience, but not necessarily in a purely good sense. Kojima himself has said that the theme of the game is connections between people and in the game, you build those connections by carrying tons of packages around.
The player is Sam, a courier called porter, who is responsible for carrying packages from settlement to settlement in a post-apocalyptic world. The world has been devastated by an event called Death Stranding, in which the walls between the living and dead came tumbling down.
The event also brought with it beings called BTs – basically ghosts – which, when interacting with living beings, cause an antimatter explosion called a voidout. After one of these voidout-events, Sam is called by the last president of the United States for a mission: to connect all the remaining human settlements from east to west coast. She manages to convince Sam by telling him that the mysterious Amelie is stuck on the west coast by terrorist and the only way Sam can save her is to help her in rebuilding the United States.
Sam then sets out to connect people and their settlements to the chiral network, an instantaneous communication and information system made possible by a mysterious substance called chiralium found after the Death Stranding.
You persuade new settlements to join the network by bringing them stuff or by taking their stuff elsewhere. The dominating gameplay of Death Stranding is the player being a post-apocalyptic postman in a weirdly small representation of the continental United States.
In the beginning this is actually fun. You have game mechanics that require you to balance the cargo on that Sam is carrying, you have to find the best possible route to get to your destination and you can use ladders and other items to make traveling more difficult terrain a bit easier.
But then you do the exact same thing for the next fifty hours and it gets tedious. You start rushing through areas with BTs that previously were tense experiences because you have weapons that make them non-threatening. You try to make the deliveries as quickly as possible, not to get a better score or anything like that, just because you want the story to move along.
The game’s story is the one thing that keeps you playing. The setting with all its weird philosophical ideas thrown together actually isn’t nearly as incomprehensible that the trailers would make it look. It has some nice story ideas and is also very character-driven which also lets the actors do some really great work.
Still in the end, Death Stranding is a flawed experience that is hard to recommend it without reservations. The game has great world building, story ideas and themes but its pacing is glacial which, in turn manages to make playing it rather frustrating – or even worse, boring at times.
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Kojima Productions
Platforms: Playstation 4, PC (second quarter of 2020)
Release Date: November 8th, 2019