Written by: Nick Farinola // Published by: Joe Ahart After playing the first hour or so of Kojima Productions’ ambitious Death Stranding, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed at how quickly time comes and goes. To this day, I remember the YouTube comments after the reveal trailer of the game back at E3 2016 following a similar trend of, “Hopefully […]
Written by: Nick Farinola // Published by: Joe Ahart
After playing the first hour or so of Kojima Productions’ ambitious Death Stranding, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed at how quickly time comes and goes. To this day, I remember the YouTube comments after the reveal trailer of the game back at E3 2016 following a similar trend of, “Hopefully we’ll see this game in the next decade.” Three years later and here we are; Death Stranding is here, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever played before.
When it comes to video games, or anything else in the media realm, I rarely get defensive about a topic that I love or that I hate. I’ll save the “everyone is different” talk for another time. There are sick, masochistic people out there that love the Dark Souls series – I know, hard to believe – and there are even some that defend the much-maligned Deadly Premonition. To put it concisely, nothing is perfect. Case in point, Death Stranding. Allow me to get into the nitty-gritty.
Kojima Productions and their publisher Konami had a very public, yearlong break up in 2015. This split gave rise to the desecration of the Metal Gear series that is Metal Gear Survive, but also to Kojima’s genre-defining Death Stranding. What exactly is genre-defining about it? Journalists and YouTubers around had used that term since before its November 2019 release, but it still carries some ambiguity. In a twitter post, Kojima refers to Death Stranding as a “social strand” or “strand” video game. It has multiplayer components that serve a purpose much greater than playing with friends. Death Stranding is about isolation and restoration; it’s about working together to rebuild a nation that was destroyed by an apocalyptic event. Gamespot’s Kallie Plagge wrote in her review, “It’s a game that requires patience, compassion, and love, and it’s also one we really need right now.” A game that we really need right now. What in the world does that mean? Hideo Kojima is extremely active on his social media accounts, with over two million Twitter and over 800-thousand Instagram followers. Based off of activity on his accounts, multiple sources have stated that Death Stranding is a response to Trump’s presidency and Brexit, or the heavily drawn-out withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Without going too in-depth within our political climate, it is abundantly clear that those influences are seen within the game, but I’d personally like to separate the two. Previously, I had mentioned that Death Stranding is unlike any other game. A bold statement that is unfortunately redundant.
If you search “Death Stranding” on YouTube, you’ll find gameplay videos, trailers and lore hunters galore, but it’s the comments that I want you to spend some time reading. Death Stranding is most popularly referred to as an “Amazon delivery simulator.” I’m here to tell you that those comments are both hilarious and…not too far off the target. I’m also here to tell you that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To phrase it shortly, Kojima’s narrative and world building are some of the most inventive and engaging in any video game or movie. The first hour, without going within spoiler territory, dropped the player knee-deep in a setting without any exposition. Death Stranding does not hold your hand; you’re expected to be a fast learner. The world as we know it is gone, the United States of America isn’t particularly united. Craters dominate the perilous landscape, animals have evolved to traverse their environment – oh, and there are inter-dimensional entities known as BTs (or “Beached Things”) that appear in rain that also happens to cause rapid-aging at the touch. The recently deceased must be rushed to the incinerator or else they will turn into one of the BTs, sparking an explosion. The world of Death Stranding is, well, weird, but the type of weird that is intentional.
The main gameplay loop, to put it bluntly, is a massive fetch quest – hence the Amazon delivery comparison. As Sam Porter Bridges (played by Norman Reedus), your tasked with lugging around cargo across dangerous terrain to (hopefully) deliver everything in good condition to settlements around the country. The multiplayer component is much less invasive than one would initially surmise. Let’s compare Death Stranding’s multiplayer to the like/comment system of Facebook. The environment around you is hilly, wet, and eerie. Couriers turned pirates (known as “Mules”) patrol areas in search of people to rob them of their cargo, and serve as a side combatants to the environment. That’s right, you’ll mostly be fighting the rough terrain of the post-apocalyptic United States more so than the Mules. Now that I’ve roughly explained your main objective, I want to go into detail on how the multiplayer intertwines. You will never come “face to face” with another human player, but other players leave their mark on your world and your Same Porter Bridges. You might be carrying hundreds of pounds of cargo then come across a long river. Once your stamina depletes, Sam falls and the cargo he is carrying will be at risk for damage. Damaging cargo will also affect your rating and the amount of likes you receive at any specific delivery. However, a bridge could already be built over the river from another player, making traversal incredibly less challenging. Death Stranding encourages you to pay it forward. The game may be about isolation, but by working together, rebuilding our world becomes all the more plausible. I’ve seen some instances and even experienced others in-game where a rope or ladder could lead to absolutely nowhere, forcing me to fall and damage some of my cargo. Expect trolls, but be the better person – it makes the game that much more enjoyable.
My initial impressions could and probably will alter after finishing the entire game, but everything I’ve seen so far has been nothing short of a triple-A, wholly enjoyable experience. Even the games we now consider to be masterpieces have glaring issues, and Death Stranding does not stray from this fact. The narrative and overall desolate world are fantastic, but the inventory management, repetition, and often slow pace of it all will definitely bog down the experience for some. It’s a love it or hate it kind of a situation, and I think the game’s subreddit is a perfect example of this observation. Some feel Kojima needs to hire someone will the balls to flat out tell him “no,” while others feel the antithesis. Hideo Kojima is one of the most prominent auteurs in the video game world; Someone who isn’t afraid to challenge expectations or to even create an entirely new genre. Take it or leave it, Death Stranding is here and it’s striving to make a difference.