If you have been like me watching the Death Stranding marketing campaign roll out since its announcement, then you have been cynically lukewarm about the upcoming Kojima Studios blockbuster. With the cryptic clues among the vague tweets, it seemed inevitable that it would be a fluffed-up experience with little value outside of some expensive cutscenes and CGI babies, or it was going to be one of the most exciting sci-fi games to date… with babies. In the end, it was kind of both.
Death Stranding takes place in a world where humanity has been all but destroyed thanks to an event that has mixed the world and another plain of existence called the Death Stranding. When it rains, creatures called Beached Things, those BTs we have been hearing about, are unleashed which walk around. They respond to sounds and all you see in the real world are the claw prints that fill with a black liquid.
You play Sam Bridges, the naked Norman Reedus we have seen so much in marketing, who is doing tasks for humanities outposts. Doing so boosts his social media score, a little on the nose but Kojma I guess, and in doing these travels massive distances helping connect with other groups of survivors out in the wild. This is how you will spend most of your time in Death Stranding, out and about doing errands so make sure you get used to that idea.
There is a lot to the plot which I don’t want to ruin, because I genuinely enjoyed it. The world is hauntingly gorgeous, the BTs are creepy as hell, and the characters are excellent. The villains in the game are especially amazing, but I don’t want to spoil any of it because if you are as clueless as I was going into the game, you deserve to enjoy it as untouched as I did.
The gameplay on the other hand I am lukewarm on. If there are two things I hate in games, it is restrictive inventory systems, and difficulty traversing terrain. Death Stranding does both to an infuriating degree. Sam has a stamina bar which if you are trying to move quickly will make him a lot clumsier. I spent many hours getting mad, especially early on, when he was running downhill, would step up on a rock which would throw him off balance, and I would hold two buttons to try to regain balance before he slams into the ground. It’s cleverly implemented, but I still hate it.
Then there is inventory. You know how some people like inventory systems where you can become overburdened with weight, and so many others hate it with a passion? Well I fall in the camp of it’s a game so let me carry as much stuff as I want. I’m not sure if Kojima Studios is testing the limits of fans of the systems or trying to torture detractors but holy hell. Everything that Sam picks up in the world gets lumped onto his back in comically large towers. The bigger or more misshapen the tower is, the more Sam struggles to stay upright, and slows down his walking speed. Mastering inventory management was another pain the ass and a slog, which I’m still no good at. I wound up relying on the auto sort system for better or worse.
These two things aside, the game is clever with how Sam progresses. Early on the game can be tense and terrifying as Sam is basically unarmed so can-do stealth takedowns. Quite a few hours into the game he starts getting equipped with guns and the game becomes a bit more of a shooter, though stealth is still a useful tactic. This makes the early game extremely tense, especially as you try to creep past BTs when it’s raining, but as it progresses you become more of a killing machine.
Most of the game consists of travelling the world completing the fetch quests. Early on it feels especially like a slow drag, but as the game gets on the pace does speed up. Most of my time with Death Stranding it felt like someone told Kojima early on that the best way to show off his chops would be a massive open world, and nobody had the heart to say that sometimes smaller is better. There is so much time between the plot points where you are doing so little that is dilutes the interesting and weird story that has been built here.
The multiplayer element is as interesting as its story. Basically, players can leave stuff in communal lockers and build things out in the world which appears in other games. This means you can build something to get over some terrain, and the next time you see it, someone else has improved it. Thanks to the games social media system, the more you contribute, the more likes you can get, and the more powerful Sam gets. This is one weird system that Kojima has knocked out of the park.
On the whole Death Stranding is a great game. The plot is unique, weird and well worth experiencing, if you are willing to put up with the annoyingly dragged out in game missions. I can’t help but feel if this was restricted to a 15-20-hour game that was in a much smaller area then this could easily be a game of the year for me, but that time between plot points holds the whole experience back a little.
Despite its flaws I will be diving back into Death Stranding for another play through soon because it's weird story had enough early questions I want to see it all again knowing it's ending. So on the whole it is an easy recommend if you have the time and patience.