Developer: Kojima Productions
Publisher: 505 Games
Genre: Action, Adventure
Age Rating: PEGI 18
Release Date: 14/07/2020
A code was provided for review purposes.
The first imagery we ever saw from our initial glimpse at Death Stranding, was a naked Daryl Dixon cradling a baby. No explanation, no story detail. But it was from Hideo Kojima, so naturally, hype arose. However, for me, I never really pushed to find out what the game was about or watch any more trailers over the years. It was for PS4, and as an Xbox player, I was never going to play it, so why bother?
But fast forward to 2020, I’ve built my own PC, and Death Stranding is released on both the Steam and Epic Games Store! I could not miss out the chance to experience it when a review code came in; by this point, I’d heard mixed opinions, and only knew that you were a delivery man, and there was something to do with building bridges for other players. Intrigued, I went in pretty much blind, and I’m glad I did so.
Death Stranding has already been reviewed for the site with its initial PS4 release, which you can check out here. Therefore I’ll be making an effort not to repeat too much, but cover my experience on PC instead.
And I Would Walk 500 Miles
Notoriously being referred to as a walking simulator, these first impressions of Death Stranding’s gameplay could be enough to put people off. Yes, you walk. A lot. It all seems quite simple; deliver items and materials to and from places, making sure not to damage them by keeping your balance the whole way. It almost sounds too realistic; why would you want to play a game doing something so menial, when you want to escape everyday life? But there’s so much more to the game that I never really heard discussed, which ultimately expands this post-apocalyptic America.
Your job as Sam Porter Bridges is to reconnect America, destroyed and divided by BTs, ghost-like, shadowy black creatures who BB can sense. This is the baby you carry around in a pod, so you must sneak around them using BB as your guide, doing your best to avoid detection which can equal death by tar monsters or dropping your precious cargo. Oh and also, the rain or “timefall” rapidly accelerates ageing on anything it touches, so don’t stay out in it too long otherwise your cargo containers will be destroyed. And another thing, if you die in this world, it equals a massive explosion.
I was pleasantly surprised after hearing absolutely nothing about this, completely enthralled by this worldbuilding and threat in what seems like relatively simple gameplay. Listening to people call it a walking simulator is very misleading, as it’s so much more than that.
You’ve Got a Friend in Me
As a relatively new PC player using PC controls for the first time, it was overwhelming at first. Having to keep your balance, open numerous item wheels, check your map and e-mails to name a few: there’s a lot to learn. It did come naturally after a while though, and my initial thoughts of it being a hassle to balance using the mouse buttons constantly faded quickly. It felt natural to have my right hand settling on the mouse to do this and control the camera, while my left hand did the important things like move, place items, and engage in combat. Of course, if you’re still having trouble, there’s an option to use a controller.
I loved the aspect of engaging with other players but in a lone wolf way. You can leave signs for people of encouragement or warning, build ladders to help them cross treacherous paths and contribute to their constructions of bridges, watchtowers and more. You got to experience the isolating life of a porter like Sam, while also feeling this connection between you all and helping each other achieve the same goal, though you never witness each other face to face.
This element, alongside the dangers of BTs and timefall, turned a simple task of delivering parcels into something more exciting. Having to route your way, avoiding enemy MULEs who rob porters of their cargo as well as BTs and slippery mountains, became strangely addicting. It was easy for me to spend hours at a time trekking across rivers and hills, as you never knew what was around the corner.
The Great Outdoors
Of course, it was effortless to play for hours when the game looks so good. I do not have the best PC in the world, running on the recommended set up, so I’m sure it can look even better. But oh my god, it looked amazing.
The cut scenes had me genuinely forgetting I wasn’t watching a film. The individual pores of a character’s face, the wiry twists of hair in a beard, individual stitches in their clothing. After playing games on an original Xbox One, I felt spoiled. The motion capture was superb, helped by fantastic voice acting from the likes of Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen and Tommie Earl Jenkins. There wasn’t a single character who didn’t interest me, as the story covered all of their backstories and spent time portraying their personalities. It did feel incredibly cinematic; though of course, some things look a little off, so you know it’s not real (the hair and eyelashes didn’t look quite right), you don’t notice when you’re pulled into the story.
That isn’t to say that in-game visuals weren’t good, however. Shadows and lighting were gorgeous no matter the weather, and you’d have to do a double-take on the landscapes to see if they were real or not. Sam moved very fluidly, leaving footprints in his wake, and just the graphics, in general, were deceivingly life-like. There were some occasions where, on my PC anyway, things weren’t as detailed like the grass on the ground or the leaves of the trees. Sam’s movement could be janky when traversing uneven surfaces, his tall load clipping into the ground if you stumbled too far forward.
Overall though, it seems like PC is the best way to get the top tier visuals, if you’re debating between getting it on PS4 or PC and graphics are a selling point for you.
An Award-Winning Soundtrack
I’m usually more of a fan of solely instrumental scores for games, but the songs chosen for Death Stranding’s soundtrack fit so well. They would play at certain parts of the game, the song title and artist appearing for a moment on the side of your screen. This was unusual but went well with the theatrical aesthetic. They spoke of all the emotions in the game; hope, loss, determination, each slotted in at the right moment. I can definitely see myself listening to them for years to come.
Combining the acting, graphics and soundtrack, then, I can see why some people have been saying it could have been better off as a film. There are a lot of cut scenes, which I enjoy watching, but I know many would hate this. The story is wild and confusing at times, demanding your full attention. Some parts were cheesy and altered the mood a little (Princess Beach, anyone?). It’s certainly unique, and unlike anything, I’ve ever played before.
However, I still think a game format is perfect for it. You get to experience the harsh world for yourself, making it much more immersive and developing the worldbuilding. But then, you also get to sit and watch incredible acting and visuals too. In my eyes, it’s a win win.
Keep On Keeping On
Replayability wise, after completing the story after 42 hours, I don’t know whether I’ll have the time for another playthrough. However, there’s still plenty for you to do once the story is finished up. It’s highly unlikely you will have done all the deliveries and orders in your main playthrough, so I’m looking forward to hopping on and discovering more side quests/characters! Steam also has many achievements for you to collect if you’re a hunter.
Doing extra missions may unlock you some snazzy items too, or colours to customise your clothing. Purely cosmetic, but fun all the same. I’m sure you’ll want to return to play with Photo Mode too, snapping pictures of the beautiful scenery or forcing Sam and BB into goofy poses.
A Marmite Title
Though I’ve sung its praises throughout this review, I can see why there’s a love or hate attitude towards Death Stranding. Don’t like watching cut scenes or not interested in the story? There’s a high chance you won’t enjoy it. Kojima’s style and quirks won’t be for everyone.
But, it’s one of those games where you do have to try it for yourself. One person will think it’s dreadfully dull, and the other the best game they’ve ever played. Most importantly, this review is to help you see if you will like it. I can tell you that I think it’s one of the most unique games I’ve ever played and it will stick with me. At the same time, there are certain people I wouldn’t recommend it to because I’d know they wouldn’t enjoy it.
I’d urge you not to be too swayed by the “boring walking sim” rhetoric and give it a chance if you can, as it’s the only way to know whether you’d like it or not. With a genuinely compelling story that would take me all day to tell you, a vast range of superbly acted characters and unique gameplay, I’ll be thinking of Sam and BB for years to come!