Title: Death Stranding
Developer: Kojima Productions
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Action-Adventure, Stealth-Action
Platform: PlayStation 4
Age Rating: PEGI 18
Release Date: 8/11/19
Price: £54.99 – This game was purchased by the reviewer.
Death Stranding is a…curious game. It’s been wrapped up in a whole lot of hype and mystery following the game director Hideo Kojima’s unceremonious departure from Konami the company with whom he created the Metal Gear Solid series’ which includes arguably some of the best games of all time, and if nothing else, some groundbreaking work. Naturally, when the chains are off, and we hear this kind of creator has been given a whole bunch of money to do something new, the gaming world gets interested. A long run of strange and surrealist trailers and vignettes later and we finally get our hands on Death Stranding. You are Sam, played by the chap with the crossbow from Walking Dead. You’re a delivery man…you deliver things. Lots of things, a lot of times, to a lot of places.
Disclaimer. I was predisposed to like this based on the virtue of the game’s pedigree so try and keep that in mind when reading, but for me, this game has been great. Weird. Strange. Gorgeous. Confusing. Complicated but also nearly bafflingly simple. When I say that you’re a delivery man that really is the core focus of the game, but I love it. I’ll try to be impartial.
America is a shambles, disconnected, broken and at odds with itself after the Death Stranding so you’re tasked with delivering packages to people across the country and convincing them to join a network called the UCA which will tie the disparate areas of the country together. On your way, you’ll be building outposts, generators, watchtowers, highways and more to try and bring the country together. That bit seems simple, but it is dressed up in a way that adds steadily increasing layers of complexity. Other players online can contribute materials to your constructions and you’ll have to spend a reasonable amount of time managing inventories and plotting out routes for journeys to make sure you can maximise deliveries, getting as much as possible from A to B to C while developing your ‘New America’ to try and make your life and the lives of other players easier as you go on. That’s the simple but complicated part.
Then there’s the complicated but straightforward part. I’m going to hand this over to a friend for a second if I may,
You gotta use the BB’s to sense the BT’s but BB’s and Dooms shouldn’t work together, and the BB’s shut down if they are too exposed to the BT’s, and you cry cos your allergic to something, and if you die you blow up, so you gotta incinerate bodies but then the smoke they give off *messes* up the cities (which no one lives in), and you gotta rebuild America.
– My mate Sam Green (2019)
… He’s not wrong. BB is the little baby that you carry around in a jar and BT are these spooky…ghost..type..things that can grab you and then make oil monsters you have to fight and if they grab dead bodies they can cause nuke level explosions. There’s a whole lot of complicated madness around all of this that I can’t justify going into when writing for a website called Rapid Reviews. Just rest assured that all of this complexity is rooted in what is essentially relatively straight forward gameplay. Sneak around BT’s and avoid detection. If you get caught, you get dragged into a boss fight, and if you beat the boss, you clear the area for a while. Pretty simple. Add to that enemies like the MULEs who make a living by robbing other Porters (delivery men) who can be fought either lethally or non-lethally based on play style for extra loot and materials and you have a relatively simple set of gameplay rules around combat and stealth.
It’s interesting the way the gameplay makes a concerted effort to take the simple and make it complex while taking the complex and making it simple and I think it’s managed to pull the whole thing together into a really nice package. It’s well balanced. It’s a joy to play. The traditional boring elements become intricate and interesting, while the more intense elements don’t feel bogged down by overcomplication. It feels fun and interesting even when it’s at it’s worst and before I knew it several hours had flown by without me even realising.
All of this is then broken up by the now infamous Hideo Kojima cutscenes. Me? I love this stuff. I vehemently argued the corner of Metal Gear Solid IV, and its hours of cinematics and this game does a lot of the same. They benefit clearly from the quality of performances with cast members like Léa Seydoux, Mads Mikkelsen, Troy Baker and of course the aforementioned Norman Reedus putting in their shifts. Still, in true Kojima fashion, these sequences can feel a little bogged down in exposition and explanation.
It’s obvious going in that all the weirdness we’ve seen building up to this game are rooted in some kind of background and grounded to something and the game often feels like it’s trying to explain itself a little too much. Fine if you like that kind of thing. Sci-Fi can often fall into these traps, and if you enjoyed reading through the pages of codec entries from titles like Mass Effect and the like, you will find plenty here, but less emphasis on this stuff might have given the performances a little more room to breathe.
That’s one downside, and I’ve tried to find issues with this game to ensure there’s some balance here. It’s not perfect. Some of the traversals can feel a little janky at times, fumbling and tripping over itself on rougher terrains leaving you stuck between rocks, or in awkward ridges. I found this particularly apparent when using vehicles which can be very frustrating, and on that note, my standard PS4 slim has struggled in places.
Framerate dips become painfully apparent when utilising vehicles on highways as the hardware struggles to render its stunningly beautiful world along with my drive time commute to the next drop-off. We appear to be a year or so from new console hardware, and this game makes that pretty apparent. It will be interesting to see how the game runs on higher-end PC hardware when it launches in Summer next year.
None of this is enough to pull the game down too much though. It feels well balanced and enjoyable throughout which is no mean feat considering what it’s trying to do. Narratively it’s Kojima madness at it’s best which will appeal to some but not to others. While some of the more basic gameplay elements might look boring on the surface, they run deep and work towards really pushing and questioning the ideas of what a game can be.
The ‘bring us all together’ themes might feel a little cheesy and hamfisted at times. Still, for a game that’s trying to move against the tide of an industry that finds huge value in violence and aggression, it’s been a breath of fresh air to have some of the smartest minds in the business try and break new ground. It feels like an indie game with a big old budget and a AAA production. That’s pretty cool.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Death Stranding from the PlayStation Store on the following link, https://store.playstation.com/en-gb/product/EP9000-CUSA12607_00-DEATHSTRAND00001?smcid=pdc%3Aen-gb%3Apdc-games-death-stranding-ps4%3Aleadproductinfo-buy-on-playstation-store%3Adeath-stranding%3ASTORE-MSF75508-DEATHSTRANDING