Published on November 20th, 2019 | by John Werner
Death Stranding PS4 Review
Summary: ‘Death Stranding’ is the long-awaited adventure game from Hideo Kojima.
‘Death Stranding’ is the long-awaited adventure game from Hideo Kojima, the creator of the ‘Metal Gear’ series. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic America, now known as the United Cities of America, or UCA. An event called the “Death Stranding” has created a bridge between the world of the living and dead. As a result, people now live in isolated communities away from each other and the monsters that have come through from the other side. The player must brave this dangerous world, delivering cargo to the remote communities and attempt to reconnect everyone to each other.
In all of my years of gaming, I’ve seen and played nearly every kind of game you can imagine. Yet, nothing has ever come close to what I encountered when playing ‘Death Stranding’. Since its announcement, ‘Death Stranding’ has been somewhat of a mystery due to its concept being so uniquely foreign and cryptic. However, the hype for this game has been off the charts. While I for one didn’t get caught up in the hype, my intrigue for mystery was definitely piqued and I was rather keen for some answers.
Before I get down to the nitty-gritty that is the plot of the game, I’d like to quickly deviate and talk about the audio and graphics for this game. In a nutshell, ‘Death Stranding’ is a feast for the eyes and ears. I was blown away by the attention to detail and the level of effort that was put into designing this world. Everything from the layout of the land to the weather has been orchestrated in a way that by just walking around, players will feel the weight of the world resting on their shoulders; it is poetic brilliance at its best. Combined with the game’s soundtrack, ‘Death Stranding’ quickly paints a picture of just how isolated the world has become. I strongly recommend playing this game without having any of your own background or gaming music playing. The soundtrack alone is worth going out and buying on CD. (If anyone uses CD’s anymore.)
Now that the easy part is out of the way, I can now focus on what might be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a gamer: explaining the plot of ‘Death Stranding’. Due to the complex nature of the narrative and the thousands of cryptic metaphors that are intertwined into every single element of this game, I’ve had to boil this down to be as simple as possible.
Set in a post-apocalypse North America, you play as Sam Porter Bridges (played by Norman Reedus), a porter, which is essentially a postman who carries a ridiculous amount of cargo on his back, while walking from settlement to settlement delivering the mail. However, an event known as the “Death Stranding” has created a bridge between our world and the afterlife, allowing invisible monsters, known as ‘BTs’ to enter our world via a crossover point called the ‘beach’. The Death Stranding has also caused all kinds of paranormal anomalies to affect our world including rain that speeds up the passage of time of anything it touches, and massive, city-wide explosions called voidouts that are caused when a corpse is consumed by a BT. Because of all this, 99.8% of the population, or what’s left of it, now refuse to go outside. The only people who have the balls to go outside are porters like Sam, and those working in Corpse Disposal, who have to deliver the dead bodies to an incinerator, far away from civilization. As one of the only porters left that is capable of doing their job properly, Sam gets roped into rescuing the President, who is being held hostage on the other side of the country. However, the only way to rescue the President and save the United Cities of America is to literally walk all the way from the east coast to the west coast, while visiting every major settlement along the way so that Sam can deliver the mail and activate their internet connection using a necklace made from the same stuff as BTs. To help him on his journey, Sam carries the 22-week old fetus of a braindead woman in a tank on his chest called a Bridge Baby or ‘BB’. Because the baby hasn’t been born and its mother isn’t technically alive or dead, the BB is neither alive nor dead. Therefore, when Sam plugs the BB into himself, it amplifies his own superpowers and makes it easier to scene and avoid BTs. In the event that Sam is attacked, he is armed with an array of weapons that are manufactured from his blood, shower water, urine, and poop.
If at this point you are still very confused, don’t worry, that was the dumbed-down version of the plot. The full plot, while just as confusing, is explained in greater details as the game goes on. One thing you will notice very quickly is that everything about ‘Death Stranding’ is either an analogy or a metaphor for something else. As much as this is quite impressive from a writing point of view, it does become quite annoying, especially when the writers started using the same words over and over when naming everything. For example, Sam Porter Bridges is hired by President Bridget to work for an agency called Bridges that wants to bridge the gap in society and gives Sam a Bridge Baby to help him survive. It’s this level of incoherent script writing that also makes the early part of the game difficult to follow. Early on in the game, we are told (and shown in a cut scene) that when the time-fall rain occurs, we should find shelter and wait out the storm. Then during a mission where it starts raining, I manage to find shelter and began waiting for the sky to clear up. I waited for an hour before realizing that I was meant to keep walking through the storm and get wet, damaging my cargo in the process. This is just one small example from the start of the game that I think many players might run into. I feel that a little more clarity during some missions might have helped and offered a more enjoyable experience.
Another unique point of ‘Death Stranding’ is the controls. Given that the main game mechanic is about balancing enormous amounts of cargo on Sam’s back, the controls have been designed to reflect this. Both of the controllers’ trigger buttons are used to shift Sam’s weight and help him gain his balance and stop him from falling over and losing or damaging cargo. Sam is also equipped with a shoulder-mounted scanning device that can show an overlay of how difficult the terrain is, which way the ground slopes or how deep a river might be. The scanner provides several other functions such as indicating how close BTs are and when resting in the wilderness, acts as a mobile to help the BB calm down. An odd function, but points should go to the developer for adding in the attention to detail. Players also have access to a wide range of items that can be used to create ladders, climbing ropes, storage lockers, and even bridges. The downside is that these items don’t have their own special storage pouch. Every bit of equipment that a player might need to use in the future, along with the cargo you need to deliver, all has its own weight and needs to be carried by Sam in order to be used. Players need to think carefully about how items are arranged, especially when transporting heavy items such as 60kg petrol tanks and dead bodies. The upside is that any equipment that is constructed by other players also appear in your game, once that region of the map is connected to the network. Players can even leave warning signs and markers to help others in their own journey.
‘Death Stranding’ is, without a doubt, one of the most unique games that has been made at a AAA level. It’s unique use of online gameplay, while still being a completely solo game is rather clever and makes it easier for newcomers to navigate through the world. However, the game is essentially a delivery simulator set in a post-apocalyptic world. Even with the introduction of new ways of carrying more cargo later in the game, objectives still feel rather bland and tedious after a while. Admittedly, I am still curious about the plot, but it doesn’t grab my attention enough to want to keep playing in large quantities. I still want to play the game, but only for an hour here and there. Having played some of the ‘Metal Gear’ games, I can see how people who are a fan of those games would really enjoy this game. Like many other developers and studios, Hideo Kojima has his own unique style of which he once again brings to the table. Overall, ‘Death Stranding’ is a good game but not quite something that I’d really recommend. Yet, at the same time, ‘Death Stranding’ is still an incredibly unique game and worth having a go at if you’re looking for something a bit out of the ordinary.