Death Stranding was the talk of the town when Hideo Kojima announced it after he departed from Konami and as part of his new studio: Kojima Productions, and for good reason. Boasting bizarre trailers featuring beached whales, babies in stomachs, and invisible beings with a sense of bloodlust, everyone was ecstatic to see what Kojima’s next project would amount to. However, many on the internet fiercely criticised the game for being a “walking simulator” upon its release and found that the title tarnished the great legacy that Kojima holds due to his creation of the Metal Gear Solid series. I, on the other hand, found great enjoyment and an odd sense of peace alongside community whilst playing this title and was overjoyed to explore the new “strand type” genre that Kojima claimed to have conceived; which heavily involved players assisting each other in their games yet never crossing paths. You might think I’m crazy, but there are others who also know this experience is like no other.
STORY – SAM BRIDGES UNITES AMERCA
The story of Death Stranding, like all of Kojima’s games, is incredibly convoluted and leaves you with a great headache as you try to comprehend the adventure the player has just been on. Travelling across mountains, craters, obliterated cities, and an unforgiving sea, the player character named Sam Porter Bridges begins his quest after his dying mother (who is also the president of the United States) requests for him to reunite his nation after an apocalyptic disaster known as the Death Stranding.
Structure of the story
Death Stranding threads its story into chapters, with each one centring on one of the characters that Sam encounters on his travels from the mysterious Clifford Unger to the driven Deadman. Commendations to the developers for ending each chapter with a newfound desire and hunger to learn more about the character the story had just been focused around, I found that characters I had no interest in at the beginning of the game became gripping for me towards the very end and I would have loved for more opportunities to learn more about them.
However, the encapsulating characters do not distract the player from the incredibly complicated story that takes weeks to fully digest and understand, even a year after playing the game I still struggle to comprehend certain elements of the story yet I thoroughly enjoyed the story anyway; this may not necessarily be the case for others though as a very heavy and intertwined story can be (understandably) very off-putting for many players who wish to kick back and relax after a stressful day. The story is akin to a J.R.R Tolkien novel rather than a soothing picture book such as a fairy tale.
Themes of Death Stranding
A continuous theme in Death Stranding is connections, it’s prevalent in almost every aspect of the game from the story to the world and the core gameplay mechanics themselves. To me, this was an innovative concept that I would be ecstatic to see explored in more games like this as I felt personally connected to the story with every generous act I committed, I felt an enormous sense of well being knowing that I was not only assisting the NPC’s in the game and myself but also players in their games who could benefit from the structures I placed.
Sam’s tasked with forming the United Cities of America, a newly structured series of cities, aiming to reunite North America after the tragic events of the Death Stranding, a cataclysmic disaster where the spirits of the dead crossed over into the realm of the living and are creating disastrous explosions when connecting with living matter. Sam’s journey to connect settlements to the UCA entails him establishing connections with those who oversee these settlements, resulting in newfound friendships which effectively conflict with Sam’s distrust of people, relationships, and his aphenphosmphobia (a detail I found to be incredibly fitting with Sam’s character).
GAMEPLAY – LONG TREKS AND TRIBULATIONS
I walked (pun intended) into Death Stranding with the knowledge and understanding that the gameplay would heavily revolve around walking, this grounded my expectations and, in many ways, helped lead to a more enjoyable experience. The player spends much of the game walking between outposts, carrying and balancing heavy packages as well as supplies to assist your manoeuvrability across the unforgiving terrain in the game which can result in long, extended periods of up to an hour of continuous walking in a straight line until the player reaches their next destination and can progress the story.
To make matters worse, that relies on if the player is lucky enough to not encounter an encampment of enemies or an infestation of BTs, the spirits that crossed onto the world of the living that transition the gameplay style into slow, methodical stealth elements until the player can sneak past them (or neutralise them with grenades constructed with faecal matter. Odd, I know). These encounters can lengthen a journey or grind them to a halt for lengthy amounts of time depending on the player’s current equipment and bravery to handle these obstacles whilst also combatting the unfriendly terrain.
How do others play into this?
On the other hand, I found the walking in the game between objectives to be rather peaceful and was heart-warming to see the communal efforts of other players to make the experiences of newer players less demanding and unnecessarily difficult. This, for me, is the true area where Death Stranding shines.
In the game, players can craft items and structures to place in the overworld such as grappling hooks on the sides of cliffs to abseil down, or roads for vehicles to accessibly drive over instead of facing bump after bump on the uneven ground. These contributions are found in all other player’s games and players are encouraged to show their gratitude by aiding players who may eventually walk their same path, a strong sense of warmth and kindness can be felt whenever you find one of these communal structures as you know that someone has poured time and resources into reducing the suffering of those players who pass through later.
In essence, you play as a delivery man, but after a brief look into the intricate system that seamlessly connects the world, Death Stranding becomes a reflection of the human condition and society’s desire to help one another.
GRAPHICS AND SOUNDS – A SURPRISING SILENCE?
Looking at Death Stranding whilst playing was nothing more than a delight. With a futuristic approach to its art design coupled with realistic, stunning visuals on the PS5, I was astounded to witness how consistent the game’s graphical quality remained throughout my entire playthrough; even during intense scenes and boss battles that could have caused a dip in graphical quality or framerate, something I never encountered). Seeing a clearing and an opportunity for safety in a shelter was nothing less than jaw-dropping after having scaled treacherous mountains or trudging my way through sticky tar oceans sprouted by BT enemies. Somehow the simplest concepts in a game such as grass were able to look stunning and meticulously designed.
Death Stranding and its ambient soundtrack
I found the soundtrack, on the other hand, to be lacking in the overworld and rarely presents itself. Some could consider this to be a careful design choice to emphasise the feelings that the player and the player character would share when isolated in a broken America. However, I found myself at times becoming tired of the ambient noises of grass and rain and the draining, frustrating noises that came from Sam’s equipment and beeping.
In contrast to this, the choice to sparingly release the soundtrack is incredibly effective when the player gains sight of their objective on the horizon and calming yet triumphant music slowly creeps in, creating an overwhelming sense of relief for the player to know that they can rest and successfully finish a mission. There were some highlights of the soundtrack that I found to be thoroughly enjoyable and have continued to listen to well over a year after my first playthrough such as the CHVRCHES song of the same name, “Death Stranding”, and the alternative Missio song “I see you” just to name a few. When the game’s soundtrack is in effect, it is incredibly powerful and can bring out a range of emotions that enhances its world.