It’s really tough to make Death Stranding in three years with a small team, but Kojima Productions did it, and the final work is something you’ve never seen in the gaming medium so far.
After three years of getting mysterious trailers from Death Stranding that were making more questions than providing answers, now the game is here and it has all the answers we were waiting for. Death Stranding is a game that can be reviewed from different points of view, and interestingly, none of them would be wrong. Some might say it’s more like a movie than a game, and I wouldn’t deny it. Some might criticize its repetitive cycle of cargo-delivering gameplay which is correct. Some might define it as a commercial title with a lot of overrated hypes around to help Sony to sell more consoles and help Kojima Productions to earn enough budget as an independent studio, which seems logical. Having said all that, the most important thing is to find the best point of view for reviewing the game. Death Stranding tells the tale of a man who has done nothing in his life but delivering cargos from point A to point B, and one day out of nowhere finds out he can save the world with his job. If you want to enjoy Death Stranding, first you have to understand what you should expect from the game.
Kojima’s first AAA non-Metal Gear title is a big approval to his creativity in generating big-scale stories. There are a few games in the whole history of this industry with stories comparable to that of Death Stranding. Thanks to Kojima’s great skill of story-telling, following Death Stranding’s story feels like solving a big puzzle in which each part surprisingly joins the others. Every time that you think the game is over and you’re going to be left with lots of unanswered questions, a shocking truth emerges. The first half of the game might not be as captivating as its second half, but when you are planning a game with at least 40 hours of gameplay, you have to build a strong base for it, and that’s what the first 10 hours of the game does. If you make a truck driver pulls over and then tell him “you are going to save the world with your truck,” it would probably take time for him to believe you and that’s what happens in the early quarter of Death Stranding.
Sam Bridges isn’t a one-dimensional protagonist in Death Stranding. He changes throughout the game and along with him, his relations with other characters change as well. The Sam you meet at the end of the game isn’t the man who you saw in the first cut-scene, and showing this transformation is what Death Stranding has done excellently. But Sam isn’t the only character with a solid structure. Nearly all of the important roles in the story have strong story-lines for themselves, however, some of them might not be as interesting as the other ones. Dedicating each episode to one of the characters in the game, have lead Death Stranding to feature a well-realized story that player doesn’t lose connection to it. Nothing comes without a reason and nothing happens without an outcome.
Fortunately, Kojima knows how to handle a bunch of Hollywood stars in his outstanding title and that’s become a reason for the story’s high quality in both acting and directing. Cut-scenes might feel long but they are never out of place. Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tommie Earl Jenkins have overshadowed the other characters, thanks to their impressive acting in Death Stranding which would be a benchmark for motion-capturing in the video games for a long time.
Aside from the developer itself, Death Stranding’s success in story-telling is a great achievement for the video game industry, which could bring the two mediums of games and movies to close together, much more than before. This is a big-scale test of what happens if we add more features from movies to video games, and as the result shows, it could be as fantastic as it sounds.
Speaking of gameplay, Hideo Kojima had promised us a new genre, Social Strand System, which is right for the game’s multiplayer elements, but does it mean the whole game is set in a completely new genre? Definitely not. Regardless of its multiplayer elements, Death Stranding is a mixture of different genres that doesn’t perform excellently but still has some interesting sides. It might sound hilarious but the game is more like a version of American Truck in which you transport cargos on foot. Death Stranding’s gameplay has been made up of a single cycle, and that’s not a bad thing unless the events of every cycle get predictable for you. Unfortunately, this is what happens in Death Stranding. Here is the cycle I’m talking about: Accept a cargo, load it on Sam in a proper way, mark your way to the destination on the map, choose a vehicle or walk toward the destination, deal with MULEs, Terrorists and BTs on the way, and finally deliver the cargo in the terminal.
The most important part of the cycle above is the challenges you’re encountering on your way. From the start point to the end, there are no other challenges than MULEs, Terrorists, BTs, and making your way through natural obstacles. If there were an evolution or a variation for those challenges above, again it would be acceptable, but unfortunately, they all remain the same until the end, except BTs. Nearly 70% of the game, BTs are the same things. A bunch of ghost-like creatures that if you get closer to them they will hunt you, and you will have to deal with a mini-boss or escape from its range. But after you reach Edge Knot City, a new kind of BTs start to make troubles for you and that’s all about BTs. If you want more of them, you have to wait for boss fights, though the number of boss fights never go further than 6 or 7 in the game. For a game with at least 40 hours of gameplay, it’s not fair to put only seven boss fights. Another problem that I noticed during my encounters with mini-bosses was that if I let the BTs catch me in the first place and then run from the boss’ range, everything will finish earlier than when I try to walk slowly and change my way too many times in order to escape the area without getting hunted by BTs. As a result, the flawed structure of the mini-bosses turns the challenge into a simple glitch. Also, you won’t have to deal with any of the things above if you just pick up a bike and find a good way to ride it.
However, there’s another kind of enemy that you don’t encounter with them in between your deliveries. Dealing with Cliff happens in three different sections within three various WW2 locations, which reminds me of the solid gunplay of the Metal Gear series, though we just see a very small part of that here. For me, fighting in World War 2 was the most exciting and challenging part of the game, compared to MULEs, Terrorists, and BTs.
Thanks to the game’s multiplayer system, constructions feel enjoyable in the game, especially when you earn likes for a structure that has been useful for another player in the same world. Sometimes tall mountains and deep valleys might make you turn around and go through another way, but finding a bridge or an anchor or a left bike in such situations would be welcome enough to like your friend’s structure over ten times. Moreover, you can help other players to finish their construction by bringing them metals or other kinds of required materials. Also, you can help your fellow porters in between your way and put their dropped cargos in post boxes or even carry them to their destinations which would bring you a lot of likes.
Aside from main deliveries, you can accept some other cargos in the game as side quests which mostly doesn’t differ so much with the story missions, though sometimes you’ll be granted special items. You can also send deliveries with robots, which is another way to earn more likes and increase your rank as a porter, which brings you the access to build new structures, carry more cargos, and put on the high-level cloth.
Although Kojima’s new IP might fail in delivering addicting gameplay in the standards of his Metal Gear games, it definitely features jaw-dropping graphics making it a benchmark for the PlayStation 4 power in crafting realistic visuals that haven’t been seen in the current generation so far. It even surpasses the level of reality that you’ve seen in last year’s Red Dead Redemption 2. Although the scale of the map doesn’t feature the whole United States, it does provide a huge and vast playground for you to deliver cargo, build structures and kill BTs. The level of detail in both world and character design is incredibly fascinating. The quality of textures has brought into a new level with Death Stranding’s Decima engine. Weather effects like rain, snow, foggy conditions and tornados in mountains have been executed in a thrilling way that makes you deeply feel what’s Sam dealing with, in the way to deliver his cargo. The interesting part is that in a game with such scale the number of bugs in less than a hand’s fingers, and that’s a great achievement for Kojima Productions.
Putting all my words together, Death Stranding is a worthy experience that you have to play if you want to personally watch the video game industry reaching a brand new milestone in story-telling and characterizing. Kojima’s new IP is flawed in gameplay, and that’s not a thing to be blamed, but his outstanding vision in creating a dramatically twisted plot and executing it with a bunch of Hollywood stars is an achievement that had to be added to the industry’s hall of fame one day.