Game Review: Death Stranding

Release date: 2019
Version played: PlayStation 4 in 2019

From the weird and wonderful mind of Hideo Kojima comes the post-apocalyptic action/exploration/’strand’ game, Death Stranding. Players take control of Sam Porter Bridges (mo-capped and voiced by Norman Reedus), a porter for the corporation Bridges, who is attempting to reconnect the remaining cities of what was once the United States of America. With help from various Bridges members, other porters and his bridge baby, BB, Sam must navigate hostile environments, deadly apparitions and terrorists to deliver items and reconnect the world.

Also starring are Lea Seydoux as Fragile, another ability-possessing courier; Troy Baker as Higgs, the antagonist terrorist leader; Margaret Qualley as Mama, a scientist and mechanic working for Bridges; Tommie Earl Jenkins as Die-Hardman, the leader of Bridges; Jessie Corti (voice) and Guillermo Del Toro (design) as Deadman, another Bridges scientist specialising in the Bridge Babies; Darren Jacobs (voice) and Nicolas Winding Refn (design) as Heartman, a Bridges scientist with a connection to the dead; and Mads Mikkelsen, a mysterious soldier with a connection to the BBs.

+ Reedus, Mikkelsen and Seydoux were all fantastic. Reedus seems to be channelling his gruff but soft-spoken character from The Walking Dead, whilst long-time favourite of mine, Mikkelsen, gets the crux of the emotional moments – don’t be disheartened if you feel Mads is wasted early on, because it all comes together. I wasn’t entirely sold on Seydoux at first, either, but she soon gets several moments of her own that really cement her as being on the level of Reedus and Mikkelsen
+ amazing visuals, both graphics and environment design, especially in terms of roads, mountain peaks and rivers. The remnants of America are destruction porn at its finest, but the way the world changes as you play the game is phenomenal (either through constructing your own buildings, seeing other players’ buildings appear, or the permanent crater left anywhere that you die)
+ immensely rewarding basic gameplay, with intense stealth and frantic action when the situation calls for it. The early, sarcastic/intentionally misleading reviews calling this a ‘fetch quest simulator’ clearly did not play this properly. If you plan your route, and don’t take on too much cargo, you can get wherever you need to go with a bit of luck and a lot of skill
+ the online collaboration is absolutely perfect. If this game had a Dark Souls/Watch_Dogs-style invasion mechanic, I would have hated this game, but as it stands, the thrill of both finding others’ structures, and leaving your own for other Porters, is satisfying. I have received hundreds of thousands of likes over my play time from thinking what structures I needed at a particular place, and leaving them there for others in the same situation
+ at various times, often before an expected, particularly long journey, some licensed music will play, most coming from the band Low Roar. These moments are immensely soothing, giving a chance to take in the surroundings… at least until enemies appear and the screaming begins

– the prologue does take two or three full chapters, which truly don’t represent the rest of the game, and once new and objectively better traversal options and/or combat becomes a real factor, the game settles into itself. Don’t believe reviews that say there is no combat, and don’t believe reviews that say the game is a ‘walking simulator’
– in true Kojima style, there are lots of cutscenes, long cutscenes, numerous acronyms thrown around (“BB”, “BT”, “DOOMS” etc.) and strange terms (“repatriate”, “the Seam”, “Beaches”) with little explanation at first. It’s not until you start hearing these in context that things become clearer. Similarly, characters have weird names and seem to show up in some less than clear situations/seemingly not entirely relevant, but it all comes together eventually

> this game starts slow before becoming great, has some clunky controls that take getting used to, and an open world that seems a bit overwhelming at first; which is very similar to what I was told about Red Dead Redemption 2. I dropped that game very early because I didn’t like it, but due to Death Stranding I’ll give RDR2 another shot

Should you play this game: This game was something special. It will not appeal to everybody, as has been seen from early professional reviews, but I absolutely loved it, and by the time the credits rolled for a third time, I had laughed, cried, gasped and had my heart pounding with excitement. It may be an ‘interactive movie’ to some, but I think it was one of the most fulfilling games I have played in a very long time.

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