01 November 2019 12:35
The creator of Metal Gear Solid delivers a PS4 exclusive as only Hideo Kojima could, but how does Death Stranding compare to his other classics? The first thing anyone asks is 'What is it about?' and 'What do you do?' and yet for the longest time the game itself struggles to answer those questions, with extended bouts of exposition and tutorial tips that are still being generated several hours after you've first started. One problem with Death Stranding is that as soon as anyone starts to describe the game it instantly begins to seem less interesting than you imagined. The setting for the game is post-apocalyptic America, where a 'Death Stranding' (imagery of cetacean stranding is rife throughout the game) has occurred, which has linked the living world with the land of the dead. And even though the time frame only seems to be the near future what's left of mankind has somehow mastered instant 3D printing using a substance called chiralium, which is left behind by BTs. That in turn has led to the creation of an organisation called Bridges which has set up new cities across the country and is trying to establish an Internet equivalent called the Chiral Network.
The large open world map, split into two separate areas, is highly reminiscent of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild but despite being such a large focus the traversal in Death Stranding is not as intrinsically entertaining. In story terms, Kojima manages to keep his worst indulgencies at bay until the end of the game, with most cut scenes and dialogue sequences being relatively succinct; until suddenly he decides every plot point has to be hammered home with a mallet in the final hours. Although there's a handful of typically colourful main characters the ordinary ones you spend most of the game taking orders from are an extremely dull bunch that it's impossible to gain any attachment to. Death Stranding (PS4) – Mads Mikkelsen's role in the game is not what you might imagine We're used to some games not realising their full potential but the strange thing about Death Stranding is that it ignores the story implications of its lack of violence in favour of vague pontificating about not being a loner and the impermanence of existence. But taken as a whole Death Stranding is an awkward mishmash of ideas, some of which work exactly as intended and others of which feel entirely out of place.
For reasons unknown, America has been fractured by the Death Stranding event, causing the dead to roam the world of the living as shadowy spectres known as the beached things, or BTs. People have retreated into isolated communities and your job is to deliver supplies and reconnect the chiral network – a mega-internet – to unite the country. It's in this moment that Death Stranding is born, as you resolve to push on with a nagging sense of failure, unable to reset and start fresh. Death Stranding's focus on meticulous cargo preparation and deliveries that trigger repetitive, intrusive, micro cut-scenes, feel designed to provoke fluster in a world of instant gratification. Death Stranding laments social media's lack of human connection yet rewards players with a dopamine-volcano of stats after each mission, unlocking new equipment, creating a cycle of dependency. Kojima's games have always thrived in the empty space that other games seek to eradicate – such as the legendary ladder climb in MGS3, or MGSV's infamous Act 2 – and, for almost 20 hours, it feels like Death Stranding is taking that to clumsy extremes to hammer home a point about society's excesses and its unsustainability.
It's easy to haphazardly assign a major release a "gorgeous visuals" tag, but Death Stranding truly earns it – not because of realism, or frame rate, or any technical jargon, but because of how unflinchingly unique it is both stylistically and tonally. You have to manage your cargo in a way that balances out — too much weight on your left and you'll constantly be hammering the right trigger to keep yourself steady, slowing progress and almost indefinitely ending in a nasty fall, damaging your cargo and reducing the amount of likes – a sort of leveling currency afforded to you by other players and NPCs alike – you receive on arrival. After you finish Death Stranding, you can continue to set up structures in early areas, invisibly helping newcomers as they set out on their own quest to make America whole again. Death Stranding is a game where monotony is innately imbued with intangible subjects of the extraordinary. Death Stranding is one of the best, most interesting and radical games of the year, perhaps the decade, maybe ever. The game takes place in a dystopian world in which the US has been shattered into cities, which have lost contact with each other and therefore need you – Sam Porter Bridges – to deliver physical goods and link them back up to something like the internet. The beauty takes the edge off the fact you spend an awful lot of time watching cutscenes and trudging through the world while delivering packages. Death Stranding is not a game that will appeal to everyone. Death Stranding is probably the most profound and thoughtful game ever made, more rich and more powerful than anything before. In Death Stranding, your character Sam carries a small baby in an orange bottle strapped to his chest. During the few moments in the game when Sam and BB were separated, it felt like something important was missing. The relationship between Sam and BB mirrors my experience with Death Stranding, the latest epic game from enigmatic director Hideo Kojima, who is best known for his work on the Metal Gear Solid series. Death Stranding is a game that seems to fight you every step of the way, whether it's with clunky menus or nonsensical dialogue. Early in the game, he's given a particularly ambitious task: reunite America (now known as the UCA, or United Cities of America) by traveling across the country, connecting settlements to a sort of internet-like network. It's a lot to take in, and the game doesn't do much to ease you into its world. At times, Death Stranding can feel like a big-budget remake of QWOP. Death Stranding takes the prototypical video game fetch quest and stretches it out to epic proportions. I found myself pushing on late into the night to find out about Heartman's quest to find his family, and I eagerly listened every time Deadman told me his latest research on the nature of BBs. It's a surprisingly small group of main characters, considering this is a game that lasts dozens of hours, but each one feels well-developed in their own way. In fact, as Death Stranding approaches its climax, around the same time I felt I was finally coming to grips with everything, it somehow becomes even more convoluted.