Death Stranding Review

Death+Stranding+Review

Death Stranding is a video game exclusively released for the PS4 (coming to PC in 2020) developed by Kojima Productions and directed by the famous Hideo Kojima.  The game, unlike many others, contains a high-paid Hollywood cast such as Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, and many more.

Death Stranding is a monster of a game. It is essentially one of the most brilliant, confusing, and polarizing games of the decade. Death Stranding is certainly a game that will not appeal to the masses, as it is not like a traditional genre-based game. Death Stranding contains long cut-scenes, a hit-or-miss gameplay loop, and most importantly, a baby. Death Stranding has a lot of ground to cover, as the game is incredibly long and has a lot of depth, which is simultaneously a good and bad thing.

Story

Many years before, America was demolished by a “Death Stranding”, which overlapped the world of the living with the world of the dead. This caused the world to be flooded by BTs (dead souls) and craters caused by voidouts (explosions caused by a peculiar reaction from human death). Samuel Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus) is a delivery man for the famous, politically-tied corporation BRIDGES in a post-apocalyptic America.  The former president of the United States, Bridget (Lindsay Wagner), is on the verge of death while her daughter Amelie (Lindsay Wagner, de-aged) is on a mission to re-connect America. Bridget summons Samuel, who is also her son, and tells him that Amelie has been captured and that America lies in his hands. Samuel is reluctant and refuses, claiming he doesn’t care about America. After Bridget dies, Samuel is swayed by the director of BRIDGES, Die-Hardman (Tommie Earl Jenkins), to go on a hefty mission to save his sister and to reconnect America. Samuel uses a special technical necklace to reconnect several cities back on the “chiral network”, a network that binds America together via a satellite-like entity. Sam must travel from the East Coast to the West Coast, connecting cities on the way, to ultimately save his sister who is being held hostage by a terrorist group called the Homo Demens, lead by Higgs (Troy Baker).

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Sam has several tools at his disposal for his journey, but the most important one is a BB (Bridge Baby). A bridge baby is a baby extracted from a stillmother (a brain dead mother used for BB extraction) and is used by BRIDGES to detect BTs. Sam uses BB-28 on his journey to avoid BTs as much as possible, and on the way, he beings to bond with it.

On the journey, Sam comes across many allies that help him on his trudge through America. Characters such as Fragile (Lea Seydoux), Heartman (Nicholas Winding Refn), and Deadman (Guillermo Del Toro) support Sam on his mission in a variety of ways and also have chapters dedicated to them focused on building their characters. And on the flip side, Sam meets a few enemies. Every time Sam connects with the BB, he sees visions of a strange man (Mads Mikkelsen) who is talking to the BB. Sam also encounters this man several times throughout the game, but the less said about his character, the better the experience for newcomers. He’s certainly the most intriguing character in the game.

Death Stranding has an intense focus on world-building and character-building, both of which are exceptionally executed. Each character is unique and memorable, allowing for the player to immerse themselves in the game’s story even more. The game’s best accomplishment is capturing the player’s interest via subtle foreshadowing and mysterious imagery.

The game’s length clocks in at approximately 50 hours long at a regular pace. Around 1/5 of this time is used towards cutscenes, which are sometimes the best part of the game. The game’s story is paced incredibly oddly. The first quarter of the game is focused on world-building and setting up the characters. The second and third quarter is heavily focused on characters with Sam getting very close to each by learning their stories.  The last quarter of the game is essentially the climax of the story. The last quarter is where the story really escalates and is arguably the most well-paced and exciting part of the game.

The acting, as expected, is phenomenal. Every actor plays their part, giving each character unique mannerisms and quirks that make them memorable. My favorite performances of the game are from Mads Mikkelsen and Tommie Earl Jenkins. Mads Mikkelsen and Tommie Earl Jenkins give an award-worthy performance, each playing their characters in a convincing manner. Mads Mikkelsen is able to capture so many different emotions, but he captures the mysterious man’s mystery and creepiness flawlessly.

The plot is probably my favorite aspect of the game. The story is incredibly original and has some really high highs. My favorite part of the story, aside from the last hour of the game, are the encounters with the mysterious man. Every time you encounter the mysterious man, you get transported to an alternate dimension that takes place during a war. For example, the first encounter with the mysterious man is in an alternate world that’s set in World War I. These sections have some chilling cinematography and art direction.

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The only issue, aside from some pacing issues, is the dialogue. The dialogue can be mind-boggling, in two different ways. In one way, the dialogue throws a lot of vocabulary and confusing explanations right at you, sometimes making the cutscenes a bore. Sometimes characters will take several minutes to explain a certain thing that, in the end, is just incredibly incomprehensible.  The second way is the cheesiness and ridiculousness of the dialogue at times. Some lines just do not land the way they are likely supposed to and sort of come off as melodramatic.

Gameplay

I told you, Death Stranding is a monster of a game, I have hardly even dipped into the gameplay yet. The gameplay is the main aspect of the game that splits people. Some people love the gameplay, while some other people despise the gameplay for feeling like a chore. Both of these standpoints have merit and shows that the gameplay will only please certain people.

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In Death Stranding, when you’re not watching cutscenes, you play the part of a delivery man. You follow Sam on his adventure from coast to coast, connecting cities and terminals to the previously mentioned “chiral network”. While you are connecting these places to the “chiral network”, you are simultaneously delivering cargo to new locations. The core gameplay is carrying cargo from point A to point B with as little damage to the cargo as possible. The more cargo you carry, the harder it is to travel. You have to use the trigger buttons on the controller to balance yourself to ensure you do not fall and ruin the cargo. After a while, you will run low on stamina. You can restore your stamina by drinking Monster Energy (Yes, Monster Energy) or resting. On your journey, you will use a large assortment of tools. You will use ladders, climbing anchors, weapons, and more to get yourself across the landscapes. As the game progresses, you unlock vehicles and skeletons that will make the process faster.

One really cool feature in Death Stranding is the chiral network itself. Death Stranding has a type of “multiplayer” that allows players to help each other. Every time you place down a structure such as a ladder, it will be sent to another player’s world. You are also able to send signs, tools, and cargo to other players to help them whilst attaining benefits for sharing. The game’s currency, “Likes”, are attained from completing missions and sharing with other players.

The landscapes are far from empty, as they are filled with many different obstacles to challenge the player. Environmentally, many different things will slow down your deliveries. Rocks, cliffs, rivers are all environmental features that will slow you down. Rocks make it difficult to travel on vehicles, rivers can ruin your cargo or make you stumble down, and cliffs simply get in your way and require you to climb. There is also rain and snow, both of which are considered “timefall”. “Timefall” is acid rain/snow that damages your cargo the longer you reside in it. You have to traverse through stormy areas as quickly as possible or hide in caves until the timefall passes.

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The environment is likely the last thing you have to worry about on your travels. You also need to worry about MULES and BTs. MULES are rebel porters that aim to steal your precious cargo. At the beginning of the game, they only aim to knock you unconscious, but later on, they will not be afraid to shoot you down. If they successfully steal your cargo, you must sneak into MULE camps and steal it back. Overall they aren’t too difficult to avoid, but they can catch you off guard on several occasions. One criticism I have about the game is the underutilization of the MULEs. They really do not have a major presence in the game, while I think they should, as it would make the game far more exciting.

BT encounters are some of the best parts of the game. BTs are dead souls that linger around and will attack you if they hear you. They are specifically attracted to sound. While sneaking through, you will use your bridge baby to see the dead souls and avoid them at all costs. If you get too close, you must hold your breath and stay still. If they do find you, they will splash a pool of black ink below you and attempt to grab you into it. If they succeed, they will drag you and your cargo away and spawn an even larger BT that will attempt to kill you. Later in the game, you will obtain weapons to defeat these larger BTs (and eventually the regular BTs).

So, what happens when you are killed? Well, you actually can’t really die. If your character loses all his blood, his soul will disconnect with his body. Death initiates a mini-game where you connect your soul back to your body. Once you complete this mini-game, you will re-awaken as if nothing had happened. The only way you can truly game over is if you ruin your cargo.

That brings us to the next essential part of the game, bridge babies. The bridge baby will always be with you on your journey (except for one notable part of the game) to help you detect BTs. The only gameplay element the BBs require is a stress meter. If the BB gets too stressed, you have to calm it down by cradling it with your controller, or else the BB will eventually shut down and stop functionality.

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The last notable element of gameplay is Sam’s private rooms. You aren’t always adventuring through a vast landscape, Sam has to have his rest. There’s not too much to do in these private rooms, but they are used to refresh Sam and look at all your collectibles. You are able to shower, use the restroom, look in the mirror, listen to music, and more. It serves as a great break in-between missions.

There are many other elements to the gameplay, but those are the essentials. The game has an impressive depth to its gameplay and always has things to remember. Whether one enjoys the gameplay or not, it is undeniable that a lot of thought and concentration went into its creation. It is an impressive game in that front. Now the most important question, is it fun? It’s really up to the player and the mission. Some missions are incredibly exciting, others are sluggish. For example, one mission requires you to travel across the entire map, which really doesn’t strike fun to the player and feels more like a chore to be completed. Yet, missions that require you to infiltrate a BT-filled area to collect cargo are always incredibly nerve-racking. It’s a mixed experience, but one worth playing through for sure.

Soundtrack

The game’s music is one of my favorite parts of the game. “Death Stranding: Timefall” is an album that released along with the game that features songs from artists such as CHVRCHES, Bring me the Horizon, Khalid, The Neighborhood, and more. Ludvig Forselli composed the music for the game and does a phenomenal job capturing the atmosphere of the game into his music. My favorite songs from the soundtrack are “Once There Was an Explosion” and “BB’s Theme”. The game has a great soundtrack and one I personally find myself listening to on the radio or on my phone.

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Conclusion

Death Stranding, overall, is a mixed yet memorable and worthwhile experience. Death Stranding manages to have some of the best art direction and sound design I’ve seen in a game in years, yet also have issues such as faulty narrative pacing. Although, Death Stranding does very well with its story, especially the last 5-6 chapters. On top of this, the characters are easy to connect with and understand despite odd circumstances and backstories, making many of them memorable. The gameplay will be a hit for many and a miss for even more, but for me, I enjoyed it. It had a few slow missions and moments, but the moments that were good were simply fantastic and mesmerizing. Death Stranding definitely is not perfect or very replayable, but it is a great experience to go through at least once.

Score: 7/10