PlayStation 49.40
Overall 9.40
This is going to be a tough one to review as Death Stranding is hard to explain. It’s almost a matrix type of thing where you can’t tell someone what Death Stranding is, you have to see it for yourself, I’ll try though. Death Stranding is a shipping game, the game is about delivering packages through rough terrain in a post apocalyptic totally insane sci-fi setting where rain speeds up time and the dead roam the earth. All this stems from the brain of the legend Hideo Kojima, I feel he is the only man who could pull this game off. A game so confident in its gameplay and story, it is full Kojima in the best and worse ways.

We have become inundated with open world games recently, my issue with them has been the repetition that sets in, the unfocused nature of them. I still love the genre but most feel open just to be open, you travel swaths of land to reach the next mission. Well what if the game was the travel, what if you take the idea of getting to the next mission and flip it; the mission is the traveling from point A to point B. The design of the open world is the level design, every rock, every incline, every river all part of the design to create the obstacles needed to be overcome. A constant steady stream of new gadgets, tools and gameplay mechanics keeps the game interesting, it’s so deep it made me wonder 30 hours in how much more is there to this game.

It starts off a man with a backpack that carries a few packages on his back where you balance the weight by pushing in the triggers as you walk across the land. By the end you have a plethora of options many of which are ways to make travel with more cargo easier. There are robotic legs that make you fast or keep you balanced, simple things like ladders and ropes, vehicles to be ridden and much more. Once you reach a safe house to deliver packages there will be new orders for the next delivery. This is done on a loadout screen where you will be spending a bunch of time. This is where the strategy comes in, how many orders do I take at a time, do I have enough space to carry this, can I take a vehicle to my destination or is the route only accessible by foot. In MGSV your loadout was all about gearing up for combat, here it’s mostly about traversal and it works! Hell I found plotting my routes and having a proper plan for my deliveries to be more exciting than any planning in MGSV. Each delivery is also scored based on different factors and can be modified with tougher requirements for even better ranks, as you can imagine with me I went for the best every time.

Where is the fun in a plan going smoothly, Death Stranding’s world is filled with deadly creatures and obstacles that will make many trips a painful trek through hell and that is when the game is at its best.  The standard grunts are called Mules who are humans who are literally addicted to delivering packages... yeah I know. These guys will attack you on sight and try to steal your cargo, it all plays out like a much simpler poor version of MGSV with enemies that don’t have great AI and not many stealth options. Most of the time you are simply battling the land to deliver packages so for me a skirmish against some human enemies was a nice change of pace even if the combat was ridiculously simple, MGSV this is not.

The true threat in Death Stranding are the BTs, dead souls that have invaded our world. They only show up when it rains, rain that speeds up time which deteriorates all your gear, and they are mostly invisible unless you stay still and shoot out a pulse from your bridge baby. Imagine having a tower of packages on your back, you are sluggish to begin with but now it’s raining and ghosts are all over so you can’t make noise. If they notice you  it won’t be pretty trying to run with that tower on your back, these are the situations that make so many deliveries memorable moments. As the game goes on you get many weapons and ways to dispatch these enemies but the core stealth elements Kojima has used his whole career is here. And if these things catch Sam he gets dragged into some halfway realm where a gigantic monster awaits.

These serve as the “bosses” and they come in many shape and sizes. The repetitive nature of these fights hinders the impact they have, the best ones do happen in scripted battles. I really wish the creative ways to battle bosses from MGS games would be an inspiration but instead it’s more like Kojimas recent boss battles where you run around and unload on an enemy until they fall. It’s still thrilling, depending on your current delivery or situation it could really feel life or death. Some of the battles have a scale that just blew me away and when the story beats connect it creates those epic moments Kojima games are known for.

Kojima set out to create a new genre, the "strand genre". Essentially this is an interconnected single player world where the community builds the world together, this is the secret sauce of DS, you are not alone. It begins in simple ways, you will find ladders and ropes left by travelers later evolving with the game as you gain the ability to build entire road systems, safehouses, power generators and more. These larger structures take materials which you earn by delivering packages and bringing new areas into the network, once in the network other players progress populates the world. This is done in a smart way where about 50 or so players are selected and it populates certain locations strategically leaving gaps for you to have some building to do of your own. The reward for sharing and building for others is simply likes, they don't serve any purpose except the satisfaction you get from someone else liking your work; if this sounds like social media well that is the point, this entire game is a commentary on our interconnected lives but the focus is solely on positivity, what if we used the internet just for good and to help each other.  IT WORKS, when you are out in a difficult delivery with everything breaking down, almost no electricity for your vehicle and there is rain all over and then you see that shelter built by an unknown stranger its a godsend. I wanted to pay it forward so you leave signs of dangers, you strategically build aids in the paths you know most players will walk and then the likes come in. Death Stranding isn't just a walking delivery sim, its a whole distribution network sim where you and other players create the infrastructure for the most efficient delivery system. That is where I was enthralled by every moment, I wanted to keep expanding the world, keep upgrading the locations so that I gain more network space to build more. It's the hook, its why it works; if this aspect of the game does not work for you I can totally see the entire experience be a shallow bore, but if it hooks you as it did me you are in for a memorable experience.

The adventure is paced so well in the middle core chunk of the game. So many new mechanics are introduced at a steady pace. New kinds of deliveries that really test your planning skills. Ever changing landscapes keep the core walking gameplay interesting as new challenges come up, especially in the snow peaked mountains toward the end. I think its best to describe how some of these missions play out to get a sense of why its so compelling. This is early on; I needed to deliver a bunch of packages in good condition to a new base way in the west. Since the network is not up yet there is no online help, the trek will be through extremely rocky terrain and it will be on foot, oh and its raining and infested with BTs. So here I am slowly walking as to not trip and fall, rain starts to hit and the sound alert for Bts happen, I am trying to hold my breath as I carefully maneuver around them. I do have some blood grenades so I can kill some that are blocking my path but I didn't bring many. I get to close to one, it sees me, giant footprints race at me, I start to run but I have a tower on my back and I trip, the packages take some damage, the Bts grab me and I struggle to push them off but I manage to break free and make a run for it. I make it to a safe spot yet I am disoriented, I continue down a path only to realize I was going the wrong way! I circle back thought he BTs, almost out of grenades, no more container repair spray so one more fall and the packages are done, my special suit that lets me carry more weight is almost drained, I have no clue how much farther I have to go. I am stressed, so is my BB which means I can't make out Bts as well as before, its the best kind of tense moment. I did make it through the rocky terrain, I use a ladder to climb up some rocks and make it to the precipice of a cliff, a huge valley below and the base on the horizon. Music starts to play as I soak in the beautiful vista, the rain gives way to sunshine as to signal my triumph. It is a moment of peace, a gift to the player for a job well done. The game is filled with moments like that, where you feel the hand of designers crafting a game that is open yet subtlety guided to make sure you hit these momentous beats.

No Kojima game is complete without a convoluted, excessively long story that takes its metaphors a little to literally and has way too many exposition dumps. Get ready for MGS4 level cutscenes, one basically an hour long. Many 20 minutes long at a time. Nearly every scene is just two people talking in a room with the usual cheesy writing that is trying to say something deep but instead comes off as clumsy. Every character is named after whatever trait they suffer from, so you have Heartman which of course suffers from a bad heart. Still Kojima is a master cut scene director so the framing and look of these scenes is way better than the average game, almost movie quality. The acting is generally great, as you can imagine Mads lends his acting talents well and is easily the most compelling character in the game. Norman Reedus does his best Daryl impression and spends most of the game grunting and not saying much which actually works well for the character. There is a stunning performance by Tommie Earl Jenkins as Die-Hard Man (trust me the name has a stupider reason than you can imagine), I have no clue who this guy is but wow. Kojima can make masterful scenes, he is an excellent idea man as he fills this strange sci-fi world with tons of lore and backstory, to its detriment nearly every detail is explained. But like George Lucas this man needs a writer and an editor. In the end though the finale hit me in the gut, very emotional, hit the right beats and left me fulfilled.

There is some controversy about the final hours of this game. If any of you played MGS4 it's a similar situation where at first you have much freedom to do as you want but once you hit a part of the story those freedoms are yanked away as you are thrust into a linear setpiece filled journey toward the end. All of a sudden the game is filled with boss battles, tons of cutscenes, crazy moments, I LOVE IT. Yes there is one sequence near the end that is Kojima to the very max and left many soured but I know how this man works, I get what he was doing. I like a game that surprises me, a game that doesn't just do one thing all game long, hell I wish MGSV did something like this; this game has the ending MGSV never had the time to finish.

There are a whole host of negatives I can list which for some will make this a poor game, or if you are like me it's simply a part of the experience that was not the focus as much as the traversal was. Combat can be bland and repetitive. Its a game with very little enemy variety and gunplay that is as simple as it gets. No cover mechanics, no look down sights, AI is terrible. Hell you can just punch people by pressing the same button over and over and beat most all human characters. Bosses are no where near as creative as they used to be in Kojima games, there are a few memorable ones but those are far and few between. There are plenty of annoyances when it comes to the UI, prepare to be surfing menus for a long time. You have to exit and enter like three menus just to move gear from your back to recycle. Simple actions that should all be done on one screen is split among many. There are repetitive cutscenes when you deliver any package or turn in gear, the same animation happens hundreds of times and to skip it you need to pause and select skip, sometimes many times as you get two or three of these back to back. Kojima's touch is still felt as there are plenty of those small interactive elements that showcase an attention to detail few games have.

On the graphical side Death Stranding is stunning, a gorgeous game that makes excellent use of HDR to deliver picturesque landscapes. The character models are some of the best around, the mocap work is at levels where sometimes you forget these are CG versions of actors. The game stays at a steady 30fps with minimal glitches or issues, it has that Kojima polish you would expect. There is a soundtrack featuring many artists I never heard of but it has a sort of synth pop futuristic vibe to it all and the moments they choose to use the music works so well, outside of RDR2 I can't think of a game with better use of songs during the story.

Death Stranding is another classic delivered by gamings most bold and expressive director. I know Kojima gets mocked for the excessive self promotion, his name is all over the place but damn it we need more of these creative directors that take complete charge of every aspect of the game. Of course there is a huge team of talented people working for him, but it is noticeable when the game is centered around a creative vision of an artist and not a corporate hodge podge of ideas. Death Stranding is full Kojima for better and worse. He delivers a new kind of gaming experience centered around communal resource building and traversal rather than the usual combat. He does so with the flare and grandiose style you expect. If you are looking for a game that excels mechanically with extremely deep gameplay like many of his previous games this might lead to disappointment. Instead we get a new kind of idea executed to its fullest, a game unashamed to be what it wants to be, a game about connecting people. I think this a must play and one of the best games this generation.
Posted by Dvader Sat, 07 Dec 2019 19:50:58
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Sat, 07 Dec 2019 20:52:50
How realistically are the packages on display?
Sat, 07 Dec 2019 23:47:48
^ I wasn't aware the game featured a lot of male crotch shots?  Anyhow, it's not important how well they're rendered that counts, but how well the gameplay they tie into is.
Sun, 08 Dec 2019 00:48:52
Plenty of crotch shots, if you stare to long Norman actually punches you.
Sun, 08 Dec 2019 01:47:15
I wasn't sure about needing to play this at some point, until the comments on this review: can't wait to check out these crotch shots!
Sun, 08 Dec 2019 09:46:44
I saw a video review which showed the game is just one long close up of Reedus' crotch with the camera just changing angles. To music. This game might make the top 69 games of the decade list.
Sun, 08 Dec 2019 09:52:10
I read your review. Still sounds weird. Doesn't it remove a bit of challenge or fun when you reach a section and someone else has already built you a way out of it?
Mon, 09 Dec 2019 15:24:58
Well you have to activate the network first to get the online help. So the first time you deliver a package to a new location it will always be you alone. But the moment you activate the network the area gets filled in making other trips back or around that area much easier.

But there were many time where I was upset that someone already placed every bridge or base needed, all the best places to get likes were already taken.
Mon, 09 Dec 2019 19:06:16
Pluses and minuses then.
Tue, 10 Dec 2019 20:43:42
Vader's most overrated game in quite awhile. Hehehe
Fri, 20 Dec 2019 20:56:25
I really do feel like I'm in the outlier with this game.
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