To summarise Death Stranding in one sentence, I would say; it’s a post-apocalyptic delivery simulation that removes Amazon and strips it down to the emotional equivalent of a long term relationship. Something that is perfect for the current situation.
Death Stranding helps to pass the time in drawn-out, frustrated pleasure.
You have your highs and thankfully, there are more highs than lows but you do need to suffer through moments of utter disbelief where you just want to scream. At this point, you are tempted to throw in the towel but remember how much Kojima means to the videogames industry, and so you push forward.
Hideo Kojima, the videogame equivalent of Einstein, created Death Stranding as his first game post-Konami divorce. It received more hype than the average Marvel movie and delivered an experience akin to working in the army. You come home each day realising that you defended the innocent, which makes the washing of the blood off your skin a little more palatable.
You will be working for those who would not look out of place in a Donald Trump cabinet and yet still continue to follow orders, delivering packages as you go. It’s a hard game to pin down and in some ways, you will feel like you have finished your day job only to come home and start another, yet through all of this, I have to say that I enjoyed it. A great way in which to whittle away those hours until we are released back into the world.
Playing the game
Playing the game is an oddity as you feel at times as though you are on holiday or even at work, gazing at the scenery. The first few hours are the exact personification of this as you more or less hold the L2 and R2 triggers, whilst pushing the analogue forward, turning on occasion.
It’s about as challenging as eating your breakfast cereal in the morning.
Challenges do then begin to emerge such as the BT’s, evil spirits that suck you down and steal your cargo, move you miles away and attempt to drag you under whilst shooting energy beams at you. Here you can be forgiven for crafting Pokémon analogies and quite soon after you encounter them, you learn to avoid them where possible as fighting them is impossible. You receive ways and means to face them later on but at the start, avoid and run that is all that is needed.
The Mules are the other enemy that you will uncover and these come in the more standard, human variety. Those you come across at the start will focus on stealing your cargo over killing you and so they are relatively easy to avoid. Just keep running and dodging until you receive a vehicle or upgrade to a weapon and then take them out. Mules are a little intimidating at the start but as long as you keep running or pack enough weaponry then they will pose few problems. When I say weaponry, I mean the stun variety as you don’t want to kill people but I will keep the reason why spoiler-free.
The weather and environment are the other challenges that you will need to overcome. The environment for the equipment that you need to keep with you and the weather for the effect is having on your equipment. The constant need to repair your equipment being the most important consideration your mind but in hindsight, you need to carry less than you think.
Every route can be navigated around without ladders and climbing anchors. Something that becomes more important the deeper you get in the game. The comparisons with Metal Gear Solid can be seen and you are forgiven for asking, is this just a clone?
Comparisons with Metal Gear Solid
To preface this section with a confession, Metal Gear Solid is my favourite videogame of all time. I have played through it more times than I should have in such a short space of time that it will always have a firm place in my heart. The later entries into the series moved away from what made the original so unique and bloated them with cut scenes longer than some TV episodes, but I still loved them. I admired Kojima for the vision that he had made manifest, yet I still yearned for the original above all others.
It is with this in mind that I had high hopes for Death Stranding and I can say that it delivered on the entertainment without eclipsing those feelings I had for the original Metal Gear Solid. The influences of which can be seen within a story that is as complicated as it is long. You will spend the first five hours wondering why you are continuing to play when the only challenge is to stay awake. This convoluted manner in which to tell stories is a narrative structure that can only hail a Kojima game, with cut scenes getting longer as you go through but falling short of Metal Gear Solid.
The Metal Gear Solid influence can be extended beyond the story and the cut scenes, into the mechanics of the game. Sam moves like Solid Snake did and wears a suit that wouldn’t look out of place on Solid Snake’s wardrobe. The boxes and this is an odd comment to make, but they are the spitting image of those seen within Metal Gear Solid, minus the floating in mid-air aspect to them.
Rather than feeling copied, they feel like a great homage to a legendary videogame series and Director. The game is unique in many ways and so for me, any hint of Metal Gear Solid is welcomed, much like the additional delivery bots that you receive when you get further into the story. They look like mini Geckos from Metal Gear Solid 4. This is a Kojima nostalgia trip wrapped up in a second job and fuelled by Monster Energy.
An arbitrary score
These are given in life as we feel the need to rate everything, like a reflection on how you spend your time.
Was it worth it or was it a waste?
I would consider Death Stranding an experience that was completely worth the investment in time. It won’t be for everyone, with the constant crying and spinning of the BT detection system slowing you down and thought of having to restart an hour-long delivery, leaving you in fits of anxiety. For a certain audience, this will be an essential distraction that is flawed but unique.
It is a game for those of us who have patience and have enjoyed Hideo Kojima as the father of the Metal Gear Solid series. For me personally, I would give it an eight out of ten. A few irritations and misunderstandings prevent it from reaching that most arbitrary of perfect scores, ten. These are minor however and will not prevent you from whiling away the near 40 hours that Death Stranding takes to complete. This total is not including any of the side missions that dominate the landscape and are recommended for today’s world.
One of the key irritations is the clunky controls that leave you at times fuming, especially when you don’t pick up an item in time and have to repeat a boss battle. This happened to me more than once and in one of the last battles, I ended the game as I was getting fed up with my lack of progress and skipped that part when I completed the boss later on. In addition to this, you have the early BT encounters that find you being consistently dragged under, only to repatriate and repeat the section again. It’s frustrating but then again most tutorials are and as soon as you hear Metal Gear voice actor, David Hayter, you instantly forgive.
The gripes I have are minor but combined with the fact that they are one of the major challenges in the game, with the central challenges feeling a little pedestrian, then you are left wanting. An eight for me is a fair assessment of a game that offers something uniquely new yet similar at the same time.
A game that frustrates almost as much as it pleases.
It is a relationship and like any successful relationship, you need to give it time to flourish and development, whilst forgiving some of the imperfections as really, they don’t matter. You will still play and complete the game.
Would I play it again?
Yes. I definitely would play Death Stranding again but not for a while, I have more than enough games and books on my shelf to avoid needing to play straight through again. It was entertaining in the vast majority and whilst it is not Metal Gear Solid, it has enough nods to the series to bring even the hardiest of supporters over to have a look.
Playing through again, I think I would look to take on a more stealthy approach, rather than the hit and run approach I utilised in my first go around. It was successful but always seemed to take away from the challenge a little. Stand and shoot whilst regenerating through the ten blood bags I have equipped is not exactly what I would call a challenge.
There is enough content in there for me to want to seek out the Platinum trophy and that is something that I rarely say. Most games are played and sell experiences but some I keep to play again to squeeze out all of the content that I can like a child with his first orange. Death Stranding offers enough avenues to stretch the initial 40 hours into 60 and so I will definitely re-visit once my backlog reduces.
As a lifelong Metal Gear Solid fan, I was drawn to Death Stranding like a moth to the flame.
Hideo Kojima is my favourite game director despite the overindulgence and desire to combine games with films. He has such a unique style and with the knowledge that there will most likely never be another Metal Gear Solid game with him at the helm, it was a choice between embracing Death Stranding or giving up on him.
I am very glad that I did embrace Death Stranding as it is laced with that Kojima humour and randomness that leaves you guessing from start to finish. You question why you are playing one minute and wonder why you ever considered leaving the next. It is an exercise in patience that delivers emotional highs and lows, with a few of these coming from the fact that you may deliver late.
A job simulator for Amazon employees of the future or training ground for the American Army, who knows? All I know is that despite the odd bug such as the clunky controls, I loved it and would recommend to anyone looking for something familiar yet different. It is an experience like no other but then again I would expect nothing less from the man behind Metal Gear Solid.