Review | Death Stranding
"What do you get when you combine the most boring chores with crazy-ass storytelling? You get Death Stranding and hand cramps – get used to holding 14 buttons at the same time for most of the time."
by Foggy, 22-11-2019, Edited by: Jim Tepedino
Death Stranding. Kojima Productions. First solo independent project. Kojima. Kojima here. Kojima there. Yes, Kojima is here. The guy pops up a gazillion times during the in-game credits at the start, as well as at the end. Ok, let’s say he earned it. But it’s weird, seeing his name as every 3rd label in the game.
It all started when Konami kicked his ass out of their company; when they severed their connections with his development house. That happened 4 years ago and lead to Kojima going solo and creating something that MGS 5 needed to be. Did it happen? Yes and no. Is it worth it? Yes and no. Do you like walking postman simulators? No? Don’t worry, we have you covered. Kojima have you covered.
And so it begins. Game offers many interesting characters.
Place of event – United States. Aftermath of the Death Stranding. Creatures from a realm between what we consider life and the realm of death are roaming the Earth. The beach is a corridor in between those two and a lot of stuff happens following this theme. In short, the story is confusing as shit, but at the same time well written, great, deep and it will make you play until the end.
You probably already know, but our star of the show is Norman Reedus; postman v 2.0, the ultimate machine and expert courier with no regrets and no fear (well, he doesn’t like to be touched). The whole continent remains disconnected; all facilities that are nurturing people lost connection and getting the resources from outside is no simple task.
Acid rain deteriorates metal, plastic, skin, you name it. BT’s (creatures from other realm, the dead) are walking around the fields and dragging you one step closer to the other side. It’s only natural that you are the one who will reconnect America, kill those bastards and be the hero the world really needs.
Walk me a story
Cargo joy. Even thoughs its tedious, game is so beautiful it makes up for the chores.
Yes, this is a walking simulator. No way around it. Anybody who says otherwise has never played the game. Is that bad? No. Kojima took the most boring task and yet somehow made it somehow interesting. It all starts and ends with you, cargo, walking, stealth and finally delivering. If you don’t find yourself interested in this kind of a game, do not play it. You will hate it, that’s a fact. You need to know that this game is very slow, it opens so slow, it contains tiny bits of action and revolves around you and that cargo. It’s only you two. Oh yeah, and a baby. BB they call it.
Tilt gently when he gets angry. BB is your only source of emotions.
As you walk, BT’s will sniff you and try to kill you. BB is a product, a baby, an entity; who knows what, but it’s a baby you will carry, and he will alert you when BT’s are around and where they are. As you run through those fields reaching next destination, many things will prevent you from your goal. Sometimes you will stumble upon a river. Oh no no, you can’t just swim. You have to hold your cargo, be careful about your stamina, otherwise the river will take you and your cargo, damage it and you will not get good results, you may even fail. This is just one example of what awaits you. Imagine a real life scenario where you do the same. It’s like that. Climbing steep ledges is no joke, surviving strong wind is hard, running with 120kg of cargo – well, that’s a whole another story. Everything is against you delivering that cargo.
When you actually do, you will reach new facilities, meet celebrities, Guillermo del Toro, Conan O’Brien, you name it. The game is full of celebrities and most of them resides in their facilities, which you mostly reach by doing orders for them.
When you make the inhabitants happy, they will let you connect them to network. By doing that, you open yourself up to becoming a builder instead of postman. Tools that you can fabricate will prove useful in the field. You can build bridges, post-boxes, generators, ziplines and several other structures. You will upgrade your walking to riding a bike or driving a truck. Your cargo can then sit on a bike or in a truck while Sam (our protagonist) drives and chills out. Just be patient, many unlocks happen after 15ish hours in the game. Until that point, you will lose interest in the game for sure, they just dragged first 3 episodes so much, especially the 3rd one where you enter the second map and make your way through it.
Beautifully astonishing game
I have to clean my HDD, screenshots are now half of the storage space.
The thing is, this game has the best graphics I’ve personally ever seen. My PS4 PRO never went full space-shuttle mode. Truly remarkable. Characters are so detailed; animations are the top of the industry. Even the physics in the game are some of the best I’ve ever experienced (and I play a lot). Your chores will become your zen, you will listen to great music, chill and walk, drive and even teleport later on. You will start to appreciate the beauty and art of the game. Those aspects are what makes the game unique and great. Combine that with great a story that fulfills you – that’s what this game is about. It will reward you for all the hard work.
Sure, there could be more action in the game. Sure, the game could be more linear and still retain all the desired effects. Don’t worry, the main story and the objectives you must do, that part is worth it for sure.
Sick animations, dozens of celebrities, what else do you need?
Back to story. It evolves around Sam and BB, Sam’s sister who will make America great again, Sam’s mother who is America’s last hope, but she dies, leaving Amelie, his sister, as the only relevant person for leading the country. Of course, she is hiding far far away, and you must make your way there to save her.
On your way you will be confused so many times, but just keep playing and focus on the story. The lore is also very good and detailed if you want more insight. It’s no wonder why Kojima wants to try in film industry, animations are like the movie. A long one that is.
Game mechanics and details
You will never learn how to navigate this map or menu. No worries, thats the way it is.
Carrying cargo is no simple task. If you overload your backpack, stack things on top, run like crazy and you will fall hard. Carrying a lot of cargo is your cue to take it easy. Running is limited in that case, and when you quickly tilt your direction fast, you need to balance. Holding both balance buttons makes it safe and prone to falling, but it will slow you down.
You can open your map, plan your route, place waypoints and follow them on the road. Scanning the road ahead will reveal that waypoints and show you lost cargo from facilities, as well as the ones from other players on the network.
Expect the worst menus ever; I still lose time when checking in my cargo.
Draining stamina when walk up the mountains, through the snow or crossing the rivers can also cost you your cargo, and cargo which will take damage and lower your number of likes (yes likes) that you get when you finish the delivery. Likes levels up facilities and unlock weapons, boots, exoskeletons, vehicles, tools etc. Every tiny bit of what you carry has a big impact on how you need to behave in the field. Stacking a lot of cargo while walking through heavy wind can push you down a cliff easily.
It’s unreal how much micromanagement you can find in this game. Your cargo takes damage when you fall, deteriorates when exposed to rain, your boots suffer when you use them for a long time, and you need to replace them eventually. You also need to recharge batteries on your vehicles and exoskeletons. Prepare to fabricate (craft) a lot. Thank god there is an auto-arrange cargo button, which will re-arrange cargo in the best optimal way so that it doesn’t knock you off balance.
Charge your exoskeleton and be careful about boots and stamina all the time.
If you feel tired and can’t recover full stamina, it’s time for Sam to take a nap. Big facilities will let you rest in private rooms. Even smaller ones offer them when you actually max them out. Only big ones though offer a big private room where you can do stuff. And oh boy, you can do some nasty stuff.
Visiting private rooms restore stress levels for BB, recovers your health and stamina. It will also replenish ammo if you have some weapons on you, plus it can repair vehicles. You can interreact with the mirror and take pictures, which grants likes from your BB. You can interact with BB to get bond level up. You can drink Monster drinks to extend stamina bar. Yep, that is there as well. But the best part is, you can take a shower, piss and go number two. Why is that the best part? Because doing all those 3 will craft bombs, so by doing number two you get grenades crafted out of it. Neat right? All the crazy stuff is here. Of course, you can piss in the field which grows mushrooms which produce insects that you eat to recover health.
Nominated for best action / adventure game?
Private room is where you wash, sleep, bathroom, customize and chill.
But Kojima sir, can I shoot other people? Why yes you can little Kojima fan. Although game is stealth to its core, after 15-20 hours in, you will finally get some guns. For start, they are just Bola guns with rope to rope enemies in camps, later there are people killing guns, even bazookas.
MULE camps. The world is full of those camps. Real people roam there, and they steal your cargo. They also like to kill you. If by any chance use guns with real bullets and you kill those people, you are in deep shit. That produces BT’s and the area will infest with them. Good thing that you can use ammo from your blood. What? Yes. Almost every gun can use ammo made from your blood. You are special. That ammo will knock them out, but it will not kill them. At the same time, that ammo will kill BT’s. Grenades as well. But they drain your Health. Good thing is that you can carry blood packs and attach them to your veins and suck blood like a vampire. I like this concept.
What I don’t like is the fact that you can’t carry extra ammo. Just another gun that is fully loaded. Some stuff is just weird and inconvenient. Later on, you can find ammo pouches, grenade and blood bag pouches that you can attack to your backpack and carry cargo in pockets instead of them boxed on your back. To get to that level of comfort takes too much time and many will not even know about it.
If you are craving for some action, let BTs drag you and you will have to kill the mama boss.
Some BT fights are damn cool. When they grab you it’s panic mode 100%. They grab your cargo, everything is falling, they grab you and you end up in water and…A big BT boss emerges. They have ton of Health, but random NPCs throw guns and grenades as soon as you run out of them. Those fights are cool. If you win no more BT’s in that area, but if you lose you respawn close and you can see one big giant crater where you died. It’s cool as shit. I want the whole game to be like this.
Giant oiled creatures and star of Hannibal TV show are the bosses?
Yeah, i don't even know if movies can get this good. Boss fights - cool as shit.
As you venture down the road, the story will reveal itself bit by bit. BB will share visions; you will meet his Papa. You will then try to kill Papa on several occasions in later chapters. The boss fights are the best thing in the game.
Some are a bit repetitive; some are just breathtaking. Few big shots will try to take your life and BB's, but you will defend yourself and emerge as champion. All of those take place in somewhat linear and smaller areas, which is cool and gets you out of the big open world where it takes 40 minutes to reach the top of the mountain. I liked every one of those, especially battle with Higgs who is this cool dude with a BB on his own. I miss more of those. They can do wonders, but they decided to dwell on small stuff and kind of lost the big picture.
Even using all types of guns is great, but as action comes in rare occasions, you will miss out using the real stuff. I know they have different vision here, but heck, we like to shoot goddamn it.
Later chapters are something else, let me tell you that.
Build me real good, build me real nice
A partially fun part is building stuff in the fields. Also great is when you start the game online, you can see other players buildings. The session that you end up in is random, and you can see what other players built and use it and vice-versa.
The central map is the biggest one, you can build roads there. Roads will not drain battery if you walk in the middle. It will be the best way to carry a ton of cargo in the trunk without any interruption. But to build roads you need materials. Those you get by levelling facilities and doing missions. By the end, your map will look nice and you will travel very fast. That will make leveling easier, but one step at the time. I like what they did here, but the next section will explain why I also don’t like it.
Also, to carry ladders, ropes, tools, you will need them. To descend mountains, use rope. To climb, use ladders. To reach 2 facilities in a minute – connect them with ziplines. That is the cool part.
Safety before anything else - roads are a must to build if you want to start delivering faster.
But how good is the side content?
It sucks. It sucks so bad I want to puke and eat that and puke and eat it again. Orders for Sam are main missions and those are unique. 70ish missions like this is more than enough.
Now, real problems emerge. Every other mission is a Standard mission. You can do them yourself or use Bots to fly and do it for you in a certain amount of time. You can even try the premium version of a standard mission for a harder objective, better rank and higher number of likes, hence easier and faster facility leveling.
Every damn mission is almost the same. 4 categories, and they all suck. NPCs in facilities repeat 10 lines of conversation and if you want to level up and discover everything, you need around 80-100 hours of grind along with 40-50h of main story. It reminds me so much of MGS V and true ending there. It sucks. Kojima, it sucks and its boring and not rewarding at all.
If only side missions were like main story ones. Heartman keeps dying to visit Beach, then he ressurects and repeat.
RPG elements and technical performance
Sam can level up in a few different categories based on above explanation. It will extend your cargo bag, lower stamina depletion, let you stack more cargo etc. Not much to say here, it’s minimum and it’s nothing special.
Technical performance is impressive. Not even a single glitch, no bugs. I’ve never seen an open world game so polished like this one. This is very impressive and kudos for that.
Here and there you will experience stuttering and frame drops, but even when flying with ziplines renders everything in real time and looks just beautiful. Expect rocks falling from steep mountains, snow and terrain influence; basically, everything you can think of in real life will have an impact in this game. And that is simply awesome.
Enjoy, you earned a bath in the open.
Should we buy this game?
You really need to be in this mood to like the game. Its innovative in its own way, but don’t expect an action adventure, mostly it relies on stealth and delivering the cargo. Repeat that for 40-50 hours, add majestic scenes, breath-taking scenery and good writing – that is Death Stranding.
If you like a game where they develop the protagonist, you will not get this here. Sam is poorly developed, almost no feelings nor major character development. Somehow, he is in the mood from The Walking Dead while riding that bike – silent, doesn’t like human touch, not social, but in the end, neglected. It’s a shame, although his performance is perfect, but other characters like Guilermo show and radiate so much more.
Amelie likes to swim with whales and hold a gun in her hand.
I love the game. I love the soundtrack. Hate side content. No replay value, I would never play new game plus. There is not a single chance I would play this from the beginning in any way. But it was an unique experience that somewhat got lost in all the details, while the big picture kind of suffered. See if this is for you, if it is, you will not be disappointed. Kojima risked it there and brought something fresh and unique in all ways; that my friends is called having balls.