Disconnected at the seams…
Kojima’s inaugural foray into nonrestrictive, independent waters is one of the most obtuse, idiosyncratic, fascinating, and convoluted experiences in the medium of video games. The legendary creator is able to expel a vast litany of creative intricacies and constructs; a profound level of creative freedom and opportunity that is conspicuously present in each facet of its foundation. Death Stranding is a developed construct of ambition that unabashedly raises the bar for Kojima’s established level of unique storytelling and idiosyncratic imagination. Does this profound level of ambition pay off in the end? Not really. Death Stranding is the embodiment of a juxtaposition. It is a narrative experience that is enthralling and ambitious, yet extraordinarily disjointed and convoluted. Its encompassing sense of connection and gameplay cohesion is exceptionally remarkable and addictively engaging, while other gameplay components are questionably weightless and absurdly banal. It’s a perplexing package of polar opposites with neither attribute outweighing the other, resulting in a surprisingly balanced foundation. Death Stranding is ultimately a good game with conspicuous flaws. Kojima’s method of storytelling and exposition delivery show no sign of evolution, resulting in some of his worst dialogue and writing to date. However, the story of Death Stranding, while difficult to understand, is not necessarily bad and has a substantial amount of heart to go with it. Its central themes of establishing bonds and the impact of our connection is surprisingly moving and rightfully poignant. Its interlaying components of connectedness and scope of progression is remarkably implemented, with a sense of growth and accomplishment that simply cannot be rivaled. However, egregious exposition delivery, questionable writing, mixed character performances, and monotonous gameplay hinder its established quality. Each positive and negative attribute reach a level of harmonious equilibrium, all of which serve as the crux of this extremely enjoyable, yet flawed experience.
Kojima’s iconic level of idiosyncrasy is here in spades, with each core element of Death Stranding’s foundation adhering to his whimsical and nonsensical nature. You play as Sam Porter Bridges, a freelance courier tasked with traversing the apocalyptic plains of America, in an effort to connect each facilitated city to a colossal network and established the UCA (United Cities of America). This eventually unravels into a compelling narrative of desperation that is consistently oozing with mystery and palpable intrigue. Throughout his arduous journey, Sam meets a delightful cast of characters, all of which bolster that idiosyncratic charm you’d expect from Kojima. Each character has their own compelling back story and adds a layer of nuanced depth to the established world. From the perpetual fear emanated by Higgs or the Combat Veteran to the whimsical dialogue of Deadman, each character feels unique and deliberate, and are well written for the most part. On top of the intriguing nature of its diverse characters, its star-studded cast is equally as impressive. Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Léa Seydoux, Margaret Qualley, Guillermo del Toro, and Troy Baker – the cast is exceptionally diverse. In regards to actor performances, despite Norman Reedus being the notable poster boy for Death Stranding, Mads Mikkelsen undoubtedly steals the show. Not only is his performance mesmerizing but his character’s back story is easily the most compelling and my favourite narrative piece in Death Stranding. Norman Reedus’ performance as Sam is satisfactory but at times feels lifeless and robotic, which is probably deliberate but still underwhelming nonetheless. Léa Seydoux’s character, Fragile, is poorly written and her performance is a notable weak point. From egregious scenes that are absolutely tasteless and disrespectful to laughable dialogue that is exceptionally stiff and awkward, Fragile is the type of absurd character you would expect from David Cage, not Hideo Kojima. Character performances in Death Stranding retain a fluctuating level of quality, with their bipolar inconsistencies breaking immersion and hindering its overall presentation.
Death Stranding’s core narrative is absurdly confusing and convoluted, with a bevy of obscure terminology vehemently thrown at the player. From Beaches, BTs, Ka, Ha, Chiralium, DOOMs, repatriate, voidouts and the Seam, there is an overload of information that it is exceptionally overwhelming and not delivered in a coherent manner. I had to read multiple wiki posts to finally wrap my head around its events. My ultimate issue with Death Stranding’s narrative is not the story itself, but how it is told. I actually think the story is quite good and emotionally compelling but is delivered in such an atrociously monotonous manner. As with Kojima’s previous efforts, he consistently adopts a tell don’t show approach to storytelling. From extraneous exposition dumps to poorly written subject matter, Death Stranding is littered with banal storytelling devices, with Kojima preferring to tell you about something rather than having you see it organically. The beach running scene is one of the most poorly written and utterly egregious things to ever exist in a video game. The exception to this archaic device is the final cutscene with Mads Mikkelesen. This moment of organic clarity and poignancy is the only indication of Kojima’s evolution as a storyteller. The narrative is obtuse, difficult to follow, and is told in such poorly constructed manner, yet its driving sense of mystery, connection, loss, and sacrifice is undeniably compelling and heart-wrenching. If you truly take the time to learn and understand the narrative, there is definitely something special to be found. While I feel that people praise Kojima too easily and frequently – the exposition issues displayed in Death Stranding were very much present in the Metal Gear Solid series – Kojima deserves praise and commendation for crafting an experience that is wholesomely unique and ambitious, despite its flawed nature. Death Stranding is also one of the best looking games of the generation, even with its open-world limitations, boasting Guerilla’s illustrious Decima engine. Its crisp level of detail, exceptionally meticulous facial animations, and mesmerizing weather effects orchestrate a pristine level of visual quality. However, environments begin to feel far too similar and recycled by the later hours, lacking the required semblance of variety and spontaneity to alleviate the repetition. It may lack the impeccable lighting of the lavish Red Dead Redemption II and Ghost of Tsushima, but Death Stranding is undoubtedly one of the best looking open world games. Death Stranding also runs remarkably smooth with little to no performance issues encountered. The music in Death Stranding is an understated highlight, embodying a harmonizing level of tranquility and serenity that caters to its established poignant aura. From the atmospheric melodies of the original score to Low Roar’s melancholic discography, Death Stranding’s auditory element establishes a remarkable tone of isolation and loneliness, but continuously reaches a blissful sense of euphoria for the ears. From exceptionally directed cutscenes to excellent mocap performances, Death Stranding’s production value and direction is top notch, arguably reaching the impeccable heights established by Rockstar and Naughty Dog.
Death Stranding’s peculiar narrative is paired with an equally obtuse gameplay foundation, with a perplexing emphasis on commonly abhorred conventions. Prominent displays of weapon/equipment degradation, over-encumberment, archaic mission structure, fetch quests, and convoluted menus litter the gameplay experience of Death Stranding, with each aforementioned element garnering an essence of animosity within the video game community. Its inaugural moments and gameplay introductions are met with an understandable expulsion of apprehension and vehemently feel underwhelming. The basic nature of Death Stranding’s gameplay is delivering packages to different locations throughout the remnants of an apocalyptic America, with an intention of connecting each discovered location to an overarching network. Traversing the perilous terrain is a gameplay obstacle in its own right but with the added element of cargo condition, volume, time-limits, and maximum weight allowance, Death Stranding’s central gameplay function feels meticulously taxing and void of any semblance of enjoyment. However, through further progression, Death Stranding’s true gameplay loop begins to reveal itself, with its overarching theme and implementation of player connectivity elevating Death Stranding into one of the most addictive gameplay experiences of 2019. While trekking to new locations is undeniably dangerous and difficult, with unpredictable terrain and supernatural BTs threatening your safety, you can use a wide array of different tools – from ladders to climbing ropes – to ease the journey, laying down a path for returning trips. Additionally, once you reach your destination and connect the corresponding facility to the Chiral Network, you not only unlock the ability to set up structures within its vicinity, but also gain visibility and usage of other player’s structures and tools. From signs that warn players of perilous enemies within the area to generators that charge the battery of Sam’s vehicle or exoskeleton, this scale of connection and player cohesion creates a pristine foundation of community. The path you lay down when trekking to a difficult area will aid other players in their subsequent journey; this sense of harmonious and effortless cooperation is masterfully implemented, mirroring the brilliant online infrastructure of thatgamecompany’s Journey. It’s a rewarding construct of accomplishment and responsibility, while incorporating an unparalleled representation of satisfying visual progression. Given its structured gameplay loop, Death Stranding is also one of the most tranquil gameplay experiences of the generation. Players can also donate their materials to repair deteriorating structures or contribute to building roads, providing effortless travel between major established cities. Road building is completely optional, as with creating additional paths to assist other players, but these connecting paths make premium deliveries and overall traversal far more manageable. Premium deliveries result in a generous surplus of likes (experience points) but their completion requirement is far more demanding and difficult. Completing deliveries and receiving likes will increase your connection level with the specified facility, unlocking improved equipment, and increase your gameplay stats, including total carrying limit and movement stability, making subsequent deliveries easier. This intonation of progression and improvement is conspicuously woven into each thread of Death Stranding’s DNA, with each element exemplifying a banal stature from the surface but its rewarding sense of progression and collective cooperation transcend these fundamental components to a prestigious status. Menus are abruptly obtrusive, plagued with convoluted navigational systems and diminished with uncomfortably large amounts of text, and given their residual occurrence, the unspoken requirement of adaptation is notably frustrating. recurring danger you will encounter throughout most deliveries are BTs, Beached Things, which are invisible entities that will attempt to consume you and cause a voidout. Avoiding BTs rival the established conventions of the horror genre, with a pristine rush of fear coursing through my veins upon each encounter. Being caught by a swarm of BTs will result in an intense confrontation between a larger BT entity; these encounters are absolutely beguiling and invigorating, instilling a benevolent aura of player resilience. Death Stranding’s gunplay and overall sense of control is remarkably intuitive and responsive, complimenting the engrossing action segments and borrowing the established semblance of player freedom from Metal Gear Solid V. With a bevy of different variations in established paths and combat encounters, Death Stranding feels wholesomely unique and unpredictable with its ingenious implementation of player connectivity and seamless cooperative progression.
Death Stranding is an experience focused on setting the foundation of a path for others to follow suit, from both a narrative and gameplay perspective. Its centralized encouragement of cohesion and connection is Death Stranding’s strongest accomplishment, crafting such an idiosyncratically rich experience that’s wholly ambitious and intriguing novel. Granted, Death Stranding’s obtuse narrative feels dissociated and inconsequential from its gameplay. While many developers have adopted nuanced practices for harmonious storytelling, Kojima relies on archaic devices such as extraneous cutscenes and egregious exposition dumps to propel the narrative forward, segregating any semblance of harmony between narrative and gameplay. On top of exceptionally poor writing and questionable narrative delivery, Death Stranding’s gameplay foundation is undeniably banal in nature. From uninspired fetch quests to a reliance on poorly received mechanics and systems, this monotonous construct in game design embodies an unbelievably shallow composition upon its inauguration. Eventually both narrative and gameplay counterparts fulfil their intriguing promise with each additional layer of depth and ingenuity introduced. Rewarding gameplay with satisfying display of progression and connectivity, and a poignant narrative that is surprisingly well directed, Death Stranding is a unique, give and take experience that rewards players for their patience and commitment. A fully realized world that is gorgeously detailed, an impressive wave of character performances, captivating production value, and a remarkably ambient musical composition, Death Stranding is a great presentational package with notable rough edges. Not every component in Death Stranding connects in the way that it wants to, but given its large amount of success and undeniably ambitious nature, this idiosyncratic experience is absolutely worth the arduous journey.