Death is tragic, but life is miserable
As I sit here pondering on how to explain Death Stranding, the quote above came to mind. You might recognize it, if you have played one of Hideo Kojima’s other titles, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It’s from The Sorrow. Whenever his spirit appeared in the game, it would always start raining. After Snake’s encounter with him to return to the world of the living, I just sort of sat there and thought of how unique that boss fight was. And when Kojima hits all the right notes, some of his games are up there with the best.
Now, notice I only mentioned some of the games. If you know me, then you would also know I’m not the world’s biggest Kojima fan. And if you are, this would be where you stop reading, right? Wrong. I urge you to hear me out, and then read my thoughts on Death Stranding. Personally, I have always thought Kojima was a bit overrated, as most of his games were not that good. Metal Gear, Metal Gear Solid 1 and 3, and Zone of the Enders were great games. Metal Gear Solid 2 was just plain awful, and part 4, as much as people loved it, I thought it was a terrible plot, the boss fights were really weak compared to the other games, and useless cutscenes like Naomi teaching Sunny to cook eggs were just plain boring. Not to mention Kojima has this ability to utterly ruin the entire story of a franchise he has built up over the years, and its characters.
Metal Gear Solid 5 was kind of in between, I enjoyed parts of it. Same with Peace Walker and the Ac!d games. It always seemed to me like Kojima loved creating an expansive world, only to turn it upside down, and what you thought you knew, was secretly this, and this person was actually part of that person, but then turns out they weren’t at all. And this person is still alive, but not, then he is, then another person has amnesia, then remembers out of nowhere he is a bad ass, and then becomes a cybernetic ninja that can stop a giant battle class ship with only his chin. Come on. It’s all utter nonsense, with some great gameplay. But what would happen if Kojima were free from constraints, and was able to make his own game? Well, we get Death Stranding.
Now, I could write an entire volume on the ups and downs of Kojima, but since this is about Death Stranding, I just kind of wanted to give you a little insight on my opinion of his work. So naturally, when we first get a glimpse of the game, and I see Norman Reedus holding a sort of ghost baby, well, I laughed. A lot. Here we go, I thought, this game is going to be so weird that practically no one will understand it. Then we start seeing more characters introduced. Mads Mikkelson playing a soldier that has some weird powers. Guillermo del Toro shows up, holding what looks to be another baby. We see Norman Reedus as a sort of delivery man, who gets caught up with some other people in a crazy sort of monster encounter. What the hell is this game? I have asked myself this over and over, as many of you probably did too. Fast forward to the early reviews, and people are so divided on this game it’s ridiculous. I even put up a piece from Giant Bomb explaining some of your enemies in the game are people that have gone crazy for social media “likes” and try to steal your stuff. People will now get to see the Hideo Kojima I have been talking about all along, I said. Well, keep reading, because I am one who will admit when I am wrong.
But Chris, you hate walking simulators. Isn’t that exactly what Death Stranding(DS) is? Well, there is a ton of walking involved. But there are a lot of other mechanics mixed in that sort of made it a different experience for me. Norman Reedus is Sam, A delivery man in an America that has fallen to ruin. By events called the Death Stranding. Without spoiling anything, these events have changed the landscape of America. Most of its people have gone underground, with few people left up top to deliver supplies, or investigate the reasons for these events, and even people who want to live up top, in a twisted, lawless land. There are a few towns scattered here and there, referred to as Knots. Well, one thing leads to another, and Sam is brought back into the Bridges company, at the behest of his mother, Bridget Strand. Who is also The President of the United States. Bridget wanted a connected country, via the Chiral Network, and asked two teams to travel across America to set it up. One of the teams was lead by Sam’s sister, Amelie, who was captured by a terrorist group on the west coast. Sam is brought back in unwillingly to complete the Chiral Network, and save his sister.
Throw in your typical cast of characters, complete with typical Kojima nicknames, and we now have some structure. Now, Sam is unable to die for certain reasons, which is labeled as a Repatriate. With this ability, Sam is the perfect person to travel around and make deliveries. Some that are crucial, other ones not so much. So by making deliveries, you can also keep connecting people together. It goes hand in hand. Here we see the core mechanics of the game. Kojima has figured out how to use the land as its own character in a way. A main character at that. Starting off, Sam has a suit that allows him to carry boxes. How you stack them is important, because Sam can tip over easier, or have trouble turning or stopping. Even more trouble climbing or descending hills. This is where the game will truly divide people. I honestly did not have much of a hard time here. I would always use the auto sort function on my items. Most of the time it worked great, only having to switch out what was on my utility rack. But I never took a ton of stuff. A pair of extra boots on my boot clip, a ladder, one or two climbing anchors, a blood bag or two in my utility pouch, a bola gun, and a hematic grenade or two. Now, that might sound like a lot, but if you only do one or two missions at a time, Sam won’t have a hard time traversing the landscape. If you try to take on too much, your going to have a bad time.
You not only have the land to deal with, but also Timefall. Imagine when it rains, everything the rain touches is aged rapidly, including your packages, vehicles, or even people. It is a crazy concept, but one that will keep you alert when it starts raining. Because with Timefall, usually the B.T.s are nearby. Strange beings that seem to be in between the world of the living and the dead, B.T.s, or Beached Things, changes the dynamic of Death Stranding when they appear. The temperature gets cold, if a B.T. hears you, things can go down hill very fast. Most people can’t see them, Sam can only sense them, which is why Bridge Babies were brought about. BBs are unborn babies, generally taken from a still mother. They have the strongest connection to the world of the dead, and paired up with your suit, can alert you as to where the B.Ts are at. You still with me?
The game becomes a more stealth encounter, having Sam crouch down and sneak, and even holding his breath when very close to to these sort of creepy souls floating there, with a sort of string attached to them. At first, Sam can’t do much in the way of fighting back. The game becomes a bit freaky, with eerie tones playing as you try to sneak on through. If alerted, the B.T. will stalk you. If caught, the B.T. will try to drag you under this pool of black ink. That in turn will cause you to drop packages, which is bad. If you are taken under, you are dragged a bit away, and you will encounter a boss fight of sorts. If you have the weapons, you can fight, but if you can manage to escape the black ink surrounding the area, the B.T.’s disappear, and the sky becomes all nice and bright. What I did, if there are a ton of B.T.s, and it was making it really hard to get through, I would set my my delivery packages down, get caught by a B.T. on purpose, and instigate a fight. Then I would just run and jump my way out, and voila! You are in the clear. Once I got a power loader for my legs, the game became super easy. Which brings me to my next topic. Being connected online and vehicles.
Once you connect an area to the Chiral Network, you can see things that other players have made, and use them. Including bridges, ladders, ropes, and even vehicles. Once I was able to get the long range trike, the game became so much more fun for me. I would always carry a P.C.C. with me, to build a generator to charge my trike, which did come in handy many times. I could take this thing almost anywhere, including the top of a snow peaked mountain. There were a few missions where I couldn’t use it, or some where I had a bomb in the mountains, and the vibrations from the trike would set it off. Those were truly the hardest parts in the entire game. Remember the people that have went crazy for “likes”? They are called MULES, and honestly, if you have played any of the Metal Gear games, these camps are a joke. I took out a whole camp hand to hand. The non lethal guns, or even the bola gun will make things much easier. But, as you travel around, some forced boss fights happen as part of the story. This is where Mads Mikkelson comes in. You face off against him more than once in a sort of Metal Gear style boss fight. Once again, I had zero trouble beating him. The game gives you plenty of drops each time, which is why you don’t have to go as prepared as you would think. And the other boss fights? Well, other people’s shadows will pop in and throw items at you, that make things much easier. Ultimately, that is what the game comes down to. Being connected, and helping each other. And it was done so well, that I just sort of relaxed while playing through the game. My wife and kids would watch me play it, wanting to see me get to the next area, and watch all the cutscenes that came with it. I’ll admit it, I was hooked in deeper than I thought I would be.
I had a few people ask me my thoughts while playing, and they didn’t understand why I enjoyed it. I asked them if they played Minecraft, and if they did, why? The answer would generally be the same. It’s just a chill game to play around in, where you can sort of do whatever, and not have to worry about a bunch of things. To me, that’s also Death Stranding. Deliver this to here. Enjoy the land. Enjoy the music that pops in from time to time. Sneak around or fight. All while your BB laughs and cries. While it seems like there is a ton of management upkeep, it doesn’t have to be that bad. Always use the bathroom and take showers in your private room. Make sure you have good boots on, drink something to extend your stamina bar and move out to the next place. Rinse and repeat. Yes, the blatant advertisements in the game were a bit off-putting, but nothing major. Even all the cameos just kind of made you smile, or shake your head, but soon after you’re on to the next delivery, and next story plot point.
Is the story weird? Of course it is. Kojima has a knack for going way out there, and with DS, there was no limits. I enjoyed that there was a story, and an ending. Without eighteen plot twists, or people being double and triple agents. Yes, there is a bit of something like that, but is explained in a way that all worked together. Sort of like watching a movie, or miniseries unfold. Everyone played their part. You learn why these characters have silly code names. You learn why you can come back to life. You learn about the BBs, and the B.T.s, and even about the people out there trying to survive. All while Troy Baker’s character Higgs is there every step of the way to stop you. This is where the game lost me. I really enjoy Troy Baker, but his character and voice was just plain terrible here. Higgs is a horrible throw away character, with an even worse country accent to boot. I cringed every time he showed up, wondering what terrible line he was there to deliver to Sam, who seems to be unable to stop Higgs in any way, which also sort of bugged me. Common sense would tell you there will be a showdown, so those parts could have been done better. But in the end, I generally enjoyed what was being played out.
Throughout my fifty or so hours of playing Death Stranding, I can honestly tell you I only toppled over maybe three times, not counting the B.T.’s dragging me under. I only “died” once, on a near end game giant boss fight, because I ran out of blood bags, grabbed some new ones, but I wasn’t fast enough to equip them. I came back, and proceeded to finish the boss off. Just take the controller, and don’t overthink it. Use the triggers to grab your shoulder straps before it prompts you to do so. Make sure you use the auto function to level out your gear. And use a long range trike. Those alone will help you have a more pleasant experience. And the visuals are there to help in that regard. This is a great looking open world, and jaw dropping character models. Especially in 4k HDR.