REVIEW: Death Stranding

Death Stranding Title
Dec
19

REVIEW: Death Stranding

A cinematic masterpiece that will take you on a journey without – to find that which lies within.

Released: Steam
Type: Single-player
Genre: Open World, Story Rich, Sci-Fi,
Atmospheric, Cinematic
Developer: Kojima Productions
Publisher: 505 GAMES
Release date: 14 July, 2020

Introduction / at a Glance

While I wouldn’t label Death Stranding an entirely ‘new genre’ as developer Hideo Kojima would have us believe, I certainly would not insult it by labelling it a ‘walking simulator’ as many others have done either. It really is a mixed bag of genres that form the foundation of the game’s cake with some very interesting features that make up the icing and decoration.

It features some genuinely scary horror-like moments for instance, but I wouldn’t call it a horror game. If anything I would say that the underlying vibe or message of the game becomes increasingly positive as the story unfolds, with the horror elements gradually becoming well understood and manageable obstacles rather than terrors.

It manages to engage the player with a dynamic array of sharply contrasting feelings; loneliness vs togetherness, restriction vs freedom and futility vs sense of achievement to name but a few. While it’s easy to lose sight of all but the mission, the game subtly reminds you to proverbially ‘stop and smell the roses’.

The story is quite ‘out there’ as is the case with a lot of Japanese fiction, but comes together very nicely as the game progresses. To divulge anything about the story though would truly be ‘spoiling’ it, so I hope my synopsis will entice you to try the game for yourself.

Were it another game I’d go into more detail, but I truly feel that reviewing this particular game requires walking a very fine line indeed so as not to spoil it.

With minimal time spent on ‘public works’ (play the game to find out what I mean by that) a play-through should take around 60 hours.

What I will say however is that I had a hard time digesting the over-the-top ‘America is the light’ vibe that the game all too frequently centres its dialogue around. The future obviously depends on global cooperation if we are to fix global issues, not on dogmatic adherence to baseless notions of exceptionalism as we have done in years past.

The Good

  • Engaging atmosphere
  • Story / plot and mythology
  • Phenomenal graphics
  • Soundtrack
  • (Mostly) Superb acting
  • Top tier cinematic artistry

The Meh / Not-so-Good

  • Near-tedium of mandatory in-game activities
  • Rather extremely deliberate obstruction of vehicle usage
  • Unnecessary over-the-top ‘Americanist’ story telling

Analysis / In-Depth Review

Gameplay

Our hero.

Narrative

The post-apocalyptic world limps on as the few remaining high-tech pockets of civilisation attempt to survive the on-going threat posed by extra-dimensional forces.

Life is hard, life is lonely. If we are to succeed, then we will need to work together in order to survive and rebuild – starting with the distribution of supplies as well as re-establishing our communications network. While we can achieve a lot with on-site manufacturing by means of hi-tech 3D printing, we still need to physically transport items and resources that can’t be printed. To save lives, build trust and find a way to move forward. Together.

Atmosphere

Nature is thriving, though more volatile than ever. Beautiful landscapes – difficult to traverse, yet rewarding. A sight to behold one instant – a desolate nightmare the next:

“About to crack… can’t go on… in the distance – a pocket of civilisation at last. Safety. With people, yet alone regardless.”

Civilisation at last…

Mechanics

Death Stranding features an array of mechanics that a player will need to master in order to successfully traverse the harsh landscape and advance the story. From mountains and hills with unforgiving steep slopes, past turbulent rivers with overwhelming currents, through dry rock expanses – all the way up to permafrost covered highlands.

Players will need to deliver cargo of much needed supplies to various settlements for a myriad of reasons. To save lives, to create trust among the settlements (and bring them into the fold), as well as gradually giving players enhanced means to traverse the landscape more easily.

To do so will require careful planning, strength, agility and stealth as well as combat – both melee and ranged.

With considerable effort on the players part will it become possible for players to use vehicles and other nifty technology – but travelling on foot will be the most common mode of transport by far.

The man, the bike – the spooky floating road.

The game also features an interesting in-game social media layer that blurs the line between non-player characters and other human players alike – but I can’t explain that without ruining the journey in gradually coming to terms with the many layers of meaning that the word ‘stranding’ has in this game. The game must be played in order to find that out; explanations would only taint the process of growing awareness.

Controls

Despite running on the Decima engine – as used in the Playstation’s Killzone series – the game controls feel remarkably like a Metal Gear Solid game. Controls are quite typical for a 3rd person stealth game with basic shooter mechanics. Responsive, accurate, not much else to say or add on that front.

As the protagonist is generally carrying around a lot of equipment and cargo – the player is constantly challenged to maintain both the protagonists balance (by holding the left and right trigger buttons) as well as keeping a close eye on the protagonists stamina levels while traversing the landscape. It takes a bit of practice with frequent tumbles and dropped cargo as a result, but it does add an extra dimension in delivering a sense of ‘sharing the protagonists load’ to the player. I’ve seen and heard quite a few people complain about it – but I feel that is rather unfair. Simply mind your stamina (especially when wading through water) and keep holding on to those trigger buttons when the landscape is anything but flat.

Keep pressing down on those trigger buttons…

Presentation

Cold journey ahead.

Graphics
Amazing. Glorious landscapes, life-like facial animations and hair. Top tier motion capture. Just amazing.

Audio
Although not something I would listen to as a stand-alone music track – it fits the overall atmosphere of the game perfectly. Its delivery is both cinematic as well as ‘music video’ style (think MTV). Very well done.

Technical

Performance

45 to 60fps @ 720p on a Ryzen 5 4650G with 32GB RAM.
25 to 30fps @ 1080p on the same APU as above.

Any reasonable discrete GPU should be able to play the game quite nicely (60fps @ 1080p).

It crashed on an Intel Core m3-7y30 with 8GB RAM – but that was to be expected.

Bugs / Glitches

None encountered.

Keep on keepin’ on.

Conclusion

Value for Money

Well worth the money. At the very least 60 hours worth of engagement, though probably more as the game definitely invites more than a single play-through.

Verdict

While I had quite a few moments of frustration when first starting the game, I gradually found the experience becoming more and more Zen-like as both my skill at handling the controls improved and in-game upgrades started to become available. There are indeed a large amount of parcels that need to be delivered – but as the age old adage goes: “it is the journey that provides enlightenment, not the destination”.

Having well and truly absorbed the story – I now find peace delivering the parcels that I skipped over when I was racing towards the game’s finale. The game left me feeling positive at its climactic conclusion – and now offers me moments of peace. I am Sam “Porter” Bridges. This is what I do.

I highly recommend you to find the Sam “Porter” Bridges within yourself as well.

Autosave.

Sod that Zen stuff. I’m taking a high-tech zip-line shortcut.

Leave a comment

Recent Posts

Archived Reviews