Death Stranding will undoubtedly go down as one of the more unique titles to ever exist. Although to be fair that should come with an asterisk saying it was made by the one and only visionary, Hideo Kojima. So, is this Norman Reedus led title more on the “Kojima be praised” side or the “What the hell was the video game developer smoking?” A bit of both really as some of the most basic mechanics are refined to the point of great enjoyment and general moments of just pure, convoluted insanity. Death Stranding certainly deserves praise for being a work of art, but it’s a far cry from the utmost masterpiece some claim it to be. Join me as I try to express my opinion and detail this acid trip of a title. Don’t hold it against me; if I fail it’s because I’m writing this review completely sober.
The story follows Sam Porter Bridges who up until this point was a renowned delivery man in a post-apocalypse America. The world has gone to hell in a handbasket thanks to a mysterious event known as Death Stranding, separatist groups nuking cities, and supernatural-esque creatures known as BTs. When a corpse isn’t properly disposed of it can transform into one of these semi-invisible, but extremely powerful creatures. Then, if the BTs consume a live human it causes a “voidout” which is essentially a nuke in its own right. So, delivering much-needed cargo to different outposts throughout the United States is no simple matter. It becomes an even greater challenge to Sam when he’s asked – by what’s left of it – the United States government to connect all outposts to the Chiral network from the eastern seaboard to the western one. For those not aware, the Chiral network is essentially a more advanced, intangible internet connection that allows people to communicate and teleport like in a far-flung, sci-fi movie. The UCA (or United Cities of America) believe this will bring society back as they knew it.
Sam’s journey will also involve the machinations of the terrorist known as Higgs and the ghost-like entity known as Clifford Unger. Both of which can control some aspects of the BTs and the Death Stranding energies. The former plays more to the main story and wants to stop Sam from connecting what’s left of the country. You best believe this tormenter will stop at nothing even if it means creating monstrosities to stand in your way or utilizing nukes. The latter focuses more on the game’s lore and more specifically to BBs. These unborn babies in pods can help detect the presence of BTs and can be considered essential to Sam. Unfortunately, the history of their creation and Clifford’s connection to them will provide confusion and danger in equal measure for the player. But wait there’s more! Along the journey, Sam will stumble across the origins of the Death Stranding event, conspiracies, and even the afterlife in the form of Beaches. Look all these details are surely leaving your head spinning so let’s just say the Beaches are personal, dimensional pockets in time.
Now I’m sure a lot of you have seen people calling the gameplay to Death Stranding a “UPS Simulator” and that’s not an entirely wrong description. Sam is going from bunker to bunker, township to township, delivering requested goods and syncing up the community at large. However, it is a testament to Hideo Kojima that he makes walking, riding vehicles, just general travel exquisitely fun. It’s almost similar to a survival title if you will. The player must manage stamina levels, cargo weight, and the many route options while avoiding BTs, enemy factions with all sorts of weaponry, and hazardous environments. You will, of course, receive upgrades to all those aspects I mentioned as you level up and travel further and further into Death Stranding.
Along with being able to carry more cargo and move faster, Sam can also utilize plenty of tools and
equipment to both keep him safe and help his trek. Some of which will even be given to us by the people we help or those we connect to the Chiral network. On the dangerous enemy front, the player will be able to wield stealth and combat options. There are lethal and non-lethal firearms, cords to tie up enemies, grenades, and vehicles. Even specialized weapons to partially take out BTs including a cord-cutter which cuts their umbilical cord. Look, we’ll maybe get into that later. More importantly, though are the objects that help Sam traverse the terrain. Most trips to and from outposts and the like won’t be a straightforward jog even without the areas fraught with danger. Cliffs, rivers, mountains, and even craters will act as obstacles to your navigation. Luckily, tools range from the basics like ladders and ropes to the more advanced bridges, battery recharger stations, and ziplines. Those will need to be crafted with materials found in the world or at connected centers. All this needs to be kept in check by weight limits so pick and choose your consequences wisely. Yes, exoskeletons and vehicles can help, but certain areas and their dangers can be a problem. Heck weather will even be something to consider on some of your routes.
These creations and traveling processes can and will be fun due to the mechanics being so engaging and refined. I loved setting out on discovering a new community and integrating them with all the benefits of the Chiral network. The story alone made me feel truly apart of this world and how much it needed my help. To the point that I didn’t mind walking around a lot. Most of the time. But we’ll get into that later. What prevents boredom though is how your world and user-created items are shared with other players. This is more than just leaving a sign or message like in the Soulsborne titles. You can leave full-blown structures and mission items out in the wild and they’ll appear in other gamers’ playthrough. Materials can also be contributed to many creations so in a way you and a handful of others will be responsible for building. I was even able to create a part of a highway thanks to the combined efforts of many Death Stranding buyers. It’s weirdly satisfying receiving notifications that other players used your creations and even liked them with the touchpad. There may even be a neat explanation for this game mechanic within the story too.
I know I’m not the first to mention this nor will I be the last. It’s just worth mentioning that Death Stranding has A LOT to take in story-wise. There’s much plot information that will be hard to understand and sometimes will even be revealed at a rapid-fire pace. To the point where you really need to think about how this all makes coherent sense. If it even does mind you. Still, what would you expect from Kojima am I right? The positive take away here though is the legendary developer has crafted the technical side of things to near perfection. The cutscenes, the presentation, the set pieces, the motion capture tech, the dialogue, the line delivery, the voice acting, the sound effects and even the horror imagery used are phenomenal.
Take being attacked by a BT for example. They start as a floating, humanoid, black haze connected to other similar entities. Then they stomp downwards in a display of black liquid with human handprints. If this catches you a large black hole opens beneath Sam. Finally, grotesque creatures shaped like humans covered in black goo sprout up and try to drag you into their hell. I’m still not used to this and my heart rate spikes every time. Especially knowing my death could cause some serious environmental changes. Also, Sam is something called a repatriate which allows his soul to rejoin his body so he can’t really die. It truly bears repeating that this game is out there, and Kojima reached a level of insobriety never seen before.
As simple and fun, yet refined walking and traveling can be it does reach a limit in some sequences. The first annoyance is Sam can only carry so much at any given time on his person. So, the more weight he has the slower he’ll move which in turn uses more stamina. The player will also need to balance and regain Sam’s footing from time to time depending on how fast he changes direction and how much he’s carrying. Sometimes you’ll need to hold down both triggers for most of a trip. Otherwise, you tumble and fall and lose your cargo to either container damage or them falling out of reach. Expect to lose some inventory to cliffs, steep hills, and rivers. There are items like container repair spray that will assist you in delivering well-managed cargo for better level gains though. The most egregious example, however, happens towards the end game. There are a few people scattered throughout a mountain range that need to be connected and all are quite far apart except one from the main base in that area. This alone makes for a long trek of scaling literal mountains, but the mission structure makes sure you backtrack between them all. It got to the point that I just started taking a motorcycle anywhere even if it meant jumping and boosting up rocks.
You’re probably wondering why scaling mountains with vehicles would pester me. Some of Death Stranding’s other faults deals with objects within close proximity to one another. Driving in tight spaces or where there’s a plentitude of stones causes some jitters. For example, hitting a rock the wrong way causing your vehicle to get slapped back down the hillside with way too much force. A similar issue arises when there’s a lot of items or cargo too close together on the ground. It was a nightmare for me to pick up the items I wanted and leave the ones I don’t. Before you assume these mechanics are shot to hell the realist will enjoy how Death Stranding handles elsewhere. If you enter a tent or building with cargo piled too high, it will cause items to fall off your carrier in a realistic fashion. Same with taking cover. If your inventory is stacked too high people will see it and know your location. Basically this game can amaze or infuriate with the little things.
Death Stranding PS4 Review
Overall - Fantastic - 8.5/10
Death Stranding puts you into its experience so effortlessly that you won’t mind the traveling aspect of gameplay. The entire affair is entertaining, challenging, tense, full of wonder and only possible through the lens of Kojima’s mind. That doesn’t mean there won’t be times where walking or riding takes its toll. Still, it’s hard to believe that a game that focuses so much on traversing is actually fun to play. How much fun you have enjoying the story is another matter entirely and your brain’s capability. Nevertheless, any self-respecting gaming connoisseur owes it to themselves to at least give Death Stranding a chance. It as people say the birth of a new genre after all.
- A complex and engaging story that left me wanting more at almost every turn
- Masterful motion capture and graphical work
- Delivering cargo is made fun through rewards and challenges
- Sharing materials, equipment, mission items, structures, and more with the real world at large is implanted well and a stroke of genius.
- Technical problems that can and will hamper the act of traveling on vehicles
- Some quests will annoy with the amount of walking and/or backtracking
- A few aspects will feel monotonous
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a physical version of the game bought at retail at the expense of the reviewer. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed on a PS4 Pro.