There’s been much ado about Death Stranding. You’ve seen all the trailers, the bits of information about the gameplay, the star-studded cast. There’s even that World Strand Tour going on, not forgetting the PC release. For most of you, the game is just another week off, before your tantalizing dip into this world crafted by Hideo Kojima. What awaits you in this BT-filled world, as you step into the shoes of Sam Porter Bridges? Read on for our Death Stranding review.
Sam is a Repatriate. It means he is able to return to life. However, if he gets overwhelmed by BTs, his return causes a Voidout: a giant explosion which essentially erases a city, leaving only a crater in its wake. One wonders how much of this is caused by DOOMs, something mysterious that Sam possesses. Fragile, a woman running her own delivery company in Fragile Express, also has DOOMs. What exactly it is, you’ll have to find out yourself.
In the future, mysterious explosions have rocked the planet, which Sam likens to the Big Bang. Funny, when he himself too is capable of causing such explosions. Supernatural monsters have cropped up – the BTs – and humanity is facing extinction from them. In the United Cities of America, Sam’s work sounds easy enough. He’s already known as a legendary porter at the start of the game, in charge of delivering cargo from place to place. Why not United States of America? Well, the explosions have torn apart the country, and everyone’s pretty much scattered, hence the job.
The prologue does a good job of setting the stage of Death Stranding. You learn a little bit more about Sam’s job, the land he will have to travel, the cargo he has to manage, the people he’ll meet. Then there’s the world that’s turned harsh on humanity: Timefall with its tell-tale upside-down rainbow, and of course, the “BTs”, or Beached Things. After knowing what they can do, seeing their prints emerge is enough to make you hold your breath.
In some ways, Death Stranding is akin to a management simulator. Here’s a small sample of things you need to keep track of:
- Sam’s stamina
- Cargo weight
- Tools you’ll need to cross terrain
Resting is absolutely key if you’re going to travel the land without a vehicle. Chugging down MONSTER ENERGY isn’t going to keep you going for that long, as your maximum stamina steadily goes down when you don’t stop. From the prologue, Timefall ages your body at best, and in the case of cargo, their durability will go down. Preferably you’d want to stay out of the rain, but more often than not, you’ll have to tough it out and be more careful.
Cargo that you drop will be marked lost if you stray from them too far. Use your scanner to find them. Otherwise, they’ll be appearing in another player’s instance. Structures you build can appear for other players too, and vice versa. Give them a “Like” if you’ve found them useful, as a token of appreciation. You can also entrust cargo for others to take, should you not make the journey. Even if you won’t be seeing other porters, you can believe in others to finish the job. Chances are, you might find lost cargo near the recipient. There will be plenty of back-tracking to and fro as you receive orders, find cargo, and follow along the storyline.
Regular BT encounters would need you to sneak past them, or struggle out when you’re caught. They’re like quicksand, covering an area with black goo, as unholy human figures reach out and claw at you, trying to drag you in. If they’re hanging around – quite literally; with the Bridge Baby’s help, there seems to be faint figures suspended in the air – you can move slowly past. Sam needs to hold his breath if they’re close, and he won’t be able to keep it in for that long.
You can get into more combat-intensive BT encounters too. Remember the fluids collected from Sam in his private room? Yeah, those can get turned into grenades to defeat bigger BTs. Taking time-outs from deliveries is really important! The Bridge Baby, or BB, will get stressed out too, and you’ll have to be the one to rock it back to calm with your Dualshock. With how important BB is to “see” BTs, you won’t want it to go dark on you, do you?
BTs aren’t the only thing that would be able to harm you. Of course, you too can fall off too great a height. Thanks to Sam’s repatriate abilities, he can come back, after a brief swim in some “other” place, and you follow the Strand back to life. That’s followed by the baby in your throat, which should clearly be symbolism. You can encounter MULEs who will seek to run with your cargo.
On lower difficulties, the MULEs seem to mostly circle around you and you can easily punch them down to get your stuff back. On higher difficulties, you can probably expect them to run off to their nearest base to deposit the goods and serve to waste your time. Alternatively, they can also kill you, and you’d “repatriate” at your last checkpoint at the condition you last saved at. Incidentally, resting is how you save in this game – besides auto-saving – so if you’ve been diligent, you’d be in a good condition to either avoid or fight back the MULEs.
The action can and does ramp up later in the game, but you’d just as likely be spending far more time shuttling items to and fro drop points, juggling how best to carry your tools and the cargo.
With how story-rich Death Stranding is, it’s hard to explain certain things. As assured repeatedly by trailers and such, “connections” are a central theme to the game. Sam is on a quest to “connect” the disparate cities of America, and bring them into the fold via the Chiral network. Delivering the goods that people need is the way to do it, as their appreciation means it’s more likely they will join and connect with you, with Bridges. A better “connection” with recipients allows more material storage and use, possible gifts and additional Bridges facilities. Since the game isn’t quite out yet, this review can’t delve too deep into the “multiplayer”. You do get encouraged to have “Bridge Links” with fellow porters you interact with often, so try it out!
Death Stranding is separated into “Episodes”. Consider them actual TV episodes, each part providing another piece of the whole puzzle as crafted by Hideo Kojima. Follow the Strand of the plot, and start building the map in your head akin to the Chiral Network. Much of the old world is lost, and connecting is one way to get it back, don’t you think?
I get that sense of connection when I manage to deliver the cargo to its recipient, especially so if I made it through BT encounters. There’s the sense of tension sneaking past a BT, that rising panic if I get caught, possibly losing my precious cargo along the way. Getting that relief and appreciation on a successful delivery is truly something. If for some reason or another that the recipient doesn’t want to join the network, I get a profound sense of loss, whether or not their reasons are justified.
It really is not an exaggeration to say Death Stranding is “an experience”. While this review can provide some building blocks and tell you what to expect from a mechanics standpoint, the world has to be felt to truly understand the extent of emptiness in such a broken up world. We’ll just have to follow Sam along the cord now, won’t we?
One thing’s for sure, you’d either be completely absorbed in the story, or you lose interest in the threads as you trek through the vast emptiness. Whatever it is, we’ll see you at the Beach.
A haunting - quite literally - journey to strive to connect people.
- Incredibly realized and gorgeous set pieces and environment
- The story provides much philosophical discussion fodder
- A lot of back-tracking involved in missions
- Definitely more on the cinematic experience than strict gameplay
A thought-provoking work that leans more to movie than game