Back in late December, we started playing Death Stranding, casually. We didn’t realize then that the game would be as aptly prophetic as it’s turned out to be, mirroring our lives, COVID-19 and the seclusion which we have been experiencing. The game cycles much the same as our current 2020 cycle: complete tasks, stay healthy and follow the rules, albeit there are choices and trade-offs. The main protagonist is Sam Porter Bridges, whose character is voiced by actor Norman Reedus (Walking Dead).

The Game

Death Stranding is a slow-paced look at humanity’s evolution, executed through parcel delivery. The setting is future North America, decades after the ‘Death Stranding’ catastrophe has ruined a society. The society needs to be restored and you’re here to help deliver packages and connect resources to the Chiral Network, which serves as this world’s internet system.

People are forced to isolate since every person has the potential to cause a nuclear bomb-like destruction, unwillingly. What’s left of society is held together by people delivering packages (couriers/porters) to those who have chosen to isolate (preppers).

Why are people wearing masks? What is a void-out? Where am I? All valid questions, but don’t expect answers early on.

The tasks completed are tedious and take planning. Days seem long while impact takes shape. Progress is measured by how well you can complete tasks, which forces you to lean on whomever and whatever resources are available. Adapting becomes crucial, and you don’t get any explanation on what much of anything means, but Kojima says that’s the point. It’s gradual. You are only given enough info to get you thinking, so you just need to trust and do. The better relationships you make with the preppers, the better chance you get at getting new equipment upgrades.

It starts with planning how you’ll carry packages. At first you can’t carry much; things get better once you start using an exoskeleton. We liked the all-terrain exoskeleton because it gave the best balance and let us move quickly in rough terrain, although you can’t carry that much extra using it. Also, with the exoskeleton you are still exposed to the elements (like rain, which harms you), so for more protection and more space, you can opt for the motorcycle. But then the motorcycle battery could run out, so you go for the truck which has more battery and more space. The truck also protects the cargo from elements but is slower than the motorcycle and isn’t good off-road. Ziplines, which you and others build, are the fastest of your equipment options, however, hard to set up and require maintenance. And just like walking, you can only transport what you can carry. You weigh each and every option.

The couriers in Death Stranding are highly respected because they allow others to figure out how to survive and evolve into the new world that they’re now engulfed in. Forming “strands” of connection between those that are isolated can then aide in speeding up the evolution.

The main obstacles are the terrain, rain, as well as ghosts called BT’s (Beached Things) that try to hurt you.

You must also take care of a stillborn baby named Lou.

Many have already questioned if Hideo Kojima’s first offering under his own company, Kojima Productions, foreshadowed the coronavirus pandemic. It’s hard not to feel an ominous effect, especially since we took our sweet time playing this game, so much that, December became April and we were still playing it during the pandemic, which has been bizarre and calming.

But whether it was predicted or not, Death Stranding wants us to focus on maintaining vital connections to achieve best results. The better you are at planning and completing tasks, the better your “Keep On, Keepin’ On” mentality and overall rating is. You can also have up to 30 friends while playing that can share ‘likes’ and gear, too, which helps a lot with mood and achievements.

Perks

Death Stranding comes with a selection of cameos, including Guillermo del Torro, Conan O’Brien, Edgar Wright, Lindsay Wagner and Troy Baker. We really like how Kojima also incorporates people he is close to or fond of, for example, Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn, whose fallen memory chip needs to be plugged into the Chiral Network to receive more information. You learn about Kojima’s own interests too.

There’s even a Death Stranding jacket available from cutting-edge Berlin-based brand Acronym, a name well-liked by Kojima’s art director and longtime collaborator, Yoji Shinkawa. Acronym’s co-founder and designer Errolson Hugh also makes a cameo in the game as a NPC character. The jacket, which is currently sold-out, reportedly costs $1,900.

Play
Pause
Courtesy: AcronymΒ 

Kojima tries to replicate the experience he felt while in Iceland into the game. He said in an interview that being in Iceland made him feel like he was on a “distant planet” that had just been born.

“On the one hand it really felt like the near future but it also felt a lot like a completely different dimension,” he said. We liked playing in that dimension.

Lastly, the game wouldn’t have gripped us as much if it weren’t for the startling and delicate soundtrack from Ludvig Forssell. We’re not surprised it won Best Score/Soundtrack at the 2020 Game Awards. Death Stranding also won the award for Best Game Direction.

Verdict

This game was generously crafted. Anyone who’s a fan of Hideo Kojima knows he goes deep into storytelling. However, he shifted a component in Death Stranding. He often creates games based around killing enemies to win, yet with Death Stranding Kojima focuses on winning without just killing enemies.

This game is for players who are looking for accomplishment within a relaxed momentum; this is not a high-octane thrill ride. The environment, using equipment, planning and problem solving are the main weapons players can use. There are no ‘fear-based rewards’ where you’re relieved to have killed everyone before they were able to kill you. You are not bogged down with having to attack people all the time, instead, we spent a lot of our time messing around with the cargo and equipment menus. It became a bit obsessive.

We also couldn’t help but think that the Chiral Network might be Kojima’s reference to 5G; BT’s might a reference to our phones; the Beach a reference to social media; and Sam a reference to us. The game was far-fetched months ago; it isn’t now.

FYI: Kojima Productions announced they have pushed back the PC release date of Death Stranding to July 14, 2020.