Connecting Isolated Realms: A Deep Dive into Death Stranding

Death Stranding’s hype cycle was insane. Kojima’s dedicated fans would have you believe he was a messiah. Every new piece of information about Death Stranding had them going wild. They were captivated by the mystery that the former Konami creator wove in the trailers leading up to launch. Death Stranding is finally out. Does it live up to the hype that surrounded its release?

No. Before I begin, I want to reveal a little bit about me: I am a big fan of Metal Gear Solid and have enjoyed all the games in that series. Although I’m not a Kojima fanatic, he has been an integral part of many of my favourite games over the years and is someone who I hold in high regard.

When I watched all of the Death Stranding trailers and read information about it, I began to feel a little nervous. Kojima was very reticent about revealing information, and this added an air of mystery to some concepts that were shown in the promotional materials. It was interesting to some but it became irritating when it came to the release date and there was still no gameplay footage.

Death Stranding, in essence is an Amazon Prime post-apocalyptic simulator. The game will remind you of this fact every 3 seconds, when it says Sam Porter Bridges’ full name. You play as Sam Porter Bridges (played by Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead fame), a fact that you’re not likely to forget, since the game says his full name every three seconds.

The gameplay of Death Stranding is its most controversial aspect. Kojima’s earlier works were action-focused, stealth titles, but this one is a fetch quest. You are asked to carry a 55-gallon drum of Astroglide from East Jabib to West Jabib by a friend.

There are many obstacles in the game’s world that make it more challenging to deliver your message. You’ll have to navigate rocky terrain, rivers, snow and even the odd enemy. But with a little creativity you can overcome almost anything. The best thing about Death Stranding is the constant drip-feeding of new gadgets that make it easier to navigate.

The Reverse Trike was the real breakthrough. Instead of having to run all the way, you could drive, and arrive at your destination in half the amount time. However, your Trike is only powered by a limited amount of battery and can get stuck on rough terrain. The battery drains faster when you drive through rivers.

You then get a big truck that can hold a lot of stuff. This would seem like a great idea, but it’s not. It’s a huge, clunky piece of junk that gets stuck in every terrain. Three different trucks became completely unusable after getting stuck on rocks. I was forced to abandon all three. Do not use the truck.

The game rewards you for successful delivery with new items, which can range from being useless to being incredibly helpful. Snow is a problem? You’ll fly through the snow with an All-Terrain Exoskeleton. You’re running with too much weight, and your feet are becoming unsteady. You can use robo-drones that will float in front of you to do all the heavy lifting.

If you carry too much on your back in Death Stranding, the load shifts and you have to lift it up again, or you will fall over, damaging your valuable cargo. It can be very annoying when you are trekking through rough terrain. It is possible to alleviate this by riding in a vehicle, or using the Power Exoskeleton, but generally it’s best to travel lightly. Later, we’ll talk more about that.

In Death Stranding, you only have two types of enemies to be concerned about: BTs (Beached Things) and MULEs. BTs (or Beached Things) are essentially alien beings who somehow ended up in our world after the calamitous event of Death Stranding. The Odradek Terrain Scanning helps your BB (or Bridge Baby) detect these creatures as you travel. The BB will indicate the closest BT. By using careful movement and stealth, you can easily avoid the BTs in your game world.

You’ll be dragged into a mini-boss fight if they grab you. If you don’t want to leave, it is easier to just make your way out of the arena. You can also get rid of any BTs that are in the vicinity.

Timefall is a signal that BTs are in a particular area. It can manifest as rain or snow. The mysterious precipitation ages everything it touches, including your goods. If you care about the quality of your cargo, then it is best to seek shelter as soon as possible.

Delivery Dependence Syndrome is what MULEs suffer from. Porters become so addicted to delivering cargo, they try to steal other porters’ cargo in order to get it for themselves. What’s the stupidest thing you have ever heard? It’s right up there with me.

The MULEs will not kill you but only use stun weapons to incapacitate. They’ll then steal your goods and hide them in a postbox that looks like a sandbag. The Odradek scanner can locate exactly where your stuff was hidden by simply pressing R1.

You will later encounter terrorists who are more aggressive and willing to kill you. You can cruise right by them if you’re in a car or have the Speed Exoskeleton. You can get some valuable cargo by fighting them, but it is rarely worth the effort to eliminate them all. It’s not possible to get rid of the MULE camps, so you’re better off finding a way to avoid them.

Death Standing has an interesting gameplay that is more complex than what I first thought. There are also some cool boss battles later in the game. However, most of Death Standing involves delivering packages. It’s true that this is a tedious and boring task. The game gets even more frustrating towards the end, when your friends insist that you travel all the way to the East Coast from the West coast for a variety of nebulous motives. It took me an hour to do this, and the whole time I was angry.

There’s a scene near the end where Sam, stranded at a particular location, has to run until he falls over from exhaustion in order to get the next bit of information. Kojima wasn’t kidding when he said you had to do this three or four more times until the sequence ended.

Did you know Sam Porter Bridges’ special pee is a secret? His bodily fluids are repellent to BTs because…actually I am not sure exactly why. He’s a special kid, apparently. The helpful guys at Bridges have decided to create grenades that are made from your urine as well as your fecal material and your gamer girl’s bathwater.

He can use blood to power a variety of weapons that draw directly on his hit points. By equipping bloodbags, you are able to slowly restore your health while in combat. You may remember that I told you to travel light is usually the best option. There’s a reason why this is the case.

It was my first boss fight, which I had been warned would be coming up. After preparing myself, I stocked up on healing and weaponry, ready to blast BT giant’s a$$ with a thousand hematic bullets. Once I entered the fight, however, I saw weapons everywhere. They were literally scattered in all directions. Some online players even popped up and threw me an assault rifle or a bloodbag.

The game did not reward me for my preparation. In fact, it was the opposite. After that, I didn’t carry any weapons anymore, because I knew that they would appear when I was in need. It worked perfectly for me, as I could complete the entire game with the same strategy.

This makes some sense as you would not be able to beat certain bosses without your pants on. But I still feel that there was a more efficient way to do it. When you can easily defeat them using 10 rocket launchers that you find on the ground, boss events are less exciting and challenging.

When you deliver packages, likes will be awarded. This can in some ways be seen as experience. You can rise to the rank of porter if enough people like your Facebook page. Stats will also be boosted. Sam must be cool to work for exposure. It must be a difficult job market.

These likes can be spent on the structures of other players. This bridge saved you from a long slog across a river. Like! Like! Like that stupid sumbitch. The mechanic encourages users to place things where they can be useful, not just for them but also for others.

And I’ve never used it. After I started playing, I had so many player structures that I could use for my benefit. I rarely built anything myself. The PCC is the main building block for most things, and that’s pretty cool. It took me some time to get used to the user interface because it didn’t really explain how they work.

Mostly, I just used generators and Timefall shelters to recharge my Reverse Trike. Since I used vehicles and traveled light for most of the time, I didn’t notice the stat increases that came with leveling up.

You will get tired and your shoes may wear out if you run around a lot. The first can be alleviated by synthesising new boots, while the second is alleviated by resting at home. You can use your Monster Energy flask to get a quick drink when you are in a hurry and away from the closest rest area. The flask also refills itself as you travel. Sam does have a Monster Energy flask that magically refills. This is something that happens in the game.

It’s also not the first time that product placement has been thrown into a game without much ceremony. The glass screen that covers Norman Reedus’ frame when he poop in the shower/toilet combination (which is something I wish existed) has an AMC advertisement. It’s a little odd considering that the entire American infrastructure has been reportedly destroyed and no one would be able to view network TV, but what do you know?

Enough about gameplay. What about the audio in Death Stranding? The acting in Death Stranding is excellent. This title features a lot of A list Hollywood actors, who all do incredibly well with the confusing and strange material that they are given. It’s a strange choice, and I will explain it more later.

The music can be great or awful, depending on what you like. Most of the songs were ambivalent, except for a couple that I really liked. Low Roar is responsible for a large portion of the soundtrack, so if you don’t like them you will be disappointed. It’s also a little strange how the songs are used. They mostly…start playing while you walk around, at random.

It’s pretty pleasing to hear the sounds that your weapons and equipment make. The guns all have a deep bass tone, while the exoskeletons emit a mechanical whine. Even if MULEs aren’t real, the sound they make when you see them is intimidating.

The casting is really strange. Deadman is one of your regular characters, and he’s played by Guillermo Del Toro. However, he doesn’t voice it. They literally mo-capped Guillermo and then dubbed him with a new voice actor. The same is true for Heartman. Nicolas Winding Refn is the director behind Drive. The voice of the character is a completely different person.

Kojima seemed to want to include a lot of celebrities in his games. You can see Junji Ito in cameos as well as Conan O’Brien and Edgar Wright. Even the Dorito Pop himself Geoff Keighley is featured. You also get to see Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, and other big names in the cast.

Death Stranding’s presentation is undoubtedly slick. The game looks amazing, from the beautiful vistas to snow-covered mountain ranges and even BT Arenas that look like tar or dead fish. It’s hard to believe that Yoji Shikawa is onboard. The mechanical and monster designs are impressive.

The performance was good. The performance was decent. Only during Timefall or opening up a terminal in a new station did the framerate dip a bit. It was pretty constant apart from that.

What can I say about Death Stranding’s story? The story is…weird and unintelligible, but things are resolved in a way towards the end. Sam Porter Bridges has been given by the President a task to reconnect America, and make it “whole” again. You have to deliver pizzas while eating bugs.

Fragile is a character who appears quite frequently in the book. She’s always eating Crytobiotes, which are bugs. She eats Crytobiotes (bugs) and is always trying to convince Sam to join her. The entire time I played, I called her Greta.

“She has also one of the most lame lines recorded in history.” “I’m fragile, but not so fragile.” The story has her saying it several times, which makes me cringe. This title’s dialogue is not great, but it manages to strike a surprisingly serious and somber tone. There was lots of baby stuff, which I found a little cheap, as I am a brand new dad myself.

The buildup of the end gave me serious Evangelion feels. Even a portion of the movie looks uncannily similar to EoE’s famous beach scene. It’s hard to tell if it is an homage, or a copy.

It’s almost like a George R. R. Martin novel with the number of terms you have to remember while playing DS. Bridge Babies are Beached Things (hoo hee), The Odradek scanner, Timefall DDS, Hematic Weapons, Homo Demens(hee hee), MULEs Strands Chiralium Q-pid Voidouts Extinction Entities Cryptobiotes DOOMs Repatriates Necrosis Trance Connections Has and Kas The Seam and I’m sure there were a few more that I forgot.

There’s a lot of information to take in, which is made even more difficult by the fact that much of it is presented through a rather dull exposition. The story is mainly told by characters in a small room, and it can become stale pretty quickly.

All the characters have names that are pretty funny. Why is Deadman his name? His body was stitched from several cadavers. What is the name of this man? He has had heart attacks. What is the meaning of this woman’s name? She is pregnant. What is the name of this person? He is a Bruce Willis enthusiast, of course.

You’ll have to dig through some Kojima-related nonsense to find the good stuff. Death Stranding is a game that’s repetitive, tedious, and makes you not want to move forward. There’s a certain satisfaction in getting a new item of equipment, but it only allows you to move around the game’s mostly empty world faster.

This is why I cannot recommend the game in its entirety, but I do think that it’s worth playing, even if just to watch Mads Mikkelsen covered with goop crawling towards you.

It’s best to pass on this game unless it is on sale. The gameplay relies on package delivery, the narrative sounds like something straight out of Kojima’s Spotify playlist and there’s often cringe-worthy dialogue.

Kojima deserves some respect for releasing a game that he knew would be unpopular. After all, my goal was to enjoy video games. I didn’t want to spend an hour trudging through the snow to give someone a jar full of bugs.

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