Ever since the first trailer for Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding was shown off at E3 2016, the world was confused, skeptical and wondered, what is going on? Fast forward to 2019 and after seeing a bunch of gameplay, more trailers and interviews with Kojima, audiences had more questions than answers about the upcoming game. Straight off the bat, I’d like to tell you that if you like Kojima’s style of storytelling and enjoyed the RPG elements of MGS V then you will enjoy Death Stranding. The game isn’t perfect, and the social strand system that Kojima has developed is definitely one-of-a-kind, but the package on offer is absolutely cinematic.
Kicking things off with the story, I don't know how much to tell you without spoiling it, yet highlighting that Kojima has done it again. He has weaved a story dealing with a cataclysmic event, conspiracy theory, love, loss, sacrifice and of course, doing whatever it takes to get the job done. If this sounds all too much like Metal Gear, I’d tell you to hold on to your horses. An event called the Death Stranding has occurred, leaving the world disjointed and in turmoil. People live in underground bunkers and resources are procured through delivery agencies. As the trailers of the game have revealed, you don the role of Sam Porter Bridges (played by Norman Reedus) who has been tasked with reestablishing connection throughout America and rescuing Amelie, who has been held captive by a group of terrorists who call themselves the Homo Demens. The premise is pretty simple but the underlying Sci-Fi story is what will keep you moving from chapter to chapter.
There are creatures called the BT’s (Beached Things) which roam the lands and appear in the game every time it rains. Also, the rain isn't normal. It is called Timefall which rapidly progresses ageing of anything it touches. We have seen this in the E3 2018 trailer as well. The BT’s can’t be seen with the naked eye but with the use of babies housed in the containers, called BB’s (Bridge Babies), one can sense them. This doesn't work like the radar system in MGS. In fact, you need to be absolutely still and tap the right shoulder button of the controller to send out a scan and locate the BT’s. Once you start moving, they disappear. Thankfully the mechanical arm on your shoulder is constantly positioned towards the nearest BT and beeps even faster when the BTs are really close. Once a BT notices you, it drags you into a world where you fight a monster that acts as a mini boss fight. If you have questions like what are the BT’s? Where did they come from? What's their connection with the Dead Stranding? Why is there a baby in a pod? What weapons should I use to fight them? And what the hell is Mads Mikkelsen doing in the game? I suggest you play the game to find out because in true Kojima fashion, the story has points where a curveball is thrown at you and you will put your controller down and be like, ‘whoa’!!
As strong as the story in the game is, sadly the gameplay isn’t the same. There is way too much traversing overall and the variation after a while becomes the same. This is also where the social strand ellement of the game shines but also brings a lot of questions to mind. Let me explain.
When you start traversing the game, you deliver packages from one city to the next bringing them onto the Chiral Network. These are like the towers you climb and sync with in Assassin's Creed which essentially reveal the map around you. But that's not all. These packages that you deliver along with the gear you need are all carried by you on your back, quite literally and this is where the game gets interesting. You can carry your delivery cargo, a ladder, a rope, some equipment that help you build bridges, charging stations and more along with your lethal and no lethal weapons. So when you decide to use a ladder to cross a small stream or climb a hill and you leave it there, it appears in other players worlds that visit that particular area. They can also offer likes for the equipment you leave behind and help upgrade it as well. This is the social element of the game which is really interesting. I came across an area where a road could be built and I thought I should contribute resources towards it as it would make traversing this particular section easy. I fell short of resources, of course. Coming back to the area a while later I saw the road built because other players had contributed resources too to it. The question that comes to mind is when someone plays this game for the first time six months from now, will he/she see a fully populated world with resources placed for him, making the game easy? Well, you have to get the area onto the Chiral Network to use some of the help left by other players including features like charging station and base station, so that's one thing.
This social strand element is interesting and has depth to it. There were times I was desperate for a charging station only to see one at the end of the horizon. I was desperate for a bike only to find one left at the end of a corner. I was low on ammo and saw a warning sign that there were Mules ahead. Speaking of Mules, they are enemies scattered throughout the game world that will attack you and want to steal your cargo. Some use lethal force, others don't. Speaking of lethal force, you have lethal and nonlethal weapons at your disposal. You also have weapons to take on the BT mini boss fights and other boss fights and all this equipment takes up weight and space in your inventory making inventory management a key aspect of the game.
Most of the objectives are getting from point A to point B and it is the journey in between, be it the Mules, BT’s or even the environment which is your hurdle to overcome. Kojima has tried to make the journey of getting from point A to B fun by adding large gorgeous vistas, a great soundtrack to immerse you in the desolate disconnected world and even environmental hazards to challenge you; but for the life of me, I can’t take on a side quest to deliver a Pizza knowing that nothing challenging will happen or I will face similar challenges in the story mission of the game.
A game like Horizon Zero Dawn, built on the same Decima engine that Death Stranding uses, has great diversity of side missions that motivate you to complete them. I can’t say the same for Death Stranding and that is my only disappointment.
Without spoiling anything I’d also like to tell you that there are boss fights in the game and the equipment you unlock helps with traversal and taking on the BT’s and Mules and it is this gradual growth of your arsenal that will help you progress through the missions and keep the gameplay fresh.
Visually, the game is stunning. We played the game on a 1080p TV and a 4K OLED TV and the game shines! From the visuals of the celebrity cast to the vast landscape with changing weather, the game does show the potential of the PS4 and the Decima engine. Adding to the visuals are the voice actors and motion capture by a AAA cast including the likes of Troy Baker, Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Lindsay Wagner and many more. There are also Guillermo del Toro who lends his likeness but is voiced by Jesse Corti and we have guest appearances from a lot of famous faces including Conan O'Brien and more.
Here's answering the burning question? Is Death Stranding all its hyped up to be? Should you play it? The short answer is yes, simply for the story and Kojima’s art of telling you a tale with so much lore it will absorb you. If you are looking for a straight up open world action/stealth game then you may be disappointed. The game has action and stealth elements along with Kojima’s signature boss fights and some truly memorable sequences. But to get to them, you have to go through the Social Strand experience and it is an acquired taste. The story gripped me from the minute the plot started to thicken but it took me nearly 30 hours to warm up to the gameplay. And that's about halfway through the game (for me atleast with 80 percent story missions and some side quests). Overall, Kojima has delivered on one of the best stories told in video games but I wish the gameplay were tighter.
Tested on: PS4 Pro
Developer: Kojima Productions
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PS4, PC (Summer 2020)
Price: Rs 3,999
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