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Death Stranding review

So what happens when you have a creative genius/madman completely unrestricted and allow him to create whatever he wants? In the case of Hideo Kojima- it’s Death Stranding. A game full of ambition and crazy ideas…but does it work? Does Kojima’s bizarre mind completely muddle the experience, or is Death Stranding something truly special?

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Death Stranding Story

If you’ve ever played one of Kojima’s creations, you know it’s NEVER a simple story. A cataclysmic event, known as the Death Stranding, has occurred and devastated America (possibly the world, but we don’t actually know). This event has caused ghostly figures, known as BT, to roam the country and cause all sorts of danger and destruction. There’s also the timefall causing problems too, a sort of rain that accelerates ageing for whatever it touches. If it touches anyone’s skin, they’ll become a senior in minutes.

To make matters worse, whenever BT’s get their hands on a corpse, they cause what’s called a voidout. These are massive explosions that basically wipe everything out in the area, big enough to create craters. Because of all these dangers to the country, almost the entire population have fled underground and live in settlements out of reach of the dangers above. With everyone living in complete isolation from each other, it’s up to Porters to make deliveries from settlement to settlement so the inhabitants can basically survive.

That brings me to Sam Porter Bridges, a man tasked with connecting all these settlements together to unify the country once again. He accomplishes this by manually making his way to each location and connecting them to the chiral network, so they can all communicate with each other and help each other survive underground. At least this is one part of Sam’s mission, as he must also venture west to help rescue the new president of America, who is trapped in Edge Knot City due to terrorists, all the while he must connect everyone as he goes.

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That’s really all I can say about the story, but there is quite a lot to wrap your head around. You’ll have all these terms and plot points thrown at you that will confuse you through most of the game. Though through mail, interviews, and cutscenes, you’ll slowly start to gain an understanding of it all. I think the game really needed to do a better job of not bombarding you with so much confusion early on as I really struggled to grasp any of it. No matter how much I paid attention, a lot of it went over my head. Thankfully by the end, you should able to understand most of it, but just prepare yourself to have your mind messed with for a while.

Apart from the confusion, it’s actually a fascinating story overall. In true Kojima style, you’ll experience twists and turns that can completely change things. It deals with plenty of themes, such as tragedy and loss, but also hope and the strength of the human spirit. The storytelling is done in a variety of ways. Sometimes there’ll be a long cutscene at the end of a story mission, or sometimes something will suddenly happen while you’re out in the field, or something might occur when you leave your private room. The storytelling can be unpredictable, but that’s what makes it exciting. You don’t really know when the next major turn of events will happen, and whenever something is slightly out of place, you knew something interesting was about to happen.

As confusing as the story was most of the game, everything will eventually make sense so it’s important that you stick it out if you want the most out of it. It’s totally worth it, and they way the story is told is unique and unlike anything else out there.

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Death Stranding Characters

I feel like I need a whole section for this alone. The characters in Death Stranding help make it the great game that it is. As you journey across America, you’ll meet more and more characters that help you, and unravel a lot of the game’s mysteries. The game is divided into episodes, and each episode focuses on each character and tells you more about them. What I love is how much you learn about them, as each character has their own backstory, and they all seem to be very tragic. Their stories will help you sympathise with them and makes the journey all the more special and memorable. 

Each character is voice acted extremely well. They’re all characters you’ll be rooting for, as their really isn’t anyone I disliked. The standout character I’d say is Cliff, who is really brought to life by Mads Mikkelsen, and he plays one of the game’s antagonists. The depth of his character really shows as the game progresses, and learning more about him just made him all the more fascinating. Though I can say this about most of the characters actually.

There are plenty of side characters that you meet at each settlement you visit, and some manage to have their own little stories going on, from marriages to missing family members, each one is captivating in its own way. I do find it a bit strange getting mail from a lot of the older male characters who use an unusual amount of emojis…it’s just weird!

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Death Stranding Gameplay

The sheer amount I could talk about when it comes to gameplay will make it impossible to keep this review from turning into a novel, so I’ll do my best to condense it down. Before this game’s release, there was a lot of criticism about this game simply being a walking sim, or a UPS simulator. While you do spend the majority of Death Stranding delivering packages from one location to another, it’s far from being anything this game was unfairly criticised for.

Everything’s kept simple early on- you place the package on your back, and walk it over to your destination. But as the game goes on, you’ll eventually be introduced to new challenges that makes everything more difficult. But to counter this, the game also unlocks new items that makes these challenges more bearable. One such challenge is, of course, the BTs. When you encounter BT areas, that’s when you must play stealthily as you sneak past them. It’s always a terrifying experience when you’re in a BT area, and I commend the game for creating such an intense atmosphere every single time. But as you progress, you’ll unlock items and weapons to help deal with them.

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Some missions will have you carrying large amounts of cargo to your destination, but at the same time, you’ll unlock multiple ways of transporting it easier. That’s yet another thing that’s great about this game- you’re constantly unlocking something new after almost every mission, and there’s a very good chance you’ll be happy to use it.

One of my favourite moments in the game was just that satisfaction you get from overcoming an arduous journey, maybe surviving BTs, or making your way across a rocky mountain, and finally making it to your destination with worn out shoes or low on ammo. It’s such a great feeling when you’ve finally offloaded your cargo, go rest in your private room, go to the toilet and have shower, all to prepare yourself for the next order.

It’s very rare that game can make you feel what your character feels, but this game does it successfully. I feel Sam’s exhaustion, I feel his relief when he’s recovering, and makes me feel part of the journey. There’s even gameplay benefits to going to the toilet or showering, which may seem bizarre, but just adds to the game’s charm.

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What impresses me the most is the sheer amount of detail in the game. Not just from a level/world design aspect, from a character aspect too. If you’re carrying too much, you’ll need to keep Sam balanced (with the left/right triggers). If you’re doing a lot of walking and climbing, your shoes will deteriorate faster, and will need to keep a spare pair just in case.

There’s so much micromanaging to be done, and the level of realism is unbelievable. Sometimes when a game tries to be too realistic, it takes away the fun of it all, but in this case I believe it adds a tremendous amount of depth. This, in turn, makes it much more than just a simple walking sim.

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Death Stranding Social Elements

While almost everything about Death Stranding is unique, perhaps the most unique part about it is the social element. The game’s main theme is connecting with one another and working together to unify the world. Not only is this a part of the game’s story, but very much part of its gameplay too.

Once you connect a region to the chiral network, you’re actually able to see items, vehicles, and structures built by other players. This is all in an effort to make players help each other make their way through the game. Kojima loves his fourth wall-breaking ideas, and he’s done it again here.

Death Stranding is still a single player game, so you’ll never see any other player in your game, but you will see what they leave behind for you to use. There may be a tough mountain to climb, and you may be low on ladders or climbing anchors, but thankfully other players may have left some behind all ready to help you. It can be a great relief, and you really feel appreciative that other players have helped you, whether it was intentional or not.

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It’s really just Kojima’s way of pushing his message of staying connected and helping each other. It’s done so well both through the story and the gameplay in a way that I’ve never seen done before.

The game even has its own ‘Like’ system (kind of like Facebook), where you’ll receive likes from completing orders, and even from other players who can ‘like’ your structures or signs you leave behind. All these ‘likes’ get added to your stats once you complete an order, and the higher your stats, the more you benefit from them (such as better balance, carrying more weight, etc).

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Death Stranding Review Summary

I can understand why Death Standing is one of the most polarizing games of modern times. It’s been said many times that it’s not for everyone, and that I can agree with. Thankfully, I’m one of the lucky ones who can see why this game is so great.

It’s a unique experience in every way possible, from its story, to its characters, and to its intricate, complex and deep gameplay. I felt totally absorbed in this game’s world, and I actually wanted to help rebuild it not just for myself, but for other players too. What Kojima was trying to achieve with this game, I believe he succeeded.

The amount of content this game provides will also keep you playing for a long time. There’s a seemingly endless amount of orders to undertake, and while it can get a bit tedious at times, it is ultimately rewarding overall.

There’s so much detail in every aspect, and it’s all meaningful in some way, and that complexity is just one of many reasons that helps Death Stranding stand out as one of the most unique and best games of 2019.

Score: 9.7

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