REVIEW: ‘Death Stranding’ is ‘beautifully crafted’

14 min


Platform: Steam, PS4 | Developer: Kojima Productions | Rating: M | Price: $59.99

In Death Stranding, you play as Sam Porter-Bridges and you are tasked with rebuilding and reconnecting America as you set out to deliver cargo. America is no more, and it’s your responsibility to bring back an entire population. It’s no small feat, but one that is crucial and can stand no failure.

Its requirements are dangerous, haunting and physically exhaustive. On top of that, you’re unsure of what to believe in and what America truly stands for anymore, but there’s something that keeps you going. Perhaps it’s the simple appreciation that you have for the quiet, or even that you enjoy the gratitude people give as you deliver something important or special of theirs.

At its core, Death Stranding isn’t about America or anything really revolving around the States. The importance here lies in the task of traversing through the country to help deliver cargo for people. However, the notion isn’t as simple as going from one point to another. By delivering cargo, you’re helping to bring people together and build connections, not for America but for the people that reside in this cruel world.

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Death Stranding never loses sight of what it is – a story-driven game that enforces the idea that hope, love and human connection are unbreakable in the face of adversity.

Rebuild & Reconnect

The game has a pretty simple notion here, as Sam, you are always going to different cities, outposts, even visiting individuals who live by themselves, in the hope that you would connect everyone into one network. More often than not, it’s not too challenging as you usually only need to bring them cargo that they are in desperate need of, especially as people are afraid of leaving their residence due to what the game refers to as ‘BTs’ and Timefall (more on that later). Unlike most of the population in the game, Sam can detect BTs but cannot see them.

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However, don’t be fooled for a second into believing that delivering cargo is as simple as going from point A to point B. Deliveries are strenuous. See, most of the time you’ll be carrying cargo on your back, meaning you’re more prone to possibly damaging it.

The game doesn’t just want you to focus on BTs when you’re out wandering. No, you also have to consider Timefall. In the game, this is essentially rain that, when it touches you or your cargo, will significantly accelerate ageing. If Timefall touches your cargo, you’ll see it begin to rot or take considerable damage that would affect your overall evaluation when you return the package to its destination.

Nevertheless, it’s not just Timefall or BTs that you’re contending with as you have to watch your footing most of the time. Falling or slipping due to wet or hard terrain and being attacked by enemies can all impact your cargo severely if you’re not careful.

I mentioned it briefly already, but once you reach your destination and deliver the cargo, you get evaluated across several categories that determine how well you did. If you’ve successfully returned the cargo with little to no damage, you’ll be hailed with compliments and praise. The recipient, who you’ll see through a hologram most of the time, will thank you and give you a series of likes that would level up the “title” that Sam earns.

In some cases, the recipients will also make or give Sam something that will help you in a major way when you go for the next delivery. As you level up, you’ll be gifted with abilities like higher carry weight, a boost in stamina and much more. That’s not all, your delivery rating also plays into how much civilisations and people trust you. Depending on all this, you’ll find yourself receiving an assortment of gifts, varying from vehicles to weaponry.

The Chrial Network

Basically, on top of the satisfying feeling that you’ll get when you deliver cargo that’s taken no damage, you’ll also be awarded from characters in the game for your efforts. On top of the number of compulsory deliveries you need to make to push the narrative of the game, the world is riddled with optional deliveries that you can make.

As you’re wandering across the country, you’ll notice cargo that is leftover or perhaps it was lost. Picking these up and ensuring their delivery comes to fruition is an easy cycle to get stuck into because no matter how difficult the delivery, it’ll be worth it when you reach the destination knowing you’ll be helping someone. That fulfilment you get from delivering cargo in this game, as well as knowing you’ll more than likely receive some award is hugely satisfying.

However, the pure feeling of satisfaction isn’t all you’ll be getting when you make these deliveries. What drives the game forward, as well as the overall story is the idea that you’ll be connecting people onto the network. The Chiral Network, in a way, is a commentary on social-media but also how we’re in constant need of the internet. Nonetheless, the game doesn’t push for a negative analysis on the internet, but a positive one that shows how the internet helps keep us all connected with one another regardless of how far we potentially are from each other.

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The Chiral Network brings upon the best feature in the game, that being the online aspect of the game. You’ll never meet or interact with another player in the flesh. However, their structures and impact all reside in the same world as you.

Once you have successfully connected an area to the chiral network, your map will pinpoint all or any structures that other players have built to make your journey easier. The feature goes more in-depth as you realise that cargo left behind by another player, whether it be because they lost it or had to drop it, can be picked up and delivered by you.

Of course, that means more likes generated for you when you give the cargo, but you would hope that if you ever left behind some cargo, that someone else would return that same kindness. You can also provide the structures left behind by other players likes, and the same would be done for any structure that you build for yourself and others to use.

Throughout the game, I found myself continually wanting to build structures that, I, myself didn’t need but knew that other players might benefit from it. You’ll even be able to leave behind signs across the world which makes it easier for others to spot areas. Signs are pretty vital here as they could be placed next to timefall caves that you can rest in or wait out the rain. These interactions are what make the online aspect of the game an enjoyable experience, and a unique one.

In addition to all this, the chiral network gives you access to a 3D printer, which essentially allows you to print a variety of items that help you with your journey. You can access this through a terminal connected to the network, and that’ll allow you to print stuff like; ropes, weapons, boots, bikes, trucks and so many more. You’ll also be able to print a portable-printer (PPC) which is what you’ll normally use to build massive structures like bridges across the map for you and others to use.

Fighter, But Not A Killer

Death Stranding presents a dangerous world that is relentless on the player. As the haunting music begins to play, and you see the stress levels of your BB rising, you know the Bt’s are nearing. These segments in the game are daunting as you attempt to sneak past them and remain undetected. You can always stop yourself from moving ultimately and holding your breath to make sure you’re not making as much noise; however, this won’t ensure you a successful escape. Other times, when you’re unlucky enough to have to encounter the BT’s, you’ll need to combat them.

The game does give you specially-crafted weapons (hematic grenades e.g.) to deal with the otherworldly monsters, but it isn’t always so easy. BT’s generally rise from the ground as they screech and pull onto Sam to drag him down, however, you’ll need to avoid them by consistently swinging your arms around to prevent being latched onto and hit them when you can. These sequences and the way they’re presented in the game are both uncomfortable to watch and can be rather haunting as you hear the screams of your BB.

It isn’t until you’re around 20+ hours into the game that you finally receive a gun that puts down human enemies. These weapons are NOT lethal and are made only to put these human enemies, referred to as the MULEs, down temporarily. You are constantly reminded and cautioned not to kill in this game as doing so will result in the corpses going nuclear and killing everyone within a city, as well as levelling it completely. However, killing MULEs would be rather harsh as they were normal porters at one point, much like Sam. Unfortunately, not everyone is like Sam and the MULEs grew corrupt in the broken world they reside in.

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Real Characters

When I delved into this game, I was sort of under the impression that the narrative would mainly focus on Sam. Seeing previous gameplay footage convinced me that the narrative of this game was only interested in showing you Sam’s story, but I was wrong. Each character has a unique personality with their own stories, and unravelling their origins contributes to what Death Stranding is about – human connection. As characters grow accustomed to Sam and begin to trust him, they’ll open up to him about their past, and in so doing, he’d start to open up to them.

Guillermo Del Toro’s character is a somewhat quirky, cartoonish character to counteract all the seriousness and tension within the game. Fragile is a mysterious woman at first, but we learn she’s more complicated than we would’ve thought at first due to her tragic background. Sam, well, Sam is a rather simple man who may seem emotionless, but we see through his interactions with BB or even Fragile that he’s genuinely caring. Even someone like Mads Mikkelsen’s character has a compelling story arc that plays through the game in segments each time Sam connects to BB.

Easily the most important character in the game is BB. So, BBs are babies in pods that help you in detecting BTs, and since your character is continuously out delivering cargo, you’ve been issued one as well. The game tries to tell you not to get attached BBs and to even go so far as to treat them as equipment and not human. However, this is merely impossible because your BB has a personality. When in a stressful situation your BB will cry, when it’s happy your BB will often giggle and other times, your BB will even award you likes.

I mentioned it earlier, but your BB also has memories of its own. Each time that Sam connects to BB, Sam will connect with BBs memories and see them for himself, and in doing so, allowing the audience to understand BBs story. Children are scarce in this world, and most people are too afraid to procreate in a world that is continually out to get them. However, your BB is a reminder not to give up hope because the future is very much counting on you, despite what your belief about the world around you might be. The connection that grows between your BB and Sam is nothing short of beautiful and pure.

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Unfortunately, the game suffers from a weak villain who acts far too cartoonish to be taken seriously. Troy Baker plays Higgs – a terrorist who has no moral constraints. His character is the one that felt least “real” to me in that he was only in the game to further the plot. There was no real story to his character, nor was there any reason to care about him. Of course, he provides some major “boss fights”, but again, that’s all he does. I can understand why the game doesn’t pan too much attention onto him, especially when you have so many characters and a massive world to add a story to, but this was disappointing.

The whole game had been enriched with great story-telling and to see the game falter with creating a full-fledged villain wasn’t something I saw coming. The good thing is that the game never puts too much of the spotlight on him. He’s only ever shown in short segments that don’t really take much from the experience with the game.

“I’ve Always Liked The Quiet” – Sam Porter-Bridge

Let’s forget the story for a moment, forget about the characters within the game, forget about the enemies and the cargo. Traversing the open-world in Death Stranding is an experience quite like no other. This isn’t to say that other open-world games haven’t come close to achieving the same feeling that Death Stranding puts you in when it’s just Sam and BB. Similar to how riding a horse in the open fields of the beautiful world of Red Dead Redemption 2 or journeying across the deep deserts of Egypt in Assassin’s Creed: Origins without any interruptions. D

Death Stranding takes that experience and amps it up a notch. Whether you’re travelling through the hard, muddy terrain, or you’re stomping through the snow in the snowy mountains, the game has a sense of calm — a moment of quietness. That moment of calmness is only interrupted by the acoustic, folk-like soundtrack composed mainly by one band – Low Road. The music here is just outstanding. See, while traversing the beautifully-crafted world of Death Stranding, you don’t just detach yourself completely. Instead, you’re focused on the pleasing visuals only matched by the beautiful soundtrack that compliments the experience of walking and exploring this world.

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I’ve seen a lot of people call this a “walking-simulator”, a boring game filled with fetch-quests. These complaints are often coming from people who haven’t invested more than 3-5 hours into the game. The narrative, gameplay, characters and lore within the game are more fascinating than any other game to come out this year. Furthermore, the game isn’t wanting you to invest your time in combat or to explode anything that moves. No, the game wants you to think, it wants you to know the world around you and that people around Sam aren’t just characters that are there to serve the plot.

When you gaze out into the world as you’ve climbed a mountain that had taken real effort, you can’t help but feel satisfied, like you’ve achieved something greater than just climbing up a mountain. The game wants you to connect with the characters, and more importantly, it wants to remind you why human connection in the world is so crucial. This isn’t a game that you can just watch someone else play because you’d be missing out on the best part, that connection you form with the game itself. Death Stranding is a game that requires your attention, compassion and thoughts.

GREAT


Death Stranding is an experience that wants you to connect with the world, just as it wants Sam to connect America. A mix of amazing characters, gameplay and a beautifully-crafted world


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Ali Harris

A fan of all things games, movies, TV shows and of course comic-books.