Remember when Star Wars first came out? Or, when people first dived into the magical world of Harry Potter? There was that feeling of newness in the air, a skeptical mindset that makes one feel consciously awake and alert when venturing into an uncharted territory for the first time.
That is how Hideo Kojima's first post-Konami game, Death Stranding, will you make feel in its early hours. Sufficient to say, the skepticism vanishes after a while and what you're left with is a surreal experience in a video game that pushes boundaries of what this medium is today - and what it could be in the near future. Yes, Death Stranding is that good of a video game. It will make you feel exactly what this legendary director and his team at Kojima Productions wanted you to feel in this 50+ hours journey of thought provoking loneliness, fatherhood and the ever growing importance of human connections in this modern world.
The first few hours may seem like a drag...
After a few long cut scenes, Death Stranding sets the stage as if its going to be a huge cinematic driven game - one where the controls will be snatched away from the players every so often. You know, like a certain other Kojima-directed series of games. But, that is actually not the case - not in the first 20 hours at least.
After the prologue, we get a briefing of what Sam Porter Bridges' (played by Walking Dead's Norman Reedus) main objective is going to be for the rest of the game: delivering packages and bringing different areas under the chiral network and making them the part of UCA ( United Cities of America). THere's also the task of bringing back Amelie, the daughter of former President Strand who is being held somewhere in Edge Knot City, which is Sam's final destination.
But what occurs after this opening segment is not what I, nor many others expected, from this game. You see, Death Stranding leaves you all alone while delivering packages. The narrative segments in the first two episodes are kept to bare minimum, which serves as a prologue of the game, letting players explore the various game play mechanics.
In short, in the first few hours, one will feel really lonely, uncomfortable, isolated and some would even say that's its bit of drag and boring for players who are not dedicated enough.
But, all of this is to make players prepared for what's to come next.
Asymmetrical multiplayer gameplay:
Death Stranding's biggest achievement is that it doesn't forget that its a game.
You see, this means a lot because most of us who were fascinated by the ever-mysterious world of Death Stranding were so because of its complex lore, story and characters. And as far as the game play was concerned, it sure looked like a walking simulator.
Turns out, in a vague sense - it is. However, Death Stranding's gameplay is immensely satisfying in its own way. Like you would expect in any Hideo Kojima game, the controls are fantastic. Traversing from point A to point B in the world is not as easy or boring as one may think at first glance.
Death Stranding throws a plethora of tools and systems to make the game fun, engaging and rewarding. Every location in the game has something to offer once players complete a delivery.
It's always immensely satisfying after making your way from a long treacherous area, avoiding BT's (the scary creatures from a different world) and fighting M.U.L.E.S. (cargo addict human enemies) along the way to unlock another tool that would make traversing a little bit easier.
It is this addictive gameplay loop that never stops. Even after the credits have rolled, there are a numerous new tools to uncover and try, more deliveries to make, and even more rewards, waiting at the end of it all.
Personally, Death Stranding is one of the most addictive game I have played in the recent memory. Not just because its different but also the way it makes even a mere task like traversing from Point A to Point B so engaging, immersive and purposeful is praiseworthy.
Death Stranding also proves that shooting enemies in the head is not necessarily needed for a game to be fun or addictive. Instead there's a completely different magic working behind all of it.
Sometimes all you need in your journey is some deep introspection of the world around you and the characters that inhabit it.
Also keep in mind that there are combat heavy segments in Death Stranding as well, which is a welcome addition to this already engaging game. Speaking more about it would be considered a spoiler so I'll just leave it there.
The biggest new game play feature in Death Stranding is its asymmetric multiplayer component. The game is all about connecting the human society, not just through its story - we'll get to that later - but also through its gameplay.
This new social strand system, which is what Kojima calls it, is where other playing the game can you help - such as leaving you crafting materials, or building roads or bridges or post boxes. You're all alone... but you're never truly alone.
This feeling of being part of the same world, helping each other out and ultimately playing the game for the benefits of others is what makes Death Stranding a really really good and a satisfying video game above all.
When I first ventured into episode 3, some kind folks had already build the roads to one of the more prominent locations of the game - which made things really easy for me. In return, I built the roads in the left over areas where otherwise traversal would have been incredibly difficult. This was just one aspect of this incredible social strand system which brings this melancholic, isolated world of Death Stranding to life.
It's also worth nothing that the "multiplayer" component of Death Stranding doesn't require a PlayStation Plus subscription to take advantage of. You will, however, still need an Internet connection. Obviously.
Story & Characters:-
Death Stranding is, at its core, a story about fatherhood, hope and human connections. But, there's a lot more going on in here than just that.
The 10-15 minutes long cinematic sequences have been placed incredibly well throughout the game, and it helps by unraveling the mystery of the game's world one piece at a time. Every time an episode ends, the players are left with more information than they could swallow at first glance.
And like I said, the fact that Death Stranding never forgets that its a game - not a movie - that helps it elevate its narrative even more, which is evenly scattered not just in the cut scenes, but in game's side content (emails, books, etc) which is solely left for players to discover.
I spent countless hours reading the emails I got from the people I connected via the chiral networks, reading different interviews regarding the origin of BB's, what caused Death Stranding in the first place and the back story of the characters I met throughout the game.
Even some of the side characters that you meet via the hologram have a story to tell, which one may not find in the traditional cut scenes, but rather in the emails they send you after every delivery - telling one about their conditions and experiences as they move along with their lives.
This is also a major driving force behind making "standard" deliveries in the game (side missions), because as the game play rewards players with new tools every now and then, it also rewards players with new information about the game's world and its characters.
Speaking of characters, Death Stranding's narrative is solely focused on few of the major characters in the game, each of which have an episode or more dedicated to them. It gives each enough spotlight to shine.
The voice acting and the performances have been done phenomenally well which is not surprising given the star studded cast - with the likes of Mads Mikkelsen, Léa Seydoux, Guillermo del Toro - the game boasts.
What isn't good here is the abundant use of repetitive dialogue, especially in the early hours, that can really break immersion from this otherwise fantastic storytelling throughout.
Even in the first few hours, you'll probably hear Lindsay Wagner's character Amelie speak to you a dozen times that you need to go west and connect the world, etc, so much that it can be nauseating. This is one of the reasons I could never get emotionally attached to her character, which does spoil some of the key moments regarding her later in the game.
Also there are segments where the game's narrative doesn't take itself seriously at all. There are few cut scenes which features such cringe, cliched dialogues that will make you wonder whether its the same person who crafted this otherwise beautiful and multi-layered universe.
But in the end, Death Stranding's storytelling shines, especially in the second half of the game when it actually starts taking itself seriously. Mads Mikkelsen character Cliff is phenomenally written and his performance definitely surpasses Hollywood levels at times. It also made me a huge Mads fan, and I can't wait to watch more of his work.
Norman Reedus' character Sam, on the other hand, is a bit strange. He's not more of a character of his own but you as the player meeting other characters throughout the story, hence the reason why his character has so much less dialogue in the entire game.
Overall, Death Stranding's story is sometimes emotional, sometimes twisted, sometimes hard to follow - but something everyone will grow to love and understand eventually. The world Hideo Kojima and his team have crafted is refreshing and has something to tell which shouldn't be missed out by anyone.
Death Stranding is a 50+ hours journey of traversing beautiful landscapes all alone with only one's BB - you'll find out what that means - as their company, with some fantastic key moments in between where the camera pulls back and another one of those melancholic yet powerful songs from the American Icelandic band Low Roar starts to play. A song which hits you so hard, you can actually feel your heart pounding in your chest.
Add to that a world connected by other players' silhouette to whom you can offer help and get help in return, and a metaphorical mystery which unravel itself slowly with a jaw dropping twist at the end.One which will make you grab the biggest box of tissues by the time credits roll.
Death Stranding is a huge leap forward in the video game industry and generates a feeling that no other artistic medium is capable of providing currently.
Our Score- 9.6/10
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