Game Reviews

Death Stranding: Walking, delivering, and a baby

Death Stranding has been called a walking simulator by many, and with the core gameplay objective relating to package delivery, I can understand why. However, this is a shallow description. This post apocalyptic delivery game offers a lot more than it initially lets on. It is like no other game out there.

The initial moments captured my attention more than most games I played prior. I didn’t know what was going on, or why, and it was great. Hideo Kojima, you’ve outdone yourself.

The story revolves around reuniting a post apocalyptic America

You play as Sam Porter Bridges, a legendary porter who works for Bridges – A company formed to reunite a divided United States of America. While out on a delivery, Sam encounters a mysterious a blonde haired woman, who we later discover is Fragile of Fragile Express. After fulfilling this delivery, you have a new, much darker task – The disposal of a corpse at the nearest incinerator.

Setting off on your journey, you’ve two Bridges team members by your side. However, things quickly go wrong. You find yourselves ambushed by BTs (Beached Things) – Souls of the dead which are stuck in the world of the living. The game depicts these entities as dangerous creatures, capable of destroying entire cities through Voidouts (explosions).

An invisible being, with nothing more than a loud thud and the markings of it’s handprints left in the ground, it moves closer to the group. Here we witness the evil surrounding these creatures, and the darkness that is the world of Death Stranding. The Timefall (rain) causes one of the team members to age rapidly, a BT captures the other who then attempts to end his life.

Being a legendary porter, Sam understands that despite the dire situation, the delivery must go on. He cautiously loads the corpse onto his back and takes BB-28 (beached baby) with him as he heads off to the incinerator. Little do you know it, but BB will soon become your ultimate survival tool (and best friend).

BB looking up at Sam.
BB looking in awe.

Once completing the delivery, Sam returns to Capital Knot City. After some unfortunate events unfold, Sam has the momentous task of connecting the lost cities to the Chiral Network. Doing so will allow him to save America, and his sister Amelie. It’s Sam and BB against the world.

Walking has never been so much fun

You’re a porter, a delivery man, a courier – An expert in the delivery profession. Delivering packages in a timely manner while ensuring they remain intact is your main priority. It is your duty, your life calling. Okay, I may be overdoing it, but the core gameplay experience revolves around completing orders. However, that’s a surface level description and doesn’t do Death Stranding justice.

As you begin your journey one thing quickly becomes apparent – Each step matters. The interactions between Sam and the environment are unlike any other game I have played. Cargo weight, where it’s placed, even the items you’ve equipped will dictate your movement.

Activating your scanner highlights the ground, and the various items scattered around you. Terrain appears green, yellow, or red, depending on how difficult it is to traverse. Make one incorrect step and you’ll find yourself stumbling, struggling to regain control.

Falling damages your cargo. Damage it too much and you’ll get a low grade, or even worse, you’ll fail the delivery. Travelling through water comes with increased risk, as falling will see your precious items flow downstream. Even worse than rivers are waterfalls – There’s no recovering from those.

Waterfalls, a beautiful sight.

Death Stranding is more than just walking

The freedom in completing orders is where the game shines. Do you take a direct path, despite there being more obstacles to overcome? Is a much longer, but safer route the better option? Should you risk going through MULE territory to steal some valuable loot during your delivery? The journey matters more than the destination.

While roaming the world lost packages and crafting materials will appear. Do you want to deliver these? Maybe you’ll entrust these to others at the nearest waystation? Either choice will net you some likes and experience. Want to ignore these items? Death Stranding won’t punish you for choosing to do so.

Trucks and bikes are readily available. Generous players keep garages filled. Should you find yourself with an empty garage however, crafting a vehicle is inexpensive. Normal, armoured, long range – Make sure you choose the right vehicle for the job at hand. These are a must for some of the heavier deliveries and come with their own challenges, primarily electricity (fuel).

Bridges, safehouses, shelters, post boxes, these are but a few of the objects in the game – All serving a unique purpose in helping you along your journey. My personal favourite is the zipline, allowing me to travel through the harshest, most unstable terrain with ease. They do however negate most of the difficulty the game presented prior to unlocking them. There are still hazards out there, so don’t get too relaxed.

Sam riding a trike, one of the vehicles you can manufacture in game.
Rear wheel trikes offer speed and manoeuvrability.

It’s not all fun and games

MULEs are cargo thieves. Should you enter their territory, they’ll ping your cargo and hunt you down. While not the most threatening of foes, they will quickly swarm and overpower you if you’re not prepared. The benefit of travelling through their territory is the number of materials they horde. Should you like building structures, stealing from MULEs is a must.

BTs are invisible beings that traverse certain areas of the map. Stealthy movement will be key in moving through their territory. Crouching, holding your breath, and making use of BB is a must. If discovered, run. Prepare to use all your remaining stamina to fight your way out of their grasp. If you fail to escape, it’s game over.

Using a bola gun to tie up a MULE.
Bola guns tie up MULEs.

Asynchronous multiplayer done right

Death Stranding offers a unique multiplayer experience which revolves around cooperation and teamwork. While you cannot see other porters (human controlled) in the world, the tools they used and structures they built are visible. The packages they’ve dropped and the vehicles they’ve abandoned fill the world.

Player created structures fill the world. Ladders, ropes, bridges – Not only do they make life easier, but they tell a story of those who’ve come before you. Those who come after you will use the items you’ve crafted, continuing this cycle of porters helping porters. You may be alone in the world, but you never feel lonely.

Signs are also placed throughout the world. These offer words of encouragement, various boosts, or serve as a warning of the dangers ahead. Unlike structures, there are no limits or prerequisites to placing signs. Many times, I’d find myself placing signs in obscure locations, returning to them later on to find fellow porters have reacted to them.

Interaction is possible with all objects created by others, and you can give them a like (say thanks), which is a nice touch. It’s a nice feeling to start up the game, seeing thousands of likes from fellow couriers. Each object also shows the total amount of likes received. It’s great to be able to visualise how helpful you’ve been to other porters.

Players place bridges in the most convenient of locations.

Despite all the destruction and despair, Death Stranding is beautiful

An array of beautiful, albeit long, cutscenes are spread throughout Death Stranding. All the actors delivered outstanding, Oscar worthy performances. The emotions on their faces and tones of their voices perfectly express the situations they face. This is all brilliantly captured in game, giving it an almost life like feeling.

Mama.

This life like feeling doesn’t end outside of cutscenes. The game world is picturesque and allows for some amazing screenshots. Green fields, mountain sides, waterfalls, snow, rain, and fog. Everything comes together to craft a natural world.

The various structures and vehicles are simple. No fancy, futuristic, out of this world stuff here – Just simple curves and neutral tones. They are not only an addition to the core gameplay, but aid in highlighting the situation America is in. The citizens of Death Stranding used the materials available to build within their means, to get the job done.

Photo mode brilliantly captures these moments. While not as customisable as Cyberpunk, it offers plenty of options to keep your artistic side happy. I spent hours making sure I got the perfect angle, adjusting contrast levels to add depth, and adding a filter to give my screenshots an extra boost.

Not only does Death Stranding look gorgeous, it runs flawlessly. On maximum settings (at 1080p) I never experienced any slowdowns. The frame rate made the game that much more enjoyable. This, paired with the fact that the game has no visual glitches, makes for an unrivalled gaming experience.

The countryside looks almost life like.

Honourable mentions go to the lore, and the music

As you complete deliveries, you will receive emails and lore through interviews. From a simple “thanks” to story critical information, they’re all enjoyable to read – This is coming from someone who doesn’t like reading. Some emails will even lead to hidden packages, which if delivered, reward you with memorabilia from other games.

The music in Death Stranding is rare, but when it begins to play, a calm flows through you. No game has made me feel like this before.

I remember early on, after traversing through rough terrain and enemy infested territory, I was walking up a hill. The music begins to play, and as I arrive at the peak, I see a city in the distance. My safe haven is right there.

Safety in the distance.

Suggested improvements

In my opinion the difficulty is non-existent. Other than the initial MULE and BT encounters, the game doesn’t present much of a challenge. As you progress you will unlock structures and items which invalidate all remaining difficulty.

There are four difficulty settings, but regardless of my choice, there is only one constant. I am my own worst enemy. I only damage or lose my cargo should something else capture my attention. The enemies in the game rarely feel threatening once you’re equipped to deal with them.

Another change I’d like to see relates to the weather, in particular, rain and snow. There are sections of the game where the weather gets very intense, but Sam seemed mostly unaffected. While not a big deal, it would add another layer of difficulty.

Snowy mountain tops were my biggest challenge.

Regardless of its ease, Death Stranding is amazing

The two improvements I mentioned are small in relation to the amazing experience that Death Stranding is. With a well written story and life like visuals, it is a must play. There is nothing quite like it out there.

I suggest everyone plays it at one point in their lives. Previously Death Stranding has been on sale for 50% off , so keep your eyes open. Keep on keeping on.

9 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this review. I’m glad to hear your perspective. The game has been understandably a bit polarizing so I’m very glad to hear from gamers that enjoyed similar aspects that I did. I don’t think the game is for everyone, but a lot of people who wrote it off as boring didn’t make it past the first or second chapter IMO. (Looking at you, my sister! -_-) Kojima intended to craft an emotional experience and wanted you to experience Sam’s struggle in the beginning, too. For anyone frustrated, I suggest you forget about points momentarily and chase forward with the story because it gets arguably less frustrating! Good luck and keep on keeping on <3

    1. Thanks for the comment, Gina ^.^ I agree – The first two chapters are an awful representation of what the game is. As I progressed, I understood why Kojima created the game in such a way. Death Stranding feels like a work of art, in the form of a game. Cannot wait to sink another 40 hours into this gem.

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