Death Stranding Review

Death Stranding
Death Stranding
Death Stranding

Death Stranding has been shrouded in mystery since we first got a glimpse of it back in 2016. Since then, several trailers have drip fed us bits and pieces that had us all desperate to know what it was all about. The hunger to know more can finally be satisfied. The veil has been lifted and we can finally see what the game is all about.

It’s no secret that Kojima is a skilled writer having been the brain behind the Metal Gear franchise for many years. Those looking for a complex and interesting story will not be let down by Death Stranding. The story will keep you interested from the opening cut scene until the very end.

The story is based around something known as the Death Stranding. A cataclysmic event that has devastated modern civilization and is close to wiping out all life on earth. The world is plagued by ghost like creatures that live within rain storms. The rain, which is referred to as the timefall will rapidly accelerate aging. Those who are caught in it will see their skin age in front of their eyes like water absorbing into a paper towel.

Expect to spend the first few hours confused by everything that is going on. There is a lot of backstory to get your head around and important chunks are fed to you as you progress through the campaign. By the end of your adventure, you will have experienced a story that could rival some of the best Hollywood blockbusters.

Norman Reedus lends his likeness and voice to the main character Sam. There are times, when it almost feels like the real thing. One scene in particular where you see the goose bumps appear on Sam’s arms show the level of detail in the character. The emotion that is being expressed through facial expressions alone really blurs the lines between a video game and real life.

Norman Reedus as Sam - Death Stranding
Norman Reedus as Sam – Death Stranding

Technology has existed for a while to recreate human facial expressions in a video game. Technology that depends entirely on talented actors to be able to create those in game animations. A huge amount of recognition needs to be given to the cast behind the characters in this game for the quality of acting.

It’s always great to be able to tell what a character is thinking and feeling without them saying a single word. You will find many scenarios where you can almost hear what is going on inside Sam’s head based on the expression on his face.

The attention to detail on the character models is one thing, but the level of care and detail put into the environments will leave you in awe. Up until this point, Horizon Zero Dawn is probably the best looking game on the PS4. Death Stranding has really pushed the limits of what the PS4 hardware can do.

Scenic view of snowy mountains with detailed rocky terrain - Death Stranding
Scenic view of snowy mountains with detailed rocky terrain – Death Stranding

Those beautiful mountains in the distance aren’t just a backdrop, you can climb them. They look just as good, if not better when you get up close. Having played this game on a regular 1080p Tv and a 4k HDR TV, the difference HDR makes is pretty significant. The game looks unbelievably good with HDR enabled. Even if you have a regular 1080p TV, this game is going to be one of the best looking games you have ever played.

If you have watched all the trailers, you will know enough to know that you really need to play this game, but not much else. Kojima is known for his cryptic videos where he will often add lots of hidden secrets that can only be found when people analyze the videos in great detail. Even at that, Death stranding has really been a great mystery.

Baby on the beach - Death Stranding
Baby on the beach – Death Stranding

You will likely be wondering what the deal is with the baby. We all got a bit of a laugh over the nude scene on the beach, but I am sure you are wondering what the context is for this. From the story side of things it is quite a moral dilemma. Sam fights with the ethical side of this throughout the game. From a gameplay side of things, the baby helps you detect those ghost like creatures that live in the timefall. Without that baby, your chances of survival are diminished.

The core gameplay element to this game is delivering packages. You go to a dwelling of some kind, be it a city, a small hub or a building where one person lives. A terminal will list some delivery jobs that are available from this location. You accept them, take the cargo and deliver it to the destination. Sam can carry a lot of weight which makes for some comical box stacking.

Death Stranding - Stacking boxes on your back
Death Stranding – Stacking boxes on your back

So you might be thinking “Why can’t the people deliver it themselves?” It comes down to a particular set of skills. The world is no longer safe for the average person to travel safely. Porters like Sam, possess unique abilities that give them the upper hand in making it through the timefall in one piece. It’s not exactly a cakewalk but they at least stand a chance of survival.

Even at the best of times, the delivery elements are a little boring. There isn’t much in there to shake things up. Almost every mission is just a case of “take these boxes over a bunch of difficult terrain”. When you get there, you are given more boxes to bring elsewhere. There are a few instances where it changes like a pizza delivery but nothing that will prevent the delivery getting stale after a while.

The quest objectives might get a little boring, but it is helped by the fantastic level design. Trying to find a way to make it from A to B is a lot more fun than it might seem. Combine this with an exciting story and a world filled with bandits and ghost like creatures, the objective is not always about delivery, it is about surviving.

For the first few hours of the game you will be traveling many kilometers on foot. Up and down mountains, through rivers and through the rain. It would be a lie to say this is fun, but it is worth pushing through. The game does get better and there is a very good reason for things being tough at the start. The feelings of isolation and loneliness you get are unusual and make you understand a lot more about the world you are playing in.

Sam can carry a certain amount of cargo based on weight. The more you carry at once, the harder it is to navigate through difficult terrain. Slippery rocks are more likely to make you lose your footing. If you try to wade through rapid water, doing so with more weight risks the water pulling you away.

To help you out a bit, you have a terrain scanner. Pressing R1 will activate it and you will see some visual clues that will help you plot a path. Areas marked orange are a risk and areas marked red should be avoided. Everything else is save to run across without having to tread carefully.

Terrain Scanner - Death Stranding
Terrain Scanner – Death Stranding

As you progress, you will unlock new technology and abilities that will make the hike up a mountain or across the valley much easier. Once you unlock vehicles, you will appreciate them more than any vehicle you have ever had in a game before.

It is at this point that you begin to see that the first few hours of trekking across the map to deliver boxes had a purpose. They weren’t fun, but they were there to make you experience the struggle. Without a single line of narrative or a flashback cinematic, it explains Sam’s demeanor and gives you an idea of how he feels. You have a much better sense of the state of the world. It feels like it was you that had to make the journey that Sam did.

It does take 3 or 4 hours for the game to really find its stride, but once it does, you see how clever it was. Death Stranding does something different and it will catch you by surprise. Once you figure out what your purpose is, you will be rushing to deliver that next job, excited to see what comes next.

Large open world games tend to have a fast travel option, something that often feels like it does more bad than good for a game. Death Stranding does give you the ability to do this, but at a cost. You can’t bring anything from your inventory with you. It helps you avoid a long journey if the journey is your only goal.

Knowing where you need to go is an important part of any open world game. For the vast majority of open world games, some marker on the HUD will let you know what direction you need to go.

Death Stranding makes life difficult at times with this. You must pause the game to see where you are going. There is no mini map or HUD marker. You can set manual path markers that are highlighted in game, but it is possible that you can plot a path that leads you to a dead end. Considering the level of advanced tech Sam has, this feels like something trivial for him to have.

You will get the hang of navigation after a while, mainly because the level design does a great job at not setting paths. If you want to walk around the mountain, you can, but you can also climb over it. Sam can’t climb as well as Link from Breath of the Wild, but he does a pretty good job. It isn’t often you find yourself at a dead end, but you will get to your destination quite often and discover you accidentally took the hardest possible route.

Combat plays a role in your survival, but a little different than the standard point and shoot style of gameplay. There are bandits who hunt people like you to steal their cargo. Your fists will be enough to hold these guys off at first, but once they start using guns, you will need to arm yourself with something more to keep on top of them.

MULE camp in the countryside - Death Stranding
MULE camp in the countryside – Death Stranding

The upside to these bandit camps or MULE camps are they are known as in game is they always have lots of valuable resources and loot. Some of this is lost cargo that these bandits will have stolen from others. Not just other NPC’s but other people playing this game. Open a safe box and it might have 20 pieces of cargo that were stolen from other players. When you deliver the package, you and the player who lost that package will be rewarded.

The online aspects of this game are pretty much what No Man’s Sky should have been. You never see another individual, but you see a breadcrumb trail that they have left behind. A bike belonging to another player might be found outside a safe house. A ladder that another player placed to get across a chasm is there for you to use.

It is also possible for other players to leave hints. You might arrive at an area with lots of enemies. Nearby you will see a sign left by another player giving you a hint. Sort of like what we see in the souls games. People can’t write whatever they like, but the clues you can leave are enough to be really helpful.

Bridges constructed by other players make navigating difficult terrain a lot easier - Death Stranding
Bridges constructed by other players make navigating difficult terrain a lot easier – Death Stranding

The coolest part of the online network is the crafting. The game allows you to build structures that provide you with in game benefits. A post box, battery charger and a watchtower to name a few. If you gather the resources needed, you can build one, but if you are connected to the online network and have unlocked the next area in game. Structures that other players have built will be there for you to use.

It is a strange feeling that you are treading where no man has been before, but then you find a sign with an arrow that says “this way”. It gives you a nice sense of comfort to know that other people were out here slogging day and night. If you find something another player has done useful, you can shoot them a like for it.

Having built many structures myself, I haven’t been able to figure out how the structure sharing works. It makes sense that every structure built is not shared with every player. I got lots of likes for some things and nothing for others. It seems like a bit of a lucky roll of the dice as to whether your structure will appear in someone else’s game.

So what do these likes give the other player? Likes are pretty much XP points under a different guise. Likes you get for fast delivery time go toward leveling up your delivery time skill and so on. There are 5 different skills, all which give you a new ability or an improvement to something when you level them up.

Mission report and character skill progression screen - Death Stranding
Mission report and character skill progression screen – Death Stranding

It has been a very long wait to finally get our hands on Death Stranding and figure out what it is all about. It is a unique style of game and is definitely a risky move to push out a game like this. Fortunately it has worked pretty well. Death Stranding is a very unusual game that will invoke a lot of emotional through clever story telling in an impressively atmospheric world.

Telling a story through writing and words is something that any game can do, telling it through experiences and challenges that are presented to the player is something very different. Kojima Productions have nailed this down to perfection. Death Stranding may not be the game you expected it to be, but you will not leave disappointed.

THE VERDICT

9/10
Death Stranding is a game with a fantastic and uniquely interesting story. Backed with a strong cast of experienced actors, the game manages to tell the story flawlessly. The gameplay doesn’t live up to the same level of perfection. The delivery aspects are fun and it tells a story in its own way. It just gets quite repetitive over time and leaves you wanting a bit more diversity to the delivery missions. Overall, Death Stranding should be seen as a very successful first project for Kojima productions and is hopefully a sign of many more to come.
Pros
  • One of, if not the best looking game on the PS4
  • Great cast of actors help bring the characters to life with such high levels of realism.
  • The story will catch you from the very start and delivers all the way through
Cons
  • The delivery elements get very repetitive.