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

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.

No effort was spared creating realistic and beautiful environments. Death Stranding is easily the best looking game on the PlayStation 4. Even after 30 hours, you will still find yourself looking at the mountain ranges in disbelief that this is part of the game.

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

The core gameplay element of 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. This gets quite repetitive and it is pretty much all you do in this game. You will learn to get the swing of it and end up finding some enjoyment but this is literally all you end up doing.

Death Stranding - Stacking boxes on your back
Stacking boxes on your back gets quite comical when you have a very large delivery to make

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.

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 a 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.

Loading cargo onto your back is something that requires some strategy. 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. It adds some much needed complexity to the journeys you make for your deliveries.

Terrain Scanner - Death Stranding
The Terrain Scanner will give you a better idea of the best places to walk to avoid slipping. Areas highlighted in red and orange are of risk

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. Not having to walk is a real pleasure that you will appreciate.

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.

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. Fast travel would make the entire game redundant but it still gets annoying having to make the same repeat journeys from A to B without being able to make it faster.

MULE camp in the countryside - Death Stranding
MULE camp in the countryside are a great source of resources and supplies – Death Stranding

The online aspects of this game are pretty much what No Man’s Sky should have been. You never see another individual, but you will stumble upon things others leave 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.

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

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. Other players will benefit from these just like you benefit from others constructing them.

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 storytelling 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

8/10
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.