Death Stranding - Review
Updated: Jan 1
"If you build it, they will come"
(Main Story Quest Plot Lines Omitted)
My journey with Death Stranding and its main story came to an end around the 45th hour of gameplay and I am happy to report that most of those 45 hours, were a blast. Death Stranding is something of an oddity as it contains many elements of other games fused together to make an astoundedly emotional and fulfilling game. It manages to make each of those it's own and breaks new ground for games moving forward.
A lot of press surrounded the release of Death Stranding due to it being the first game written, produced and directed by Hideo Kojima since leaving the snares of Konami. If you have been living under a rock for the past 3 decades you won’t know that he has been principally responsible for the Metal Gear Solid franchise in addition to a few offshoots like Zone of the Enders.
When Death Stranding launched I gazed into the bottomless abyss that is social media. The cries were of a boring walking simulator that had no place gaining favourable reviews much less stellar ones. However, it went on to receive, in the main, very positive reviews from the majority of major outlets who had the game to review before launch. (Currently showing 83 MetaScore with a user score of 5.5. (Article surrounding review scores)
What follows is my own personal experience with the game.
"5 from Phantom" will be 5 criteria that are important to me when playing a game.
(Story / Narrative will be mentioned in terms of worth at the end of the review. No spoilers will be present)
Graphics, like most aspects of a video game, can be very subjective as they bend towards someone's taste. If you like gritty real-world photo-realistic visuals without a huge variation in the colour palette then you won’t be disappointed here. Death Stranding is very much based in the real world albeit a post-apocalyptic one. The world is drab and ageing from the crazy time fall idea. Essentially a form of acid rain that causes the time to accelerate when caught in its wake, meaning equipment and structures degrade at a much faster pace than normal.
Don’t let my previous words fool you however as the visuals on show are some of the finest I have ever seen on PlayStation. The photorealism and scale the game manages to convey is astounding and had me stop and stare on a number of occasions. The highlights being climbing atop the many high mountain areas to look out upon a vast expanse filled with all sorts of amazing weather effects.
The colour palette is something that some people may not be fond of as there are a lot of browns and greys on offer. This is obviously on purpose and is in effect to convey and take forward the idea that the world has been devastated and the sunnier brighter elements of life and how they are illustrated visually are gone for the most part.
That said, at times the colour palette is allowed to flourish and during some of the battles with enemies, vibrant yellows & reds are evident making those situations really pop.
One boon this game has when compared to others is the motion capture graphical fidelity. Norman Reedus, Lea Seydoux, Guillermo del Toro, Mads Mikkelson etc all look superb and really bring the screen to life. Some of the close-up shots are really impressive and improve upon the visuals from Detroit Become Human in my view.
Another area where Death Stranding shines is when you enter a combat situation. At points in the game, you face off against enemies that are, in essence, demons from another plane of existence. This brings with it a change in environment meaning you are fighting against a tar-like substance. In order to combat this, structures from the world long since lost make an appearance meaning you can clamber onto them allowing you to take potshots at your enemy. The visuals on offer during these segments are really impressive and at times hark back to my experience with Shadow of the Colossus. The liquid rendering is really top-notch and really adds to the immersion.
2| Sound, Music & Voice Acting
The sound for Death Stranding can be described as nothing short of superb for the most part. As this game has elements of action but is not heavily based in that arena the sounds are much more subtle. It took me a while to get my review hat on as I simply did not take notice of most of the sounds that were going on. I find this to be a positive thing as they blended into the background of the game forming a level of deep immersion that I don’t experience often when gaming. The footfalls, stumbling, running, breathing etc are all there just bubbling under the surface and are only noticeable when you really want to hear them.
Due to the low combat elements of this game, the surrounding scenery takes most of the kudos within Death Stranding; waterfalls, rivers, streams, rain, wind and the occasional storm all add together to make this game a formidable one in terms of the sound palette.
Enemy sounds in terms of the BT's (Beached Things) are blood-curdling, couple that with the sound of your Odradek (Scanning tool) flipping out when you detect them, all spell high anxiety and pressure. The sound from a gameplay element plays a huge part and even although the BT's themselves don’t grunt or speak they make their own sound which is enough to make you want to turn around and search out another route.
Another “cool” aspect to the game is that if you turn away from a character when they are talking it becomes harder to hear them. This means you HAVE to make sure you pay attention to all moments of dialogue. A neat little trick to be sure and one that has Kojima’s name all over it.
Another stellar aspect of Death Stranding is the superb music and soundtrack. Ludvig Forsell is at the helm here for the orchestral score and a cacophony of artists, mainly Low Boar, are also evident throughout the game.
Ludvig Forsell was involved with Hideo Kojima’s previous title, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain so he certainly has the chops for a game of this magnitude. The soundtrack sets the tones for the game and really does a job creating the atmosphere you experience within the game. It is very understated at times and loud and bounding at other times. I wouldn’t say that it has many tracks that have specific themes that will be remembered but it is a very solid soundtrack that suits the game. BB’s theme is excellent and really punches the emotional element of the game especially when you complete the main story. Another stand out track for me due to the high action element is “Flower of Fingers”.
With regards to the music inspired from and also appearing within the game it is also of high quality and stays in line with the tone presented by Forcell. The band “Low Roar” provide many tracks that have a very subtle tone that ends in some very emotional moments.
Near the beginning of the game, you experience a large BT infested mountain which you need to pass in order to meet your objective. The music at this point helps with that huge sigh of relief you feel getting through that very stressful moment. The game is filled with poignant moments like this and I can say hand on heart that the music has been picked and tailored superbly to make sure the user has the best possible experience.
Voice acting within Death Stranding is exactly what you would expect when you have Hollywood A-listers on your roster of characters. Sam Bridges aka Norman Reedus gives a very good performance as do the many other players involved. For me, it was great to see Guillermo Del Toro in front of the camera instead of behind it. His character, Deadman is definitely a great addition to the game but the person who really steals the show in terms of performance is Mads Mikkelson. A truly great actor who has seamlessly, like the others, transferred his talent to video game digitised roles. Superb performances all round with each character having emotional moments that really drive the narrative forward.
Having Troy Baker as the antagonist was also an added bonus for me as I loved his work in naughty dogs GOAT game The Last of Us.
The gameplay is a contentious issue, especially in the realms of social media as I alluded to at the start of this closer look at Death Stranding. I firmly hold the opinion that Death Stranding is certainly not a game everyone will enjoy but If you like narrative-based games that have strong emotional payoffs then this is definitely a game you should try.
The first 5 or 6 hours of Death Stranding in my experience are utilised to acclimatise you to your surroundings. A training exercise if you will and this is where, I would imagine, it loses many people. The key element of this game is the fact you are a courier, transporting all manner of goods to and from KNOTS (Cities) or preppers (Individuals). It doesn’t sound like the most exciting game but it’s the other elements that tie together along with the courier nature of the game that make it such a worthwhile experience. After the 5 / 6 hour mark I had fortunately managed to get far enough into the story that I was able to have access to some upgrades to both my suit and weapons. This is where the true fun begins. Many would argue, why wouldn’t Kojima allow players to skip the 5 or 6 hours of “training” to jump straight to the action? I firmly believe that the “training” element sets up the game and makes you grateful for the upgrades you receive. It gives a sense of satisfaction and progression.
In addition to the many upgrades you can make to your courier suit you also have the option to travel using vehicles. That said, some vehicles are easier to operate than others and generally need some practice to really get the benefit of their existence. The other upgrade aspect comes along with Chiral printing which is Death Strandings version of 3D printing. A chiral printer can create a number of structures that will help you on your journey, from watchtowers & bridges to charging stations & shelters. This element of the game becomes extremely addictive especially when you gain the ability to create zip lines. Creating zip lines makes traversing some of the harsher terrain a breeze and like the building in games such as fallout 4 or Minecraft, it can be very satisfying when you achieve the aesthetic or goal you are looking for.
Action is something that comes in sporadic bursts within Death Stranding and you can see that the maker of this game has had much experience making games in the Stealth genre. Many times you need to utilise this element as you simply do not have the equipment to take on a large number of enemies who are ghost-like or corporeal. Like many games, upgrades are key and in the mid to later stages of Death Stranding you have access to an assortment of weaponry that will help you take out human, as well as BT (Beached Things – DS Ghost like enemies), type enemies.
At this stage the game comes, from an action perspective, much more enjoyable and you are certainly able to “lay the smackdown” on numerous occasions. One caveat to this that I enjoyed was the element of killing human enemies. This, due to the narrative is a big no-no as they can necrotise and cause a void out. A void out is a huge explosion similar to a nuclear blast and is how the initial apocalypse called “The Death Stranding” caused the world to become a Dead zone where humans simply huddled together to survive. This means that the whole paradigm of the game is that killing humans is to be avoided at all costs and speaks to the narrative that Kojima tries to put forward.
Combat, in the latter stages of the game is ramped up to a sizable level with a number of boss battles and BT engagements. This causes a build-up of excitement that really helps the game end strong. You can take parallels here with the movie industry where the protagonist essentially gears up for a final push and takes on a number of enemies. Really satisfying and a worthy ending in my view.
As mentioned previously many people will not want to access this game due to the initial nature of it. The courier element can be tedious at times but once you start to gain upgrades for structures and your own personal arsenal the enjoyment quotient increases exponentially.
The story is a defining driving force behind the enjoyment of this game. The traversal, upgrades, construction and action all contribute to the narrative in a way in which I haven’t really experienced before. Death Stranding is unlike any game I have ever played. Sure it contains many elements that have been utilised in other games but they have arranged them in a way within Death Stranding that really makes it an addictive and enjoyable experience.
Anyone who has complained online that this game is a walking simulator is merely trying to gain attention for themselves. This game is NOT A WALKING SIMULATOR. It has a huge traversal element but coupled with the story and other elements mentioned before it simply is much more than the sum of its parts.
I loved playing through Death Stranding and would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who is a fan of narrative-driven single-player games. The fact it has some decent action elements and construction options makes it extremely addictive and is a game that I couldn’t really let go. I spent time thinking about what I was going to do next when I was away from the game and that can only spell out a great game to me.
Death Stranding is 100% worth the full RRP. All elements of the game come together to give an experience I have never had before and is, in my book, a true classic of the PS4 era. Kojima & his production team has, after only 3 years, knocked it out of the park in my book, they have created a game that is not only worth the price but worth your time.
Death Stranding covers many topics within its 40–50 hour playthrough. Extinction, hope, fear, love, birth, death, family, hell, heaven, the list is endless.
I was totally taken in by the narrative of connecting America and the hope that this elicits in its citizens.
After all, what are we without each other?
Thanks for checking out my thoughts on Death Stranding.
Recommendation – Buy (Modern Classic)