Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima brings his first game as an independent developer to PC and it is exactly as strange as you’d expect.
The problem with Death Stranding isn’t explaining what it’s all about but trying to make it sound interesting. The game is filled to bursting with all the weird ideas, in terms of both gameplay and plot, that Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima can muster, and yet at the end of the day it’s about delivering parcels over rocky terrain and making sure you don’t fall over. We’d say there’s a lot more to it than that but in gameplay terms there really isn’t, and yet it’s all somehow far more engaging that it sounds.
Despite the landscape clearly being that of Iceland (an incongruity that we don’t think Kojima has ever explained), Death Stranding is set in a post-apocalyptic America where the worlds of the living and dead have crossed over and wiped out most of the country’s population. All that survives now are small, isolated communities and it’s your job to connect them up to an Internet equivalent called the Chiral Network. And deliver the post while you’re at it.
You do run into the occasional bandit, but the main danger are BTs (beached things) – normally invisible otherworldly creatures that for most of the time you are best to avoid rather than attempt to fight. This leads to some light stealth elements but Death Stranding is by no means an action game and the main gameplay element is simply exploring the game world and trying to keep your balance, given you’re usually weighed down by an absurd number of very heavy boxes. It sounds less interesting the more you describe but it’s actually a surprisingly engrossing video game.
Although things do go overboard in the final hours – as plot points are overexplained over and over again – for most of the game the storytelling is surprisingly reserved for Kojima and the melancholy atmosphere is allowed to stew, as you explore the desolate landscape and meditate on the game’s themes of human mortality and isolation in a post-Internet society. Themes which, by coincidence, are now more relevant than ever thanks to the coronavirus, where many will find themselves sympathising very much with the game’s locked-in inhabitants meekly waiting for the postman to brighten their day.
The other surprising element of the game is how much the online features add to the experience. You never meet other players directly, but you do get to see in-game items they build, such as shelters and fast travel locations, and optionally help to upgrade them and share resources. It’s another aspect that, on paper, doesn’t seem like it would amount to much but helps to give a sense of community while keeping in-line with the game’s own sensibilities.
In terms of the PC version, the only new content is a photo mode and a promotion with Valve for gravity gloves and a head crab outfit. But this is a solid port with support for 4K and an unlocked frame rate up to 240fps. There’s no ray-tracing, and not the widest range of graphical options imaginable, but you’ve got a choice of anti-aliasing technologies, ambient occlusion, and motion blur.
Death Stranding is not a game for everyone, that much was obvious the moment it was announced, but while it’s filled with odd design decisions and narrative choices its many conflicting parts operate with surprising synergy. How Hideo Kojima managed to convince people to give him the money to make such an idiosyncratic big budget game we don’t know but that’s not the only thing that’s interesting about Death Stranding, which stands up as a compelling game in its own right.
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Death Stranding PC review summary
In Short: The coronavirus has made its themes more relevant than ever and while there are many odd decisions, in terms of plot and game design, the overall experience remains strangely engrossing.
Pros: Large game world filled with detail and mystery, that works in conjunction with a bizarre storyline that somehow manages to be unexpectedly insightful. Great graphics and a good PC port.
Cons: There’s no getting away from the fact that the basic gameplay loop is very repetitive and often quite dull. Narrative becomes increasingly intrusive, and nonsensical, in the final hours.
Formats: PC (reviewed) and PlayStation 4
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Kojima Productions
Release Date: 14th July 2020
Age Rating: 18
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