Forget everything you know about Metal Gear Solid. Death Stranding is the rebirth of one of our industry greats and Hideo Kojima’s about to set you on the adventure of a lifetime. After all the scrutiny it is now time to tell you that this game is like something you’ve never played before. It’s not a new genre. No, dear reader, it’s a new take on the adventure genre. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, but those who stay for the long haul won’t be left stranded on their beach.
Sam the delivery man
Sam is a porter. He delivers cargo for an America that has fallen to pieces since the last death stranding obliterated Earth. People have moved on, but the world is not connected any more. America doesn’t even know if there are other countries. There is no such thing as the internet – that is from a bygone era, but Sam can bring America together again by connecting the nodes on the chiral network of the UCA (United Cities of America). After receiving a request from the American President on her death bed, Sam sets out to connect the continent, once more working as a porter for a company that goes by the name of Bridges. That is as much information as you’ll get out of me in terms of the story. What I will say is that fans of Hideo Kojima are in for a wild ride.
Forget everything you know about Metal Gear Solid.
In this game, your main objective at all times will be to merely deliver cargo based on your main mission as well as other requests from people that have joined the network. Joining the network for all these stranded people, named Preppers, comes with the advantage of having access to porters to send and receive deliveries in a world people are too scared to enter. Anything can be delivered. From scrap parts to pizza, to advanced weaponry, human bodies and everything in-between. Sam receives his orders from access terminals once the station is connected to the network and comes with unique conditions. It could be that you have a limited time to deliver the contents or that the cargo should not exceed the specified damage percentage. Each order comes with a whole lot of information that details exactly what you should expect on your quest, all the dangers you might encounter and what gear it recommends you should take for the trip.
When you’re taking orders you’ll get an opportunity to fabricate equipment. These start with ladders and climbing anchors, which later move on to exoskeletons, weapons and bigger items I’ll get to later. The entirety of Death Stranding is going to involve you looking at the weight you’re carrying. Most of the cargo can be dumped on Sam’s back, but it makes travelling extremely difficult as the tall tower of cargo boxes will sway all over the place, causing Sam to lose balance that will ultimately see him fall over and cause damage to the cargo he’s supposed to deliver in pristine condition. The idea here is to attach the cargo to Sam in a balanced manner. Cargo can be loaded on to his suit, tool rack and of course his back, but you can also carry items by hand. If it all sounds too complicated then you’ll be glad to hear that there is an ‘auto-arrange’ option, which is great when you’re still trying to get the hang of the tutorial onslaught. Loading cargo onto Sam is the biggest game of inventory management you’ve ever played, as each item is physically added to him. Once you set off on your first delivery you’ll come to terms with your surroundings quickly. Believe me, you’ve never played something quite like this.
The world in Death Stranding is absolutely gorgeous. You can reach landmarks and mountains as far as the eye can see and you must understand that you’ll be climbing or descending your way to all these various areas on foot for the first 10 hours or so. The truth of the matter is that Death Stranding is not going to appeal to everyone. If you’re in it for instant action then you’ve come to the wrong place and should reconsider the purchase. It’s an extremely slow pace early on, enough to call it boring and dull, but it’s in this time that you’ll be taught the ins and outs of the game. It’s here that you’ll get to fall into a river and run down the riverbank in your effort to save your cargo that is drifting downstream, where you’ll lose balance and see your precious items tumbling down the mountain you just very carefully climbed up and where you’ll get to meet your first enemies in the game – MULEs and BTs.
No BT games here
MULEs were once freelance porters just like Sam, who ultimately got disgruntled and formed their own faction. Their aim is quite simple – attack any porter with cargo and claim it for themselves. Once in range of their sensor poles, they’ll scan the area for your whereabouts and come running on foot or by vehicle. Early on your only means to defeat them will be by hand or running away, but that later changes when you get access to lethal and non-lethal weapons. The problem is that you don’t want to kill them. You merely want to knock them out, as killing them will have their corpses turning into BTs. BTs are the dead that are connected to the world of the living via an umbilical cord that appears when the rain is bucketing down… and they’re nasty.
Sam can’t see them with the naked eye, but that is where the Bridge Baby (BB) comes into play. BBs link humans to the world of the dead and are ultimately BT detectors. They aren’t seen as babies, but merely tools for humans to exploit. Once it notices a BT in your vicinity it’ll send a signal to the on-board Odradek (that flappy thingy above Sam’s left shoulder) to show Sam the direction and approximate distance. Tapping the R1 buttons sends out a signal to map the area and, should a BT be nearby, it’ll display it for a brief moment. The closer you get to a BT the faster it opens and closes and, should the BT be right on top of you, it’ll spin and turn orange. It’s at this point that Sam must hold his breath as they can sense anything and everything. When holding his breath Sam’s stamina gauge will drop and once that drops to zero Sam takes a big breath, which isn’t a good news day. BTs will surround him and drag him into the surrounding tar that Sam finds himself slugging his legs through. The only means to get rid of BTs is to swing your arms to hit them off. There are however special Anti-BT weapons that can make the job much easier later on.
Sam’s blood has unique properties and is used as ammunition to take down BTs using a handgun, hematic grenades and other weapons. Therefore, having a few blood bags attached to Sam’s cargo is of the essence as these bags will automatically replenish any blood he might have lost and represents his health level in the game. Again, these bags add weight to Sam’s load. Every single item matters. There is however another danger at hand, one that can become quite bothersome. Thanks to the death stranding, chiral clouds have formed over the American continent. The rain it produces accelerates the passage of time for anything it touches. Sam’s suit protects him from this threat, but when it comes to your cargo it is not quite as safe. The longer you’re in the rain, the more it ages (a nice word for damages) your cargo. Keeping a container of repair spray on hand is always a good idea, but there are better ways to deal with that issue.
Every single thing you do has some sort of repercussion and just works in this online world.
As you progress through Death Stranding you’ll unlock new and improved items that’ll speed up the pace of the game immensely, but also make life that much easier. First of all is the ability to fabricate vehicles to make that trip faster and bearable. Once you have a vehicle your continuous balancing act with cargo on your back comes to an end. Some areas won’t allow you to travel by vehicle, but it helps everywhere else. You’ll also be able to construct floating item carriers for areas that are inaccessible by vehicle, but they also allow Sam to focus on the job and not merely keeping his balance. However, by fabricating a Portable Chiral Constructor (PCC) you’ll be able to build all forms of structures on the chiral network to help Sam overcome some tough obstacles. A bridge, a generator (to charge the on-board vehicle and exoskeleton batteries), Watchtower, Postbox and Timefall Shelter (repairs all your cargo from Timefall damage) will aid you when you’re out there in the middle of nowhere. Which brings me to the online community.
In Death Stranding, you’re always online and connected to a multiverse of Sams (other porters) out in the world. You don’t physically see them in the game, but they are there. You can at random press the Dualshock 4’s touch button to have Sam call out and, as it happened to me, you might get a response. As you go about your business, delivering goods, new structures will start appearing at random. These are structures that have been built by others online to help traverse the treacherous landscape. To level up your structures it requires materials such as chemicals, resins, metals and special alloys be deposited. These materials are often retrieved as delivery rewards, but it’s hard to come by unless you discover some lost cargo on your journey, which you often do. People pool their resources online to build roads and structures which makes travelling easier for everyone. Should you be levelled up enough you may even request materials for a particular structure you’re building and the next thing you know your structure will be built without having to add a single material. More so, if a person really helped you, you can leave a ‘like’. Why a like? Well, levelling up Sam’s stats is based on likes. Whenever you make a delivery you’ll receive a certain number of likes, which in turn levels up your porter grade. Upgrades include the ability to carry more weight or to gain more support and help from others online. Community involvement doesn’t end there.
Sam will have access to a private and shared locker at delivery terminals. The private locker can store your items if you find you have too much on you, but a shared locker allows you to donate items to players online. It also means that you have access to shared items from others, which comes in extremely handy when you’re in desperate need of a particular item or material. When out and about players will create signs to warn you and other players of threats or areas of interest and you can do the same too. Every single thing you do has some sort of repercussion and just works in this online world.
Expect a minimum of 50 hours to complete the game, with well over 200 hours to do all that is there. Kojima’s attention to detail trademark is all over the show. The soles on Sam’s shoes have a life meter and will need replacement. You have to at times console BB when you hear him crying through the Dualshock 4’s speaker by physically rocking your controller in and up and downwards movement. Easier said than done during a battle. Sam’s restroom at the safe house comes with ideas only Kojima can come up with, but it works. No, I don’t want to tell you about it. You need to experience that for yourself. What I do want to tell you about is the fast travel option or lack thereof. Well, there is the ability to fast travel, but your cargo can’t join you on those travels, as it is the very reason this game exists – you need to do the hard work for the people.
Every route you take will be noted on your Cuff Links (Kojima’s take on the pause menu that hosts various tabs, but has a deeper meaning to the story in the game) and is going to be your primary source for getting around. By the time you’re done with Death Stranding, you’ll know the map inside-out. The Cuff Links also host lots of important data such as interviews and mails. Expect to do a lot of reading as there is a lot of lore that’ll fill you in on the happenings with people you’ve met on your travels as well as the main story.
It sets a mood like no other game has.
There is no denying that the famous actors have brought something special to this title. The acting is believable and of the highest calibre. It’s great to see Hollywood represented in a game, outside of the personas we know. But, when you’re out there on some mountain top with nothing but the wind and some cargo as your companion its the soothing music of Low Roar that’ll set you on a tranquil journey. It’s all about timing and Kojima Productions got the soundtrack spot on. It sets a mood like no other game has.
Death Stranding is filled with so much to do, even though the world (outside of threats) is quite empty and barren of life. If you’re willing to deal with a slow initial pace, then you have a beautiful game with a story to match it. Hideo Kojima’s art is at play again and you’re invited to form a part of this strand.