DEATH STRANDING
Gameplay 9
Graphics 9
Sound 10

Death Stranding is an open-world, third-person title where Hideo Kojima had free reign with his artistic vision. The result is a title that mixes complex story elements with rather straightforward gameplay. Simply carting packages from one point of the map to another might not sound like fun, and frequently it isn’t, but somehow it ends up being very compelling. The story will also keep players guessing and just when you think the game can’t get any stranger something new happens that leaves you shaking your head in disbelief. It’s not a game for everyone, but players who get hooked are in for the ride of their life.

Gameplay: Bewildering and frustrating at times, but also addictive, rewarding, and unlike anything else.

Graphics: The port from PS4 to PC has resulted in a game that looks even better than before.

Sound: Great voice acting and an incredible soundtrack

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DEATH STRANDING

Developer: KOJIMA PRODUCTIONS | Publisher: 505 Games | Release Date: 2020 | Genre: Action / Adventure / Open World | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

To say that expectations for the first Hideo Kojima title after his less than magnanimous departure from Konami were high would be an understatement. His name had become synonymous with the Metal Gear series and before shut down the project, it seemed like he was on track to revitalize the Silent Hill franchise too. It should come as no surprise then that Death Stranding shares some similarities with both the Metal Gear and Silent Hill games while also offering something that is Kojima influenced to the core. Superficially, it is the story of Sam Porter Bridges, played by Norman Reedus, trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic America. The arrival of supernatural entities, called BTs, decimated the country and what was left of the population took shelter in underground bunkers. Living in a world where the dead pose a very real threat to the living, most people live in isolation and rely on porters such as Sam to survive.

Same has his own tragic backstory, which we won’t spoil in this review, but ends up working for an organization called Bridges. It is their goal to re-unite what is left of America using a system called the Chiral Network, which functions somewhat like a more advanced version of the internet. Sam is tasked with making deliveries to the various cities, outposts, and prepper bunkers in an attempt to win them over and convince them to join the network. It is a job that is uniquely suited for Sam as he suffers from a condition that allows him to sense the proximity of BTs, which are normally invisible to humans. Thanks to some external tech, in the form of an Odradek and BB, Sam eventually gains the ability to scan his environments which allows him to briefly see the BTs. If all of this doesn’t sound weird enough yet, the BB is essential an unborn baby in a container strapped to Sam’s chest! We are not even going to attempt to explain how this works, but suffice to say the baby plays quite an important role in the story.

In typical Kojima fashion, Death Stranding is filled with strange concepts, lots of philosophical discussions, and a story that veers in many directions. Initially, it throws a lot of jargon at players and refuses to explain exactly what is going on, but as you progress through the game world it all begins to make more sense. The game still has the type of lengthy cut-scenes that highlights how much Kojima loves cinema, but these are augmented with emails and data entries that can be read at your leisure. We recommend not skipping these as they can sometimes lead to new side missions and also contain a wealth of information about the people Sam encounters as well as the ”Death Stranding” event that caused the whole mess humanity finds itself in.

As complex and multi-layered as the story is, the gameplay in Death Stranding is surprisingly simple. Sam simply has to accept and deliver orders while trying to ensure that the cargo that he is entrusted with reaches its destination as intact as possible. At first, this means strapping everything to your back and hoping for the best, but gradually Sam gains access to vehicles such as motorcycles and trucks to make the task a little more manageable. It’s never easy, though, as even with vehicles a lot of the terrain is a nightmare to traverse. From steep cliffs and uneven terrain to rivers with strong currents, there’s no shortage of hazards for fragile packages. Running into BTs can also result in your cargo littering the landscape while you fight for your life.

Aside from BTs Sam might also encounter rogue porters, called MULEs, who will stop at nothing to steal your cargo for themselves. If this wasn’t enough there’s also the small matter of “Timefall” which is rain that speeds up the passage of time for anything it touches. Thankfully Sam has the protective gear to safeguard himself from it, but that pristine truck or shiny containers will quickly turn into rusted scrap if Sam lingers too long in the rain. All of this ensures that each delivery you take on can go wrong in a million different ways, but also makes each success so much more satisfying.

When you start on your journey Sam has little more than a pair of sturdy boots and the odd ladder or climbing anchor that he can take along to make his trips a little easier. Forging more connections rewards him with blueprints for constructing new things as well as an increase in “Chiral Bandwidth” which is required to build structures outdoors. These structures can range from bridges and towers to generators, zip lines, and storage lockers. The game features a lot of backtracking, so constructing things along regular routes to make traversal a little easier is highly recommended. However, to construct and upgrade them you are going to need to necessary tools and resources, which can be hard to lug around towering mountains with deep snow and blinding blizzards. Death Stranding is the type of game where even the boots you wear have to be replaced regularly after stumbling around on rocky terrain, so it’s not for the easily frustrated. Some players will find the game infuriating, while others will enjoy the challenge that Kojima managed to wring out of such a seemingly simple concept.

The PC version of Death Stranding is a port of the PS4 original and runs on the same engine, Decima, which was made by Guerilla Games. The transition to PC appears to have been a smooth one and the game looks better than ever before thanks to additions such as DLSS 2.0 support. The frame rate also sees a huge boost on the right hardware, which makes an already incredible looking game even better. The character models are something to behold and the impressive draw distance had us stopping frequently just to admire the landscapes. A newly added photo mode makes it even easier to appreciate how good this game looks. One slightly puzzling thing about the visuals is how the environments look a lot more Icelandic than North American, which is something that is somewhat explained away by attributing it to the Timefall and the void outs that occur if living people come into contact with BTs. Slightly less plausible is the size of the country, which Sam can traverse on foot in only a few hours. One thing that the game does well is the feeling of isolation as apart from the occasional butterfly you won’t see any wildlife as with other open-world titles. There are some floating bugs that look like giant tardigrades, which Sam can use as snacks to replenish some health. One of the most impressive visual effects in the game comes from getting “caught” by the BTs, which results in the area flooding with black tar-like substance and Sam getting thrown into a boss battle with a massive creature. Remnants from the past, such as old wrecks and buildings also appear out of the tar, giving Sam a foothold from which to battle his supernatural foes.

Kojima Productions didn’t skimp on the audio side of things either and Death Stranding features a stellar cast of actors who lend not only their likeness but also their voices to the game. Apart from Norman Reedus, who most fans will recognize from The Walking Dead, other big names such as Mads Mikkelsen and Lindsay Wagner also play important roles. Kojima even managed to get film directors like Guillermo del Toro and Nicolas Winding Refn to agree to their likenesses being used in the game. With so much talent in the game, it’s no surprise that there are frequent cut-scenes to show them off, but although lengthy at times, these scenes can be surprisingly emotional. To begin with, it’s a little hard to take characters with names like Deadman, Die-Hardman, and Mama seriously, but it doesn’t take long to get used to it. Outside of the cut-scenes, the game is fairly quiet, but occasionally some beautiful music tracks will begin playing when something particularly scenic appears in the game. Something that can be slightly annoying is the holograms that can be placed by other players. These can be found virtually everywhere and usually trigger a short soundbite when touched, such as “keep on keeping on” or other words of encouragement.

Speaking of the online element of the game Death Stranding does it in a rather unusual manner. Players never directly encounter each other, but can instead see the structures that they have built in the game world or the cargo that they might have dropped. “Liking” a sign, structure, or other items left behind by a player also results in more of them being visible in your game world. Finding a well-placed ladder or climbing anchor left behind by another player when you are all out of them yourself can be a godsend at times. Seeing a generator in the distance just as your vehicle begins to run out of electricity in the middle of nowhere will also make you thankful for the inclusion of this social element. It all ties in with the whole connectivity theme of the game as instead of experience points your performance in the game is tied to “likes.” These are awarded to you by the NPCs as well as other players who might make use of the structures you built or gear you decided to leave behind in shared lockers. It is possible to play the game completely offline, but doing so would make it a lot more empty as well as more difficult.

Although it was designed for the Playstation 4 controller Death Stranding can also be played with a keyboard and mouse on PC. The inventory management is still a clunky mess of menus within menus, but using a mouse makes it a little more manageable. Having more keys at your disposal is also an advantage in a game with as many button combinations like this one. There’s nothing preventing players from using a controller, of course, but we found the keyboard and mouse to be a little more intuitive, especially for things like stabilizing Sam’s weight.

In total, we spent close to 140 hours playing Death Stranding, with almost half of it devoted to completing some of the optional side quests for achievements. There’s no denying that some players will find the game to be a slow, tedious grind with too much backtracking, but while this can be true it is also somehow extremely addictive. Kojima’s games tend to be divisive in general, but Death Stranding is the one that most players will either love or hate. Personally, we loved it even after cursing at some of the tedious or annoying parts. It’s ironic that in the short period since the release of Death Stranding on PS4 and it’s arrival on PC, the world has changed so much. Things like self-isolation and social distancing are now common instead of the far-fetched science fiction concepts they initially appeared to be. These parallels certainly make the game even eerier and the whole experience a lot more immersive.

Overall, Death Stranding is an incredible game and an easy recommendation for any fans of Kojima’s work. However, players who are not into slow-paced, story-heavy games might get bored of Death Stranding before getting to the best parts. While for us it is one of the best titles released in 2020, we also fully understand why some players might feel that it is just a glorified walking simulator. No matter which side of the fence you are on, one thing is for sure, Death Stranding is a game that evokes strong emotions from everyone who plays it.

System Requirements

  • OS: Windows® 10
  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i5-3470 or AMD Ryzen™ 3 1200
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Graphics: GeForce GTX 1050 3 GB or AMD Radeon™ RX 560 4 GB
  • DirectX: Version 12
  • Storage: 80 GB available space
  • Sound Card: DirectX compatible
  • Additional Notes: AVX instruction set required
  • OS: Windows® 10
  • Processor: Intel™ Core i7-3770 or AMD Ryzen™ 5 1600
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Graphics: GeForce GTX 1060 6 GB or AMD Radeon™ RX 590
  • DirectX: Version 12
  • Storage: 80 GB available space
  • Sound Card: DirectX compatible
  • Additional Notes: AVX instruction set required

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