“I’m on the beach, Sam. Come and find me.”
When the initial trailer for former Konami titan Hideo Kojima’s new project Death Stranding dropped back in 2016, opinions were almost unanimous: “Looks great; what the hell is it about?”.
Three years and a whole lot of content later… no one was much closer to the truth. Those familiar with the dense works of Kojima theorised; latching onto tiny teaser details in hopes of revealing what fresh hell-scape they were headed into (that was a given). The title gives away the most, and the motifs of connectivity and the life cycle show up in every single piece of game related media… but we know there’s more underneath. This is categorically not our world; how did we arrive at beastly shadow prints and navigation babies? At Tron bikes, black sludge and floating apparitions? What events could imaginably tether these seemingly contextless images together? It’s been clear for a long time this is one you’ll need to take some time with.
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Sam Porter Bridges is a delivery man at the end of civilization as we know it. Human life has been torn asunder by ghostly creatures from another plane of reality, and the surviving few are littered around with little-to-no means of communication. In these remnants of the old and in hope of the new, he faithfully serves a secret government operation to reconnect a fractured America, one job at a time.
The themes have been described by Kojima himself as representative of real-world issues, such as Brexit and the Trump administration… and I can’t help but wonder if they’re a little closer to him day-to-day too. The wounds of the Konami split are still open on this project, with Reedus and Guillermo Del Toro’s involvement carrying over from their scrapped ‘Silent Hills’. This is his ‘rebirth’ game, in every sense of the word.
Gameplay is all on you. You’ve probably guessed by now that there are very strong opinions regarding what constitutes a good quality of life scattered amongst the dialogue of this game, but nevermore is that demonstrated than through your own experience, controller-in-hand. There are tips and tricks in the menu, sure, and little blurbs on guided use of items pop up every so often, but the design encourages you to see how you’d prefer to play. What do you want from this experience? What are willing to put Sam through to get it? Tools like the Odradek (your trusty terrain scanner and true hero of the story) are a joy to use, assisting you in carving a path in occasionally overwhelming territory.
The world is impressively vast and the options are plenty; it would certainly seem as if the objective was to create a tailored journey for each individual style of player, with just the cornerstones of the plot for reference. That might sound pretty crazy when you realise exactly how many cutscenes there are to get through, but I have read my fair share of ‘first impression’ material since the release, and trust me when I say that some people are seeing a much different landscape than I am.
The soundtrack features some wonderful choices for framing the missions. There’s an OST as well as some pre-existing licensed music and the blend works well: both manoeuvring in the ethereal, the serene, calming in the chaos. They’re selections that run through certain points in the narrative beautifully, tying all the information available together for one transcendent audio/visual moment. Cannot say enough good things about the sound design in general; it’s filmic, and it will endure.
It’s no surprise really that Death Stranding has such cinematic quality to it; not only with Del Toro’s aforementioned inclusion but with another auteur in Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Drive) popping up. Kojima would definitely fall comfortably into that description within his own format… but he’s also renowned at this point for his obsession with movies, even running a column on the topic for Rolling Stone. He understands above all the story qualities that make something compelling; merging the pools of the vague with bursts of hyper-specificity… never spelling it out for too long, always letting you wonder.
Even the packaging caught my attention… there’s emphasis on referring to the game as the first in a ‘Strand’ genre. I get the impression the development team would like this to stand as a seminal work in years to come; to pioneer, the same way Kojima did for ‘Stealth’ games with the Metal Gear franchise. We’ll see.
Kojima Productions have an awful lot to say about the structures in our lives; in the way we are governed right down to what we value and why. Death Stranding is as much a mirror to the player as it is it’s own clear voice about how to survive a splintered world… it’s absurdly more real than anything I’ve played in a long time. It’s sure to divide audiences (Twitter search ‘Death Stranding‘ alongside ‘repetitive’ if you’d like to kill an afternoon), but those that allow themselves to be truly engrossed in this pull-apart between life and death will undoubtedly not forget the encounters on offer in a hurry.
I don’t know if it’s the generational title fanatics were looking for, and I’m unsure whether the aesthetic will ever really take off… but not only is it worth a play, it’s worth really sinking your teeth into. See what you find.