Death Stranding (2019)

Can someone review something that they never actually experienced? Reviewing a video game is a totally different thing than reviewing a movie or any other piece of media because of its interactive nature. It requires input from the player that can usually change the outcome of the game in some meaningful way. Or at the very least it will change the player’s experience throughout the game itself.

I haven’t played Death Stranding, but I have watched and listened to around 6 or 7 hours of talk and parts of the game over the last week and a half. I feel as though I have a decent grasp on what the game actually is, and I’m going to describe it as best I can. I have watched about the first hour and a half of the beginning of the game, from initial load to that point.

Death Stranding is based in a future timeline where a catastrophic event called the Death Stranding happened. This even created a portal between our dimension and the dimension of the dead. Invisible black creatures called the BT’s have begun to seep into our dimension and take the living. Anything that dies in our world alerts the BT’s and will bring more of them into our dimension.

You play the named character Sam Porter Bridges, played by Norman Redus. You are a Porter, a delivery person. You work for a company called Bridges. You are tasked with reconnecting America through the delivering of packages. That’s pretty much the entire premise of the game.

The first hour and a half of the game is relatively interesting. It has a very slick intro cutscene and an even better cutscene a bit after that. There is a lot going on that isn’t explained about the world, and that’s the hook. It draws you in with some really cool moments and baits you into wanting to know more of what the world has to offer.

Sadly, that’s really all there is to it. Those few cutscenes… one of which was the first thing they ever showed of the game several years ago at the game awards.

The gameplay seems very basic, go from point A to point B as quickly as possible. The mechanics around that are what fill up the 60+ hours of gameplay. Every item you are tasked with bringing to someone has to be managed on your backpack. Like a pizza for example, you have to orientat the pizza so it always stays horizontal. Same with other packages. While you traverse the world, you encounter the BT’s and have to either avoid them stealthily, or take them head on. You will also encounter enemies in the game called MULES, who were other delivery guys, just like you, but who have gone mad because of the likes they received on social media by doing their jobs well.

The in game world of America doesn’t resemble America in the slightest. It mainly resembles the black rocky Fjords of Greenland instead. In this “america” you are tasked to rebuild America through connections and delivering things to people. I guess this is the full premise of the game. How getting a delivery of pizza is going to rebuild america is beyond me, but “Oh that wacky Kojima!”.

The gameplay itself seems to be built around inventory management al la Resident Evil 4 style, where you have to play a bad version of tetris packing. Something I’m great at in real life, but really don’t want to do in a video game. You also have to take into account encumbrance, which in small doses of a game can be enjoyable, but in a game like Fallout or Skyrim becomes more tedious as you can’t just pick up whatever you want. People will say it adds to the realism of a game… but for a game where rain accelerates time to anything it touches and America looks like an alien planet and delivering a pizza is going to somehow stop invisible creatures from killing living things and bringing them to the land of the dead…. Encumbrance isn’t going to add any realism to anything at all.

Once you have played packing tetris and converted your bodily fluid into Monster branded energy drinks and weaponized your feces into grenades (you think I’m making this up, but I’m not at all). You set out on your journey to fix america by being a UPS delivery guy. Carrying a baby on your tummy, so it can help reveal invisible monsters, you now are at the entire root of the game. Walking from one place to another. In this arduous trek, you may come across mules, that might as well be turtles you can push the hell over and walk right past. Event the more menacing BT’s are encounters that hold no real consequences to how much you screw up. Losing a battle to them results in them dragging you beneath the surface and ending up in another part of the map, where you have to fight a weird inky squid blob. Toss a couple urine grenades in it’s mouth and you can get right back to walking across rocks.

The norweigian fjords of america (you know, the one’s we all spent our summers seeing in road trips with our families as kids) consist mainly of barely scalable rocks and rivers. Sam Porter Bridges (no one can call him Sam, they have to say his full name which somehow just randomly also happens to be his occupation and the company he works for and what he builds…. SUBTLETY!!!!) is able to build bridges and use ladders to get across the terrain in the game, and this is the most difficult part of the game. Since the game is all about social media and connecting with each other, anything another player builds just might happen to show up in the game (although I’m suspicious of this actually being real people and not just things auto populate on a server and pulling names from friends lists like “Drivatars” in the Forza series).

Later on you are able to get some motorcycles or trucks that jump to complete larger delivery missions but really that is all the game is. Delivering things from one place to another and back again.

I’ve seen a lot of reviews and comments from people online the last couple weeks. You’ll see one word pop up over and over and over again, pretty much verbatim “This game is divisive” as if that is the best thing someone can say about it. These people can’t think for themselves or come up with their own thoughts, so they will just repeat back the same thing they saw someone else say. Or you will see people say “Well it sounds bad, but I got to see it for myself”.... The issue with this is, if it is bad, you still bought it, and the developers don’t care if you bought it and then hated it and bad mouthed it to everyone you know, they’ll just see you bought it. And that is it. So you are just adding to the problem with bad games. I think the game could be interesting for some people, of course, but spending that much money on something that you may or may not like seems like a bad way to spend your money. Maybe wait till the inevitable price drop, or until it's on PSN for free, so you don’t just contribute to what the developers see as “this made money, let's make more trash!”

I honestly were captivated by the several beginning cutscenes, they are interesting, I would love to see more, but the simple fact that the game never goes really beyond that, and doesn’t explain more than the obvious 60+ hours later, just seems like too much of a bad thing, and the small good or interesting parts can never outweigh it. Remember how I said Sam Porter Bridges is named that because he is a “porter” and builds bridges for a company called Bridges… yeah, that's one of the big reveal near the end of the game. There also is a character named Deadman, and one called Fragile. Oh and we can’t forget the classic, iconic character “Die Hardman”... Who wrote this, an 8 year old?

I don’t like Kojima, he steals everything from movies he saw growing up and thought were cool and puts them in his games and changes it just enough to pass them off as his own creation. He’s the Robert Van Winkle of video games. Telling us “There’s a little ding and the end, it’s not the same thing!”. I think some of the things he does are interesting in the worlds of his video games, they might be neat, but nothing more than that. Oh Quiet, the sexy woman doesn’t wear clothes and the reason she isn’t just a sexualized character is because she breathes through her skin so she can’t wear clothes, should “make me feel ashamed of my words and deeds” .. or how he said he would “never ever make another Metal Gear game ever again!” after MGS2…. Yeah, the dude is a liar and a con-man. But as long as his games are fun.