What is the Death Stranding?
This is the main question that Kojima Production’s “Death Stranding” attempts to avoid answering for as long as possible.
Released Nov. 8 for PS4, “Death Stranding” was created by game director Hideo Kojima.
Best known for his work on the “Metal Gear” series, “Death Stranding” has stood as a divisive game among critics and players alike.
Described as an asynchronous multiplayer experience, “Death Stranding” takes place in America after it has been ravaged by a mysterious event known as the Death Stranding.
Because of this event, cities are isolated without communication. Ghostly figures known as BTs stalk the open plains, attempting to consume anyone they can get their hands on.
Players take control of Sam “Porter” Bridges (Norman Reedus), a deliveryman for the BRIDGES Foundation.
He has been tasked with traveling across America and reconnecting the cities that have been lost after the Death Stranding, all while still making scheduled deliveries.
However, navigating the empty plains of America proves to be no easy task for Sam.
In order to avoid the BTs, Sam needs the help of a Bridge Baby (BB), an unborn child removed from a brain-dead pregnant mother known as a still-mother, that assists Sam and other delivery personnel in being able to better see and sense the BTs around them.
If that sounds extreme, it’s only the tip of the iceberg in comparison to how convoluted the universe surrounding the story is.
Kojima is well-known for crafting stories that are far more complicated than they have any need to be.
This is seen in both the “Metal Gear” series and other standalone works such as “Policenauts.”
“Death Stranding” is certainly no exception, as Kojima’s own production company created the game rather than it being filtered through another source.
The cast is even more star-studded than what was originally disclosed in trailers, with cameos from celebrities and creators such as Conan O’Brien, Edgar Wright and Errolson Hugh.
But while the advertising toted the game’s unique story and the stars within it, little of its gameplay or mechanics were explained.
This is possibly because the actual game is the biggest issue bogging down “Death Stranding” from excellence.
The core gameplay has taken the concept of “fetch quests” from other games, where your character retrieves an item and delivers it back to the requesting party, and makes it the primary objective of the entire game.
Sam receives delivery orders from terminals in cities and stations that he has connected to the network, with some deliveries being story-critical and other standing as side missions.
For the first few hours of the game, Sam is forced to carry all his cargo on back and by hand. This makes the task needlessly challenging, as the player must be aware of Sam’s balance while traversing rough terrain.
If Sam loses his balance, he will fall and drop his cargo, damaging it and resulting in a lower delivery score.
After the first few chapters of the game, players are given access to vehicles such as motorcycles and delivery vans that can carry much more cargo and make it across long distances more quickly.
However, these vehicles come with a new set of drawbacks, making the reliance on the online functions key.
Each vehicle has a limited battery life, so Sam must occasionally stop at a player-built charging station to recharge the battery.
Unfortunately, if you are not connected online or if no other player has built a charging station within the vicinity, you’re out of luck unless you decide to wait for half an hour while the vehicle charges through solar power.
But even if a delivery is made entirely by staying on the highway, the player must be aware and alert while driving as the entire process still has to be completed manually.
There is a fast-travel system, but this system forces Sam to leave his cargo behind.
To make Sam’s journey easier, players connected online can build items and structures that appear in other players’ games.
“Likes” are given to player-built structures to encourage others to continue building.
Players can also help construct highways and roads that span across America, making vehicle travel much easier by avoiding the rough, rocky terrain in mountainous areas.
Despite its drawbacks, “Death Stranding” stands strong in its message of unification.
While gameplay can be frustrating at times, players must rely on other players for help, creating a strong sense of community.
“Death Stranding” is unique; it can be an entertaining experience for some who have the ability to invest time into a longer game, but can also be a tedious chore for those who do not have the time.
Variety in the gameplay is very limited and the draw of the game is primarily from the storyline. In a BBC special about “Death Stranding,” Kojima expressed the desire for Kojima Productions to move into making other forms of art such as film.
But in the case of “Death Stranding,” only a medium such as a video game could allow Kojima to bring players together in such a unique way.