Note: This Death Stranding review contains no spoilers and as little story information as possible
It is rare that a game comes along that manages to deliver a unique gameplay experience that pushes it into its own genre. Death Stranding is so much more than I ever thought it would be. Much of my time with the game was spent chugging along a wasteland with one hundred kilograms of metals strapped to my back as I ventured to a new outpost to not only connect them to the network but to also deliver the goods which I had no idea what it was being used for.
Watch our full Death Stranding Review done below (This Death Stranding Video Review does NOT contain spoilers and includes footage prior to Episode 4)
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Even during its more tedious episodes, the game’s emphasis on exploration delivered an exceptional adventure. It is all brought to life in a stunning world that is wonderful to explore. This is then all backed by a superb story that captures the mind of Hideo Kojima as it slowly unfolds its mysterious narrative to you through countless logs, emails, radio chatter and of course, the polished cinematics. I knew from the moment the game began that Death Stranding was going to be something on another level. Something so unique that would define this generation of gaming. How it managed to be so darn addictive even while doing the most repetitive missions, is beyond me. Death Stranding is a jewel and a generation-defining experience.
The idea that everything is connected pushes Death Stranding’s mechanics and story. It drives the narrative and the more I played the game and came to understand the mechanics, the more it all made sense. Going into the game, the story was extremely complicated to grasp. Themes of death, alternate dimensions and even reincarnation pushes the narrative to the crazy levels I have come to expect from Hideo Kojima. In short, the game revolves around the Egyptian belief that your life is divided into two entities. You have your “Ha” and your “Ka”. Your body and your soul.
Death Stranding follows the same idea that when you die, your soul (Ka) goes to a beach and your body (Ha) is left behind. These beaches were never connected to the world but after the Death Stranding took place, the dead can now appear in the world around you looking to take you to the other side. The game follows Sam Porter Bridges who is a repatriate. A mass event called the “Voidout” that saw the world come close to the end took place a couple of years before the events of the game. This has become known as the Death Stranding.
Sam’s main goal is to reconnect the world, basically, only America, to create the United Cities of America. Sam gets roped into this task after the President of the United States dies and instructs him to venture through the counties bringing “Preppers” who are now offline onto the grid called the Chiral Network. The Chiral Network is an extremely advanced way to connect that sees people send mass waves of information through the Beach to each other. The network has also existed for centuries so the more it is repaired and reconnected, the more the people of America will begin to understand more about the Death Stranding, the Beaches and the past events that rocked the world.
Lastly, we have the BB, that little annoying baby that is connected to Sam. BBs are the only beings that are able to sense the dead so by being connected to the person, they are able to tell when these dead, also known as BTs are nearby. There’s a lot more to them than that but for this review, we will just leave it as they are a tool used to help you survive the game.
Everything mentioned thus far shows how much the game relies on this idea of connection. Everything is connected and the main objective in the game is to restore these connections by putting people back onto the Chiral Network. However, there’s a lot more going on in the game with multiple characters, story plots, villains and enemies that add padding to the story. Sam alone, is a disturbed character who suffers from the fear of touch so he cannot be hugged or even have someone shake his hand.
Sam is not the only deep and layered character and everyone you meet, outside of the Preppers that is, has their own fantastic backstory that is fully fleshed out in both the game and through the emails and logs you will sit and read. It also helps that these people are exceptionally well-developed and brought to life using the Decima engine that delivers some superb in-game cinematics and facial animations. Death Stranding was often like watching a sci-fi show as I tried to piece together all the words being thrown around and understand all the deep lore.
Death Stranding’s gameplay has been quite the mystery and I was pleasantly surprised with it. It is as simple as it comes. Sam, while connecting everyone back to the Chiral Network, also acts as a Porter. Porters jobs see them run around the land and deliver goods to different outposts throughout America. So in a nutshell, this is what you do with your time in Death Stranding, you deliver boxes of stuff to people.
It all starts off quite simple with the ability to stack a few boxes on your back and head out to the next outpost to deliver it. Every new post connected to the Chiral Network has its own missions that Sam can undertake which come in different forms. Some saw me head up a mountain to invade a MULE camp, collect an item from a postbox and take it back to the outpost. MULEs are porters that have been driven to an obsession with goods so much so that they will kill you to steal what you are carrying just to stockpile it. Think of them as criminally insane, driven to madness by the Death Stranding.
Other missions had me go collect an item from an outpost and take it back to the one I originally got the mission from. Some missions even tasked me in venturing to some dangerous places to pick up items and bring them back. But the basic missions were just ‘take xyz to outpost xyz”. While these missions seem very one-note, they are far from it. The game’s layered gameplay mechanics makes the experience something so uniquely different and every item has a reason why it is being picked up or sent to a location.
Since the Death Stranding, the BTs have been appearing in the world making it hard to explore some parts of the land. These beings appeared when Timefall falls from the sky represented by an upside-down rainbow. Timefall is rain that ages everything it touches. BTs, Timefall, MULEs and of course the harsh environments that Sam needs to survive delivers the challenge that makes Death Stranding so exciting.
Heading off to delivery up a mountain towards the wind farm meant I could not overload the carrying capacity and had to take into account there would be BTs around the area. Sam starts off the game quite defenceless, unable to counter the dead souls and rough terrain but slowly I unlocked anti-BT weapons that shoot his own blood to kill them. As for traversing the environment, power legs, new vehicles and even awesome skylines can be crafted at any Chiral Network station that helps you get around even faster.
As the game progresses, the challenge does so too. Environments get tougher to explore and range from swampy landscapes to deadly snowy mountains. Every mission I took on I had to go in prepared. I had to be aware of the possibility of Timefall in the area of my item collection which led to BTs. MULES could be held up in an outpost or exploring the lands and they too can be a deadly threat to Sam.
Luckily, as I progressed and completed more missions, I unlocked new gear to make that helped make these harsh trips a little easier. Sam himself never gets stronger, it is all about the gear he equips. An oxygen mask helps reduce his stamina consumption and a pair of all-terrain robotic legs means he can walk up a mountain much easier. But every item comes at a cost. Sam needs to carry the weapons you make to fight the BTs on his back meaning it takes up space and weighs him down. All vehicles and legs are also battery powered which means they run out of juice often leaving me stranded up a mountain. It is the constant risk and rewards factor that comes into play in Death Stranding.
Should I take on all four missions and attempt to carry twenty-five boxes up a hill to complete them all at once? Or do I take the safer route and do it in two trips? Timefall decays the loot, BTs can be the end of Sam and I did not know what was on the other side of the hill. These were the most exciting and nervewracking moments of Death Stranding.
Exploration is not easy at all. The terrain has not been built for humans to walk on and giant hills and cliffs make it hard to get to your objective. Luckily, you can build a ladder, hang rope off the side of a cliff, build watchtowers, bridges and much more to help with your mission. The online aspect of the game sees you able to make use of other player’s creations too and they came in handy way more often than I thought they would.
These creations are not visible until you connect the sector to the Chiral Network but once done, you can then use their ladders they placed in the most convenient locations, drive along their roads that made the trip quicker and saved me the thousands of resources because I did not need to build it or fly across the air using their grapple. I also did my part in contributing to the game’s world by building some recharge stations and even a road. This all contributes to your “likes” which shows what a good guy you are in the game. You also get likes from doing the story missions too.
These likes don’t do much other than show your ranking to other players so if you want to be the best then I recommend you deliver all those dropped goods which get put into your game when other players drop them in their game.
Death Stranding is not an action game. Sure, there are some boss fights and intense gun battles during a few moments but these are far and few between. When you are meant to fight, it works well by making use of all the items you can either craft or pick up around the area. Sam can fire a gun, but he is better at sneaking past BTs by listening to BB’s warnings and his clicker that reveals their locations. Each encounter with a BT delivered an intense horror moment. When I got caught, I either died or had to escape a massive creature’s grasp so the threat always lingered in the air as I tried to sneak past them.
When I was not fearing for my life I was exploring the game’s beautiful world with a load of resin on my back and a track from the Low Roar playing in the background. I walked slowly to take in the ambience of the world and be soothed by one of the best soundtracks in gaming.
Not everyone will love Death Stranding and I won’t blame you. The game is not for everyone. Some episodes take over two dozen hours to complete and the rinse and repeat delivering mechanics could be an issue for some. However, it always rewards you in some way or another. Be it with its gorgeous and detailed world that is a joy to explore or the fantastic story that unfolds as you discover everything this ambitious game has to offer. There is simply nothing else like it and to be able to dive into it all is a magnificent experience one which will define this generation of gaming.
This Death Stranding review was based on a review code sent to us by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Available On: PS4 | Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 8 November 2019 | Price: R980