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Old 12-04-2019, 06:16 AM   #1
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The Evil Avatar Death Stranding Review

Title: Death Stranding
Platform: PS4, PC (Coming Soon)
Platform Reviewed: PS4
Developer: Kojima Productions
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
MSRP: $59.99
Writer: Aaron Birch

Go There, Get Stuff, Come Back!

Youíve got to hand it Hideo Kojima. I canít think of any other developer who could take one of the most hated tropes in video gaming Ė the fetch quest Ė and make an entire game out of it, but Death Stranding is essentially that. I mean, come on, you play a postman, a guy whose job it is to literally take objects from A to B. Sure, this postman has to deal with a crazy, post-apocalyptic world, rain that causes anything it touches to age rapidly, and ghosts who want to drag him into an alternate dimension, but yeah, even in the midst of this, the post has to be delivered. Luckily, Norman Reedus is a damn fine postman, it turns out.

Yeah, if you can say one thing about Death Stranding, itís that itís far from generic, and despite its rather mundane-sounding gameplay, this is a game that actually makes fetch quests fun. Yes, you read that right. Delivering packages has never been so much fun.

I have absolutely no doubt that Death Stranding will be a very divisive game, and many will have the exact opposite opinion on it, but I found it to be a truly engrossing, original, and impressive game, for a number of reasons. Okay, you could argue that itís a glorified walking simulator, but thatís an argument that just brushes the surface of a game thatís much deeper than it first seems.

Following a global catastrophe called the Death Stranding, which pretty much destroyed the world as we know it, and also had the side effect of making the dead turn into massive necro-bombs that could level whole cities, mankind isnít exactly in a good place. With the world ravaged by Timefall, a rain that ages anything it touches, and the presence of BTs, invisible ghost of the dead who, with a touch, can kill people, dragging them to another plane of existence, any survivors are forced to live in walled-off, secure cities sheltered from the elements, and BTs. With society so divided and isolated, the need for brave individuals to transport goods and materials from city to city is essential.

As Sam, a freelance ĎPorterí, your job in this ruined world is to make deliveries. Everything from small packages of medicine and food, to huge hauls of alloy, and even people (dead and alive). You do this with your specialised cargo harness that allows you to carry plenty of packages. Sam also has an advantage, being one of very few people to have ĎDOOMSí, special, ermÖ things that allow him to sense the dead, and eventually, when he gets his own Bridge Baby (BB), also see them. Yes, that odd baby from the trailers, itís how Sam can see the dead, along with other things.

Shortly after starting the game, Sam ends up involved in a dangerous mission to connect all of America once again using a special network that allows communication and remote 3D printing. This all sounds very odd, itís a Kojima game, after all, and it is. This is a plot, world, and lore that are truly mad as cheese, but in true Koima fashion, it all works, and even though elements of the game are just pure craziness, such as the sight of Sam hobbling around with a comedic stack of boxes towering above his head, it still works, and the underlying story here is truly engrossing. The characters you meet are great, the plot and its twists are well handled, and the performances of the cast really help build this word into a believable, if still bonkers place. Oh, and the addition of Mad Mikkelsen, and Guillermo del Toro are just icing on the cake.

After waiting so long to actually see what Death Stranding was, with all the mystery purposely covering this up until launch, I was more than a little sceptical. Now Iíve played the game, I do understand to some degree why Hideo Kojima was so keen to keep things under wraps. This isnít because the gameplay is bad, far from it, but itís gameplay thatís hard to do justice to describe, and even harder to show to someone and make it look appealing. Just as some sports, like golf, are fantastically dull to watch, but much more fun to play, so too is Death Stranding. To really appreciate this game and find out what itís all about, you have to play, and experience it and the unique situations you can get in your own playthrough.

At its core, the game is a third-person adventure, akin to MGSV in many respects. Controlling Sam is simple enough on the surface, but it comes with a whole heap of considerations that make simple walking more complicated. As youíre often carrying many packages and heavy weights, Sam can easily lose balance, or come a cropper on rough terrain. This can not only injure Sam, but also damage the cargo youíre carrying. This means you have to plan carefully, and consider what youíre carrying, how much you can handle, and how you arrange it for optimal balance. You can pull the control pad triggers to steady Sam, making him grab his left, right, or both shoulder harnesses to increase his steadiness, and youíll quickly learn to control his speed and how he traverses the landscape, avoiding steep slopes or rocky areas, lest you come a cropper and that fragile delivery is lost.

Sam can also climb, sprint, jump, and use a wide range of gadgets, such as deployable ladders, climbing ropes, bridges, and much more to make getting around easier. Eventually youíll also get some weapons and other defensive and offensive tools, as well as vehicles that not only help you travel faster and safer, but can also allow you to carry much larger loads.

Indeed, thereís a steady progression in the game, and as you progress, youíll be rewarded with upgrades, new items, vehicle, and all sorts of other goodies for your trouble. Often these upgrades make your job much easier, and you get a big feeling of achievement and reward, not to mention relief, as that troublesome run finally become a little more manageable. This is also demonstrated in the gameís evolving world, which incorporates a brilliant online mechanic.

Although youíre always on your own, the world itself is a pseudo-shared one. This is where the whole Facebook for postmen comes in. As you make your way through the world, and build bridges to cross chasms, place ladders to climb steep hills, and put down equipment power generators, youíre not just helping yourself, but your creations can also show up in other peopleís games, benefitting them. To show gratitude, these players can Ďlikeí your contributions, boosting your likes, and increasing your bridge rating. As your rating increases and you level up, you can form special links with players youíve met. This makes their constructions more likely to appear in your game, and helps keep you closer to those you like. Other people can even contribute to structures in this shared world, helping to build whole highways to make life much, much easier, upgrading existing structures, and even leaving vehicles around for people to use. You can even donate items to others by placing them in a shared locker. Itís all cool stuff, and makes for a very community-driven game, and one where you really do appreciate your fellow gamer.

I lost track of how many times I was in dire straights, stuck in Timefall, or running away from ĎMULEsí, an enemy faction in the game who attacks you to steal your cargo, when I stumbled upon a vehicle left by another player, or found a bridge that let me give pursuers the slip over an otherwise impassable ravine. You bet those people got some likes from me, thatís for sure! And, likewise, structures I built, or contributed too regularly lead to pop-ups that people were liking me and my efforts. This gives you a unique feeling of community and accomplishment in an age where the major online gaming world is dominated with PvP and some very toxic fanbases. Itís a very refreshing change.

This gameplay wouldnít be possible without a well-designed world, though, and the expansive open world of Death Stranding is one of its strongest points. Itís a world thatís been deliberately crafted to be difficult to cross. This is a landscape where simply delivering a small package a short distance can cause you grief. If itís not deadly Timefall, or BTs, itís craggy, hard to cross wastes, fast-flowing rivers, almost vertical climbs, and other, nasty environmental challenges. Thankfully, although you begin life in the game daunted by these obstacles, you soon adjust, and begin to think tactically and logically. When youíve got a fragile package, you naturally analyse the landscape to find the least treacherous route, and walk/drive slowly to give yourself the best chance, all the while breathing in the tense atmosphere, and the literally gravity of the situation. Itís very cool, and thatís before we even get to those aforementioned BTsÖ

One of the most well-known aspects of the game, featured right from the first E3 reveal , the BTs, and encounters with them are without a doubt the most stressful and truly tense parts of the story. Theyíre not everywhere, but as soon as you get close enough to an area infested with them, your shoulder-mounted sensor springs to life (helped by your BB), the game slows down with an eerie sting playing, and when youíre back in control, itís time for a particularly dangerous game of hot and cold.

The sensor on your back lights up and faces in the rough direction of the nearest BT. As you get closer, it pulses faster and faster, eventually turning orange and spinning when youíre in very close proximity. When you get close enough, Samís abilities, coupled with his BB enable a visual on the creepy BTs, connected to another world via an umbilical cord. Initially, the only thing you can do here is avoid the BTs, crouching to make less noise, holding your breath to be as silent as possible, and carefully moving away. Sam can only hold his breath so long, though, and when he canít any longer, heíll let out a big exhale, which can alert nearby BTs. Itís stressful stuff, and if the BTís catch you, youíre in for hurt as theyíll try to drag you down into a strange tar-like substance, at the same time damaging and tossing your cargo around, frightening your BB, and hurting Sam. You can escape if youíre fast, and good enough, but at what cost? Is that life and death delivery still in one piece? Eventually, you can fight back against these ghastly foes, with specialised weapons, and this makes things easier, but even then, the presence of BTs never fails to be nerve-wracking.

Itís not just the BTs that you have to worry about, and thereís the MULEs I already mentioned, as well as other enemy factions. This can lead to gunplay and the use of tools like grenades and melee skills, but I did find this aspect of the game to be less polished than the rest. Itís decent enough, and perfectly serviceable, but combat is definitely the gameís weakest aspect. This is also highlighted when fighting some bosses, which are still fun to take on, and can be very impressive, but the controls donít really lend themselves as well to such action-focused gameplay, and the item select menus can be jarring, interrupting the flow of the fight.

A novel touch, though, is the careful planning and decision making enforced on you. You can, if you like, use lethal weapons eventually, which makes dealing with human foes easier, but as dead bodies can lead to Ďvoid outsí, which a large explosions that can decimate huge areas, maybe non-lethal, or total avoidance is best. Itís left up to you.

Death Stranding is at its best when youíre on the road, so to speak, and making your way through a hostile world. The rewarding feeling of nailing a tough delivery, and slowly returning a semblance of society to the world is great, and itís all delivered in the skilful, and polished way only Hideo Kojima can manage. He has an undeniable skill of making the absurd seem reasonable. Yes, even throwing grenades concocted from Samís bodily waste is explained and handled in a way that makes you give it a pass, and although the story is undeniably batshit crazy, it works.

Death Stranding is a true Hideo Kojima joint if ever there was one. Itís unique, has a crazy, complicated plot full of weird science and commentary about culture and politics, itís has long, high-production cut scenes, ridiculous moments, and although often dark and serious, is never above making fun of itself. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and consider this a very good sign of things to come from Kojim Productions.

Score: 4.5

The Good:
  • Unique, immersive, and engrossing
  • Visually gorgeous
  • Excellent use of online functionality
The Bad:
  • Combat could be better
  • Vehicle physics can be very wonky at times
The Ugly:
  • Peopleís reaction to the inclusion of Monster Energy. Itís just a drink, people! Calm down.
  • Norman Reedus in the shower
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Old 12-04-2019, 11:47 AM   #2
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It looks amazing in terms of pure visuals and scene.

I'm actually surprised you scored it so high.

I might have to get a playstation now.
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Old 12-04-2019, 06:05 PM   #3
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Would I like this game if I absolutely fucking HATE Metal Gear Solid, but love action adventure games in general (AC, Tomb Raider, God of War, Gears of War, new Jedi game. etc. etc.)???

The fact that you compared to MGSV scares me because I can't play that non-sensical game, I hate the combat, the menu system, the story, everything.
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Old 12-04-2019, 08:06 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by ElektroDragon View Post
Would I like this game if I absolutely fucking HATE Metal Gear Solid, but love action adventure games in general (AC, Tomb Raider, God of War, Gears of War, new Jedi game. etc. etc.)???

The fact that you compared to MGSV scares me because I can't play that non-sensical game, I hate the combat, the menu system, the story, everything.
People are all over the place on this one. Thats why I think Kojimas claim of this being its own genre are valid. I've seen people say they hated Metal Gear but loved this. I would rent it somehow first or just get it at a discount from ebay or something just in case you dont like it. That way you didnt blow 60 bucks.
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Old 12-04-2019, 08:18 PM   #5
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Received it free from Zunos.

Absolutely Amazing, Unique game. Give it a few hours and you will want to play through the entire game.
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Old 12-04-2019, 08:35 PM   #6
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Love this game, totally addicting. It is a huge grind though if you want to build roads and make your life easier later. If you don’t like grinding in MMO’s then you probably will not want to check this one out. Though I guess you could just do the core missions to speed through the story and never look back as you unlock each new city.
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Old 12-06-2019, 12:38 PM   #7
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i want to play this so bad... but im going to wait for PC release. I bet its going to look fantastic.
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Old 12-06-2019, 01:02 PM   #8
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Intriguing review. I can understand the fascination of the game.

I think the grind here makes more sense than in mmo or arpg. There is a difference if your efforts just increase an integer value in your stat sheet a bit, or if you work to build a thing in the world that has functional value and or unlock gadgets/vehicles that have a meaningful change to your play. That is way more satisfying and natural.

It might be still a slow and atmospheric experience, but basically it's been proven to work already: Death Stranding is sort of a specialized version of Minecraft if you think about it. It is much more limited and focused in its scope, and of course polished. But the basic experience you have here is a subset of what you go through in Minecraft. There is also a lot of grind in Minecraft, and you have to cooperatively develop a world of many players, have to avoid deadly monsters, go search for building material in dangerous areas, fetch it and transport it savely home to build more, etc.

Well, the game here is certainly more specialized in that experience, but I am not surprised it gets people hooked. Though I'm not actually sure I would prefer playing Death Stranding over Minecraft. It has a more grown-up setting, more story, more direction, and its own spin for sure. So if Minecraft didn't get you hooked, this one might be the focus you needed to make that genre work for you.
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