Disclaimer: This game is weird. VERY weird.
Back at the 2016 E3 conference, a trailer was shown revealing Hideo Kojima’s new game after his parting from Konami. The game had the title of Death Stranding. The trailer was full of mysterious imagery: sea-life washed up on the vacant shores, and black, oily handprints make their way to a man curled up on the sand next to a crying fetus with its umbilical cord still attached next to him. The man stands up, and it is revealed that this character is being portrayed by Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead, The Boondock Saints). The crowd cheered when they saw his face. Norman was involved in Kojima’s past project, P.T. (standing for “playable teaser”) which was later revealed to be a teaser for the unfortunately cancelled Silent Hills. Kojima went quiet, and this trailer was a curveball to the audience. It had the audience questioning what it was, what it would be about, and what kind of game it would be. I remember I was instantly intrigued when my brother showed it to me. Just what was this going to be, and how long would I have to wait to try it out? It is now 2019, and the game has been out for exactly two weeks as I am writing this. Here are my thoughts.
The intro was very captivating, showing off the game’s gorgeous, yet solemn atmosphere, and photorealistic graphics. Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus), the main character is introduced when he wrecks his motorcycle and drops his cargo that he was in the process of delivering. The rain is pouring and once Sam finds a safe place to rest in a cave, he meets Fragile (Léa Seydoux), who quickly grabs Sam by the arm, and leads him away from a mysterious entity that cannot be seen. However, the creature’s handprints can be seen. One small detail that I really appreciated was seeing that after the handprints were put into the soil, you could see that the creature had claws. It is then learned that Sam has a condition called DOOMS, that allows him to sense when BTs (beached things) are nearby. These BTs are people stuck between the worlds of the living, and the dead.
It is then learned that the USA is now known as the UCA (the United Cities of America), after a world catastrophe (only being referred to as another big bang) happened. The world has become lonely, more natural. For one, there are no roads, no cars, no actual cities (however, there are ruins), and no people. Civilians stay hidden in shelters, in fear of the BTs and the timefall. The timefall was one of the most unique things I’d ever witnessed in a game. Timefall is rain that rapidly ages whatever it touches, meaning if someone were to get caught out in it, they would be in an immense amount of trouble. Within the first half hour of the game, the timefall’s effects are witnessed, as well as the violent, animalistic nature of the BTs.
One thing I have to get to right away is the soundtrack. The soundtrack perfectly captures the lonely tone of the game. The band Low Roar is heavily featured, and their songs from their album “0” can be listened to as you are traversing the UCA. One of my personal favorite tracks by the group is titled “Rolling Over”. Their song “I’ll Keep Coming” was featured in the first trailer, and it provided a very ominous feeling. Other artists featured are Silent Poets, Chvrches, Bring Me the Horizon and many more.
The game’s character design is very strong, with unique style choices for every character, spanning from jumpsuits, to suit jackets and ties, to military fatigues. Something to be noted is that each outfit fits the personality and background of the characters perfectly. Sam wears a jumpsuit due to him being a delivery man, as does Fragile, with an emblem of skeleton hands and the motto “handled with love”. Die Hardman (Tommie Earl Jenkins) wears a black skull mask, and a black suit, giving him a sense of authority, and mystery. The cast portrays each character beautifully, lending their voice, their appearance, and mannerisms to give each interaction an organic feel. Another notable character is Higgs (Troy Baker), who wears not one, but two masks, one, a black tactical mask, the other, a gold skull half mask, translating the character’s villainous role, connecting him to the game’s theme of death, and stressing that he is a threat. Overall, the cast of characters are pleasant and entertaining to watch, as they span from many different personalities.
How is the gameplay? Well, yes, there is a lot of walking (and Monster Energy), and perhaps it isn’t for everyone. It’s a very unique experience that immerses you in a vast fictional world. Yes, it seems strange at first, but as the game progresses, a lot of concepts start to make sense. This twisted version of the United States almost becomes recognizable after awhile. The paths of other players can be observed, as well as tools left behind to help you along your journey, such as ladders and ropes. Sam’s task is to bring the United Cities back together meaning he has to traverse all across America to connect the cities. Kojima himself states that he wanted to “create an experience in the game that people can use in the real world, like thinking about how we connect.” The title itself includes the two major themes of the game: death, and connection. Death speaks for itself, but strands are what connect people. The umbilical cord imagery throughout the game demonstrates this. Death Stranding has a lot of twists and turns, and if you give it a chance, follow the story, grow with the characters, learn about the world, I assure you it is quite a unique experience that simply cannot be forgotten.