Hideo Kojima, a name that has been cemented in the history of video gaming. Known for landmark titles such as Snatcher, Policenauts, and of course – Metal Gear. The series has constantly been revered as one of the most finely crafted gaming series ever made. Kojima’s commentary on world politics, morality and human emotion has been such a driving force behind the series, and also its biggest staple. The Metal Gear games alone were great games, but it was the convoluted story that spanned over a century that made it what it was. However things started to go wrong at Konami, and to cut a long story short, Kojima was fired from the company, with Konami retaining rights to the Metal Gear franchise. A horrible blow for Kojima, but also a fresh start. The creative mastermind could pitch any story and it would get funded, and that’s what happened. His old ally Sony funded a creative new project, and Death Stranding was announced at E3 2016 to much fanfare, but to a mass amount of confusion, a confusion that would continue for the next few years. The hype was there, but people were completely in the dark over what Death Stranding would entail. Was it a stealth game? A shooter? An adventure game? A simulation? The trailers only provided more questions, why is there a baby in the pod? What’s the light-up flower pointing at things? What are the invisible death ghosts? What’s with all the dead fish? Mads Mikkelsen? It just went on and on and finally, over 3 years later we have got to find out what Death Stranding is, and if it’s worth your time.

Spoiler-free review

Death Stranding is probably one of the most difficult games I’ve had to review in a long time. I could just cut down the entire review and ask “Is it worth your time?” but there’s no clear answer, nor can I give any sort of idea to if you’d be into this game, but let’s dive in and you can decide for yourself.

Death Stranding is Kojima Productions first game and Kojima’s first new IP in over 20 years since Metal Gear Solid in 1998. You play as Sam Bridges, and your main goal is to reconnect America in the aftermath of an event called Death Stranding. First and foremost the game’s presentation is fantastic, as expected the character models are amazingly well done. It’s crazy to see how far we’ve gone from LA Noires MotionScan technology to make high-quality facial renderings, to now just having real-life actors in games. Norman Reedus plays the lead character Sam Bridges, a porter who carries packages from place to place in this post-America. The attention to detail on his (and other characters) models are so well polished and fine-tuned, with each strand of hair noticeable, the body language and facial expressions do an excellent job of conveying how they feel and what’s going on within the story. As for the story, I won’t go into it for obvious reasons, but let me talk about the general vibe of the story instead.

As you’d expect from Kojima, the story is insane

It’s VERY Kojima, so if you’ve played Metal Gear Solid you should know what I mean. As stated the presentation is amazing, but it needs to be for a game that gets this heavy with the cut scenes. It’s not something you can just pick up and play to progress the story, it’s something you need to sit down and know you’re going to spend 2-3 hours playing. From the trailers, we didn’t get much, but about 2-3 hours in you get the general idea of what’s going on within the game world. The problem I have is that characters speak to each other using events, names and acronyms that I don’t understand. Sam understands what’s going on, but I don’t. This was ok in the context of Metal Gear as sometimes you would know, Metal Gear was set in our world, and I personally am into military-based history, but Death Stranding has an issue of acting as if you know, because Sam knows, and it gets pretty messy earlier on. It’s something you can follow, but it takes some time to get invested and understand the basic world you’re in. In true Kojima fashion, it gets very dumb on the naming conventions within the game. Character names vary from the generic such as Fragile, to the downright stupid such as Die Hardman. To further dig in that this is a Kojima game, it drops so much exposition on you about stuff that isn’t related to anything, just as he did in Metal Gear with irrelevant information about politics and war, but once again it made sense, I enjoyed hearing about it because these are events that happened in our history. Death Stranding will give you the full history of in-game manufacturing methods that only exist within the game itself. This goes on when there are so much lore and aspects to pick up within the first few hours that it gets extremely convoluted, not to mention the usual commentary based on current world politics and social issues. There is so much that is over explained, but lacks any context to really get yourself invested in whatever the story is on about. All this adds up to a difficult experience for Death Strandings story and presentation, but could this be made better by the gameplay itself? Well, that’s where things get even more divisive, gameplay is a real mixed bag, but sadly falls under the jack of all trades, master of none problem.

Don’t forget your baby pod

Sams job is to reconnect America, so how do you do this? Be delivering packages. Yes, Death Strandings core mechanic is package delivery and saying that out loud makes it sound dreadfully boring, and well, in some ways it sort of is. The concept is that by delivering packages to certain cities they agree to link up to the “Chiral Network”, and by linking cities up they reconnect and are stronger together. Packages all have a certain weight and carrying too much can mess up your balance, causing you to press L2/R2 to shift your load weight which can REALLY annoying. Early on in the game it can get extremely tedious too, going back and forth through mostly empty grasslands. It can’t be denied that the world you’re in looks amazing, but there’s not really much there. This is livened up a bit by the enemies you’ll come across in game. The more simple ones to avoid are the MULES, just think of them as junkers who want to rob your stuff and deliveries. Overall they’re not really a major threat, for most part you can run away or sneak around them. But combat is also an option, and it’s not good. Its standard punches and kicks to knock them down but there’s hardly any skill involved and you can usually take out 4-5 without losing much health, it’s one of the weakest parts of the game and seems very last minute, to the point I actively avoid any confrontation because there’s just no joy in fighting enemies. The other major hurdle in the open world is the aforementioned ‘death ghosts’ themselves, or as this game calls them ‘BTs’. In certain areas these ghosts float around aimlessly usually impeding your way to the next objective. However they can’t see you, and you can only see them sometimes. Your suit is attached to a ‘BB’ or ‘Beach Baby’ which will give you the general direction to where these monsters are, shown by how much the robotic hand is clasping. It can lead to some genuinely scary parts when you can’t see it, but the BB is going crazy as one is getting closer. But after 2-3 times though, it goes form scary to just being a nuisance. The horror of creeping your way through a certain area is all lost when you realize the limitations of what you can get away with. Once you’re connected to the Chiral Network too, things become even easier.

Rain is ten times worse in this world

The Chiral Network is one of Death Stranding’s more interesting features. Once you visit a new area and hook up the outpost to the network, that part of the map will be hooked up to the Chiral Network with all the other people playing Death Stranding. In a similar fashion to Dark Souls messages and arrows can be left on the the map, telling you the location of BTs or MULES in the area. Whats more is that certain structures that have been built may appear on the map also, like bridges across rivers, or ladders left by other players, vehicles left from other players are also more prominent too, but they still handle terribly. It’s a really cool concept where you can also purposely leave items in a shared locker for other porters to use and I really appreciate the effort made to emphasize the concept of reconnecting America when you’re getting connected to other players.

A online chiral bridge can save you so much time

As previously mentioned Death Stranding has been an extremely difficult game to judge. The story that Kojima presents is an extremely intriguing one and is a true example of how complex his work can be, the world and situation you’re in is far beyond the political discourse of the Metal Gear series and is something entirely new and it really comes down to how you feel about in depth but extremely far fetched stories as a whole. I was ready to drop this game after 10 hours or so. the back and forth between outposts, the repetitive sneak passed the BTs and horrible combat, it was slowly grinding me down. None of it was bad, but none of it was extremely good – but the story intrigued me, the world it was in was so insane that I had to see where it would go, and about 15 hours in I started to enjoy it at times, but only at times. Even then it shouldn’t take a game 15 hours to get going, other more enjoyable games can be fully completed in that time. Travelling place to place in this beautiful albeit, empty world was sometimes very therapeutic, sometimes I’d just enjoy the long walks and getting to that next outpost. But then I’d lose my footing climbing over some rocks due to the games handling mechanics and fall over and drop my packages, or my bike would get stuck behind a rock, or the next outpost was a 25 min walk away. It’s a game I enjoyed, but only sometimes, and even when I enjoyed it I was well aware that for a video game there isn’t much game here and end of it all, isn’t something I can genuinely recommend to your average gamer.

I hate that I keep bringing up Metal Gear but so few other games have the same depth as Death Stranding. Did you enjoy and truly understand the back story and in depth themes of Metal Gear? Then many this game is for you. But if you didn’t, or have never played a game of such weight and depth, then it’s difficult to say that yes, this is a game for you. This is very well made game, but aside from the story there is nothing here that makes this a must buy game, and even with that said, the story itself is so bloated with next to no context, it’s tough to really care about the end result.

Death Stranding has a questionable- but in depth story rife with social and political themes, finely crafted character models and fantastic presentation. It’s just a shame that the main bulk of the game is so basic and uninspiring that at times just made me want to quit. As much as I want to see the end, I’m finding it tough enduring the grind.