Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Death Stranding: PS4 Review

Death Stranding: PS4 Review

Developed by Kojima Productions
Released by Sony Interactive

Maddening, mournful, elegaic, boring, tedious, pompous, eccentric, idiosyncratic and much more beyond, Death Stranding is the kind of game you can throw any adjective at and it'll stick.

It's polarising too.
Death Stranding: PS4 Review

Hideo Kojima's latest, three years in the making, Death Stranding is a rarity among AAA gaming - an almost indefinable and singular experience that infuriates as much as it amazes.

And it will irritate you to high hell and back, regardless of its top notch production values, because of the initial grind that's demanded of you.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world after the Death Stranding event shattered the US into fragments, you play Sam Porter Bridges, who uncannily looks like The Walking Dead's Norman Reedus (largely because he is).

Tasked with delivering various packages around various points of an open world, Sam is a glorified courier boy, a kind of riff on Kevin Costner's character in Waterworld, trudging from one delivery to the next.

But the job's not that easy as scattered around the open world are various problems to face - be it rain which Kojima has called Timefall and which erodes your parcels, or ghostly creatures known as BTs which can take hold of you, shake your luggage loose and then pull you down in a pit of tar. And there are even rogue couriers known as MULEs, who went mad and now just steal parcels for the hell of it.
Death Stranding: PS4 Review

It's easy to see why this all sounds either deeply pretentious or utterly bonkers.  Yet at the heart of it, it's incredibly familiar mix of combat and fetch quests.

Kojima's world serves as a metaphor for the disconnected we've all become, but the majority of the game is mostly fetch quests, peppered with combat the mechanics of which come from Horizon Zero Dawn to stealth ripped from the Metal Gear Solid days.

There's a strange likes system in play too, where other players can approve of buildings you make, or ladders you place, and you can do the same too. You're encouraged to leave signs a la Dark Souls' notes to help other players - it's all very well and good, but it does remove some of the elements of discovery in the open world, and there's certainly a feeling at times that successes can't all be your own.

Though it's part of Kojima's vision of connecting disparate gamers - and while servers have gone off until the game launches, it'll be interesting to see if players embrace or pervert his intentions of camaraderie. Collaboration could be the way forward, but it does rob the good feeling of solving a tough moment in an open world game - and it's divisive an idea at best.

Equally, there's a degree of having to maintain Sam's health and even clothes, the levels of which have not been seen since Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Again, this move will either irritate or you'll embrace it fully.

Kojima's cast is exceptional - there's no one in the contacts book who's not been raided, and while it's strange to hear famous actors voiced by others, it's as distinctive and as barmy as anything else in the game.
Death Stranding: PS4 Review

The game's product placement needs to be called out though - the ad for AMC's Ride with Norman Reedus reminds you you're not playing anything other than a character, and seems a demented choice. But far worse is the gratuitous Monster cans - it's a worrying sign for AAA Games if this is what sponsorship looks like, and it certainly disrupts some of the narrative flow, taking you outside of the world Kojima's set up.

Ultimately, how you'll feel about Death Stranding is tied up in how much you're willing to invest in Kojima's vision.

It's definitely singular and will polarise some, as the plaudits for Game of the Year rain down. It's not quite a home run on that front, and there's too much of a grind at times to be had to ever truly make it pleasurable.

However, if you're looking for an experience that's as eccentric as it is intriguing, Death Stranding is second to none.

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