25th - 26th SEPTEMBER 2019  |  OLYMPIA

Hideo Kojima's 'Death Stranding' Is Beautiful, Smart—and Kinda Boring

Wired 07 Nov 2019 05:00

Death Stranding is the latest game by acclaimed videogame director Hideo Kojima and his studio, Kojima Productions. It's his first released work since his unceremonious departure from Konami and the Metal Gear Solid franchise. It's a big, bizarre, and difficult-to-explain exercise. So in lieu of a traditional game review, we put together some thoughts and pointers for you to take along as you begin the game—and to help you decide if you want to.

1. It’s Very Atmospheric

Fog and moss stretch out before me in all directions. Rocks peek up out of the thin layer of green, peppered with impossible fungi and bits of trash. There's rain on the horizon. There's always rain on the horizon. The rain is a collapsing effect in action; it is part of a phenomenon, unique to the world of Death Stranding, called timefall. Timefall is rainfall by way of chronological acceleration. In other words, everything the water hits ages. The boxes on my back corrode and start to collapse. When a drop hits my skin, it weathers. In Death Stranding, everything is already dying or dead. The future, whether it's accelerated or not, always feels like a threat.

2. It Requires a Lot of Balance

Death Stranding, presently exclusive to the PlayStation 4 but coming to PC next summer, is as sprawling as the horizon that stretches before my player character, a man named Sam, played via motion capture by Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead). Sam's journey is mostly walking—he's a porter, a deliveryman who has to deliver his packages on foot. By hand. With timefall and worse horrors in the wilderness that used to be America, no other delivery service can function. Every package that needs to be moved between the disparate outposts civilization has left has to be delivered this way. Sam, and by extension the player, spends most of his time walking from place to place. And the journey is long.

A dizzying array of mechanics accompany Sam's walking. He can grip the straps of his backpack for balance—one input for each side—and each bump, rock, or invisible hole in the path is a threat to that balance that needs to be vigilantly avoided or accounted for. Your cargo—as much as Sam can carry—can be rearranged freely on Sam's backpack and tied to straps on his shoulders and hips, the better to balance him this way or that. You can also switch cargo to his hands, holding down a button to grip it tight. One of the adjectives that comes to mind to best express the moment-to-moment play of Death Stranding is "fiddly."

Getting through this journey takes time. I can't offer you a definitive take on its expanse. Consider these notes from the road.

3. Everything Is Connected—Except People

The apocalypse undergirding the world of Death Stranding is complicated. It's a game exceptionally concerned with connections—the writing is particularly unsubtle on this point. When the world ended, then, it ended via connection. Boundaries between death and life broke down, as did the border between past, present, and future. Some dead people come back to life, now, while others fade away and turn into wandering spirits that are toxic to the people they encounter, like magnets of opposite polarities that can only push each other away. Except, when these spirits, BTs, encounter people, the result is a good deal more violent. Explosive, even. Many people sense a mysterious connection to the afterlife, dramatized here in a striking image, as a beach full of fish washed up on an inky black shore. Which, of course, is another form of stranding.

Everything is connected in the world of Death Stranding, except people. The horrors of this new, incomprehensible world have led most of civilization to collapse into itself, and isolated communities are all that's left. Sam is commissioned to take new technology to these isolated settlements in order to connect them to a new, futuristic type of internet, one with a mysterious technological connection to reality's broken-down cycle of mortality. Via connection—a "strand" of boundless data—Sam's America can be reconnected.

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