Death Stranding, the newest game from famous developer and visionary, Hideo Kojima, has gamers divided. People either love it, hate it, or just don’t have any idea what it is. The confusion is understandable, as the game is unique. There has never been anything like it before.
When you experience the game, you begin to understand this journey is important very early on. It goes against what we are being fed by most games in a profound way, which has been becoming clearer to me the deeper I fall into this world. Our world has developed a global consciousness that began with newspapers. People reading the same stories, sharing the same horrors, revelling in the same successes, and worrying for the same future threats. Then came television, and then, the big one, the internet. With the internet, the global consciousness has exploded, especially since the rise of social media. People all across the world are being subjected to similar information and experiences, and they are thinking the same way as a result. But this is not always a good thing, as there is an element of frustration arising. Everyone feels they have a voice which should be heard. Instead of achieving this in a way which unifies them to others, many people take to social media for no other reason than to bicker, scrutinise, and shoot venom from behind their keyboard. Death Stranding is all about positivity and working together. There are no negative interactions in the game between players. Kojima would rather players help one another, and give each other positive reinforcement throughout their respective journeys by giving out likes. It is a constant reminder we are not alone in this dim, cold world which grows every time you play it, as a visual reminder of your shared progress.
What most games deliver is a straight-up bloodbath, where a superhuman, controlled by the player, embarks on a singular mission — to get as many headshots as possible. When you get right down to it, that is what gaming is, for the most part. But every now and then, something comes along which doesn’t follow the conventional method, and often it is met with hostility from the community. I know by now you are thinking, this is just a game. What the hell is this guy talking about? Let me explain.
In the world of Death Stranding, there is no world. Well, not much of one anyway. Ever since the Beach appeared, most of humanity was wiped out. The souls of the dead have returned to our realm, and they are not supposed to be here. When the dead strand with the living, it causes Voidouts, enormous, cataclysmic explosions that have claimed most of what was. Decades on, and people survive by living in their high-tech, underground cities.Our hero, Sam Porter Bridges, is estranged from his family. He resists reconnecting with them, but realises he has no other choice. The only way he can bring his family back together, is by bringing everyone together.
He is tasked with making deliveries across a broken, empty American landscape while trying to reunite the country via establishing the chiral network. The chiral network allows people to communicate with each other, share information, and build new structures with 3D printer-type technology, as they come out of their underground cities to fight back against the Death Stranding the only way they can — by reuniting. (The word stranding, itself, means to connect.)
The player begins their journey traversing a treacherous mountain trek, and it becomes apparent that manoeuvring across the terrain is a big part of the game. The realism, Sam’s own humanity, and the weight of the cargo which he carries, are all big concerns for the player. But one of the biggest concerns you have is caring for BB, the infant who lives in an incubator that is strapped to your chest. It causes you to be mindful of what it is you are doing, and makes you breathless in moments when you are facing the real dangers of climbing mountains, crossing deep rivers, or walking down steep, rocky hillsides. Using L2 for your left hand, R2 for your right, you have to exert control over Sam to avoid slipping and damaging your cargo, or worse, falling to your death. After my first careless slip, the cries of BB evoked something very human within me, and I decided that I would avoid being so careless again at all costs, as I nursed and soothed him better.
One of the best things about this game is that there is no path laid out for you. You can reach your destination however you like. Before setting out, I often scan the terrain and decide on the best course of action. If you take the dirt roads, you often encounter Mules, people obsessed with cargo who won’t kill you, they’ll just rob you blind and leave you unconscious by the wayside, or worse, the BTs. These invisible, terrifying monsters are the manifestation of the dead.
They will try to drag you down into the depths of the oily hell which consumes the surface if you are caught by them. Simply being detected won’t trigger this, as they send out shadowy spikes to try and attach themselves to you. You can still get away before this happens, but running isn’t always the way. In fact, if you try to run, or flee in a vehicle, you are more likely to be caught. By holding your breath, and keeping your cool, you can make your escape. Sometimes, this is a very stressful endeavour, especially as BB becomes increasingly anxious, and cries out. When they do find you, they come in full force, and it is terrifying. BB squeals, Sam groans with effort as he fends them off, and you have to quickly come to a decision — stand and fight, or flee for your life.
One of many journeys
Last night I was attempting to deliver blood for transfusions to a mountain town that had suffered an accident, and there was a 40 minute time limit. As I progressed along a steep hillside being mindful of every step, taking in the expansive view on one side, I heard the ominous sounds of cracking rock. I snapped my view to the sound and there were boulders thundering toward me. I ran full pelt, clinging anxiously to my cargo with both hands, and managed to avoid being squashed like a pancake. None of this had an Indiana Jones feel to it. It wasn’t like someone had sent these rocks at me. There was a storm raging on the mountain above, and these rocks had tumbled free thanks to mother nature. This level of detail was understood immediately, and I took a moment to catch my breath after and consider what possible dangers lay ahead.
Then I came to a promontory overlooking a deep wooded valley. The scene was spine tingling, fog was off in the distance clinging to mountain peaks, filling the valley itself, beyond that was a marsh, and then, between the trees, I spied the Mule camp.
The valley offered the easiest terrain, but I knew I wasn’t ready to take the Mules on, especially since they had started carrying automatic weapons. That was when I realised they were no longer after cargo, they were after blood. This shift was welcomed, as it made the game more interesting by challenging what I thought I knew about the enemies I would face. Both the BTs and the Mules have evolved as time has gone on making them even more dangerous. Faced with a time limit, I had to come to a decision. Should I go in gung-ho like Rambo? Or should I sneak by like Solid Snake? I decided that neither course of action would work. I took the Sam Porter Bridges way. Using my climbing anchors, ladders, and the experience I had built up by playing through the earlier missions where I had to climb, I chose to brave the mountain in what felt like a very Lord of the Rings moment.
I had been staring at the snowy mountain I was about to climb in wonder, as I spent roughly fifteen hours strengthening bonds with the people of the region below, building roads, and progressing through the main story, as and when I felt the time was right. After all, in Death Stranding, it’s not about obtaining trophies, or blowing stuff up, it’s about helping to pull this world back from the brink.
If I was to go back and load my game from when I first arrived to Lake Knot City (the second area you reach) and go outside, it would be a very empty region, full of danger. Now, after all my hard work, there are roads stretching from Lake Knot to South Knot. I brought a young couple together who got married, and I helped an old man survive in the mountains by bringing him everything he needed. Initially, he didn’t trust me. Now, he loves when I visit. The same can be said of a lot of other folks, and the mails which you receive from these people expressing their gratitude lends more depth to an already impressive world. It is living and breathing, and it really feels as though it is growing. This is an incredible achievement for a game about delivering packages.
40 hours in, I encountered a character who has become my favourite NPC so far. The brilliant scientist, and lonely recluse, known as Mama. By now, I have already established the roads in this region, and our journey has been a tranquil one, after we escaped her compound with our lives following a desperate encounter with an enormous BT.Mama had just been through a harrowing experience. No spoilers. We barely escaped with our lives, and she was seeing the world, smelling its scent, for the first time in years. I sat her down by the roadside when Sam had been puffing for a while trying to catch his breath. Far from any danger, we took a moment to relax and regain Sam’s stamina. That was when I started to play my harmonica that was given to me as a gift by one of my consignees, after a successful delivery early in the game. BB and I have played our song on mountain tops, while seeking shelter in snowy caves, in dry wastelands, and by little trickling rivers. This was the first time we shared it with someone else.
After this, I decided it was time to let her see some of the world before we scaled the mountain. We started by driving along the roads I had built. Then we used the zipline network I had established, before I took her for a dip in the hot springs.
This journey turned out to fit in perfectly with her character arc, and I felt it was another special moment. In truth, every time I have played this game there has been a moment that I will remember. That’s what truly makes Death Stranding special. That’s just another reason why I feel a lot of people in the world need this game.
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