'Death Stranding' review: A litmus test for the curious

Death Stranding has been out for about two weeks, and as expected, the buzz is still going. Your go-to internet reviewers seem to be divided into two camps, the camp that sees Death Stranding as a beacon of games as art, and the camp that sees the game as just a glorified delivery simulator. You either hear “wait for 10 hours, it’ll get better” or “it’s not worth it at all.”  

Not that there’s anything wrong with coming up with those conclusions, but rarely do you see a game that can create such divisions. 

With that much conversation online, it’s easy to be swayed into either of the camps you see more thanks to your social media algorithms. And with that realization I sought to wait until a few months to create my own conclusions. 

But when opportunity strikes, and it just so happens that the keys to one of the biggest game launches this generation gets forwarded to your email, you take that opportunity, carry it with you to your vacation, carve some time for it, sit down, and truly see for yourself what the heck is going on with Death Stranding . 

Before anything else though, if my first few paragraphs demonstrate how easy it is for me to be moved, I’d like to point out just how hard Sony and Kojima have worked to make sure everyone pays attention to this game. If there’s one thing that consistently impresses me about Sony, it’s the way they can build hype around their games. 

Somehow, at least, from this writer’s perspective, Sony has managed to do more than just hype up the game. And maybe this is also due to the roster of characters involved in this development, but Sony has developed so much hype around Death Stranding, they’ve almost made it an actual need for people to look into this game and be a part of the discussion around it.

It’s a game that no one understood up to the actual launch, but it was a game everyone wanted to play anyways. 

For the months prior to the launch, it felt like they were betting their all on Kojima and his new IP. Not like they needed to bet it all on him with the number of successful games they’ve brought out in this generation, but so much marketing and PR and social media magic was happening it was hard not to ignore or see it as such. The problem was that there was barely any concrete information as to how things were going to be. Every reveal had more people asking more questions.

So, from a cynical point of view, before I even touched the game, I was ready to write about how much this reminds me of the story of the "Emperor’s New Clothes." With Kojima as the weaver and the suit, Death Stranding. If you can't see the value or the genius of this game, then you're an idiot and unfit to enjoy it. When in reality, the suit, is nothing. The game is nothing. It’s all just hype.

However, I am now way past the 10-hour mark that some reviewers claim to be the most trying part of the game. And while this game is certainly no maligned trick that Kojima and Sony has pulled off, it would be lying to not address a few things. 

There’s no sugar coating it. No, this game is not a delivery simulator, but even if it were, that isn’t the problem. This game has some issues. There are things that don’t make sense, things that are frustrating, and things that just miss the mark. 

I understand and even appreciate the message of Kojima’s game, that we are a people divided (even if the setting is in America), and that we need to rebuild that connection, and that connection is often done by doing good deeds. I also appreciate that while this game is definitely not subtle at all, it does tackle a relatable and relevant theme that just completely ignores gamers who don’t want “politics” in their games. 

However, there are some things about this game that make it difficult for me to fully enjoy and embrace. 

The constant interruptions of NPCs I do not care for, the overindulgence of brand marketing, and some confusing avant-garde concepts that never get closure hinder me from saying this is a game you absolutely cannot miss. Everytime I am ready to head out, an NPC just has to interrupt me instead of just allowing me to go on with my work as I listen to them. The HD Monster can renders and AMC ads are not amusing. Deliveries really do feel like a chore sometimes. The UI is unbearable. And finally, I would like for some things to be actually explained instead of being led on over and over again. 

But as I mentioned earlier, this isn’t a bad trick Kojima and Sony pulled. I see Death Stranding now as a litmus test that can yield wildly different results. 

 

It isn't a traditional triple-A game that we’re all used to. Kojima has managed to mesh old, new, and experimental mechanics together, tie it to a weird yet compelling story, and set it all in a strange, haunting, and gorgeous backdrop. As frustrating as the game is, you have to give it some props. It’s not an easy feat to do what Kojima has done here, considering there are some new IPs this generation that isn’t as radical as Death Stranding, but still completely miss the mark. 

With Death Stranding, I do feel the intentions of Kojima here. I do understand what he’s trying to do when he sets up this broken world. I get the irony of accomplishing connecting America while making you feel that isolation. I see the Like system and how it ties to a shot of happy hormones that help alleviate toxicity (even though I disagree with it). I even see what he’s going for with the idea of using your own bath water and fecal matter for combat. I also end up in awe of the amount of detail in this game. And all of that is wild and over-the-top and ridiculous.

In fact, it’s so ridiculous that I’m still here ignoring the jaw-dropping views of Europe in favor of Kojima’s barren world.

There’s a lot of layers I still want to uncover. There’s also a lot of BS I have to deal with. But as I said, it’s really quite a mixed and different bag that I won’t be the one here to tell you that you must absolutely get or not get the game. While I’m enjoying the journey here, many have either dropped out of it or are singing its praises. 

So, if you are getting or playing this game, it isn’t for your usual reasons. It isn’t because you enjoy a certain genre, or you like storytelling, or competition, or challenges etc. If anything, you’re getting the game because you are genuinely curious or because you’ve bought into the hype, and neither of those are wrong. 

And if you’re in need of something more grounded and familiar, that’s completely fine too. You may not be missing much because what becomes of Death Stranding can influence new games in the future that may be more refined or out there until these mechanics or settings do become more natural to you. 

This isn’t a test of whether you’re smart enough to understand the game, or how “correct” your tastes are, or if this is proof of video games being an artform, or even how much BS you can take. I don’t even think there’s a proper way to score or rate this game on a scale. 

This is an experimental experience, a litmus test, with no right or wrong answer. It’s a game that tries to push the boundaries of traditional mainstream formulas with its own hits and misses, with some of these hits and misses that can only be defined by the player.

So if you’re asking me if you should pick up the game, it depends. How curious are you? – Rappler.com

 

Disclosure: Review copy provided by Sony