Review: Death Stranding [PC]

21 Jul 2020

Death Stranding, Kojima Productions’ first game, was originally released last November for the PlayStation 4. Now, the game has arrived for PC, allowing even more people to deliver packages as Norman Reedus and attempt to make sense of the bizarre story that Hideo Kojima has crafted. It also gives us a chance to do a proper review!

So let’s strap a baby to our chest, and unpack the absurdly tall pile of packages that is Death Stranding.

Developed by Kojima Productions and published by 505 Games, Death Stranding was released on July 14 for PC.

Rock-A-Bye B.B.

An event known as the Death Stranding gave way to forming a connection between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Widespread explosions resulted in the destabilization of the United States (now the United Cities of America [UCA]). These explosions were the result of “voidouts” – explosions created when, to put it simply, a person’s soul tries to return to their body after they die. Bodies must now quickly be taken to an incinerator in this new world or risk destroying what’s left of civilization.

As Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus) you take on the role of a porter, delivering packages to cities and small settlements as you attempt to reconnect the country. Luckily, Sam has DOOMS, which grants him a stronger connection to “the other side” than most. Utilizing a B.B. Unit (Beach Baby), Sam is able to see BTs (souls stranded in our world) in order to help him avoid them while he delivers packages across America.

There’s a lot to unpack within the narrative of Death Stranding. This isn’t quite the heavy political narrative of something like Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid games, although some politics are present. The themes here often focus around bringing people together. This game often throws new terminology and ideas at you to keep you both entertained and confused. Every time new information was presented, I often found myself feeling like I understood a little more, while still being left with questions.

While the gameplay of Death Stranding offers some interesting concepts, there’s a part of me wondering if the narrative is supposed to take the spotlight over the gameplay. After all, the game has talent like Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen in major roles. I find myself wondering what came first in the mind of Hideo Kojima: the story, or the gameplay?

Building Bridges

You wouldn’t be alone if you took a look at Death Stranding and found the gameplay concept of delivering packages with a baby strapped to your chest more than a bit odd. However, thankfully, there’s a bit more to it than that.

As you pick up packages from one location and transport them to another, Sam will be faced with several obstacles along the way. The first, and most dangerous of course, are the aforementioned BTs. These enemies require you to proceed stealthily in order to avoid detection. Luckily with the help of your B.B. you can scan the area and see their position, allowing you to decide when you want to sneak around or hold your breath to make yourself harder to detect. If you’re sensed by a BT you’ll suddenly find yourself surrounded and being pulled into the ground, dropping your cargo as you struggle to escape – so, you know, try to not get caught.

As you progress through the game, Sam and the cast of characters that make up the UCA will uncover new ways to deal with the BT threat while padding out your arsenal. For me, the game eventually felt like it got to a point where BT encounters had gone from being a tense, stretched out moment to a minor annoyance. The boss encounters however are nice big set pieces that really give you a good opportunity to just let loose with your arsenal and I really found myself enjoying those.

Additionally, there are MULEs, a group of people who are out to steal your packages (though, you can also traverse into their camps and steal their goods as well). And just why are these MULEs out to snatch your packages? Well, that’s because Kojima decided that the best human adversary to a porter is someone that is addicted to the ‘high’ one gets when delivering cargo – they steal it from you in the hopes that they can deliver it to its destination themselves. Alright then. I rarely found myself having any problems when dealing with the MULEs. In fact, I loved going into their camps to procure some materials to build more structures. I also snagged a vehicle from them and let me tell you, vehicles in this game make deliveries so much easier!

As you move through the game, you’ll earn new equipment counteract the different enemy types. Sam can use a bola gun to tie up enemies, grenades to fend off BTs, and can even pick up a cargo case from the ground and knock a MULE unconscious with it. If that’s not enough, you can even make grenades out of poop. Yes, you read that right! You can acquire the EX 2 grenade by having Sam take a ‘number two’. Because of Sam’s special properties, his bodily fluids have an effect on BTs. That’s weird, but you know what? Sure, why not?

Overall, the BT and MULE encounters help to break up the otherwise relaxing back-and-forth delivery gameplay.

While encounters are an important part of Death Stranding, the real trials that Sam will face are ones presented by physics and nature. Sam will constantly be faced with difficulties of the terrain he needs to pass through in order to reach his destination, all while bearing a visually ridiculous amount of cargo not just on his back, but all over his body.

In addition to being able to stack a multitude of cases and canisters onto his back, you can also attach an item to each of Sam’s shoulders and legs. This can of course make it so that the weight that Sam is carrying is…not always evenly distributed. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve had to hold down my left and right mouse buttons (or L2 and R2 if using a PlayStation 4 controller) in order to balance myself and prevent Sam from falling over and damaging his packages. Luckily, you’re able to auto arrange the cargo and as you progress, you’ll unlock equipment to allow Sam to more easily, and safely, transport even more cargo. However, even with these upgrades, those two buttons to keep your balance will likely still be the buttons you’re hitting the most and there are times where the game can feel incredibly tedious for that reason.

As you complete your orders, you’ll receive a better rating the higher the condition of your order is, so it’s important to avoid falling at all times. Equally important to take note of is timefall – it’s rain, except it makes things age at an accelerated rate. If you get caught in the rain, your cases will deteriorate faster, becoming rusty in appearance. It’s important to get through rainy areas quickly…and that’s probably why BTs show up in rainy areas. They heard we like inconveniences, so here’s an inconvenience in an inconvenience.

Sam can walk around a cliff, or trek slowly and carefully across a river, but if he’s going to be making several trips back and forth between these clients, it would be very nice to make the trip less strenuous, and enable the trips to take less time. Luckily, Sam has the ability to lay down ladders and climbing anchors in addition to creating bridges by using the various types of resources that he encounters on his travels. There are other structures that can be built as well, but I’ll refrain from saying what they are as to maintain their ‘wow’ factor if you’re reading this and haven’t had a chance to play the game yet. Some of them are so good that it almost feels like cheating.

These items and structures is where Death Stranding starts to do something interesting. By connecting online you can see other items, structures and signs placed by other players. Once you reach one of the many delivery destinations in the game and have it incorporated into the UCA network, the game itself connects and pulls in data from players around the world. The same items and structures you use can show up for other players and vice versa, allowing your work to help out others.

This means that once you make that initial slog from point A to B, you can start to get help from others and repeat trips won’t be as grueling. I loved taking a route for the first time with a variety of equipment because I didn’t know exactly what I would need to get to my destination. More often than not, I would carry more than I ended up using, but it made the initial trip as easy as it could be. After connecting an area, my mind quickly shifts to thinking about where I need to build bridges and other structures to make the journey easier. What’s great is that some of those…have already been made by other players! It’s great to have some of the work done for you and it can sometimes be a nice surprise to see that a bridge was made by someone that also thought that one river was a pain to deal with.

A Package Deal

After putting the thought of “Do I really understand what’s going on with this story?” aside, I found myself to be enamored by the world that Death Stranding lets you play delivery man/badass in.

The environments are some of the best looking I have seen in a game over the past few years. When starting out, seeing the vast stretches of land and plotting out your route can seem fairly daunting. However, a few deliveries in and you learn the map like the back of your hand, knowing which areas to avoid, and where the best spots are to add bridges and other aids. These areas can seem quite empty when starting out, however as soon as you link up the nearest station to the UCA network, they’ll be populated by all sorts of structures from other players. There is a limit to the amount of these structures of course, but there’s often a great balance between being able to enjoy the landscape and having it look like someone just threw up bridges and ladders all over the place.

One element of the game that I cannot say enough good things about is the music. Composer Ludvig Forssell’s score is fantastic and the accompanying tracks that are in the game help elevate every moment they appear in. Coming up over the top of a ledge and getting a view of a large city right as a music track kicks in and plays as you rush down the hill is sublime.

The PC release allows players both new and old to run the game at a higher resolution and frame rate than its PlayStation 4 release. Throughout my time playing Death Stranding, I was running steadily over 60 FPS on high settings and the game looked fantastic. Of course, your outcome may vary due to hardware.

All Roads Lead to Kojima

Death Stranding‘s story is confusing. But I found myself thinking on it for some time after completing it. It’s a bizarre narrative that feels purposeful in its design while also being vague enough to be open to interpretation. I have never felt both so clueless, yet so intelligent while thinking about a game as I have with Death Stranding.

As boring as running packages around may seem on the surface, I quite enjoyed my time as Sam Bridges. Running packages between clients and unlocking new means to quicken my travel was great, stumbling upon creations from other players was a cool element that I’d love to see other games incorporate.

The idea of running back and forth across a large area may not be appealing to everyone. However, after setting aside the weirdly, and wonderfully confusing story and a few tense BT encounters, I found my time with Death Stranding to often be a more relaxing, chill, experience that I would recommend you check out.

~ Final Score: 8/10 ~

Review copy provided by 505 Games for PC. Screenshots captured by reviewer.