You ever heard of A24? It's a film company known for trying to bring experimental and indie films into the mainstream. It's made films like Moonlight, Uncut Gems, The Witch, Midsommar, Good Time, Ex Machina, and one of my personal favorite movies of all time Swiss Army Man. Death Stranding is like an A24 video game.
I've never played a Kojima game before this. I say this because some people will try to strike good reviews of this game up to fanboy mentality. I can't be a fanboy if I hardly know who the guy is, so believe me when I say Hideo Kojima's newest creation took my breath away. It's an experimental piece with a gameplay unlike any other and while some may call it "rage-inducing" or "boring", I call it "integral to the game's message" and "intricately connected to the plot". It's not a gameplay I would want popularized, because I don't think it could work anywhere else. You also need to be sort of a completionist to even better appreciate the game, cuz going out your way to earn 5 stars from every location also provides to Kojima's vision.
Death Stranding is about making connections. Loved ones, friends, even neighbors or acquaintances all connect us to one another and Kojima's trying to celebrate that. Main protagonist Sam Porter Bridges is a man who wants no connections and with good reason (a reason you won't find out until later in the story). A delivery man who travels the world alone, but due to unexpected circumstances Sam is forced to help the organization BRIDGES on their quest to reconnect all of a fragmented shell that was once the USA. You see some doomsday shit happened and now the land of the dead has fused with the land of the living, and now a whole bunch of foolishness such as rain that makes anything it touches age rapidly and invisible ghost creatures is keeping everyone from leaving their homes. Sure, they all have futuristic 3D printers at home to make most of what they want, but they still need food and meds and other things. Now Sam has to not only deliver packages but also install a new version of the internet into every home, allowing for communication to reconnect the nation as one.
This is where the gameplay kicks in. Surprisingly the start of the game may be the hardest point. Sam is alone with nothing but the packages on his back and the BB on his chest, forced to endure through the rough terrain and hazardous weather and ooky spooky ghosties! However as you meet new people they'll grant you with gifts of equipment that make the job all the more easier, and ranking up these locations to 5 star service grants even better equipment. Making connections stronger make you stronger, even more so with Death Stranding's online features.
That's right Death Stranding uses online features, but in a very peculiar way. You will never see another player but their presence in significant. You see, as you're playing the game you will use equipment to help reach high places or cross rivers easily or even heal your cargo from Timefall (that aging rain I told you about earlier). If you leave this stuff behind on your ventures, other players will run into it and use it for their own benefit and vice versa. You're working together heal a broken world, creating rest stations and shortcuts for everyone to share thus creating strong connections with people you don't even know much like the beloved indie game Journey. Now of course you're not receiving everything every single player has left behind, more you're receiving stuff through a filter that gives you just enough to constantly feel like you're not alone on this journey. If you start noticing a particular gamertag coming up few times with very helpful equipment drops, you can even form a Strand Contract with them in which anything they leave behind from this point on will always appear in your game. This is why I feel the gameplay is so integral to what is Death Stranding, and why I think most of those who hate this game probably sped through the story without stopping to take in these brilliant details.
And by the way the story is one of the most emotional journeys I've ever been on in a video game. I don't think a game has ever made me cry. I've definitely been on the verge of tears with games like Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice and Mass Effect 2 but Death Stranding finally broke me. Sam Bridges starts out as your typical gruff game protagonist. Annoyed grunts and a deep, angry-at-the-world voice. However by Chapter 3 you notice a crack in the persona, and with ever chapter that crack gets bigger and bigger. At first I thought most of the chapters were just character studies. Learning about one character in this chapter, learning about another one the next, and so on. In a way this is true but for Sam each chapter is making a new connection. Sam, and in turn you, are learning what makes characters like Fragile or Deadman tick and thus forming a relationship with them. A man with no connections is finally gaining friends and he's learning to sympathize. To be kind. To be a person.
All of this is brought to life by an amazing cast. You got Norman Reedus, Lea Seydoux, Mads Mikkelsen, Lindsay Wagner, Emily O'Brien, and Margaret Qualley all bringing in their A-game. I heard complaints of antagonist Higgs being a one-note character and while that is true I think Troy Baker really has fun with the role. The likenesses of directors Guillermo Del Toro and Nicolas Winding Refn appear in the game as characters, but due to what I'm guessing is their fear of not being good actors they have voice actors fill in for them.
Not only that but there's so many cameos in this game through the different stations you visit. Junji Ito, Geoff Keighley, Conan O'Brien, goddamn EDGAR WRIGHT, and so much more. All face-scanned and subsequently dubbed by voice actors. Except Conan. He wanted the full cameo treatment voice and all.
I bet you're asking about BB huh? How can you do an entire Death Stranding review and not talk about BB? There's not much to say that hasn't already been said, bucko. I'd die for the little stinker I wish I had gotten the collectors edition so I could carry my very own fetus around and creep out all my roommates! I got the collector's edition for Christmas, and just like I said I'm torturing my roommates and friends. I love my BB.
Now what would I fix about the game? Not much really. I think any story based game that has an upgrade system can always be more fun with a New Game Plus mode. Also even though there are 14 chapters in all, completing Chapter 9 is a point of no return. You won't be able to upgrade any more stations till you finish the story. Wish I knew that going in cuz I had a lot more after-story cleanup than I expected. I feel a New Game Plus would make this cleanup a bit more fun. Also I'd make the Music Player usable out in the field. I get you want us to slowly unlock the music you wanna showcase throughout the game and already having our own music going would mess with that timing and ambience, but dude at least let us use it after the story is finished Hideo. I'm working my ass off delivering these packages at least let me jive to some tunes my guy! I can't even open Spotify because Kojima fuckin blocked the feature which is something I'm beginning to think Japanese games do as a "fuck you" because the last Digimon game I played also blocked Spotify usage.
To sum things up, I didn't really know who Kojima was before Death Stranding and now because of it I'm a loyal fan like so many people already are. experiencing this masterpiece is something that will stick with me forever. It's one of my favorite games of all time, and I doubt anything will ever change that. It's an experience like no other. I think Kojima Productions has a very successful future in store.