Click here to view the Death Stranding (PS4) description page for more information.
Review by Manhalt (December 2019)
Death Stranding sets out to be different and it does accomplish being different, but it forgot something along the way, engaging gameplay mechanics. I didn’t use the word “fun” as Kojima has pointed out, games don’t need to be fun and I agree with the sentiment. But, it does have to keep the player engaged in the mechanics and that is where Death Stranding fails.
The gameplay loop is manageable after you get 15-20 hours in. You start getting enough tools to really expand the mechanics into something more engaging but it shouldn’t take that long. I shouldn’t force myself through a game because it doesn’t open up until the 15th hour. At one point, I sat down to boot up Death Stranding somewhere in the 10th hour and thought, “Do I really want to spend my next hour making deliveries for a virtual person?” The answer was “no” but I begrudgingly continued making deliveries.
Now let’s jump into the boss fights. They aren’t anything special and maybe my expectations were too high. Kojima has created some of the most memorable boss fights in video games to date. I don’t think anyone can say they didn’t enjoy the Psycho Mantis fight in Metal Gear Solid. In Death Stranding, a lot was left on the table to be desired. The BT “fights” mostly can be ignored by running away, there are a couple where you have to fight. The giant flying whale was probably my favorite out of them all, but again nothing made the fight special. It was just the most interesting design of them all. The soldier fights were also a game of tag. You find him, shoot him, rinse and repeat three times in three different war zones. The backdrops of the fights could easily be replaced and I don’t think it would matter as they added no visible value to the fight.
The world and the story have the Kojima charm. It really draws you in at the start. It lost me in the 10th hour of yet another character explaining the plot to me in a long drawn out cutscene. It seems Kojima really needs to learn a lesson and it starts with the old writers mantra, “Show, don’t tell me.” The game does nothing but tell you the story with npcs going on thirty minute expositions. All while the player, Norman Reedus with the fetus, sits on his bed. The overall story is interesting and the basic idea that a rope can keep us together is an interesting take and I believe the story succeeds in relating that to the player. It was just too contrived and hamfisted with the cutscenes.
Though I just spent three paragraphs telling you I hated it, it wasn’t all bad. I actually enjoyed a decent chunk of it somewhere after chapter 3 to about chapter 9ish. I think the premise is interesting and so is the overall story and it kept me engaged until it started to drag mostly because of the dialogue cutscenes. So let’s start with the gameplay loop. The delivering can be challenging and rewarding figuring out different ways to overcome the environment. Most of the challenges can be solved by trying to do the straight line approach but sometimes it will put you at a disadvantage. The actual act of delivering the goods to a post is somewhat not rewarding enough. The tools you gain aren’t really worth the trouble most of the time.
After chapter 3, you get put into the larger area, different from the starting area. Here you have the option to build this road and it gets easier as you add areas into the chiral network. I don’t know why, but I got fascinated with building it up and making my deliveries easier. I spent several hours getting the resources I needed to build this thing to completion or so I thought. I realized it actually branched out more which was fine and I couldn’t wait to complete it further. But at some point, I got a warning it was deteriorating because of the rain. Now to be fair, I finished the game and I don’t think any of the roads I built actually deteriorated, but that single warning stopped me from continuing my work. I sunk hours into building it, so what was the point if the rainfall was just going to destroy it anyway? This is around the time I decided to just power through the game and I did for better or worse…it was worse.
The game is a solid C. There is a lot to do and a lot to see but it never really reaches what it could have been. I think taking another year of planning the cutscenes and the pacing would have really made this game a GOTY contender. The gameplay loop needed someone to also figure out the pacing in which you got items. It seems like it took too long and then when you started getting tools like guns, you then were showered with them and not enough reasons to use them. I’ll still be optimistic about the next Kojima Productions game.
C – Kept you waiting, Huh?