There are a lot of games on the market and it’s impossible to play all of them. But that can also be a good thing, because later on you can stumble upon an older game and play it free of all the initial hype and excitement. That’s exactly my experience with Death Stranding, the latest rollercoaster ride of madness from Kojima. When it first launched in 2019 I wasn’t at all interested in reviewing or playing it. I think at the time I wasn’t in the right mindset for it, and I was busy with so many other games that I let it fly past. But when Death Stranding made its PC debut earlier this year my mindset was a little different and I checked it out. I’m glad I did.
Death Stranding has something very few games do; a single vision from one person driving the entire experience. In movies we typically know the directors by name, and thus can glean an idea of what to expect. If you know you’re going to watch a Christopher Nolan movie then you know you’re probably going to be getting mind-bending concepts and copious amounts of exposition. But in gaming it’s highly unusual to know the individuals working on the game. We typically just know the name of the company, like Ubisoft or Supergiant. Sure, we still know the type of game we’ll probably get (Ubisoft games are practically a genre unto themselves at this point) but it’s not quite the same. That’s why when you play a Kojima game it’s a fascinating experience, because you know it’s just one guy with a very specific vision and the end product that you’re playing is as close to that vision as he could possibly get it. It doesn’t feel like a game designed by a panel of people all arguing about various bits and pieces or by a management team attempting to make it appeal to as many people as possible. No, you’re playing the game that one dude pictured in his head and then went out and made it a reality. Whether or not you like Kojima’s work is entirely a different thing, but I think we can agree that the fact Death Stranding even exists is awesome.
The classic fetch quest is a staple of gaming, typically found in RPGs that want to pad out their length by sending players scurrying back and forth carrying useless tat. In the case of Death Stranding however, the entire game is a seemingly never-ending series of fetch quests. It’s like Kojima only just discovered them, and after completing a few in other games branded them the greatest thing in the history of videogames ever and built an entirely new game around them. As Sam Porter Bridges you are a courier, tasked with lugging cargo of all types across a bleak post-apocalyptic world where the majority of people are hunkered down in bunkers. Chiral printing lets them create a lot of what they need, but there’s also a plenty of stuff that still needs to be transported the good old fashioned way: on Sam’s back. In this 40+ hour game the majority of your time will be spent going back and forth, delivering parcels. Exactly how something so utterly boring wound up being so utterly absorbing is a mystery.
— Death Stranding review.
As for the game itself, it’s utterly barmy. Who the hell knew a game about traipsing across the countryside while fussing over packages could be so engrossing? For all of its narrative insanity and its themes of human connection, it’s ultimately a game about walking across hills and occasionally falling over, spilling a small avalanche of parcel in the process. It’s like a post-apocalyptic Amazon delivery simulator, although now I think about it the entirety of 2019 pretty much was that for Amazon delivery drivers.
I spent the vast majority of my time with Death Stranding constructing a road from one end of the map to the other and then feeling a happy glow of satisfaction whenever some other player that I’ll never get to meet used it. I was just happy with the idea that in some small way I had made their day a teensy bit better. I built a network of ziplines so that I can quickly navigate mountains and then smiled whenever someone else used one. And it was equally cool when I was stumbling up a snowy mountain and encountered a ladder someone had left or a rope. Thanks, mysterious stranger.
I don’t think I’m going to play Death Stranding again, though. Or at least, not in the next few years. As fascinating and crazy and delightfully insane as it was, I don’t think I’ll get the same experience from it again. But the 70+ hours I spent in Kojima’s vision was special, like some sort of mundane acid trip punctuated by moments of utter weirdness.