Kojima’s America doesn’t look like ours. It’s haunted by vicious specters called BTs, disrupted by a new mineral called chiralium, and pocked with craters left where the BTs have claimed victims called voidouts. Even though this new mythology doesn’t entirely make sense without a wiki — I only found out BT stood for “beached thing” midway through the 40-hour game — it’s nonetheless a visionary mixture of science fiction and supernatural horror. Those genres were present in “Metal Gear Solid,” in its nanomachine future and its mystically powered bosses, but never for too long. In “Death Stranding,” they define your experience as much as the melodrama, the offbeat humor and the on-the-nose etymology. The game is peak Kojima.
His America also doesn’t look like ours literally. As Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus) — a loner deliveryman assigned by the president, who’s also his mom, with the modest task of reconnecting the country — the ground under your feet is never easy. Boulders and crags litter the landscape everywhere like corpses on a battlefield, from the eastern greenery to the snowy peaks gating the west. Gorgeously rendered as it is, the country is also scaled down to an almost comical degree. You can get from Pittsburgh to Chicago in less than an hour. But you’ll see few traces of any city, and certainly nothing you’ll recognize from our America. You also won’t see the Great Plains, because that would be too easy for Sam to run across.
Much as Kojima’s America doesn’t look like ours, though, it does feel like ours.
Sam has to reconnect the country because to be an American in his futuristic time is to be alone. The BTs and the mysterious Death Stranding event that birthed them led to that, but so did technology. So did politics. The ability to exist remotely, to have everything you need left at your doorstep by drones, led to the state of things in Kojima’s America as much as any supernatural reckoning. Just as the “Metal Gear Solid” creator foresaw the paralyzing effect of information technology in the second game in that series, in “Death Stranding” he stares down the automated, tribalistic path we’re currently on. And it leads to total alienation. Everyone in the game cries a lot, and though we rarely know why, we always understand. They’re quite lonely.