Death Stranding has become an almost-mythical title in the video gaming world, owing to the legacy of its director, Hideo Kojima, its impenetrably weird style, and the years-long gap between its confusing initial announcement and its release. The title is perhaps the most anxiously anticipated game on the PS4, as it promises to offer a gameplay experience that represents a radical departure from titles that came before it. The game is the first one created by Kojima, famed for his work on the Metal Gear Solid franchise, after he left Konami and formed his own studio, Kojima Productions. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic America comprised of small, isolated communities which the player is tasked with connecting, Death Stranding is advertised as a new type of action game with a heavy focus on exploration and interaction with other players, as well as a strange, dense, and dream-like narrative.
Though the game is not out yet, reviews have appeared on the internet, and critics have confirmed that the title is as unusual as its extensive marketing has made it seem. At its core, the game mainly tasks players with making package deliveries across expansive landscapes, while managing resources and navigating obstacles. But along the way, the player character, portrayed by Norman Reedus, must do things like carry around an infant in a pod that alerts him to the presence of enemies, which the player character can kill by crafting weapons made from his own sweat and blood. The game’s narrative weirdness doesn’t stop there, and its long story, which critics have complained was often unsubtle and pretentious, is nevertheless unique.
“Death Stranding could receive a review calling it a revolution in gaming, another could call it the most boring and pointless trash ever, and yet another could call it a middle-of-the-road effort that ends up being completely average, and all of those opinions might be right.” — Mollie L. Patterson, EGM
Despite these complaints, critics have praised the game’s deep metaphorical resonance, as it serves as a commentary on everything from the human cost of social media to the implications of climate change to the gradual collapse of American political norms. Fundamentally, reviewers agree, the game enticingly explores the theme of human connections through its narrative as well as its gameplay. The game integrates a social-media-like system, where the player can deploy useful tools in the game environment which can be used by other players who stumble across them, and players can give “likes” to objects placed by other players that are particularly useful. And while the story may be at times overwrought, reviewers preferred it to the even lengthier and more complex dialogue scenes of Metal Gear Solid titles, claiming that Kojima has refined his unique brand of interactive storytelling. The acting, represented in-game through motion-capture technology, was also praised.
What’s notable about the reviews for Death Stranding is how disparate they are. Some publications ranked the game as merely mediocre, while others described it as among the best video games ever made. Video Games Chronicle, for instance, gave the game 3/5 stars, calling its story “a bloated heap of half-baked twists, laboured morals, armchair philosophy and boneheaded sci-fantasy metaphors,” whereas Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu gave it a rare perfect score. USGamer described Death Stranding as simultaneously bold, interesting, and tedious, and its reviewer had a broadly positive opinion of the game while struggling to recommend it, awarding the title 3.5/5 stars. Similarly, Game Informer gave the title a 7/10, praising the project’s ambition but commenting that its repetitive gameplay left a lot to be desired. EGM, meanwhile, gave the game a perfect 5/5 and heralded the title as a profound technical and artistic achievement. Despite giving it a perfect score, though, EGM’s reviewer characterized the game by saying “Death Stranding could receive a review calling it a revolution in gaming, another could call it the most boring and pointless trash ever, and yet another could call it a middle-of-the-road effort that ends up being completely average, and all of those opinions might be right.” Ultimately, it seems as though Death Stranding will be enjoyed mostly by a very particular kind of audience of people who have the patience for at-times tedious and boring gameplay and who aren’t turned off by an arguably pretentious and obvious narrative.