Subtitle: Warning: Spoilers Ahead
By Gabby Curran
As a future real gamer girl, I could not have been more excited for Hideo Kojima’s new game “Death Stranding”, released for the PlayStation 4 on November 8th, 2019. I went into the game completely blind, save for watching one trailer; I refused to look up spoilers, gaming tips, or plot points until I’d experienced the game for myself. And experience it, I definitely did.
Now, I’m only about 3 ½ hours into the game, but here is my understanding of the plot thus far: Sam, the player character, works as a porter for a company called Bridges. Some kind of event, known as the Death Stranding, has devastated humanity as we know it. While on a corpse disposal job, Sam and his crew get ambushed by BTs, creatures invisible to most but detectable by a select few individuals including Sam and trigger a so-called “void out”, which destroys a nearby city and knocks Sam out. Sam wakes up in a medical facility and is greeted by Deadman (Guillermo del Toro’s character), a doctor at Bridges who tells Sam that the president of the former United States is dying and wants to see him. The president, as it turns out, is Sam’s estranged mother, who expresses her desire to return America to its former united glory before passing away. We then meet Sam’s sister, Amelie, who is trapped on the west coast of the United States and wishes to carry on her mother’s mission. Sam reluctantly agrees to help her and sets off on the game’s main quest––that of reconnecting America’s cities through something called the chiral network. As for the fetus from the trailer, that’s BB, who when connected to a scanner is capable of accurately detecting BTs in any given area.
I’ll start with what I like about the game so far. The graphics are phenomenal. The lighting, the facial expressions, the textures, the visual effects…everything in this game looks absolutely stunning. The audio is great, too. Dreamy, moody songs will occasionally play in the background as you run across the ruined landscape of the former United States, but much of the game is silent, save for simple sound effects like Sam breathing, precipitation falling, or the scanner beeping. The lack of score creates an immersive, contemplative ambiance that fits very well with the game’s central, morbid themes. The game’s controls are fairly intuitive, and the stealth aspect of the game––particularly the “hold your breath” mechanic––does an especially great job of creating tension. The characters, as they stand thus far in the game, are compelling enough and more or less endearing. My favorite characters so far are Deadman and BB––the former because of his odd yet charming personality, and the latter because of his badass ability to detect enemies as a 28-week-old fetus.
That being said, I have some qualms about the game. The first is the way instructions and tips are relayed to the player. On several occasions, tips and gameplay instructions were given far later than they should’ve been. For instance, the player can use a scanner to detect packages and, with BB’s help, nearby BTs. At one point, the game will give you a legend indicating what the scanner’s displayed symbols mean. However, by the time it does, you’ve already been using the scanner for almost two hours. It would be helpful to have those instructions right off the bat when the scanner is first introduced as a mechanism. The second is that the game’s plot throws a lot at you at once. I understand that the game’s world is a complex one and the plot has several components to it, but when you have a world that is so drastically different from the one the player is familiar with, the player needs to be eased in. An open-world game that executed this better is Horizon Zero Dawn. The player is introduced to protagonist Aloy as a child, and thus learns about the world around her as she grows up, making tutorials and introductions feel more organic. At the same time, despite the enormous amount of information heaped onto the player at once, the story doesn’t start to make sense until later in the game. This vague kind of storytelling doesn’t work for multiple reasons, one of them being that Sam––whom you play as––supposedly knows this world pretty well, more than the player does at this point. There’s a strange sense of disconnect––and a sense of disempowerment––when the character you’re playing as seems to know more about the game’s world than you do. It’s one thing to gradually build a story up with hints and clues, but it’s quite another to completely overwhelm the player with information that they don’t have the tools to understand yet and then have them wander around aimlessly for several hours until everything clicks.
All in all, I know that I’m still very early in the game and that answers will probably become clearer as I play more. But even in an open-world game, having to wait 10-20 hours for the story to make sense or for the game to “get good” is a lot. Despite its flaws, though, the game is a solid one and is still entertaining to play. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys expansive, intricately-constructed open-world games that are more slow-paced than action-packed. As for me, I look forward to playing more of it.