Death Stranding has a lot of hype around it, but is it worth it? This Death Stranding review roundup is here to decide. From cryptic teasers from game creator Hideo Kojima, to weird otter suits and a peeing Norman Reedus, the road leading up to the November 8th release has been a strange one to say the least, but what are the critics saying?
Death Stranding feels like two games in one, designed for seemingly opposite audiences. One is a wholly unique open-world adventure with asynchronous cooperative multiplayer that allows me to feel like I’m part of a community, building a world from scratch. And the other is a long, confusing, deeply strange movie. The former is pulling most of the weight, but they share equal screen time. And, like a steamer trunk full of sperm, it’s impossible to separate the good from the bad. It’s all in the same box.
Death Stranding’s conflict rises to biblical proportions. Many characters believe that humanity is doomed no matter what, that any action forestalling imminent extinction is a band-aid on a mortal wound. After all, with enough time, there’s no doubt that humanity will be little more than dust. Death Stranding has an undercurrent of fatalism that feels very much of the moment. Even as other characters maintain a hope that a better, sustainable future is possible, there is also a quiet acceptance that, you know, maybe we really are struggling in the face of something too big. That the little victories we find might be dwarfed by the larger problems we face. This is never offered as an excuse for idleness; it is clear there is work to do, despite it all. Death Stranding pulls between these two extremes. One that says there is no point. Another that says although the future is unknowable, there’s a duty to fight for something better, even as the sun grows hot, the bodies pile, and world cracks.
The silver lining, of course, is other people. Death Stranding is not a subtle game. The mechanics are the message. Build connections, use those to literally span divides. Even as the story swells to a convoluted chaos that would make Metal Gear Solid 4’s monstrous canon-welding blush, Death Stranding’s most fundamental point is not hard to understand. Yes, this is hell. Yes, we are falling apart. Yes, this might be the end. But there is redemption in other people.
Over the course of Death Stranding’s lengthy run time, I spent hours with these people, read over their correspondence, and literally walked across the entirety of America trying to bring them all together. By the end, I can’t say that I fully understood exactly what was going on. In fact, as Death Stranding approaches its climax, around the same time I felt I was finally coming to grips with everything, it somehow becomes even more convoluted. But ultimately, that didn’t matter much. Yes, the mysteries are a big part of the draw, and it’s disappointing that you won’t get all of the answers you’re looking for. And even some of the ones you do get don’t make a lot of sense. (Just wait until you learn BB’s origin story.)
To fully embrace Death Stranding, you have to let go of that desire to know everything. Much like watching Lost or playing pretty much any JRPG, the overall narrative is just a means to an end. It’s a setup for creating dramatic, emotional moments. It’s not always easy to get to those moments, and you’ll have to suspend your disbelief quite often to fully enjoy them, but for a certain kind of player, that long, exhausting journey will be worth the effort.
For all of its excesses (an all-star cast featuring Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen and, bizarrely, Conan O' Brien), Death Stranding feels like a video game made to a tight deadline, with sacrifices made along the way. The animations, the repetitive nature of the quests and "cities" all seem to suggest Death Stranding was a game that didn't quite have the resources (or more likely time) to make good on the potential of its high concepts.
Yet when Death Stranding sings it truly sings. There's never been anything like it. Alone, stuck in the wilderness, freezing to death with a 60kg dead weight strapped to your back, inches from oblivion. Stumbling blindly toward that lifeline, toward a connection to another player -- a person you'll never meet. In those moments Death Stranding successfully blends theme and content. It truly does become a game about connection, and it's a beautiful thing.
Because no matter how frustrating Death Stranding becomes, it never lets you shake the feeling that we're all stuck in this nightmare together.
Players will be able to see for themselves what the journey will bring when Death Stranding launches on PlayStation 4 this November 8th. A PC launch is also on the way sometime in 2020.