Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding Is My Game of the Year
December 23, 2019 Andrew Cheng

If there’s any word to describe Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding, it would be “polarising.” On one side of the camp, you’ve got players calling the game an absolute bore; it’s even been described as a very detailed “walking simulator.” But on the other side of the camp, there are also players that consider Death Stranding to be Kojima’s best masterpiece yet.

Going by the headline, you already know which of the two camps I’m in. After 32 hours, I’ve finally completed Death Stranding’s epic story, and what an adventure it was. Sure, there are aspects of the game that could be better, but as a whole, it’s the best game I’ve played this year.

And I wish I could do it all over again.

So what’s so great about Death Stranding? Well, for one, it has a star-studded cast. You’ve got Norman Reedus (he plays Sam, the protagonist), Mads Mikkelsen, Léa Seydoux, Margaret Qualley, and of course, even Troy Baker, who’s well-known for voicing Joel in The Last of Us.

Granted, an accomplished cast of actors and actresses don’t exactly guarantee an amazing performance, but this was certainly the case with Death Stranding. I was especially captivated by Mikkelsen’s performance as Clifford Unger. The voice acting is strong, the facial expressions are on point, and throughout the game, I was anticipating the next scene with him in it. He was that good.

Of course, the other casts also did an excellent job in their own right. Reedus convincingly played Sam as a jaded, post-apocalyptic deliveryman, and I was quite surprised at how well he delivered certain lines. After all, Death Stranding is a Kojima game: some of the dialogues can get quite…bizarre.

And then there’s Troy Baker, who plays the antagonist Higgs Monaghan. Honestly, nothing much needs to be said of Baker’s voice acting prowess. Each one of his dialogue, regardless of how ridiculous or strange, is delivered with gusto and necessary emotions effortlessly. This is easily one of Baker’s best performances yet.

Besides its strong lineup of cast, what makes Death Stranding such an incredible game is the storytelling; it’s something you’ve come to expect from Kojima. If you’re familiar with the Metal Gear Solid series, you’ll know what you’re in for in this game. From lengthy cutscenes to a story of epic proportions in a post-apocalyptic world, there’s no shortage of the Kojima flair here.

In fact, I’m pretty sure I spent half of my play time in Death Stranding watching cutscenes and reading through dialogues. According to the game completion screen, I spent about 16 hours (my total play time is 32 hours) “resting,” which I assume were time spent outside of gameplay.

That is a long period of time to be doing nothing, but I honestly enjoyed just sitting back and see the events of the game unfold. It’s almost like watching an interactive movie.

It also helps that Death Stranding is such a gorgeously rendered game. The character models are painfully detailed – especially the facial structures – the sprawling landscapes are awe-inspiring, and in certain parts of the game, you’d really be amazed at the level of detail. The Decima engine powering this game (which is also used with Horizon Zero Dawn) is nothing short of breathtaking.

Complementing the stunning graphics are equally great soundtracks. As you progress through the game, songs would occasionally play in the background. This usually happens as you’re beginning your next journey or approaching your destination, and it really adds to the whole “ambiance” of the game.

So far, I haven’t talked about the core gameplay of Death Stranding, so let’s get to it. Basically, your main mission is to reconnect America – now known as the UCA for the United Cities of America – by travelling westward and making contact with different settlements to connect them to the “Chiral Network.” Essentially, it is an internet network…of sorts.

As you make your way from one settlement to the next, you will be tasked to deliver a number of items as well. These can either range from transporting small cargo, to delivering large amounts of raw material. Based on the task at hand, it’s important to bring the necessary equipment during the loadout stage.

Will you be traversing difficult terrain? Then bring along a couple of ladders and climbing anchors. Afraid you’ll come across hostile entities? Bring along some weapons. You can only carry so many items at a certain weight limit, so it can be quite tricky to choose exactly what you need to bring into the field.

Thankfully, if you do forget to bring certain items, that’s where other players come in. As you head out into new areas, you’ll occasionally come across items left by other players. Throughout my time with the game, these items were essential to help me get from one point to another.

On top of that, you’ll see structures built by other players too. Whether these are generators to charge batteries or bridges to cross rapid rivers, they will help you on your journey.

Oh, right, I should probably explain what kind of “hostile entities” are there in Death Stranding. There are two main categories: human enemies, and BTs. Human enemies are further divided into MULEs and Terrorists. The former are just interested to steal your cargo, while Terrorists use more deadly forces.

Early encounters with these enemies can get quite annoying, but as you unlock more tools and equipment, they’re a cinch to deal with. Okay, maybe not Terrorists, given their more sophisticated weaponry, which include shotguns and assault rifles.

BTs, on the other hand, are supernatural enemies you’ll come across throughout the game, and they are far more prevalent than human hostiles. Whenever it’s raining (referred to as timefall in the game), there’s a chance you’ll come across a field of these ghostly BTs, or “Beached Things.”

When you set foot in such an area, the Odradek sensor will activate. Together with your BB (that’s the Bridge Baby, an infant that is attached to Sam), the sensor will continuously flap in the direction of the nearest BT. The intensity increases as you get closer to one of the ghostly apparitions, and you wouldn’t want to get too close.

If you do get too close to a BT, you can still hold your breath by pressing the R1 button, and slowly sneak past it; nothing will happen as long as you’re not caught by the apparition. But if you do get caught, well…get ready for a battle with the BT.

Once you’re caught, you’ll be dragged on the ground for a bit, so you may drop some of your cargo in the process. To get yourself out of this battle, you can either get away from the affected area, or defeat the BT. That being said, you can only do the latter once you’ve unlocked a specific weapon; I’ll try to be vague to avoid spoiling it.

You’ve probably noticed by now that I haven’t really elaborated about my personal opinion of Death Stranding’s unique gameplay. Truth be told, I…actually find it quite interesting. Sure, traveling the vast landscape can get quite arduous and repetitive, but the payout, which is advancing the story to find out more about Death Stranding, is worth all the trouble.

But, in order to get to that fun part of the game, you’ll have to be patient. Like, really, patient. See, the early parts of the game are a slog; there’s no sugar coating it. For me, the first 10 hours of the game felt like an extended prologue, and I was already rushing through it to finish the story as quickly as I can.

Once I got that particular section of the game over with, though, I was really enjoying myself.

I’ve mentioned that Death Stranding’s story is very compelling, and I would wholeheartedly recommend folks to just watch the game’s cutscenes for the storyline and cinematography aspects, especially if they don’t plan to play the game at all. But as much as I love Death Stranding’s plot, it is also convoluted and overly complex, making it hard to grasp the gist of the story.

To make matters worse, the game doesn’t go to great lengths to explain the jargons that are thrown around. What does DOOMS mean? Every living being has their own “Beach?” What’s the Seam? Being a repatriate is a gift in this game? What?

Now, even with these imperfections, Death Stranding was an absolute joy to experience. If you have a PlayStation 4 system, play it. If you don’t have the console, consider buying one solely for this game. Or…you can wait for it to be released on PC sometime in 2020 next year.

Death Stranding is a slow burn. It takes some time to warm up before it hits its stride. But once it does, you’re in for a ride, and I absolutely envy those who are playing the game for the first time.