BY ALEX WAKEFORD
They say that the best stories in games are often the ones that the player tells themselves as part of the emergent experience of gameplay – the wild, unpredictable expanse of storytelling that is found in the mechanics.
I’ve been playing a lot of Death Stranding on PC recently, and that absolutely holds true here. The moment-to-moment gameplay of Kojima Productions’ debut title is unlike anything I’ve played in recent memory.
And it’s all because of how into the walking I am…
Confession time: this is my first Kojima game, sort of.
I played Zone of the Enders in 2001, on which Kojima is credited as a producer, and I’ve always had a peripheral awareness of the Metal Gear franchise (MGSV sits in my ever-growing backlog)… but I’ve never sat down before to properly play ‘A Hideo Kojima Game.’
That is, until now, with Death Stranding having come to PC in what’s being called its “definitive” version, boasting all-new features – photo mode, high frame rate, ultra-wide monitor support, and more.
We worked closely with our friends and partners at 505 Games to handle the localisation of various components, and they were kind enough to provide a code so I could give my impressions on what’s undeniably one of the definitive titles of the last generation from one of the definitive minds of the industry.
I’m many hours in now and thoroughly gripped by the experience. It’s so utterly ‘original,’ so unique in its ideas and aesthetics, and thoroughly certain of what it’s looking to impart in the player.
That kind of clarity of vision for what is essentially a new branch of genre is admirable, regardless of whether you find yourself enjoying the gameplay or story – this studio’s debut effort comes with the presentation value of a team that’s well beyond its founding years.
From its opening moments, Death Stranding captivated me with its elaborate traversal mechanics and all the ways it makes it clear to the player that Norman Reedus (with his funky fetus) is going to have to navigate this game world with more care than any other character in any other video game ever.
There’s a trope in media where a character trips over a minor obstacle and twists their ankle during a moment of high tension. I never imagined that this, of all things, would be something I found a compelling mechanic to use in a game – but here I am, very much in the wrong.
You see, every rock, every hill, every incline and obstacle in your way is a potential falling hazard as you move across the map to deliver essential packages on your mission to ‘reunite America.’
The environment, the very ground you walk on, the very act of traversal itself, is the ‘enemy’ you have to beat.
Movement in video games is a broad and fascinating topic. Often, the goal is naturally to make this ‘fun,’ which is a difficult thing to quantify and design for, but the target we set nonetheless.
In Spider-Man, you web-sling your way across the vast city streets of New York. In Titanfall, you can run on walls and double jump into the welcoming arms of a huge semi-sentient mech.
In Super Mario Odyssey, you can use your hat as an extra platform for jumping to hard-to-reach areas. In Gears of War, you roadie run between chest-high walls to take cover. In Skyrim, you hop up entire mountainsides…
The movement mechanics themselves are there to enhance the player’s experience of their actual movement across spaces. We naturally consider what the most efficient way to get from Point A to B is, utilising all the tools and tricks of the mechanics and sandbox, and looking for all the ways to push the limits of what the game ‘intends’ for us to do.
No Man’s Sky is an interesting case study here, as you’ve got an entire galaxy full of planets and space stations to explore on-foot, in land vehicles, in your spaceship… Given the limited resources you have to work with and the need to ensure your oxygen and thermal protection are topped up, mastering that efficiency to stay alive and build yourself up is the gameplay’s central pivot.
There’s even a time which will tell you how long it will take to get to your highlighted destination. An on-foot trek to the other side of the planet will take you a day in real-time, so obviously you’re going to use your ship (and that precious launch thruster fuel) to get there faster, where you might explore that immediate area in an ‘exocraft’ land vehicle.
In Death Stranding, you’re constantly making those same granular calculations as a single, vulnerable human being.
The narrative layer is effectively summed up thusly: “Remember, Sam. Every parcel is a promise made to a person in need, and they’re counting on you to deliver.”
With that motivation established, you’re never asking why you’re doing what you’re doing. You’re instead considering how to make the perfect delivery, which is answered by how you deal with the various risks you’re faced with, which escalate as you progress through the story.
Navigating the terrain to find the ‘ideal’ path on-the-fly; maintaining your balance and keeping your stamina up (thanks, Monster Energy!); ensuring you have the right tools equipped (ladders, replacement boots, etc); avoiding environmental hazards, such as ‘timefall,’ which is weather that causes rapid ageing of what it touches (like your cargo); even keeping the baby strapped to your front happy and calm…
There’s a therapeutic quality to the second-by-second assessment of how you juggle these things to master navigation across Kojima’s vision of America.
As renowned as Kojima’s games are for being heavy on the cinematics, which you’ll also get in Death Stranding, I absolutely found the gameplay itself to be one of the most rewarding parts of the experience.
This is where the game’s Journey-inspired multiplayer aspect comes in, where other players can leave items out in the world to help you on your journey. You’ll never see them out in the wild, you won’t be scaling mountains together, but you will find tools and structures that enriches the game’s theme of connectivity and unity.
Come Chapter 3, where the game world really opens up, the charity of strangers to ease some of the burden of your journey becomes another central aspect of the game.
The first time you soar over a mountainside on a zipline that others have left for you, turning what could be ten minutes of traversal into ten seconds, is a feeling of exhilaration and relief that is so rarely captured in games like this.
It’s the unrelenting harshness of Death Stranding‘s opening hours which makes this such a gratifying payoff, and will move you to see what you can do to help others who will follow in your footsteps long after you’ve finished your next delivery.
From legendary game creator Hideo Kojima comes an all-new, genre-defying experience.
Sam Bridges must brave a world utterly transformed by the Death Stranding. Carrying the disconnected remnants of our future in his hands, he embarks on a journey to reconnect the shattered world one step at a time.
Starring Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Léa Seydoux, and Lindsay Wagner.
Additional PC features include HIGH FRAME RATE, PHOTO MODE and ULTRA-WIDE MONITOR SUPPORT.
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