This review is going to be different. I won’t be talking about the graphics or the gameplay much. I am going to get a bit soppy and talk about how this game made me feel and how I found each of the components of this game impressive and well thought through. There are some spoilers, so be wary.
Overall this game made me appreciative. Namely appreciating those who came before me. In Death Stranding all the things that make your journey easier tend to come from the efforts of the other players online who spent some time and resource on building roads, shelters and zip lines. Sending them likes is all you can do to thank them. You appreciate these even more when you make these structures yourself and know that deep down, they will also benefit others. The struggle is almost worth all the effort. Which then lead me to think about all the roads I drive on when I go to work, and firstly never thinking about those who put loads of effort to build them and secondly there is almost no way for me to thank them for that effort.
The game has a way of making you think about your parents or elders and the struggles they had to go through to let you live the life you live. Even the “Time-fall” is an allegory for this. It makes ageing more visible to everyone of all ages. I suppose the older you are, the more you think about Death (Stranding) and this is further from your mind. The rapidly ageing characteristics of this time-fall levels the playing field and make people of all ages hate this phenomenon equally. Again, it also adds to the feeling of gratefulness.
Kojima has always been a proponent of pacifism in games and I imagine in real life. He has done this in the last few games he has developed, but has always given the option to the player. He even goes to the extent of making things difficult for the player if they choose this option. Death Stranding is no different, but this time there is a bigger and more pressing weight to the choice. Deaths cause ‘Void-outs’ and the body becomes a nuclear weapon and explodes. If you don’t deal with it quickly it is game over. The choice of calling deaths ‘nukes’ is a metaphor for the impact the death or murder in this situation is like a bomb going off, and it doesn’t just affect the dead person, but countless people they knew or came in contact with. So many times, the easiest option is to pull a simple trigger, but not in Death Stranding, you will always respect that the consequence of killing someone is not worth the ultimate outcome.
The imagery of hands plays a huge role in this game, not only with the Chiral network the word chiral comes from the Greek for hand, and the term chirality is also used for the description of asymmetry. In Death Stranding, possibly also in regards to the use of hands. They can be used to build, but also to destroy. To connect or hold with handshakes but also, they can push away, be gentle or strong, used to create tools for good and creating, but also to be used for evil and fighting or killing. Even the main protagonist fears intimacy and being touched; he is aphenphosmphobic. The theme of hands continues with the BT’s or Beached Things. From the ones you see floating in the air and initially you see them as the enemy, but you soon realise they are also just reaching out to connect with their hands. One of the boss fights feature a large human like figure with no head, but has hands for a head, and confusingly where the hands should be there are stumps and instead it has tentacles or strands. I am still trying to comprehend the meaning behind that one!
Connections and hands are themes woven throughout the game, and another poignant one revealed at the end was the five connections that are the most important to Sam Porter. You initially saw these figures floating in the sky in an early trailer and we all assumed they were enemies. But in fact, they represented the exact opposite. Five is also the same number of fingers on a hand and also the number of extinctions the world has gone through. So, this number and multiples of it do seem to echo during the entire game.
Character design and colour is also used to great effect. Amelie is effectively the ‘Woman in Red’ she is the goal, the distraction. The colour red itself can mean so many things in different cultures. Love is the obvious one, but in certain cultures it can also mean sacrifice or courage. When you learn about what and who Amelie is and what she is there to do, it all starts to add up. The woman in red is also something that can distract you and lead you to your death. Higgs is a great character too and one I feel needed more back story. Namely because his outfit very much mirrored the visuals of Tutankhamun’s gold and blue striped head piece as well as the gold mask, but I couldn’t see why this was chosen. Don’t get me wrong, it looks incredible, but seemingly had no links to the boy King. Maybe a tenuous link is he has a lot of power and is a bit like one? You will also notice that the “Void Out” patches bear the silhouette of King Tut.
There are obvious metaphors in the game such as each city is referred to a “Knot” and the ties we keep not only make things easier but help us. Who you know can make your life easier. The Roboticist can make you exoskeletons and the Doctor is able to heal etc. Also, the want for loot is in every gamers DNA, you just want more and more and all of it if possible but Death Stranding shows you this isn’t sensible. You will try and struggle and in the end, it will get damaged, stolen or worse. A fast travel is even included, but I didn’t use it until the story made me, simply because I could not give up the cargo I had collected.
Babies are usually seen as weak and to be protected, but in Death Stranding this is flipped and it is the main character who actually can’t function properly without it. Maybe this is likening to the fact that without children, there is no future for mankind?
Patience is also tested greatly within the game, damaging cargo, being caught by the BT’s or even burdening yourself with too much cargo and struggling to walk it to your drop-off point all really test your patience. But I found that I would deal with these problems quite well, and I am not sure if it was the game or if I have grown as a person, but I would accept the loss quickly and retry.
No doubt there are even more things that I have forgotten to mention, but I can’t believe how much thought and effort was taken with each aspect of this game. There is a reason behind all of the games systems and ones that you can accept. The world is so well designed that you believe it, nothing feels out of the ordinary, even though a flying crude oil whale isn’t something you see every day. A masterpiece in many senses and thank you to Hideo Kojima and the team at Kojima Productions for keeping things interesting.
- Replay Value