Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima’s genre-bending science fiction epic, is now available on PC. The first game developed by Kojima Productions since its split with its longtime publisher Konami, Death Stranding is the product of Kojima’s unbridled authorial vision. It is equal parts enigmatic, evocative, laborious and frustrating.
Set in a future United States that has been destroyed by a mysterious cataclysm referred to as the Death Stranding, we play as porter Sam Bridges (Norman Reedus), a special type of courier. Working for the semigovernmental corporation Bridges, Sam is enlisted to reestablish the United Cities of America. The Stranding has caused the Beach, the game’s version of the afterlife, to bleed into the world of the living. As a result, Sam must evade ghosts called “Beached Things,” or BTs, as he traverses the country. Sam’s companion on his journey is a baby in a tank — a “Bridge Baby” — who detects BTs, alerting Sam when they are nearby.
For much of Death Stranding’s approximately 40-hour playtime, the tone is cringe-inducingly self-serious. Consequently, Kojima’s trademark quirkiness feels far more jarring here than in his acclaimed Metal Gear series. Sam’s arsenal against the terrifying, eerie BTs, for example, includes grenades made out of his bathwater, urine and fecal matter.
The dialogue is full of confusing, similar-sounding jargon that artificially complicates most phrases. The new terms are not only useless — holograms are called “chiralgrams,” while 3D printers are called “chiral printers” — but also reduce believability. Sam’s role in Bridges’ grand plan is endlessly exposited upon in verbose cutscenes, but the player is ultimately left with the vague goal of “bringing America together again.” Apparently, saving the world means roping survivors strewn across the country into a network controlled by the Bridges megacorporation, then compelling them to repeatedly 3D print copies of the same consumer goods ad nauseam.
The majority of Death Stranding involves simply walking across the treacherous terrain. Unlike other PC games, just pressing the W key is not sufficient. The player must constantly maintain balance to prevent tripping and reduce wind resistance by repacking cargo.
Surprisingly, the boredom of such minutiae works in favor of Death Stranding’s purpose and immerses the player in Sam’s journey. The game is best in the long stretches when it leaves Sam to negotiate the beautiful, fractured landscape alone, occasionally punctuating the silence with tracks from the post-rock band Low Roar. When the main enemy is gravity, the occasional encounters with BTs and other spurts of action become much more intense.
The most innovative aspect of Death Stranding is its passive multiplayer feature. Although there is no direct interaction between players, game worlds are linked. Other gamers, as Sam, leave behind equipment such as ladders, ropes and generators that appear in your world and assist your progress.
As the narrative advances, however, the player is increasingly funneled toward linear, action-fueled sequences. With ridiculous boss battles and clunky firefights that rage across various time-warped battlefields, it soon becomes obvious that Death Stranding’s action components cannot hold a candle to recent third-person shooters. Combat with cargo thieves is painfully simple compared to battles against the cover-seeking, flanking enemies of The Last of Us Part II. Even the stealth elements lack the nuance and complexity seen in Kojima’s previous effort, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
It’s laudable that Kojima made Death Stranding exactly as he wanted it, but the game’s disregard for the player’s time and intelligence constantly hinders the experience. Plot twists are stripped of their power by long-winded monologues that still fail to give proper context. Kojima creates some innovative, gripping scenarios that don’t connect and, consequently, interest in the big picture totally fizzles out after hours of exposition-laden cutscenes.
All things considered, Death Stranding’s PC release has some upsides. It features noticeable graphical improvements that reinforce the aesthetic brilliance of Kojima’s vision. It’s also a good thing that playing on PC frees up the player’s hands: Without the PlayStation 4’s DualShock controller to worry about, players may easily commence the excessive facepalming required to get through the game’s cutscenes.