BY DEAN MOSES
Game: Death Stranding
Platform: PlayStation 4
Rating: M for Mature
We all have those we admire; the artists who, in our minds, stand tall above the rest and provide use with points in time that are soldered to our memory banks. Sometimes they become a part of popular culture, other times they simply remain in our hearts as unforgettable nostalgia. Renowned game developer Hideo Kojima did this for me with the Metal Gear Solid series. His resume not only evokes a laundry list of fond gaming moments that shaped my idea of storytelling, it also brings flash-backs of my mother sitting beside me watching Kojima’s games unfold, my pets sleeping on my lap as I hammer rapid button combos, and a late night gaming season as I struggle to overcome a particularly difficult boss. This is what art and an artist can do for us, they can create fixed times in our minds that will live forever. At long last, Hideo Kojima has returned with an innovative artistic venture in the form of the long-awaited Death Stranding, but will his new vision leave an imprint on us or fade into obscurity.
Poetry in Motion
Kojima has never been known for short, succinct storytelling. Dating back decades, his tales are sweeping epics that altered the face of gaming, transforming it into a more respectable medium. Things haven’t changed much as Kojima hopes to do the same with his latest creation. Describing Death Stranding’s plot in a concise enough way to fit in my desired word count is no easy feat. Still, here it goes: We take control of Sam Porter Bridges, a delivery man in a post-apocalyptic world. It is Sam’s job to deliver vital supplies over barreling landscapes all the way to a variety of lone outposts on the edges of an enormous frontier. Soon though, his job becomes a lot more complicated as the dying president instructs him to embark on an epic journey in order to connect the last of the country’s cities together via a network. While this expedition is long and lonely, it is by no means safe. Undead creatures known as BT’s and marauders looking to steal your cargo roam the land. Sam’s only ally is a fetus floating within a an incubation-like container known as a BB—I told you it is not easy to explain—in which he plugs into, allowing him to see the BT’s. Despite the disturbingly odd game mechanics and story nuances, both cutscenes and gameplay aesthetics are stunningly beautiful—no less than poetry in motion.
One of the earliest examples of this is when we undertake our first delivery. Cargo is strapped to our back, a vast vista stretches out before us, and as we take our first steps a gorgeous song plays us out into this alien world. Like the plot, gameplay is as equally subtle. Within the first few hours we are inundated with a bulk of game mechanics we will need to use going forward, such as how to build structures like generators (to power bikes) along with roadways (making traversal easier) and safe houses. Fresh gadgets like cargo repair spray, and tools to help transport heavy loads also flood the screen. We also deal with resource management as materials are re-quired to construct items and structures. This could very well be overwhelming for some players, yet once learned, it will become second nature. The action, or the lack thereof, is another important aspect to keep in mind when considering your purchase of Death Stranding. This game is no Metal Gear Solid. While there are plenty of action elements to be found here, this game is more about experiencing the journey rather than engaging in battle. Sam can—and often does—trudge at a rather slow pace, while you, the player, struggle to simply keep him balanced with a Jenga tower of containers tittering on his back. No matter how tedious the game gets—and let me assure you that it does get tedious—it always manages to suck you back in with the beauty of the voyage. Setting up a ladder to cross a rapid river, descending a mounting via a rope you dug into a cliff edge, it is all so basic and almost spiritual.
Driven with Passion
Fans of AMC’s the Walking Dead will recognize Norman Reedus as Sam Bridges, the game’s protagonist. Other well-known faces also include the likes of director Guillermo del Toro, incredible actor Mads Mikkelsen, veteran video game actor Troy Baker, and many more. All actors put in fantastic performances that drive the narrative forward with passion, which ultimately bleeds through the screen and into your soul.
Death Stranding is almost a new genre of game driven forward by an engaging story-line, even if it can be somewhat nonsensical at times. The imaginative sentiment of Hideo Kojima has been infused into the game’s essence making it a work of art, and like all pieces of art, it is subjective.
Tribeca Film Festival Photos by Dean Moses