Nate’s Review of Death Stranding

Well…that was an experience.

I think I’m weirdly the exact target audience for Death Stranding. By which I mean I like open world RPG video games and also I work for the shipping industry. I’m not sure if this gives me any real insider perspective on the game, but hey, I’m here, so someone must have thought I’d have something interesting to say.

There are definitely going to be spoilers for Death Stranding in this review, so if you’re the kind of person who cares about the story, I’d say stop reading now and just go play the game.

So the basic premise of Death Stranding is that the world has ended because humanity found out that the afterlife exists in the form of metaphysical beaches, and then, possibly because people tried to use matter and energy from the Beaches to make technology and stuff, dead people started turning into “BT’s” or Beached Things, which are ghost zombies that attack everyone in the magic rain that ages everything it touches, and when a BT attacks a living human and kills them, it causes a giant explosion/black hole formation called a voidout that can destroy a city. Since the world ended, everyone lives in bunkers, and the American government wants to rebuild America, which involves getting Norman Reedus to walk across the entire continental United States hooking everyone up to the internet again, while fighting the children of disaffected postal workers and terrorists with superpowers who want to end the world again.

Right, so now’s probably a good time to mention that the guy who directed this also made Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill.

That’s the basic background of the game. There’s also liminal babies in tubes that can sense BT’s, zombie Mads Mikkelsen in a barbed wire spiderweb who wants his child back, a weird guy in a bunker who just wants pizza, Conan O’Brien, two sisters who turn into the same person, a lady on a beach who turns out to be God but also two different women, and Norman Reedus’s butt. It’s a very weird game, and it’s obviously meant to be a weird game, and it pulls that off really well. The main actual gameplay of the game? It’s endless fetch quests.

Sam Porter Bridges is your player character, and he’s a porter, meaning a deliveryman. His job is to deliver packages from one bunker city to another, which is a super dangerous job since the aforementioned ghost zombies sometimes come and attack you. And while he goes around connecting everyone to the chiral network (which seems to just be the internet but with 3D printing) he’s also delivering packages all the time. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be that into coming home from my job and playing a game that is essentially my job but with (slightly) more zombies, but it’s surprisingly compelling to play. You get really invested in planning optimal routes, organizing your cargo efficiently, and building roads. I spent so much time just putting the salvation of the world on hold so I could build roads everywhere, and it was so satisfying when I finally did. You get lots of grumpy customers who you eventually make happy by giving them enough shit, and then they agree to become Americans again. You get the MULES, who are the children of former porters whose parents lost their jobs due to automation and are now obsessed with packages because they miss the oxytocin rush of deliveries, so they just steal your shit if you go near them. You get people being happy to see you because you brought them lifesaving junk to stop their wife from dying or whatever. It’s surprisingly fun.

And it’s a good thing it is, because now’s a good time to mention that the story of the game makes absolutely no sense at all. Everything is explained just kind of enough to make it not make sense, but never enough to actually tell you what’s happening with anything. Why don’t the MULES just get jobs? Who knows. Why exactly did the world end? Unclear. Why did Mama turn into a weird ghost and merge with her sister when she died? Not a clue. Weirdly, none of this is necessarily a bad thing. The game is still fun to play. But I think it thinks it makes a lot of sense in the end and it honestly just doesn’t. It’s kind of like whoever was writing it had tons of cool ideas, decided to do all of them at once instead of picking the ones that worked well together, and then didn’t decide the why of any of the cool ideas they had so they were all just there and not explained properly.

After Sam reconnects everyone to the internet it turns out that it was all part of the terrorists’ plan all along, because Sam’s main goal was to rescue his sister Amelie, who is an Extinction Entity (no, we’re never told what that is) who is going to end the world again, but for real in an antimatter explosion (somehow) this time. Why do the terrorists want this to happen? Not clear again, but they do, because I guess they figure it’s preferable to having to live in America again. Anyway, Sam hugs her and stops her from destroying the world, so it’s fine. In the meantime, also, he’s fought Mads Mikkelsen a bunch of times on weird Beach battlefields, because Mads Mikkelsen is angry because he’s Sam’s dad and Sam’s adoptive mom killed him and his wife (and also Sam, but she brought him back to life) and then raised Sam as her own kid. So fair enough, I guess, but eventually you kill him (again) and that’s the end of that? I guess?

No, it doesn’t really make more sense in context.

One of the major flaws this game has, aside from the fact that it doesn’t make literally any goddamn sense whatsoever at any stage in its narrative, is that it tends to rely on dramatic reveals of information that it’s already dramatically revealed earlier on. So like, you find out that Amelie is an Extinction Entity four separate times, and each time it’s a gasp moment. You also find out that Mads Mikkelsen is Sam’s dad like three times, with each time being played as though this is the first you could have figured it out. And I’m not talking, to be clear, about there being subtle clues that you might pick up on if your genius boyfriend is sitting beside you on the couch dissecting the whole game for you as you play it. I mean that three different characters flat-out tell you that Amelie is an Extinction Entity throughout the game, and then when she tells you that at the very end there’s a dramatic pause so you can freak out. The game being weird is one thing, but the game being repetitive is a different thing altogether.

Also, it’s kind of obvious that this is a Japanese Game About America, but not in the way that you think. What I mean is that it has a lot of features of Japanese RPGs (like the weird focus on bonds and togetherness, for example), but it’s set in an idea of America that’s obviously not informed by close contact with America on a regular basis. You get the usual American idea that America is the whole world (count how many times people talk about reconnecting the world and then show a map of America), but without the intense loyalty and patriotism to America that Americans tend to have (I don’t buy that a few black holes would suddenly make everyone decide they didn’t want America to exist anymore). Also, the continental U.S. seems to be about fifty kilometers across, which I know is partly because they needed a realistic game map, but might also be because people not from North America generally have absolutely no idea how big North America is. All in all, it adds to the weirdness, so it’s okay, but it does sometimes kind of read like someone didn’t do enough research, not going to lie.

All in all, Death Stranding is a great package delivery simulator and a really weird movie at the same time. It’s got fun online stuff that makes things other people have built appear in your game, which is a neat way to do that connectivity stuff. It’s really fun to play, but don’t try to understand it because you can’t. I definitely recommend it if you’re a fan of RPG’s though.

One last note in closing: fuck whoever designed the controls and manoeuverability of the truck. Fuck that person really hard.

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