Thursday , November 21 2019
Home / Technology / Death Stranding is a sublime achievement wrapped in a painful chore

Death Stranding is a sublime achievement wrapped in a painful chore

But by contrast the gameplay is extremely bland. Almost all of the time you’re not watching the game like a movie you’re messing with convoluted menus or delivering stuff. You can accept various jobs, but they all boil down to walking back and forth across the country.

It’s truly impressive how detailed the simulation of carrying heavy things across rocky terrain is — you need to distribute your cargo just so to ensure Sam doesn’t tip over, you can press triggers to hold your pack straps for extra stability, and plotting a safe route is essentially a game unto itself — but everything from climbing rocks to being scored at the end of a mission is very slow, mathematical and boring. You eventually get all manner of upgrades to make your job easier, but it’s never fun.

Even combat — against ghosts, terrorists and wild people who have become obsessed with the idea of stealing and delivering cargo — is exciting the first few times and then descends into tedium. Supernatural enemies can be legitimately scary and being caught by one results in a very impressive transformation of the world immediately around you, while the middle of the game specifically has some opportunities for fun sandboxy fighting against human opponents. But on the whole I avoided conflict wherever I could. Sam can lose or damage cargo if you walk down an incline too fast, let alone get hit by an electrified staff, and backtracking to start a mission again is a good way to waste hours of your time.

Tying in with the theme of connections, there is a passive multiplayer element to Death Stranding that brings objects created by other online players into your game. For example you’ll use ladders and climbing ropes to get around, but you’ll often find them already placed in the world and you can send their original owners “likes”.

Equipment left by online players may be very useful, or may be a complete troll.

Equipment left by online players may be very useful, or may be a complete troll.

There’s also a whole economy of shared item lockers and collaborative building, which I found ultimately too laborious (carting around hundreds of kilos of metal to help build a road was not high on my list of priorities), but could be more interesting now the game’s out in the world and being explored by more concurrent players.

Though the game and its story is filled by expected Kojima weirdness like tactless product placement, a preoccupation with bodily fluids, weird names that describe each character’s place in the story, a massive glossary of nonsense terms and some problematic positioning of its female characters, there really is a lot here that’s intriguing when you’re not being ground into the dirt by another delivery request.

MULEs are vicious hunters obsessed with stealing cargo, and are some of the only humans you'll see in the flesh.

MULEs are vicious hunters obsessed with stealing cargo, and are some of the only humans you’ll see in the flesh.

The weather systems and rainbows that herald the arrival of the killer rain and wretched souls makes for some beautiful vistas. The concept of using Sam’s own blood as a weapon creates an interesting risk-reward system. The acting is solid, led by Norman Reedus as Sam, and the performance capture immaculate. The synth-pop soundtrack is haunting and punctuates many a lonely journey. The actual narrative, which I won’t get into, has some great twists and turns.

This is a universe I desperately wanted to enjoy exploring. I wanted to learn more about the realities of life in a world that understands the terrible nature of death. I wanted to keep playing to discover the backstory of the mysterious courier kingpin Fragile, the motivations of her supernatural former friend and terrorist Higgs, the special relationship between the tank baby and Mads Mikkelsen, the horrible fate of Sam’s family and what it all has to do with the death stranding.

The bizarre story is told by a solid cast, including Norman Reedus and (the likeness of) Guillermo del Toro.

The bizarre story is told by a solid cast, including Norman Reedus and (the likeness of) Guillermo del Toro.

But then I’d be constantly reminded that to “keep playing” meant arduous and repetitive slogs and inventory management that takes so much time and attention and gives very little back to the player. As time went on it became clear that the stories, like the gameplay, were being padded out interminably and would crescendo in a patented Kojima dump of information and exposition that plays out like a series of engaging but exhausting international film festival viewings.

Kojima has long since proven himself to be a master of manipulation and marketing; an unmatched peddler of hype, delight and bewilderment which all feed discussion of and interest in his games. But he can also deliver. Past games have shown his uncanny ability to predict and dissect emerging techno-social trends and issues, whether those are new kinds of weapons or the propaganda machine of social media.

And he delivers in Death Stranding too, with analogies to everything from the loss of reality and human contact in online information bubbles to the on-demand delivery economy and automation of the services industry. It’s not subtle — Sam’s smartphone-like device is literally a handcuff — but it works.

Loading

Yet while Death Stranding still contains that trademark Kojima mojo — entertaining and sometimes near-clairvoyant social commentary and satire wrapped in an uncanny and indecipherable world of otherworldly superheroes and cartoonish caricatures — the game gates it all behind an excruciating drudge.

Between the endless dialogue and layers of intrigue, Metal Gear Solid was always fun to play. The life of a legendary super soldier is inherently more exciting and lends itself to interesting gameplay more than the life of a post-apocalyptic delivery guy. But more than that, Death Stranding bogs itself down in minutiae and totally unessecary bloat, while failing to capitalise on the aspects of gameplay that are legitimately engaging.

Like an art exhibition that asks you to walk 500 metres between each piece, there is worthwhile and moving stuff here and one could argue the drudgery and annoying busywork is all part of the aesthetic experience. But that doesn’t make it an easily recommended way to spend 50 hours of your time.

Death Stranding is out now for PlayStation 4.

Most Viewed in Technology

Loading

About admin

Check Also

Non-Pro iPhone 11 enough to provide a transformative camera experience

While the iPhone 11 Pro has been the 2019 Apple phone getting the most media …