Death Stranding Review

 

Despite what most gamers will probably say about Death Stranding, I wasn’t excited for it either, but I was proven wrong by what I saw. Death Stranding, follows a Porter, Sam Bridges, a “delivery boy” in a post-apocalyptic world where BT’S, monsters that are made of a black tar, can trigger a voidout, a cataclysmic explosion that destroys all life, but in its wake, leaves characters, such as Sam Bridges, played by Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus, proves that a game can be as visually stunning while probing philosophical questions about life and death and what we leave in the wake of disasters. The graphics are stunning, blending the realm between movie, and television, and video games, proves that this is where the visual form is going. Yes, while movies can be expertly done, much of video games are often focused on risk and reward, and never being about preserving life at the same time. If the entirety of Metal Gear Solid’s theme is about death, Death Stranding, is centrally focused on life.

The Mules, which pose a real threat in the game, can not be killed, because each living person who dies turns into a BT, a rather schismatic black form that can kill you, and for the first half of the level, you must avoid them, until Sam finds out that his urine is key to destroying the BT’s, as well as Hermetic grenades containing your blood. With every Hideo Kojima game, he is pursuing more than just a metaphor, but a definition of what video games can become in the future. While many gamers might not get the symbolism of preserving life, much of what video games have done is lean towards conquering an enemy at the end. In Death Stranding, there is a Beach, where the souls of the dead are moving towards, but in the game, there are villains, and while the villains can seem villainous, Cliff, played by Hannibal fame Michael Mikkelson, proves that not all enemies are to be feared and reviled. Kojima, in all his games, have cared about subtlety, and while Metal Gear has always been over the top, especially in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, the villains can be understood and still maintain depth and subtlety.

I will admit that Kojima is more of a novelist than a game designer, it shows that his love of story and films, even, proves that he cares more about the journey than what gamers usually look for. The criticism of the stealth aspect in Metal Gear Solid has always been debatable, the fact is that Metal Gear was always a continuation of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, which John Carpenter didn’t sue Kojima because “he knew” Kojima and he’s a “nice guy” so with that being said, Metal Gear Solid was an homage to Snake Plisken, while in the series, the titular hero’s name, is called Snake. So, in this evidence alone, Metal Gear belongs to John Carpenter than it does Hideo Kojima. It’s a weird scenario when you know the director of a major Hollywood Caliber.

But does Metal Gear deserve the credibility of being Original. Yes, that word matters to me. No. Certainly, what we can learn from the Entertainment business is that they like recycling series until the series has proven that it can’t work anymore and it would retire the franchise into the Alaskan sunset. Such as when Konami released Metal Gear Survive, which we all know was a direct middle finger to the series and the creator, but it’s not like it wasn’t coming. In some way, you could look at Death Stranding and say this was Metal Gear Survive, but a correction. Hideo Kojima, is a divisive person to anyone who plays video games. I would argue that Kojima runs in the veins of a story teller, someone who chases metaphor than actually pursuing a bottom line of “Point A to Point B” style of video game development.

There are nuisances in a video game, but none more than in a Kojima game. Kojima’s Death Stranding is an exercise in patience, but the more I put into it, the story became apart of my life. If you have worked in retail, and in Target, Fulfilment Shipping, is constantly filling in orders for online customers, while having to package them, and as I did this for a holiday season, I began to relate to the Porters, picking out orders and readying them for the post office to be delivered.

It’s a weird time when you have to consider that you are a Porter, readying packages for people, that I could buy into Death Stranding’s premise of carrying “deliveries” for people and available to ship by a certain time period. But what makes Death Stranding appealing is that while much of the time, there is an underlying theme of death, human children, BB’s, are created and put in a glass conduit, help you see the BT’s, and better to navigate or kill them with grenades, made from your urine and blood sample, that can kill the BT’s. BT’s can be killed later on with Non-threatening Assault Rifles. Higgs, another villain, played by Troy Baker, Last of Us and Shadow of Mordor fame, is a Porter gone Rogue, who you face at sporadic times, and realize that his connection to Fragile, played by Sophie Leydoux, is seeking revenge against Higgs for setting her up with destroying South Knot city, later in the game, show that the world has been destroyed not just by BT’s, but by humans as well. Troy Baker seems to have so much fun when he’s in a Kojima game, allowing himself to be as bold as he could be unlike in any other game he has previously played.

Most of the game is a secret, and each unveiling information grants insights into characters. Some are seen early, as BB-128, or the fetus known as Lou, attached to Sam Bridge’s body, has an association with Clifford, the main antagonist. What the game does deliver in is graphics and scale that seems close to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series, with the epic mountain scales. They both share an ecological debate. The BT’s are a bi-product of souls in between life and death, and the whales, when shown, representing the way humans destroy the animal kingdom, and in the later part of the game, there is a big tar whale boss, attacking us for the sins humans have made against animals.

It’s hard to not see the ecological debate inside the game, because Kojima cares about everything. There is a case made that the BB’s are just “tools” made by Die-Hardman played by film director Guillermo Del Toro, not human beings. The baby is adorable, and is your companion throughout the entire game, and when you fall, you have to rock it to sleep. Much of the game lets you put only a certain amount of cargo, and you can create lockers that allow you to donate the lost cargo you find to other Porters, or carry it to their destinations, where you can upgrade your gear. If you are going to slip and fall, you need to press the L2 or the R2 to manage your balance down steep slopes.

The story seems more of an homage to Terrance Malick’s Tree of Life than anything associated with Mad Max, and has a slight twinge of Cormac McCarthy’s the Road. But what is undeniable about the game is it’s pro life message. BB-128, or Lou, shows you where BT’s are, and how you can avoid or fight them, if that’s what pleases your game fancy. The one thing I might have a problem with is that maybe Kojima has never spent time in the middle of America to understand the geography. I think overall, it has a lot of things going for it. The talk of time travel in alternate realties, makes the game enjoyable as well. If you are a gamer looking for a game with a pro-life message, Death Stranding is your game.

The ending was so moving it will bring you to tears, or at least know that all you did in the game was worth it. That all life is worth it.

 

 

PS

 

I want to thank everyone for reading my articles this year. It has been an amazing year for independent journalism and criticism of the like. I hope everyone has a good New Years. Please take care of yourselves, and I will see you very soon.

 

LtB

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