In The Walking Dead series, Norman Reedus who acts as Daryl Dixon, one of the few characters to have survived from the inception of the show and has shown extra-ordinary survival and adaptive skills, from facing threats of hoards of zombies to fighting of skilled survivors. It’s no wonder he was chosen to star as the avatar for the “Death Stranding” game.
Death Stranding is a game that seems to fight you every step of the way, whether it’s with clunky menus or nonsensical dialogue. It can be downright boring, but there’s also beauty and heart to discover if you can stick with it.
Death Stranding Plot
Death Stranding takes place in a distant future, one that has been ravaged by a largely unexplained phenomenon called the death stranding. It wiped out cities and almost all life while opening a gate between the worlds of the living and dead. Those ghostly BTs haunt forests and mountains, and certain humans called repatriates are able to return to life from a strange underwater space known as the Seam. Sam, played by Norman Reedus, is one of these repatriates. He’s also something of a post-apocalyptic delivery man, shuttling supplies from one settlement to the next.
Early in the game, he’s given a particularly ambitious task: reunite America (now known as the UCA, or United Cities of America) by traveling across the country, connecting settlements to a sort of internet-like network. At the same time, Sam is trying to reach the west coast of the country to rescue his sister who has been captured by a terrorist organization.
It’s a lot to take in, and the game doesn’t do much to ease you into its world. Characters throw out terms like “DOOMs,” “chiral network,” and “stillmother” without explaining what they mean. For the first few hours, you will likely have no idea what’s going on. Luckily, the gameplay is much more straightforward than the storytelling.
Initially, all you’re doing is walking. The company you work for, Bridges, will provide a package, and you have to deliver it on foot. Like most video game characters, Sam can carry an incredible amount of stuff; but unlike his contemporaries, Sam has to account for everything he carries. Before you set out on each mission, you have to carefully arrange your load — from healing items to precious cargo — so that Sam can stay balanced.
Seasoned Traveler Plot
It’s cynical to say Death Stranding is a 70-hour long fetch quest, but the description isn’t entirely inaccurate. What would be side missions in other games is the main course here. That may sound tedious but it actually works quite well. Outside of cut scenes and some obligatory boss battles, you’ll spend most of your time delivering packages to outposts and settlements. The packages include medicine, scanners, tools, and even old-world items like vintage wine or gaming consoles. Some of these items may not sound significant, but they’re important to the recipients. After all, sitting down to a tall glass of wine while listening to a vinyl record makes the post-apocalypse a little more bearable.
With the world so broken and twisted, getting from place to place is no simple task. You’ll need to study the environment and frequently use the in-game map to discover the best route to take. Factor in the need to avoid enemies, both of the human and BT varieties, and you’ll have plenty to distract you from the fact you’re a courier. Planning routes and analyzing enemy patrols is effectively the same here as it is in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. If you’re familiar with how that title plays, you’ll have a significant advantage.
Death Stranding makes item management and weight distribution key gameplay mechanics. This manifests in numerous ways. For example, if Sam carries too many packages, he’ll walk at a plodding pace. In fact, climbing even a slightly sloped hill becomes a Sisyphean effort.
Additionally, cargo adheres to the laws of physics and throws you off balance when you walk over uneven terrain. While you have free reign to manually stack items on your person via the in-game menu, it is more efficient to use the auto-arrange feature that stacks cargo in the most optimal, balanced way possible. This option is a godsend, since it speeds up what could otherwise be a highly tedious affair. Though you’ll spend a great deal of time arranging your cargo, doing so is surprisingly satisfying. The game gives you the freedom to stack things as you wish without tossing you into micromanagement purgatory. Plus, it’s fun seeing how high you can stack things on Sam’s back.
Death Stranding’s Combat
There is no shortage of steep vertical cliffs, wide gorges, and raging rivers along your path. Deciphering the best method to get around a looming mountain or gargantuan chasm feels rewarding; it’s like completing a puzzle. Sam can climb and jump over many obstacles, but only to a limited extent. Specialized equipment, such as ladders, climbing anchors, bridges, and zip-lines, makes it possible to traverse most natural barriers. You’ll craft these items at any outpost or settlement or randomly find them out in the field. Ladders help surmount high peaks or cross gaping fissures. Climbing anchors come in handy when you need to descend to a lower area. Zip-lines allow you to cover large distances in seconds. Bridges let you traverse gaps and rivers. These items remain where you left them, making future trips through areas much easier. That’s a nice touch.
You’ll eventually gain the ability to craft motorcycles and trucks. Or, you can also use vehicles left on the road or stolen from human enemies. These vehicles let you carry more cargo, but they aren’t always reliable. After all, the rough terrain isn’t exactly amicable for traditional transportation. Thankfully, you can create highways at designated construction sites on the map. However, most of the map, especially the higher-elevated portions, remain inaccessible to vehicles. As a result, you’ll need to balance walking and driving to make the most efficient use of your time.
Death Stranding’s unique take on asynchronous multiplayer plays on its connectivity theme. Linking new areas to the Chiral Network spawns numerous objects made my other players, and it’s extremely handy having ladders and vehicles ready for use as you explore the world. This connectivity also works in reverse, with the objects you’ve created appearing in their games. This fosters a sense of community that makes the desolate world a little less lonely, even though you don’t actually see other people’s Sams in your world.
Constructions do not last forever, thanks to the persistent Timefall rains. Over time, that useful bridge you constructed over a deep chasm disappears. Thankfully, you and other players can repair such creations with materials found in the game world.
You can leave “Likes” on players’ constructions and they, in turn, can “Like” whatever you’ve left behind. A high Like count boosts Sam’s reputation and unlocks new delivery missions. Receiving Likes is just as addictive in Death Stranding as it is on real-world social media platforms. It’s a not-so-subtle commentary on social media that ties into the game’s larger theme of connectivity.
Unfortunately, multiplayer opens the door to trolling. You’ll sometimes find ladders that only go halfway up a cliff or ziplines that lead nowhere. Vehicles purposely left in the middle of the highway that block your path are also frustrating. You can break down these items, but who wants to clean up other players’ messes? Player-made constructions are mostly helpful, but having people purposefully trolling hurts the experience. As with receiving Likes, Death Stranding’s trolling is another comment on internet culture, even if Kojima and company didn’t intend for this to be a gameplay aspect.
Hideo Kojima is a consummate film buff. As a result, it’s no surprise to see that Death Stranding is packed with notable Hollywood talent. You’ll spend the entirety of the game controlling a digital Norman Reedus, but you’ll also encounter celebrities like Mads Michelson, Guillermo del Toro, Léa Seydoux, and a de-aged Lindsay Wagner. You’ll also meet virtual versions of comedian Conan O’Brien, video game hype man Geoff Keighley, and Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
It seems any celebrity Kojima took a picture with during the production of Death Stranding ended up in the game. The casting is amusing, but it ultimately doesn’t do much for the game or its narrative.
Death Stranding is simultaneously entertaining and frustrating. The characters, with absurd names like Mama and Die-Hardman, is surprisingly endearing and makes you want to learn more about them. Likewise, exploring the wasteland is a genuinely stimulating experience that urges you to see what’s over the horizon.
Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of sludge to wade through. The story doesn’t pick up until the third chapter, which is roughly 8-10 hours into the game. But even in the beginning, you’re bombarded with names like DOOMs, BTs, BBs, Homo Demens, Repatriates, and more without proper context. Things aren’t all hot in the gameplay department, either. The game’s cluttered menus and sub-menus are a chore to navigate. Even accepting quests requires you to press or hold the action button multiple times. If you’re really into Death Stranding’s story, world, and characters, you’re likely to forgive its shortcomings. If you want immediate satisfaction, you’d best look elsewhere.
Graphical Evolution of Death Stranding
Death Stranding is a graphical powerhouse on PS4, featuring photorealistic character models and environments. The same is true of this PC port, which Kojima Productions developed in-house. For the most part, Death Stranding doesn’t look much different on PC than it does on PS4. This could be because I don’t own a 4K monitor. On the other hand, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Resident Evil 3 look decidedly superior on my PC than they did on consoles.
To play Death Stranding on PC, your gaming rig needs at least an Intel Core i5-3470 CPU, a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU, 8GB of RAM, 80GB of storage space, and the Windows 10 operating system.
Death Stranding includes Nvidia’s DLSS 2.0 for RTX graphics cards. This technology uses AI to boost frame rates and enhance the visuals. My gaming desktop does not have an RTX card, so I couldn’t test this feature.
The graphics options let you set the display resolution and maximum frame rate (up to 240fps). You can enable or disable features like shadow resolution, ambient occlusion, and screen-space reflections. The options are plentiful, allowing you to get the most out of your rig. New to this version is a photo mode that lets you snap images of the gorgeous scenery.
Speaking of gaming rigs, my PC has an Intel i7 4790 CPU and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU. With it, I enjoy frame rates that hover between 77-95fps. The higher PC frame rates make Death Stranding’s gameplay feel better than the console version. Whether it’s battling BTs or climbing a mountain, everything is decidedly more fluid on PC. The game stays locked at an even 60fps during cinematic cut scenes, however.
Death Stranding supports both mouse and keyboard inputs, as well as game controllers. The game utilizes the notorious Denuvo anti-piracy software. On the upside, it supports Steam Achievements and Steam Cloud. Death Stranding also features new Half-Life-related content that we are not allowed to discuss until after the game’s release.
For all of its faults, Death Stranding is unlike any other AAA title on the market. It doesn’t hold your hand or provide clear-cut narrative answers—it’s downright confusing, at times. You’re either onboard for this wild ride or you’re not. Death Stranding is the definition of a divisive title, one with a plodding story and cumbersome menu system, but if you’re looking for something that challenges your perception of blockbuster games, it’s certainly worth a play.❤
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