Death Stranding - Critique

Author: Tristan Ogilvie
Date: 2021-01-26 15:22:06
After three years of cryptic and confusing trailers, "What is Death Stranding?" Was the question on everyone's lips. We now know that, and the answer is ... complex. Famous creator Hideo Kojima's first track since leaving Konami and dropping his staple Metal Gear franchise, turns out to be a bold and inventive chunk of sci-fi, meticulously thought out to bring you some of the most breathtaking scenes ever. it was given to me to see all media combined. It's also a grueling journey, getting mired in an exhausting amount of inventory management, rollbacks, one-dimensional mission design, and incredibly arduous travel. While it remains clear that Kojima and Kojima Productions have worked hard to create Death Stranding, so too is the fact that they are hoping for an equivalent commitment from players to fully enjoy it.

The "Death Stranding" in question is the name given to a cataclysmic event which survived only small pockets of humanity, the firm Monster Energy Drink, as well as a social functionality similar to that offered by Facebook. Since Death Stranding, wildlife has been wiped out and torrential rains bring accelerated aging. Whenever this precipitation occurs, the Stranded, paranormal entities, prey on the survivors indiscriminately, forcing society to take refuge in underground shelters.

You play as Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus), a post-apocalyptic mailman carrying a ghost-detecting baby named BB strapped to his chest, who like most newborns is as adorable as he is unbearable. Sam's quest is undoubtedly exciting: reconnecting the isolated remains of civilization by completing different deliveries (straining your endurance), from one city to another, in order to gain the trust of their citizens and reintegrate them into the world. The government's “Chiral Network”, on a journey that sees you cross North America from east to west.

Sam is aided in his quest by a gallery of strange characters, with even stranger names, like Heartman and Die-hardman, and opposed to Higgs, the antagonist played by Troy Baker who turns out to be delightfully turned on and has a serious penchant for hustling. Sam also has an added motivation to undertake this perilous journey: his sister Amélie finds herself detained by Higgs at Edge Knot City, a suitably named destination located in the easternmost part of the United States.

The Walking Dread

Turning out to be incredibly vast and highly detailed, Death Stranding's wild environments make the achievement of these repetitive goals more bearable and initially prompted me to slow down and explore every nook and cranny. Which is fitting, given that the game doesn't really leave you with a choice: the first few hours of play are so slow that they are akin to a full blown attack on the speedrunner community.

We're all used to traversing huge environments carrying an arsenal of weapons and items - something unique to many games, from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to Grand Theft Auto V. But Death Stranding transforms this routine into a frustrating and grueling exercise with what is akin to the heaviest inventory system (literally) ever offered by a video game. With rare exceptions, every cargo, weapon, ammunition, or tool you pick up has its own weight and physical presence on Sam's body, all managed by an incredibly complex inventory menu.

Of course, the fact that the weight of the things you can carry is limited is not a new or unique concept in video games, knowing that I am the type of RPG gamer who tends to have an overloaded inventory, which makes me feel like I am not. 'obliges, when I do not insist on walking slowly to the next town, to throw away some superfluous items to prevent my movements from being hampered. But Death Stranding takes this concept to a level never seen before. The personal inventory and cargo Sam carries on his back routinely resembles an improbable oversized, wobbly Jenga tower made up of flightcases, and climbing a small hill with the latter is almost akin to hitting a flight of stairs with a wheelbarrow full of bricks.

Getting around Death Stranding is the antithesis of the feeling of power and fluidity you get when playing Assassin's Creed or Marvel's Spider-Man. While holding a key allows you to see your character effortlessly lean on objects and climb / descend vertical surfaces with agility, in Death Stranding you have to pull triggers to keep Sam's balance and fight with the stick to manage its pace. Therefore, when climbing a moderate slope, you shouldn't wait more than a few meters before the latter tilts and disperses its precious (and bulky) cargo, like a fairly drunk bellhop.

Fortunately, there is an automatic reorganization feature, accessible from the inventory menu and automatically setting the optimal location for each item in Sam's cargo, which I have been able to rely on for all of my subsequent deliveries ( although it backfired on me on one occasion when I had to deliver a pizza, which ended up assigned to the side pocket of my backpack, which had the effect of ruining a poor wretch's meal ). But be aware that even once Sam's load distribution is optimized, his balance remains very precarious if you make a misstep or your inventory is overloaded.

Strand and Deliver

It is precisely here that the combat, which until then was limited to stealth eliminations and melee attacks, asserts itself and becomes exponentially more dynamic. As you regularly obtain weapons and gadgets, the parentage between Metal Gear Solid and Death Stranding becomes more evident: you infiltrate enemy camps, confuse your human opponents using smoke bombs, and use a sticky weapon (non- lethal) to dispossess them of their cargo, like a frog stretching out its tongue to swallow a fly.

Growing frustration

As Death Stranding is on the verge of becoming a fun video game, the environment changes and plot progression stagnates again. This time you roam very steep environments, in which it becomes impossible to build roads or use vehicles. Human enemies are scarce, and Stranded Spawns during snowstorms rather than scattered downpours.

At this point, I had the means to tackle the Stranded (in their monstrous form) head-on, and there's no doubt that each of these showdowns between you against Death Stranding's most imposing threats, gives you a slice very Kojimesque show. When Sam is spotted by these hordes of entities, appearing to emerge from the puddles of tar forming beneath his feet, he can be grabbed by them and resurface in a completely transformed setting, covered by a vast expanse of seething darkness within. which materializes a particularly impressive physical manifestation of the Stranded. This is one of the most stylized aspects of Death Stranding, and a sight definitely worth seeing.

Yet even when you do manage to get rid of one of these nightmarish creatures, the reward rarely matches the effort - you usually get a handful of Crystals for crafting gear and are also coerced into it. to recover (one by one) the ten crates you were carrying, which had been scattered when Sam was caught. Fighting the Stranded is another aspect of Death Stranding that quickly proves to be problematic, and you end up fearful of the monotonous tasks ahead of you more than the creatures themselves, which prompted me to avoid them as much as possible while I was carrying out Sam's (seemingly endless) list of deliveries.

During the last part of the adventure, it took me exactly 51 minutes to complete a particularly difficult main mission, taking place during a snowstorm obscuring your visibility and involving carrying a heavy load over very steep terrain. Spending almost an hour climbing and descending steep slopes with such a load and waist-deep snow, while dealing with high winds and wearing shoes that deteriorate over time is nothing of a pleasant mission. If it remains appreciable that an original song (reminiscent of Jose Gonzales' Far Away in Red Dead Redemption) is broadcast during the longest treks of the adventure, a podcast would probably have been more appropriate.

Vehicles cannot be used on the steepest terrain, but your crossings are gradually made easier by the addition of powerful exoskeletons and the possibility of making structures dedicated to the use of the zipline. While establishing your own zipline (or completing existing segments) along a rocky escarpment is satisfying, it's still quite frustrating having to haul the medical supplies you're carrying all the way to the top before being ordered to do so. turn around and repatriate others.

Strand By Me

Kojima Productions' willingness to experiment, for better or for worse, is reflected in every other aspect of Death Stranding, and its daring remains commendable. The game's asynchronous multiplayer dimension, known as “Bridge Links”, lets you see changes made to the environment by other players without you ever encountering them. This system echoes Death Stranding's concepts of "connection", where "bonds" with players are persistent, which in turn offers the possibility of using the vehicles they abandon, the structures they establish or the players. objects they leave in the environment.

This is akin to tacit collaboration, given that weapons and building materials can be stored in special crates and left for use by other players. I have found the opportunity to work together to build, customize and maintain structures such as bridges or watchtowers particularly inspiring. And after finally crossing the continent from east to west, I was both surprised and delighted to see that a stretch of road that I had built 20 hours earlier at the other end of the map was finally transformed into a long highway thanks to the help of other players.

This hard work is far from in vain, as doing good deeds for others - intentionally or not - earns you "Likes", which happen to be the currency used to improve Sam's stats and reputation. with its customers. You also receive them for each delivery, the number of which depends on several criteria, such as distance traveled, damage to the cargo and how quickly you completed it. Concretely, the mere fact of existing within the universe of Death Stranding seems to earn you countless Likes, as if you were the only Kardashian to have survived the apocalypse.

But this collaborative system also has its drawbacks. On the one hand, it makes almost all of Death Stranding's boss fights incredibly easy, with the presence of a phenomenal amount of weapons and blood bags filling your health bar, which makes you overpowered and almost invulnerable. . But even putting this dimension aside, the bosses are far from insurmountable: if their rendering impresses, their attack patterns remain fairly one-dimensional and their weak points easily spotted.

While structures assembled by other players can be helpful, they can just as easily mislead you. One of the things that happened was when I left my route to use a zipline created by another user to cross a large chasm in the mountainous area of Death Stranding, and found that the latter was half-finished or inoperable, or took a ladder leading nowhere. You still have the option to turn off the Bridge Link system and play solo only, but I would have liked some settings in between - like the ability to turn off items that greatly simplify boss fights while still retaining the ability to share resources. necessary for constructions - are proposed. Death Stranding's offline mode seems to be totally at odds with its central concept, and losing that dimension would be even more damaging than the worries that come with it.

I'm still stranding

I was also won over by the creativity and ingenuity constantly deployed by the developers, at all levels. You stumble upon towering waterfalls and monolithic man-made structures, face bosses as towering as the Colossi in Shadow of the Colossus, and there's also a built-in weather system that lets you know the risks of precipitation up to 30 minutes in advance, which is crucial in planning routes that will allow you to avoid the Stranded.

Next come a myriad of more muted touches, like having Sam able to pick up and throw objects with his left or right hand (which happens to be his dominant hand and allows him to throw objects further). Or the possibility of being spotted by the enemy when you crouch in tall grass and your load protrudes above vegetation. Not to mention all the references and other winks coming to break the fourth wall that one can resolutely expect in a Kojima production, like these commercials for the show of the actor Norman Reedus displayed on the electronic screen each time Sam uses the toilet.

The experience offered by Death Stranding could be compared to a plate of frosted glass: as worked as it is, it is nonetheless quite dull. You need to work harder to get the most out of each aspect, as many of them seem convoluted and require inordinate effort. Take the rapid travel system, for example. To teleport to another area, you must first reach very specific facilities on the map, then hold a key to trigger a sequence made up of three separate cutscenes, seeing Sam taking an elevator to reach his private room, then s' lie down to sleep and wake up (knowing that you can skip each of these sequences by pressing the pause key), before the camera rotates and shows him using the umbrella (which the latter could just as easily have carried on his back) hanging on his bedroom wall to teleport.