Death Stranding - Review

Author: Mattia "Zave" Ravanelli
Date: 2021-01-26 15:22:11
So much thundered that it rained and the reverse that is about to invest at least a (significant) part of the world of video games will in all likelihood have the same effect as Death Stranding's Rain Time. In the game, the precipitation, which arises from the clash between the world of the living and the afterlife, accelerates the passage of time in the Disunited States of America, a desolate version of the USA we know, traveled by the protagonist Sam Porter Bridges. In doing so, Cronopioggia inevitably drags everything it touches towards an anticipated decay. Here, the hope is that at least this effect, nefarious and collateral, will remain limited to the virtual world of the first Kojima Productions work, saving us all.

Death Stranding , however, proposes at least a couple of solutions to the damage of the Cronopioggia, including a spray to restore a bit of luster to what is "corroded" ahead of time: in particular the load that Sam, in effect a courier who travels the lands of North America, he carries on his shoulders. Because Death Stranding , like Metal Gear Solid before him, is like this: it transforms everything into a game mechanic and is, once again, the triumph of those who know nothing that is both more serious and lighter than a video game.

However, years of speculation did not allow us to grasp the size and scope of what Kojima Productions was working on, naturally led by the owner Hideo from Tokyo. That of Death Stranding is more than a bet, it is the all-in of an author who did not have to prove anything and who instead decided to get involved as someone had rarely done before him, in this area. Death Stranding exists in this form because Kojima, the primary driving force of the project, enjoyed total and obviously undisputed freedom. The story is not made with the "ifs", but it is impossible to suppose an experience conceived and realized in the way in which Death Stranding is conceived and realized, if on the cover there had been the Konami brand (or who for it). If there were shareholders to account for. If there was some concept of "good name" or "decency" to protect. If, imagine, someone had proposed focus groups to evaluate and possibly correct the shot.

Do not trust what you have seen so far: if a few tens of minutes of gameplay with Death Stranding are enough to understand its whimsical and disrespectful nature, only by arriving at the flow of the final awards can you fully grasp its outrageous and arrogant character. Of that outrage that corresponds to a healthy desire to "tear down the temple": to reduce the trite schemes of today's video games to rubble, in order to develop new ones.

Reduced to a minimum, Death Stranding is just what seemed impossible it could be: simply an action game in which, moving mainly (but not only) on foot, you have to transport loads from one point to another on a map. A world that little by little opens up under Sam's feet, meanwhile intent on avoiding any threat. Whether it comes from the brutality of unspoiled (returned) nature or from creatures of various origins.

I'll be clumsy instead (REM)

“Don't Be So Serious” Low Roar sing in the first minutes of the game. The band, a northern European heart and a brain of stars and stripes, immediately introduces the most exciting and successful contrast of Death Stranding (and of Kojima's production in general). The one between the pomposity of a certain way of writing his characters and his worlds and then the enthralling desire to transform everything into a game. But also the contrast between the matryoshkas of crumbled fourth walls and the omnipresent interfaces that always bring everything back home (as Bob Dylan would say), inside a video game, proud of being a video game. With its rules, its parameters, its ratings and prizes. There are so many parameters and numbers that run whirlwind in Death Stranding to imagine a Kojima more amused than ever in "gamifying" everything.

Death Stranding has the audacity to try to build an experience, potentially made up of dozens and dozens and dozens of hours, on the most banal act of an action video game: movement, movement. Not by choreographing it as in a lethal ballet worthy of Assassin's Creed, nor by escaping from reality and slipping into a rubbery fantasy worthy of Mario and his jumps. Indeed, in this sense Death Stranding is of an apocalyptic seriousness: moving is everything, moving is complex, moving is dangerous. If in a video game you are used to moving in order to get to play, in the game of Kojima Productions you have to prove yourself capable of getting to move.

Learning to walk, again, because it has never been so complex. After all, that of Sam Bridges is, as mentioned, the story of a courier. A courier who makes his deliveries and whose timing and ability to safeguard goods are roughly equivalent to anything that can count in life. This happens in the tens of hours of play: you manage a load, a commodity and its "horse", the hero who snorts and swears as he climbs, slides, wades a river and hides in front of his enemies.

Kojima's bet here borders on madness and in the first hours of the game creates a sort of hypnotic tunnel in which to get lost immediately or from which to escape, regaining the freedom to, credibly, never return. The first phase of Death Stranding is actually a declaration of intent that little by little leaves more and more stunned. Playing, quite simply, is complicated and exhausting. It's challenging and it's worrying, it makes Sam's knees shake on-screen as well as ideally those in front of it. It is called to manage the position of the load, the general weight, to measure how much to carry to possibly defend against threats or how much to leave behind, risking everything in the case of unwanted encounters, but also being lighter on the legs.

In Death Stranding, maintaining balance is a problem. In Death Stranding, falling while you go snappy like an 84 rhythm without two wheels can turn into a tragedy. In Death Stranding you get to have to hold down three buttons on the back and one on the front to get around in the management of that walking freak show that becomes Sam, when he carries 180 kilograms of load on his back. Meanwhile, the energy does not regenerate itself and the resistance is lowered with every blow immediately and every effort (but there is the bottle full of Monster, the sponsor energy drink, to help Sam).

Playing is complicated in these early stages, but it is exciting ... and exciting, Death Stranding , remains so until the end. Like few other video games have been able to be before him, moreover. An emotion like goosebumps, in long stretches. There is no greater compliment that can be paid to a video game or form of entertainment. In the case of video games, it can be combined with the ability to rewrite the rules. Death Stranding when it asks to learn to walk again, even if we were not back to the first 3D games of the 90s, it does that too.

This is America (C. Gambino)

When an ounce of awareness of what is being done arrives, then the game accelerates to dodge yet another Rainfall that sweeps its plains and peaks, its lakes and what remains of the US metropolises. Once you have learned to walk, you must learn to survive in what is probably the most disturbing and distressing (virtual) world I have ever found myself in. Indigo skies, walls of clouds that crush Sam to the ground, thunderstorms that reduce the hero to the level of an ant in front of the cruel game of a child in the backyard.

The threats in Death Stranding are earthly and otherworldly: on one side the donkeys and on the other the stranded creatures. Humans and spirits: flesh and bones on this side, souls and breaths of death there. The first, the Mules, are preceded by encampments and light signals that at times characterize some valleys of the game world. The second, the Stranded Creatures, from that Cronopioggia that perennially looms. If it starts to rain, then you have to start worrying: an indicator signals the possible presence of these forms of ex-life, normally invisible to the eye and which just want to drag Sam towards oblivion.

The sun never shines on the survivors of the inexplicable catastrophe that gives the game its name and has long since taken hope from humanity. Chiral clouds, it will be discovered later, also deny the darkness of the night. In what, to tell the truth, seems more a convoluted game of mirrors to circumvent the need to rework game mechanics and resources even in a nocturnal key ... but let's not subtlety.

Both threats tend to be circumvented by relying on Hideo Kojima's trademark: a stealth approach. There is nothing particularly complex, there are no disguises or who knows what evolution of the already very elegant Metal Gear Solid V system . Also because, in the world of Death Stranding , it's all a shepherd as far as the eye can see (like the lower Lazio, that's right). Man-made buildings and structures are rare and hardly ever designed to accommodate stealth movement. Abandoned on the bare earth, the maximum you can aspire to is a few rocks, some particularly voluminous bushes and little else. Or at least this happens when we face the donkeys, ex-couriers like Sam who, forced to hang up their shoes, have found themselves unable to do so and are therefore determined to steal the cargo of anyone who still covers this who, in the story of Death Stranding is as much a burden as an honor. In a world where human contact is lost, where connections (of any kind) are just vague memories narrated around a fire, whoever breaks (digitally-really) his back to deliver a package is almost Spider-Man. neighborhood.

Donkeys can be faced, but the game clearly pushes towards non-lethal solutions: corpses, in this world, turn into stranded creatures (AC, as the game calls them). Better then to use weapons and solutions that stun. Or, the perfect solution, to avoid the meeting, even before the fight.

The talk of non-structures and natural shelters leave the time they find when it comes to the stranded creatures. They don't see, but they hear Sam's and everyone else's breathing. Not that there are so many other people up and down the woods and hills and mountains of these United Cities of America (UCA), mind you. With R1 you keep your hand in front of your mouth, hoping to limit emissions and get out of yet another CA encounter alive. Spotting them is vaguely possible thanks to the beacon connected to the BB, the Bridge Boy. Which then is simply an unborn child, a fetus in a capsule that, attached to Sam's suit, mimics the conditions of the mother's womb. Only children never born, the Bridge Boy, are able to connect to the frequencies of the afterlife and unravel the mystery of these CAs, creatures trapped between the dimension of the living and that of the dead, eager only to devour the former. In short, everything is normal, the usual story of the princess to be saved: “Like Mario and Peach”, they say at one point. In a game that thanks to God manages to quote video games with a naturalness never seen before .

If, on the other hand, you end up in the grip of the CAs, the anxiety rate reaches levels rarely reached before. Kojima Productions almost manages to give a credible visual form to the nightmares , with the ground melting under Sam's feet, hands sticking out of the ground, black waves that veil the image and the desperate desire to escape and save himself. At worst you can try the duel with the CA, using weapons based on Sam's blood to try to get the better (risking a lethal hemorrhage for the same protagonist).

Until the End of the World (U2)

Impossible to stem and lock up in a speech, Death Stranding is so convinced of its infinite ambition that it continues to grow, out of all proportion . Once you learn to walk and vaguely understand how to survive, you get to face the final evolution of the game, which continues to open up and deepen its starting ideas.

The game mechanics flee towards the extreme of their initial intuitions and it is also possible to remain displaced, confused and overwhelmed by such a mass of available resources or issues to always and in any case keep in mind. For each new journey from point A to point B you get to study the loading preparation and tools manufacturing screens for tens of minutes : what obstacles are there? Of what nature? It will rain? Are there any halfway points to refuel? Better to load up like beasts of burden or try to stay snappy (so to speak)?

Then it also happens that you think you are ready ... and almost immediately you think about it and you end up re-entering the menus of the terminals of one of the logistics centers of Bridges (for which Sam works) or the homes of the recipients of deliveries. Which in turn propose new expeditions, at times essential to be able to proceed in the story, at other times thought only to increase the level of trust between our courier and customers (call them, if you want, "secondary missions"). Because then, you know how it is, the engineer can create an exoskeleton that radically changes the approach to land and missions. The head of the Meteorological Center activates the function that allows you to forecast precipitation. The other one offers the Hovercarro, a small floating platform on which to place the load and to keep tied to Sam. And so on, wanting to give two examples of who knows how many possible dozens. The more the connections are expanded, the greater the aid and in many cases these are optional choices and paths, which however lead to tangible results .

To mention all the ways in which Death Stranding proves itself first of all a video game, in love with video games, would be useless and cloying. What matters is that the depth of the proposed systems is completely unsuspected, if not perhaps by the most convinced of the supporters of Metal Gear Solid V , who in this sense had already remembered what Kojima's team was made of.

The game, while born from a spark as amazing as it is absurd, focuses on itself continuously and unequivocally. To the point of denying for hours and hours any form of narration that breaks the game action. Animated sequences are banned for a long time. Kojima still takes ample space within the 50/100 hours of play provided for his irresistible rants , but it is clear that the intent, with Death Stranding , was to privilege the game action. Also because the narrative still runs in the blood of the mechanics, like when you start to guess how asynchronous multiplayer has been pumped into its arteries.

Fairweather Friends (Queens of the Stona Age)

Already in the review phase I explored the four corners of the United Cities of America (which nominally replace the USA) accompanied by dozens and dozens and perhaps hundreds of colleagues . Which I have never seen, but which I have silently collaborated with, which I have paid literally thousands of "likes" to. UCAs are divided, disconnected, cold and dying in their airtight capsules, at least until Sam Bridges, with his deliveries, transports and extends to every home or logistics center he touches, the chiral network. This is the ultimate goal of Bridges and Bridges: to bring the country together through this strange network that turns the interconnection between the world of the dead and the living in its favor.

Once a new area is connected, the structures built by the other players appear and the other players will see the ones we have built in the meantime in our game. Space for generators to refuel the batteries of the vehicles (yes there are) and the exoskeletons already mentioned (there are several), to the post office boxes to which you can entrust loads left on the ground by other players, to the canopies to shelter from the Cronopioggia waiting for it to clear , even to rooms in which to rest and restore vital values or to cable cars with which to move faster. Provided you have connected more than one station correctly. And there would still be many other structures, many other examples, but we understand each other. Constructions can be completed by the single player, but it is much easier and less expensive (in terms of raw materials required) to collaborate with others.

In the group of IGN Italy that played Death Stranding , to understand, Alessandra at one point decided that the mountain area was simply ... too much. Too difficult, too rigid, too demanding and dangerous. And then, little by little, he began to place cableway stations. The first time I had to reach the various areas I had to do everything by myself obviously, sweating (or rather freezing) and sliding continuously on snowy and icy slopes, with the resistance bar always running out too soon. Once the first delivery was made and the chiral network activated, however, I finally saw the first fruits of Alessandra's work appear in front of me.

So I tried to help her and help other players by doing the same. And also trying to understand where and how to intervene to place other useful structures. In doing so I brought home many nice "I like", little by little, enough to increase the level every now and then. Already there are also Sam's levels, features and abilities that expand and improve and ... and much of what you expect from a big, big and well-groomed game.

Breathing like the drowning man (The Cure)

But above all, however, Death Stranding is a tool that creates emotions, those that stick to your skin and carve out a space of their own in your head . Difficult to feel more worried and entangled at the same time from / to a video game, as far as I'm concerned it has happened to me very few other times. And indeed, I would say that I have never experienced such sensations before: an inexplicable and in its own way lovable anguish, an infinite and unique charm. I don't remember a single mission before which I didn't feel tired and despondent. I don't remember a single time when I didn't have, mysteriously and inexplicably, the desire to give it a try or try again (on a Normal level, however, it's more a matter of patience and attention, than anything else). Death Stranding was the best virtual pain I've ever inflicted on me , also because it's studded with a rare and unforgettable form of beauty.

I have an embarrassing amount of memories that have already stuck to me just days after the game ends. They are not just amazing views, they are not just the rhythms and the mood conferred by the many silences but even more by the perfect use of the licensed songs (within the game action, mind you). It's not just the least stereotyped characters ever and it's not that weird hell machine represented by the idea of deliveries and all its thousands of layers and substrates of play. It's all of this together, Death Stranding is a color, it's a series of sensations, it's a Radiohead piece ( Codex , from The King of Limbs ), it's a complicated emotion and for once it's a video game that's hard to talk about. . Yet I'm doing it from a few quintals of characters, I know. I'm almost done though.

To say that it is visually closer to how I imagine the next generation than this one would make you lose focus on what matters most. Yet it is also what has just been said and it is right to underline it because an infinite cleaning of the image (not only on PS4 Pro), a draw distance that takes your breath away and a polygonal modeling and animations from the very first class, help to create everything that makes the game and its unrepeatable world. The actors who took part in the project , from Norman Reedus (Sam Bridges) to Mads Mikkelsen (Cliff Unger), contribute in an essential way . The interpretations and the direction frankly make the comparison embarrassing not only for whoever came before, but also with many who will come after. A result also supported by the splendid dubbing in Italian. At this point I find it very, very complex to return to certain clusters of cold uselessness and banality passed off as heroes.

Dwelling on the general simplicity of firefights or on certain small short circuits that inevitably occur when there is so much meat in the game systems, would be equivalent to staring at the finger pointing at the moon. Better, instead, to enjoy the infinite majesty and the infinite threat of death of that leviathan that is plowing the sky.