Indoor, Outdoor & Kids' Trampolines

Keep Running Up That Hill: An Analysis of DEATH STRANDING (Spoilers)

There’s a scene in Death Stranding that
Hideo Kojima said, during the game’s recent demo at Tokyo Game Show, would make you cry. It was when Sam was coming over the hill to
Port Knot City. After working his way up on the character’s
bike, Kojima implored players to dismount as they crest the mountaintop so they could
take the rest of the journey on foot—absorbing the full splendour of the vista before them. He didn’t want you rushing through it—he
wanted you experiencing it as intended; soundtracked by that particular kind of soft vocal melancholy
pop carefully curated to make you feel like you were in some indie movie trailer; matching
the feeling of being a lone delivery man dwarfed by the sheer vastness of nature in the post-apocalypse,
all of it culminating in players having no choice but to shed a tear. For me, this moment was preceded by ten minutes
of driving my crappy trike across land it wasn’t designed to traverse, losing all
my cargo as I got caught by BTs, beating a super simplistic boss through the rather tiring
process of bombarding it with my excrement and blood, enduring the rigmarole of putting
all my cargo back on my suit while tripping and breaking a bunch of it, then finally getting
to the top of that hill to see the vista Kojima so wanted me to luxuriate in… only for my
trike to fly off a cliff and explode, leaving my tar-covered Norman Reedus to soothe a wailing
baby as I trudged my comically difficult to control tower of stuff down to the destination
for five minutes, all soundtracked by that same song that appeared so carefully placed
in the TGS showing. And in that moment… all I could do was laugh. The irony that this was meant to be some big
emotional setpiece reliant on so many elements working in tandem only to have every single
part of it awkwardly stumble into complete failure was hilarious, even if I was laughing
with my head placed firmly in my hands. It felt like a cruel cosmic joke—one of
many, that would only grow in intensity as the game went on—to the point that Death
Stranding, to me, is as much a comedy game as it is an absurdist exploration of isolation
and loneliness. It’s Untitled Goose Game, except the players
are the villagers and the world is the goose – at every turn finding all new ways to
toy with you within the minute details of its ridiculous wealth of systems. And like the villagers in Goose Game, no matter
how close the game comes to breaking you, you can’t quite bring yourself to wring
its neck—or in Death Stranding’s case, stop playing. Hell, you maybe take some solace in the fact
that at least this monolithic entity is affecting most people in much the same way, that you
are not the sole punchline of the joke and that, whatever hardship you’re going through
right now, it might just lighten the load of someone else, however momentarily. But for me, that hardship still proved a lot
to deal with, as the meditative experience I anticipated in the trailers morphed into
one of the most complicated, punishing games about walking ever made. It’s not hard, as much as it’s deliberately
tedious. I didn’t really have time to take in the
scenery across the tens of hours it took me to complete the game—the peak of a mountain
didn’t represent that Skyrim or Breath of the Wild-esque challenge to overcome as much
as it became an obstacle to avoid. I was too busy monitoring quickly draining
meters and taking care of BB, constantly choosing between travelling light and worrying that
I’d left myself ill-prepared for what lay ahead, or fully suiting up and taking the
hit to balance, speed and stamina. Whatever I chose I was treating every step
taken as if walking were a constant Tony Hawk grind—all while the game gradually introduced
new hazards to make that load I was transporting feel all the heavier. All of this is to say, my feelings on this
game are… complicated. I will say that Kojima has finally found a
way of avoiding that problem of the dominant strategy that so often emerged in his prior
games (in the form of the tranq pistol, for example), but only in the sense that every
option you pick here features as many drawbacks as positives. The sight of the floating carrier in your
resource menu might fill you with glee as you hurriedly dump everything you have on
them, only to realise that any obstacle requiring a ladder or rope now comes with the added
chance of sending your goods tumbling into the void below you. No problem, you might think, as you make use
of the vehicles that become available, only for the game to immediately send you across
landscapes that seem nigh impossible to cross with these trikes and trucks that somehow
handle worse than the vehicles in The Phantom Pain. And whatever option you choose, especially
as the game starts introducing more hazardous environments (with harsher terrain, steeper
climbs, blizzards, etc.), you may find yourself internalising a mantra about anything designed
to help you in this world—the more cargo you can carry, the more you stand to lose. Multiple occasions saw me in utter dismay,
walking away from an entire distribution centre’s worth of materials almost empty-handed because
my vehicle got stuck in between two rocks and the jump functionality did nothing. Or, at the very least, it sent me on another
fetch quest within a fetch quest to find another vehicle, drive it to my old one and transfer
all the cargo between the two. And in the upwards of half an hour that process
would sometimes take, I would frequently wonder why I was even bothering as I pictured what
repetitive hologram chatter awaited me at my destination, that eventually I came to
dread as much as the trek itself. See, for as wacky as its world may seem; as
well-realised as its visual aesthetic is, Death Stranding by Kojima standards is a fairly
dour, somewhat understated experience compared to the outward camp and theatricality of his
prior work. In the Metal Gear series, you often began
with a standard “extract this target” objective within a similarly standard military
framework, before exploding into a glorious anime mess of mechs and shady conspiracies
and vampires and bug men and whatever else to elevate this world to something more grandiose. Death Stranding, on the other hand, starts
at that point of weirdness before giving way to, dare I say it, a fairly simple plot of
walking from coast to coast. The apocalypse has happened, the world as
we know it has fallen apart; and while the world that Kojima envisioned to rise from
its ashes is almost comically dense, these characters now treat its details as mundane,
routine. And outside of maybe the last couple of hours,
what spawns from that is a lot of people rigidly spouting jargon-heavy exposition at you and
telling you how good you are at delivering things. It might be the most complicated, sometimes
visually stunning game about walking ever made, but it’s still, largely, a game about
walking (which to be clear isn’t a problem in itself). It’s like Kojima took the first hour or
so of No Man’s Sky, in which your equipment is all terrible and broken and you’re frantically
traversing an incredibly hostile environment looking for resources before you keel over,
but instead of the payoff of being able to freely explore the cosmos for your troubles,
that initial scenario is just the entire game—for every mountain you navigate, you are presented
with another, more treacherous mountain. For every light narrative hook you want to
pursue, you’re first tasked with heading all the way back across the map to do some
fetch quests for a guy who really wants to tell you about the shape of his heart in detail
while you sit in silence. All of which begs the question: why subject
yourself to this? What are you actually getting out of this
experience? Well, while what I’ve said so far might
sound pretty negative, I think there is method to this madness. And as much as the plot itself might seem
rather simple for a Kojima game, I think to write it off like some have done as the dude
simply taking forty hours to say “social media bad” is more than a little reductive. Yes, this is a game about social media and
the metaphors can be pretty heavy-handed in that regard. But I also think it’s a game about the vast
web of complexities that make up modern life—political, professional, social, artistic, technological—and
how isolating and powerless you can feel in the face of such complexity. It’s about the weight of the world being
placed on every individual’s shoulders and everyone coming to different conclusions about
what to do with it, all while the world in question continues to move far beyond their
understanding. In a way that seems almost uncomfortably autobiographical
given Kojima’s recent history, it’s also about defining legacy when everything you’ve
worked for is taken away from you. Proof of the afterlife, your own extinction;
these are all things characters confront in the wake of one apocalypse and the face of
another. And in the game world, like ours, you understandably
have a lot of people looking at this stuff, seeing how insignificant they and their actions
are, and questioning the point of going on—how can this possibly get better? Fortunately, Kojima has found a surprisingly
effective way to represent this existential crisis through gameplay, no matter how toilsome
said gameplay may appear—and to explain, we have to get a little philosophical (and
indeed spoilery) for a minute. In the Myth of Sisyphus, French philosopher
Albert Camus posited that the question of suicide is the only actually important philosophical
question—when the absurdity of the world feels so overwhelming and unknowable and your
place in it unimportant, shouldn’t you just kill yourself? As per the nihilist mindset, is that not the
only action you could take that would hold any weight? Camus argued, rightly I believe, absolutely
not. He famously said of Sisyphus, fated by the
gods to roll the same rock up the same hill time and time again for eternity, that he
could only imagine Sisyphus happy. Sisyphus is aware of the lack of some higher
purpose in his struggle, and in this awareness, he ascends above any plan—he creates his
own sense of meaning in that rock, in that labour. That is his world and getting to the top of
the hill is his purpose; there is a moment of satisfaction, however brief, as he reaches
the peak, even if this largely pointless act only gives way to more struggle. Life may be meaningless in a cosmic sense,
there may be no grand plan, but mankind is still able to live a rich life defined as
they see fit. With that in mind, Sam Bridges may be the
archetypical absurd hero—called upon to carry that cargo up that hill, and when he
gets to the top, his reward is being told to go right back down so he can climb another. He rejects the wider notion of “making America
whole” barked at him constantly from above, and yet he just keeps going again and again,
as long as the player does, because there is meaning inherent to that struggle—the
reward is conquering that mountain. Along the way he butts heads against more
outwardly nihilistic forces that believe, as the world is destined to end, better to
bring it about sooner rather than going on, pretending as if there is some grand purpose
beyond inevitable extinction. Sam is given the, albeit, false choice to
end it all with Amelie on the beach and instead he puts the gun away and embraces her, deciding
that existence is better than no existence, however difficult or temporary it may be. And like Camus could only imagine Sisyphus
happy, this game basically culminates by straight up telling you that the way to feel content
in this chaotic world is to take things one day at a time—appreciate the little victories,
be there for those who need it. When the world is falling apart, focus on
what good you can do for those close to you. If we all take this approach, we can maybe
achieve more collective good than we might think—that is arguably the meaning of this
endeavour. And while the first ending sequence is pretty
visually explosive, taken as part of the game’s larger whole it might feel a little anticlimactic
to get here and be told “yeah, none of this really matters and you may just be prolonging
the inevitable—but keep going anyway.” That said, there was something nice about
this simple conclusion, given how it contextualises a lot of the work it took you to get there. It made me look back on that slog in a slightly
different light, realising that, as frustrating as it can be to get halfway to your destination
only to trip up and break a valuable package or have your truck fly into a ravine sending
your entire inventory with it, it’s only by raising the stakes of otherwise mundane
activities that you can make achieving those simple goals feel meaningful in some way. For example, this is a game that makes running
down a hill unscathed feel like a real, intense challenge. Most games treat any kind of traversal as
if you were moving across a flat, horizontal surface, but have you ever actually tried
running down a steep hill—like, sprinting down one as a kid maybe? You build a terrifying amount of momentum
and the slightest misstep; an errant bit of moss will send you tumbling as if you’d
just stepped on a banana peel. It’s legitimately quite dangerous; it’s
a thrill. It seems like the tiniest thing, but I don’t
think any game has really captured that latent but omnipresent sense of danger lurking in
the natural world quite like Death Stranding. As a result, getting to the bottom of that
hill feels pretty damn good in a way that it wouldn’t if you didn’t have to work
for it. Similarly, it’s stuff like this that made
me grow to appreciate how clever the design of these levels actually is. It’s a testament to the game’s visuals
that the landscape can look as if it was simply lifted straight from a photograph or real-world
geographic data. Look closer, however, and you begin to notice
that a mountain that may seem insurmountable will almost always have little nooks and crannies
that are just the right fit for a ladder, turning these rockfaces into incredibly tense,
intricate puzzles, rewarding those that managed to anticipate the balance required between
preparedness and packing light. And if you didn’t, there is always another
way around—it just might take a little searching to find it and a little longer to navigate. And even if you look upon the obstacles before
you with absolute dread, all it means is that when you come across the inevitable rope or
vehicle left by someone else thanks to the game’s community features, the sense of
relief feels all the more palpable. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t pretty
heartening to see the game world evolve in this regard since launch, with the barren
landscape gradually filling up with fluorescent lights as players construct bridges over previously
vast chasms and the oh-so-glorious safehouses begin to pop up more frequently. Many players might have been thinking purely
selfishly when placing such objects in the environment, thinking how much time it could
save them, but the cumulative effect is one where new players coming in—after going
through an area once and connecting it to their instance of the chiral network—might
legitimately have a less hostile experience going back the way they came, to those that
got into the game early. The community stuff in particular speaks to
Kojima’s funny kind of optimism you saw back in the Phantom Pain, where his career-long
obsession with expounding the dangers of nuclear weapons was taken to the next level. He put players to the test as he hid a secret
cutscene to be unlocked when all players on any given platform decided that, instead of
developing nukes for their individual Mother Bases, they would come together and disarm
all of them. And lo and behold, this cutscene actually
ended up playing on the PC version… but, as some people theorised, this only happened
thanks to a glitch where the almost incalculable number of nukes being created (likely through
cheats) somehow managed to roll the counter over to 0. It was an interesting idea on the part of
Kojima, but one that proved untenable. It required players to individually hold themselves
back from or even undo a feature of their game world that they would have worked hard
to achieve, and what’s more, they had no control over how the rest of the world would
act. Death Stranding is a similar test—it just
works the other way; instead encourages players to actively engage with its systems, simply
applying the individual benefits across, potentially, an entire community. With The Phantom Pain’s nukes, Kojima hoped
for near-instantaneous, worldwide, borderline systemic change in the way games and the wider
internet worked. Upon realising that there’s not really any
chance for everyone to get on the same page and that if a few people can mess it up for
the rest they will mess it up, it seems as if he came to the conclusion that it’s down
to individuals to essentially be the good they want to see in the world, even if the
change you might enact as a player appears insignificant or you might never see the benefit
of your actions. The things that help you might help others,
and that’s reason enough to keep trying in the face of such bleakness. And when you break it down like that, it’s
kind of powerful to consider that Kojima has finally managed to realise his existential
musings in the form of gameplay, even if it came at the price of making a game that was
actually fun to play. Because while there’s been a lot of talk
about when it is exactly that Death Stranding becomes quote-unquote “fun”, I can’t
say I actually enjoyed myself to any real degree until after I’d beaten the story
and I could go about building roads purely on my own terms. See, for me, the problems start to arise with
the game when I question just how deliberate some of its more tedious design choices might
be; that point where a feature crosses from an artistic choice to a half-baked system—perhaps
the biggest example being the game’s action and stealth sequences. Given the desire Kojima expressed in the run
up to release to move away from traditional action game mechanics and violent tools like
guns (as well as his insistence that there were no game over screens), I was quite excited
for an experience that would shift away from combat. But make no mistake, that claim about game
over screens is nonsense—even if you are particularly rigid with your definitions,
you can find yourself stuck with a straight up failure state requiring you to load a checkpoint. The combat is in there too—it’s as wildly
systems-rich as the walking, in fact, given the amount of options you have for taking
cargo off your back and swinging it or throwing it or dodging or whatever else. It’s also the one area in the game where
you could argue there was a true dominant strategy—just hammer on square, or better
yet, shoot them. Combat, then, ends up decidedly basic; where
groups of enemies seem reticent to attack you as you take them down one by one. The stealth sections against the BTs don’t
fare any better as they start off irritating then quickly transition to absolutely trivial
as you initially fumble against enemies you can’t see, then eventually find yourself
bombarding them with grenades or slicing your way through countless umbilical cords. When you get caught, you flounder with the
game’s awkward animations that really don’t suit themselves well to this kind of action
where you’re constantly having to move between buildings to gain the high ground. The enemies are slow, but you’re clumsy. It all amounts to a situation where the core
of both the stealth and action segments isn’t really that much different from other open-world
stealth action games where you sneak up on people and take them down or you drain the
health bar of a stronger enemy—it’s just every element is far, far more protracted. Both the MULES and the BTs are more irritating
than challenging; every section involving them interrupting what is already a very tense,
high-stakes traversal system with mere busywork. Combined with the dangers of dead bodies as
established in the story, the daft scenario occurs where it is still possible to kill
people, but clearly Kojima and team didn’t want to be so hostile to players that every
encounter ended with a pile of bodies you then had to chuck into an incinerator; so
ploughing into a group of people with a truck at full speed, for example, is likely to just
leave them… unconscious. In all, the fundamentals of the game’s action
are still pretty violent, it’s just Kojima read a Kobo Abe story and changed “choke
them out with a rope” to “connect them with a strand”. The walking simulator at the game’s core
would have been enough (at least for me)—it’s just now the game has yet another means of
grinding players down through sheer tedium. After a certain point, the worst part about
the BTs becomes the lengthy, unskippable animation that plays when your Odradek unfolds—it’s
like, we get it Kojima. You’ve read Cares of a Family Man, we don’t
need evidence of that shoved in our faces every five minutes. Which brings me onto the larger problem I
have with the game which is that, for as nice as it is for Kojima to tie a relatively simple
bow on a theme largely conveyed through mechanics, the presentation of that story along the way—from
its writing to its acting—centres around some of the most on-the-nose, redundant, in-your-face
exposition I think I might have seen in a Kojima game, and that’s saying something,
as character after character monologues their entire backstory (in some cases multiple times)
all in service of battering you into the ground with reminders of how important it is to connect
America; almost all conveyed through the same over-the-shoulder shot that, after forcing
myself to listen to all of this dialogue, you should probably take as an indicator that
you can safely skip over whatever Mama or Heartman have to say to you. It makes me think that Norman Reedus, with
his gruff demeanour, is the perfect fit for this character who starts off not giving a
toss about any of this nonsense, barely says a word to the holograms patting him on the
head and going “there’s a good boy,” and yet struggles to figure out why he feels
the need to keep going. Sam not saying a whole lot reads more as a
legit character trait, speaking only to those he genuinely wants to speak to, rather than
a “we didn’t have Norman Reedus in the studio long enough” situation. This is one of the benefits of creating a
whole new universe rather than following up on a previously established one; we don’t
have any expectations of these people as lively individuals, and so there isn’t that disappointment
when a beloved character loses their, well, character thanks to a change in voice actor
or a shift in series tone. These people have lived in this odd new world
for some time—they might not fully understand it, but it’s routine to them now—it’s
hardly like they’re going to suddenly be so amazed about the fact they’re in the
post-apocalypse that they need to point out every little detail about how it works, right? Well, this is precisely why it feels so puzzling
that they end up explaining it at you constantly anyway. Certain elements will be introduced rather
subtly—like the idea that dead bodies are kept a close eye on here, that they go “necro”
after a certain point and need to be incinerated away from the city—ideas that evoke curiosity
and that you’re expected to fill in the blanks on. They’ll then immediately counter this careful
worldbuilding with talk of “well this land was once like this but now it’s like this
and that’s why people like you became incredibly important and this is your job that you’ve
been doing for years.” Obviously with a world so dense you have to
get players up to speed on at least its fundamental rules and qualities, but surely that doesn’t
include multiple, prolonged explanations of what a safe room is. For the vast majority of its runtime, I tended
to find that of all the things that need clarifying in Death Stranding, half the stuff the characters
repeatedly discuss at length doesn’t warrant a fraction of the time spent on it. At so many points I found myself thinking
“why are people talking to Sam like this? Why are they constantly reminding him that
this is his mother? Doesn’t he know this stuff?” And that’s only in the opening two hours,
when the cutscenes are at least visually interesting, before most everything else is conveyed to
you through holograms. As the game goes on and these exposition dumps
get longer and longer, even within the cutscenes, they become as much work to deal with as the
hikes themselves. Being told you need to go all the way back
across the map with next to no equipment, dealing with increased timefall and BTs is
made all the more sorrowful with multiple interruptions from Deadman having a one-sided
conversation about the origins of the BBs—something I was originally most curious about, but thanks
to the awkwardness of its presentation (jammed into perhaps the lowest point of the game)
it almost completely killed any desire to know more. Some of the subplots you come across, such
as the chiral artist love story (in which you prove you aren’t a terrorist by wrapping
up a junk merchant’s girlfriend in a bodybag and taking her to his outpost), are such bizarre
non-sequiturs acted so terribly, that all they serve to do is force you to question
the fundamental rules of this world. Why do I need to carry her when I’ve seen
her walk? Could she not just wear a hood like yours
to protect from timefall so she could still use her legs? Is this all just to make a point about how
preppers are illogical? And after asking myself all this for what
feels like the billionth time, I resigned myself to the fact that all these questions
likely have one answer—stunt casting. For all of Kojima’s intentional worldbuilding
and storytelling through gameplay, it all seems to be outweighed by the idea of showing
off how many pals he has—and it’s in moments like this that the wider story really suffers
for it. There are elements of the storytelling I enjoy,
however. Despite the amount of needless mini-cutscenes
I found myself automatically skipping in the process, resting in a personal room is like
stepping into a big box of Kojima weirdness that might get a little lost in the decidedly
mundane activities you partake in outside. You’ve got his alcove full of action figures,
his favourite energy drink, his toys all hung up neatly on a well-lit wall and adverts for
shows he likes plastering the shower. Some might call this product placement somewhat
gauche (myself included), but what Kojima game would work without being a little gauche
at times? You get the feeling that Kojima chose these
things to include. He wouldn’t have taken this placement unless
he really, truly cared about all this dumb stuff; that he sincerely wants people to drink
these painstakingly rendered cans of Monster Energy; he genuinely wants people to check
out this show with one of his favourite actors in it even if the actor in question is currently
in another role in this game. Speaking of which, a strange side effect of
Kojima so photorealistically rendering all his friends for his big technical showcase
is that, after controlling Norman Reedus for so long, experiencing him at his most vulnerable,
in various stages of physical and emotional distress, I found myself towards the end thinking
of the character as Norman Reedus more than Sam Bridges—I felt like I knew Reedus the
person better. The safe room is one of the stupidest examples
of fourth-wall breaking I can imagine as Reedus pleads with you to do what he wants, silently
pointing, flexing, winking at the camera and the like. Constructed from natural movements that Reedus
would make during motion capture, then confusedly repeat when Kojima would enthusiastically
freak out (“Hideo, you know… like I’d take a drink of water and wipe it on my sleeve…
he’d go “do it again and roll camera.” And I’m like, “what is he doing?””)
what we now have is a pristine archive of that dude wot was in Boondock Saints and it’s
the most peculiar thing I never thought I would want, but here we are. Reedus’ confusion as to what he was getting
himself into isn’t limited to just him; across seemingly the entirety of Kojima’s
film industry friends recruited to lend their likenesses or in some cases acting talents,
there seemed to be a general haziness in the run up to release in terms of what they thought
Death Stranding even was. Mads Mikkelsen in particular, however, gives
himself over to Kojima’s whims so readily that the unnerving menace of his character
is an absolute joy to behold; as he delivers lines like “give me back my BB” with such
gravitas that you forget how wild a concept BBs actually are. It’s a similar case with Troy Baker who,
possessing a more in-depth knowledge of Kojima’s process having worked with him previously,
lends his role a much-needed flare, a flamboyance that shows just how much fun you can have
with a character even if the script is so dense with made up sci-fi jargon. Baker’s turn as Higgs is honestly a career
highlight of his as far as I’m concerned. It’s also these scenes with Sam facing off
against Higgs or Cliff where you see Norman Reedus at his most animated as the actors
bounce off each other in a way that just doesn’t happen with any other characters in the game,
thanks to incredibly wooden performances from both the VAs brought on to voice the likenesses
of the Hollywood directors and the actual Hollywood actors themselves—almost all of
which (outside of one pretty explosive scene from Tommie Earl Jenkins at the game’s conclusion)
read as the aforementioned stunt casting rather than having any thought put into what they
could bring to each of their roles. It makes it all the more baffling, then, that
those genuinely fantastic performances from Baker and Mikkelsen are given such comparatively
miniscule screen time in favour of Lea Seydoux monotonously telling you her origins and trying
her absolute damndest to make “I’m Fragile, but not that fragile” a catchphrase and
failing miserably. And similarly to how I feel a deeper connection
to Norman Reedus after controlling him for so long, listening to Heartman drone on and
on about chirality and extinction and his name and his heart and why his heart is weirdly
shaped made me come away with genuine feelings of dislike towards Nicolas Winding Refn—and
it’s not even him voicing the character! But even despite all my complicated, often
negative feelings about the mechanics and story, it’s the fact I can type those kinds
of sentences about the director of Drive lending his likeness to this unusual post-apocalyptic
walking simulator sponsored by Monster that is the reason that I couldn’t get Death
Stranding out of my head for a while—I still played it for a further ten hours after I
beat the story. Unlike The Phantom Pain though which, despite
my feelings on it now, I put almost double the amount of time my first go-around, I also
think that now I might be done with Death Stranding for good. I’ve seen a lot of talk about how this game
will change the face of the medium and people will be talking about it for decades to come. Watching the trailers and seeing this curious
experiment come to fruition, I wondered myself about that very possibility, and the writing
I’ve seen come out about this game has made for some utterly fascinating reading. But now, just a couple of weeks after release
and 6000 words later, I can already feel my enthusiasm for even discussing the game diminishing,
and that’s something I’ve never been able to say about a recently-released Kojima title. It’s odd, because on some level this game
feels made for me—I genuinely adore a lot of art that is directly confrontational with
its audience; that doesn’t set out to give them a gratifying experience necessarily. That said, I also wouldn’t ever want to
listen to forty hours of Hijokaiden, for example. I don’t always feel like melting my brain—I’ve
got stuff to do. And in some ways I do think Death Stranding
is kind of the video game equivalent of harsh noise—taking one of the most rudimentary
aspects of its medium (in music’s case unorganised sound; in games, basic movement) and amplifying
it to the point that it becomes a clunky, incomprehensible mess designed to make you
uncomfortable, that can also never just sit in the background. It’s endurance and it can be, for those
who choose to subject themselves to it, a worthwhile experience. There’s a part of me, though, that thinks
that the onslaught of outright antagonistic design and often unbearable dialogue and presentation
mean that the only way to actually enjoy this game is to do one, maybe two deliveries a
day, then stop. Forget about it, go do something else; as
the game would seemingly want, go connect with the outside world—talk to someone,
cook a meal, climb a real hill. Your progress in the game will be glacial,
but at least you’ll be able to savour the reward of your Sisyphean task for a little
longer before being told that you need to do it over and over again under increasingly
punishing circumstances. There’s also a part of me that thinks to
truly get out of Death Stranding what it wants you to take away from it, you have to give
yourself over to this prolonged act of self-flagellation. To me the game is about precisely that question
you will end up asking yourself of why you keep going when everything seems so fucked
and I think, for maybe the first time, Kojima has found a way to effectively gameify that
struggle, through incredible community features that encourage direct engagement. It’s just, that question of why you keep
going has been answered for me now. A couple of weeks after first playing it,
all I can think is, hooray, I did it—I made it to the end of Death Stranding. Cool, I guess. No elation, no wish to go back—all I can
think is “I endured” rather than “I enjoyed.” And sure, in a philosophical sense that has
its meaning. I also feel that, for how much work it takes
to get to that fairly simple end point about carrying on, the meaning of Death Stranding
is pretty hard for me to get truly excited about. So I hope you enjoyed my piece on Death Stranding. I’d like to stress this is just my opinion
and if you had a more positive experience with the game that’s cool, I’m genuinely
glad. I don’t think this is the kind of game you
can feel 100% any one way about so hopefully you understand that I’m not wholly negative
on my time with it either—I just had some issues with it that I felt it would be dishonest
to ignore. I’d also like to take a minute to thank
my patrons—without your help I would never be able to put in the time necessary to make
videos like this. You make this channel possible. If you enjoy my work, maybe consider heading
to and pledging even a dollar or two for patron exclusive
rewards—every pledge helps more than you know and I will always be thankful for your
generous support. Special thanks go to Mark B Writing, Artjom
Vitsjuk, Hibiya Mori, Rob, Bryce Snyder, Tommy Carver-Chaplin, David Bjork, Lucas, Dallas
Kean, William Fielder, my dad, Timothy Jones, Spike Jones, TheNamlessGuy, Ham Migas, Samuel
Pickens, Shardfire, Ana Pimentel, Jessie Rine, Justins Holderness, Nicolas Ross and Charlie
Yang. And with that this has been another episode
of Writing on Games. Thank you very much for watching and I will
see you next time.

Reader Comments

  1. Hey! I hope you enjoyed the video. If you did, you can really help support the show by heading to and pledging even a dollar or two. Doing so gets you access to patron-exclusive rewards like extra written pieces and access to ad-free, sponsor-free (when applicable) video uploads! Thanks so much!

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  2. You played through that section so badly.

    Edit: after watching more of the video. You just suck at this game. I never had my vehicle fly off a mountain top my entire 50 hour playthrough, never had mama die, never fell and had all my cargo go spilling everywhere

  3. I think the gsme is overrated walking simulator crap but damn it looks pretty. Can't wait to rent it on my PS5 just to see the visuals.

  4. Never had a problem with getting my car stuck thankfully. 😅 I like Death Stranding more then his previous titles and I love his other games. I’m honestly pursuing part time work in UPS driving because of this game. I love hiking and driving so that’s a huge factor for my love. They did an amazing job simulating the thrill of hiking up and down like you said. Fantastic review definitely the best in-depth discussion on this game. 👌

  5. I think he just wanted to make a movie, and the whole game is an elaborate plot to try and make inroads in Hollywood.

  6. "You see, it's ok when you do mind-numbing pointless ass fetch quests in this game the entire time because Kojima does it in a way that makes me feel like I have a big boi brain!"

  7. How come every reviewer fails and plays badly and then claims that the game mechanics are shit? Newsflash: You may just suck.


    4:18 Why are you driving your car into rocks? 4:22 Why the fuck are you driving your car off a mountain? What are you expecting is going to happen?

  8. 100% of what I've heard about this game makes it sound like absolute garbage and barely a game :/ And yet I also hear that some people are totally in love with it.

  9. Hmm I don’t agree at all. I’ve already debated with people who haven’t even played it. I was enthralled and finished it in a week. I thought you’d love the game being you love the ridiculous hitman series. Really seemed like it rubbed you the wrong way 😂

    Game of the Year for me 😊
    Directors of ghost in the shell and mad max fury road disagree with you

  10. this game is great I love it truly, but I understand why people hate it, this game was being sold as the next epic silent hill ex narrative game, not a supply and demand fed ex simulator

    but I think that's why I love this game, I love games where the mechanics and the world-building are connected to build an atmosphere where a simple job is turn by the world and the demand of you to complete set demand could mean life or death

    I love feeling the dread of having to scan my area for better pathways while struggling to keep balance, I like to be punished for being reckless but rewarded for being clever, this is a game build for simulator fans like me with the added post-apocalypse futurism

    I love this game I truly do, but I do understand why people hate it, it was sold as something else to fans of a genre this game doesn't belong in

    and it sucks that is receiving bad reviews because I want more games like this, I would like a post-apocalypse delivery service in Mad Max, having to deal with a very hostile desert full of environmental hazards and Warboys all while trying to deliver supplies to a settlement that needs it badly

    I know this is not something for everyone, but one thing that dead stranding does well is making you important without having to overpower you with crazy outlandish things and instead makes you human and makes a very simple job (which in reality is overlooked by people for how important it truly is for civilization) something of great importance

  11. The way you described the message of this game, to keep going even if everything seems pointless, reminds me of the exchange between Smith and Neo at the end of The Matrix: Revolutions.

    Agent Smith: Why, Mr. Anderson? Why do you do it? Why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you're fighting for something? For more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is? Do you even know? Is it freedom? Or truth? Perhaps peace? Yes? No? Could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson. Vagaries of perception. The temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself, although only a human mind could invent something as insipid as love. You must be able to see it, Mr. Anderson. You must know it by now. You can't win. It's pointless to keep fighting. Why, Mr. Anderson? Why? Why do you persist?
    Neo: Because I choose to.

  12. I actually have the opposite opinion. In other words, I think it's mesmerizing because, most of the game, I keep scanning the terrain and I'm like "Can't walk here? I'll just walk somewhere else!" It's never stressful to me unless Timefall and BTs are present.

  13. I think it is hard to define the meaning or theme of Death Stranding. Because itself dosen't know what it is. The game Death Stranding has the theme of 'connecting', but the meaning of two 'connecting' — in game system and in the story — are so different

    Let me explain.

    When ep13 comes, I really think that "Why does mr.kojima tell me again same conclusion of MGS2?". Do you guys remember that Solid Snake said that we have to keep conveying our achivements and mistakes to others even the worlds would end?

    It was that. All that wierd jouney was that. Then I got it. The game system is "connecting" society which made by living people, but the story is not about that. It doesn't care about our society or global system or like something specific. It was about the death and the birth. It was connecting "lives".

    I will not insist this theory strongly because of lacking of any evidence, but I think this story was for next "silent hills". Then everything makes sense. the voidout or timefall was a fog. All characters have one or two problems related to past and act very wiredly even in the context of "Hideo Kojima Games". Main casts , of course, have a problem related to the death. Then, Going through all the sins of his "mother" and his "father", Sam finally meet the meaning for him, the atonment and redemption for him, the life – Louise.

    What I want to say is not the conspiracy of konami or silient hills. What i want to say is that this story is more like an individual phyological horror, so it is so vague for commentaries to contemporary society(and its dividing). The game system and the game story aren't fitting in each other.

    And, I would say, that's fine for me. Yes it is about the myth of sisyphus, but this sisyphus — Sam Porter Bridges is not alone. He is with the audience to tell how she get the name of her.

  14. The game legitimately reached its peak for me in the snowy mountains, where they strip you of any useful vehicles and the bb. It truly came all together there.
    I love the vision behind it, making traversal the challenge is shining through in some moments.
    But all the critique is completely fair and justified. I get why people put it away.
    I just wish they hat focused more on the core vision and polished that part the hell up.

  15. I feel like "Death Stranding" will be this generation's "Shenmue": A bold, trail blazing dead end of game design, that might end as a creative well for games that do what it tried to do a lot better (see "Yakuza").

  16. this game falls in the "is so bad that is good" category, and not because it's funny, although it is, is because is bizarre and in a weird way intriguing, you don't know what is going on or why it's going on but you don't need to know just enjoy the ride

  17. Stunt-casting is the term I've been been looking for with this game.

    I'm still wondering if it falls into so-bad-it's-good territory

  18. If you're still losing cargo, falling over and feeling the game is tedious past the ~10 hour mark you're just not building enough structures for yourself/others. The game changes drastically if you focus on infrastructure – it seems like a lot of reviewers missed the real mechanical core of the game by playing too selfishly.

    Once I got ziplines and road networks up and running the game was satisfying and fun in a way no other game ever has been. No doubt the game is miserable if you walk everywhere, but that's not the games fault at all. By the end of the game basically every delivery I did involved driving to a zip line point and getting to my destination with minimal walking.

    The fact that so little of your discussion was about the asynchronous multi-player makes me wonder if you just missed the meta game.

  19. "Complicated" is spot on for my feelings about this game. I'm so glad you pointed out the dichotomy with the emotional music and frustrating gameplay. They tried to do the Red Dead trip to Mexico thing, but now imagine your horse is tripping on rocks the whole way there.

  20. Huh. Listening to this, and then thinking on Hbomberguy's Pathologic vid, I'm wondering what's necessary to nail games that are aiming for "Not Fun" kinds of engagement. Cause doing them well seems to be doable. As hearsay example, Supposedly Pathologic 2 is, in a broad sense, the first game but removing the unintentional suck. So…hm.

  21. As time goes on I might refine my thoughts on this better but for now, I think about how despite liking MGS2, I can’t help but admit that Spec Ops: the line did it better and without having to intentionally design a bad game to make its point. I agree with your sentiment that this is more of a game you endure and overcome rather than enjoy, but I could say the same about the souls series, and I enthusiastically look forward to future souls games, I don’t think I’d come within a mile of a death stranding 2.

  22. As if you read my mind, good work…
    I believe Kojima always have great ideas, but sadly he has now idea on 'making it a fun gaming experience'. To enjoy his work, one has to self-regulate his game experience, to do things not in the optimal way but in a 'intended but not well-communicated' way.
    ……but not everyone could. Not me.

  23. Have you played Pathologic?
    It's supposed to be similar in the sense of being antagonistic to the player, but without the celebrity cast to break your immersion. Pathologic 2 is still in early access, but it's sort of like a HD remake, so maybe you want to try that one.

  24. I didn't see one zipline, so of course you dealt with the infamous slog that most dismiss this game as a few hours in. After building a network of ziplines, that's when the game mechanics "clicked" for me. I finished the main story in about 50 hours, and I'm now at about 90 hours post-game.

    I feel Kojima intentionally made the base gameplay punishing, only for you to truly appreciate how much more enjoyable it can be if you take full advantage of the features that open up much later. That's also when the brilliance of the asynchronous multiplayer really started to shine.

    Even with that said, I can still see how a lot of people won't enjoy this game. I'm glad that you finished it, and didn't dismiss it without giving it a real chance.

  25. I've never been so torn about a game. It's the only game I've ever seen where I want to play it, but am also scared to play. I don't know if I should just stick to the unknown and confort myself to the idea that "eh, maybe some day I'll play it and enjoy it!", or give it a shot at the pretty big risk of ending up hating it.
    A decade ago I would not have hesitated, because Story heavy or "meaningful" games were my jam. These days, I tend to focus myself on "gameplay" games. Sometimes I pick a super cool story game, but most of the time I want games that I can play, and not watch.
    So I don't know. I'm also worried that, the more I wait, and the more the "interconnetced world" of the game will just grow way too much without me, or if I wait long enough, just not exist anymore.
    It's….. weird.

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