Game review: Death Stranding takes time to gather pace, but it's worth the wait

Death Stranding's well-thought-through theme about the importance of human connections is its greatest strength and helps soothe the frustration of its problems.
Death Stranding's well-thought-through theme about the importance of human connections is its greatest strength and helps soothe the frustration of its problems.PHOTO: SONY

I almost gave up playing Death Stranding.

The PS4 game's laborious, uphill climb of an introduction is likely to turn people off, despite how heavily hyped the game has been since game designer Hideo Kojima first revealed it three years ago.

While the excruciating length of time Death Stranding takes to come alive and its monotonous gameplay do it a great disservice, the game's great graphics, fun combat mechnanics and intriguing plot save it from mediocrity and are compelling reasons to invest time in it.

In the game, you play as Sam Porter Bridges, a deliveryman who traverses long distances to ferry cargo from place to place. He has an arsenal of tools at his disposal - ladders, ropes and even vehicles such as motorcycles and lorries during certain segments of the game.

As Sam makes his deliveries, he has to watch out for bandits who try to steal his cargo and supernatural beings who try to hurt him.

Underpinning it all is the mystery of the Death Stranding, the cataclysmic event from which the game gets its title. Since the event, most living creatures have disappeared and rain has turned into a dangerous occurrence known as Timefall, which radically ages everything it comes into contact with.

Accompanying the Timefall are supernatural beings known as Beached Things or BTs. These entities roam the vast open world of the game and are constantly hunting for human beings to prey on, forcing mankind to hide in underground shelters.

The game's first two chapters took me about six hours to get through and introduce many elements in rapid succession.

In attempting to keep up with the tedious inventory management system, the movement and combat controls, and the game's lore, I found myself gasping for air, as Sam does when he is out of breath climbing a steep mountain face or crossing a treacherous flowing river.

 

Players expecting a friendly game that will hold their hands as they work to understand its mechanics will be disappointed. Rarely are instructions repeated, and if you fail to grasp one element of the game, the misunderstanding will snowball as more and more complicated aspects are added.

But once you get through the initial slog, somewhere around the third of 14 chapters, Death Stranding starts becoming enjoyable.

The plot picks up from that point and unfolds steadily before ramping up towards the end, delivering a satisfying conclusion.

Combat-wise, Sam starts with just a piece of rope as a weapon, which is not very useful - but that sense of helplessness diminishes over time.

From having to deal with fistfights and stealthily getting past BTs, things get more interesting from the third chapter, when a steady stream of weapons and gadgets becomes available.

It is at this point that Kojima and his team get to best apply what the designer has learnt from his popular game series Metal Gear Solid (MGS).

Delving deeper into this would give away crucial plot points, but it is safe to say that fans of MGS' blend of action, shooting and stealth will not be disappointed.

I had a lot of fun mixing the action up with different tools and planning how I would take down groups of enemies or BTs.

But when the gameplay mainly involves walking and getting from one point to another, a lot is left to be desired. Unlike the MGS games, in which I could spend hours in front of my television completing mission after mission, I could play this only in short bursts before monotony set in.

Sam's speed and posture will be affected by how the cargo in his backpack is organised. The more you load, the clumsier he gets. If you fail to distribute the weight properly, he will lean towards one side, making it harder to move around and run from enemies.

  • FOR

    Fun combat that does not get stale

    Intriguing plot that makes players want to find out more

    Gorgeous visuals and high production value

    AGAINST

    Takes too long to set things up

    Gameplay of one fetch quest after another, can feel monotonous

    Uninspired inventory management system

    SPECS

    Price: From $79.90 (PS4 exclusive)

    Genre: Action-adventure

    Rating: 8/10

Managing his cargo can feel tedious, especially because the inventory management system feels clunky with its many screens and tiny text - but, thankfully, the game can auto-arrange the load he carries at the press of a button.

It should be noted the game looks amazing. The landscapes that form the backdrop of Sam's journeys are some of the most vivid and detailed I have seen in a PS4 game - with mountains, rivers and endless grassy terrain rendered perfectly.

The motion capture and voice acting of the cast - which includes Hollywood heavyweights such as Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen and Lea Seydoux - are professionally done. Some might even mistake the game for a big-budget Hollywood movie.

Death Stranding's well-thought-through theme about the importance of human connections is its greatest strength and helps soothe the frustration of its problems.

It is hard to talk about the game without giving anything away, but I will say that the seemingly random plot points and characters come together in a thrilling way I was glad to have powered through to reach.