Death Stranding review: a baffling, haunting, grand folly

November 1, 2019
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Small wonder that Sony moved to snap up console-exclusive rights to Hideo Kojima’s first game after his acrimonious split with Konami. Kojima and PlayStation have a close relationship that dates back to Metal Gear Solid’s debut in 1998. Beyond that, Sony’s commissioners have a helpless weakness for the most ambitious and bizarre visions of video gaming’s great auteurs and obsessives. If you are a Fumito Ueda, or a David Cage, or a Kazunori Yamauchi, and you have a weird idea for a game that cannot possibly be made on budget and will confuse the hell out of the marketing department, then Sony has a few million dollars with your name on them.

Well, Kojima has delivered. On time, surprisingly, but also 100 per cent on brand. The first release from his new studio Kojima Productions and his first non-Metal Gear game since 2003’s Boktai, Death Stranding is nothing if not an event. It is at once unmistakable as his work and surpassingly strange. It is grandiose and goofy, liberating and frustrating, thrilling and audaciously dull. It boldly strikes out for new territory even as it gets bogged in the mire of convention. Its preoccupations are nakedly displayed while its plot is borderline incoherent. It’s hilariously indulgent of its creator; the production could certainly have used more people who were willing to tell Kojima no. Although perhaps we can be glad they weren’t around. If they had been, Death Stranding would be more like other games, and that would be a shame.

Mystification at Death Stranding’s content and storyline, which has persisted since it was announced, doesn’t really end when you start playing it. It turns out the PR wasn’t being deliberately enigmatic – it just is that weird. It really is a game about delivering packages in a desolate future where the veil between death and life has been torn. After a catastrophic event known as the death stranding, America is a dangerous wasteland stalked by reckless bandits and frightening apparitions known as BTs. Rain accelerates the passage of time for anything it touches. Understandably, most people live underground. As Sam Porter Bridges – a stolid deliveryman, played by Norman Reedus – you must reconnect a fragmented society by bringing bunker-like waystations, outposts and cities onto the “chiral network”, a kind of ectoplasmic internet.

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