Norman Reedus stars as Sam Porter Bridges / Photo Credit: Kojima Productions
Norman Reedus stars as Sam Porter Bridges / Photo Credit: Kojima Productions

Ever since its initial reveal, all the way back in 2016 at E3, I've been excited to get to grips with the world created by Kojima Productions and director Hideo Kojima, in Death Stranding. From its earliest teasers, it looked to be one of the most beautiful and expansive environments created in a first-to-PlayStation exclusive, and with Norman Reedus heading up the cast as lead character Sam Porter Bridges, Kojima could consider his fans' appetites well and truly whetted.

Set in the United States following an apocalyptic event known as the titular Death Stranding, in which ghostly creatures from the world between life and death started to roam the Earth and claim victims, players are quickly brought up to speed with the dangers this whole new world presents them. One of those dangers is "timefall" - rain which speeds up the aging process and deterioration of anything it comes into contact with.

You control Reedus' character, Sam Porter Bridges, who works as a glorified postal officer, taking parcels from A to B, and dodging BTs (the aforementioned ghostly creatures) whilst doing so. Deliveries are rated by recipients using 'likes', which are then used to level up the gear and statistics available to the player. Early on in the game however, Sam's mission changes from being just another courier, to reconnecting the people of the United States and forming the "United Cities of America".

As a hugely narrative-driven gamer, I felt myself immediately drawn in to Death Stranding. The writing team have done a brilliant job here of giving realistic dialogue to some incredibly talented actors, resulting in perhaps the most brilliant motion capture performances in the industry to-date. Reedus is, as expected, fantastic from start to finish, with other big names including Mads Mikkelsen, Léa Seydoux and Margaret Qualley also putting in the work to ensure their acting here will be regarded as the diamond standard of their catalogue.

Mads Mikkelsen's character's story is told in tiny chunks / Photo Credit: Kojima Productions
Mads Mikkelsen's character's story is told in tiny chunks / Photo Credit: Kojima Productions

There are some elements to this game that are going to impress half of those playing, whilst annoying the rest. Breaking the fourth wall for example, for me, takes me completely out of the immersion the development team have managed to bring about. I'd much rather remain within that world than have Reedus winking at the camera, or pointing towards his collection of toy soldiers.

The promotional content for Monster energy drink and Reedus' AMC series is also far too gratuitous. Sam literally uses Monster as one of his consumables to regain stats, and the whole thing reeks of big money being passed around behind-the-scenes for their inclusion.

Then we have the gameplay. Whilst I wouldn't go as far as saying this is a walking simulator as some have suggested, it's not far off. Games have a responsibility to be fun, compelling and engaging at all times, and when you're moving from one spot to another, lugging a whole bunch of cargo on your body, whilst tripping over rocks and sliding down steep terrain, it can be tempting to reach for the power off button. I have managed to remain on my feet for the majority of the time in-game, swiftly slamming down the shoulder buttons on my controller whenever the weight on Sam's back is proving to be too much.

It's an inventive idea, but one that quickly loses its shine. I understand the ambition for realism when it comes to traversal, but when it's SO punishing with such little payoff, other than moving the story along, I fail to see it encouraging much of its player base to continue playing.

The open world is a huge one - and you'll be exploring every inch / Photo Credit: Kojima Productions
The open world is a huge one - and you'll be exploring every inch / Photo Credit: Kojima Productions

One very original idea that is enjoyable throughout however, is that of the BBs, otherwise known as Bridge Babies. These "tools" are attached to your suit as you go out exploring the land, and will alert you to the presence of any BTs in your immediate area. The BB will begin to cry if you trip or stumble, and doesn't like being submerged in water for too long, and when it does cry out, the vocal will come out of your controller. It's perfectly creepy, and will last until you soothe the infant, by rocking your controller back and forth.

I also adore the ability to discover other players' tools such as ladders and rope, which are left behind for you to use by people all over the globe. You can grant 'likes' to those players if you find what they've left useful, or ignore them completely. This may frustrate some who want to figure out everything by themselves, and make their own way through this open world setting, but for the majority it'll be a welcome addition, and bring some linear gameplay to the fore.

With all of that said, I find it very hard to give a score to Death Stranding. Instead, I'll leave you with my final thoughts. This is a game that is incredibly well-written with a beautiful soundtrack, but it is not always entertaining. An egrigious use of product placement takes away from the overall experience, whilst rare, peaceful moments are often shattered with chaotic and clumsy positioning and mechanics. If you're anything like me however, you'll want to see this story through to the end. The first few chapters of the game may feel like a slog, and it's true that Kojima waits to hook players both here and in past releases. Stick with it though, and there is some major payoff.

Death Stranding is available now on PlayStation 4, and will launch on PC in 2020. A code for PS4 was given to Female First in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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