By Jack Tsaparis
This article is spoiler-free.
Kojima Productions’ Death Stranding was released almost a year ago for the PS4 to much anticipation as the teasers and cryptic messages were finally answered. As is the case sometimes with big games, it was met with quite a murky reception.
When we look back at Death Stranding, whether you played it or you just heard about it, you would know that it falls into the box of being one of the most divisive games of all time.
It was very well received by many people including myself, but was also equally disliked among players. This could be attributed mainly to the fact that the gameplay, by design, was a little too monotonous for some. For a large portion of the game, players would need to spend hours literally walk packages across great distances, grab another package, walk somewhere else and so on.
Another aspect of the game that may have ruffled some feathers was the slow, and at times vague, story which was told through the eyes of protagonist Sam Porter Bridges, a man of few words.
The combination of these two elements makes for an incredibly slow burn in every sense of the phrase. What some players may find boring and tiresome in this game, other may find relaxing and therapeutic. It’s a game that encapsulates the importance of patience, determination and persistence. An often lonely venture of overcoming obstacles in a literal journey from A to B.
In this current time that we live in, with the way the world has been slowed and characterised by isolation, Death Stranding feels more and more familiar as each day goes by.
Our homes have briefly become synonymous with prepper shelters, places in the game that house individuals away from the cities, from the danger that lurks outside. Now, the events of Death Stranding take place in a post-apocalyptic future and are purely sci-fi but, the parallels still hold true.
What the world is going through isn’t the apocalypse but there are ramifications that will ripple through the coming years. Countries will need to be ready for any other need to isolate in the future and the need to connect through social media and video calls may become even more common.
That’s where the gameplay shines again. In a time where people are struggling, even the smallest expressions of positivity can mean a great deal. Death Stranding features a ‘Like’ system that plays a substantial role throughout the game. Any equipment you place in the world, any delivery you make, really any action you do in the game will be met with likes either from other players or NPCs as a visual show of appreciation. These likes are then tallied up and will contribute to the relationship level you build with other settlements and shelters.
If the most minimal amount of positivity is shared through a time of isolation, it can mean a great deal much like in the way it matters in this game.
With the inability to spread or spam dislikes, the game echoes the sentiment of not saying anything if you have nothing nice to say. In a period of darkness and uncertainty, dislikes only exist to put somebody or something down and this game is trying to spread positivity through its asymmetric multiplayer in the simplest way possible.
While everyone is entitled to expressing their opinions, removing the option to deliberately leave a dislike mitigates a visual representation of negativity in an already dark and lonely game. It allows for a more hopeful outlook to be made upon a world that’s been separated.
Death Stranding also expresses this idea of hopefulness through its combat. Combat situations between humans are quite rare and can be completely avoided. Though, should you need to engage, you aren’t required to kill anyone and, in fact, the game subtly discourages it.
To defeat enemies, you are provided with a vast array of nonlethal weapons to incapacitate them. This is another way in which Death Stranding offers up a much different experience than other games that usually ask you to go here, kill this, go there, kill that. This encouragement of nonlethal tactics also ties together with the narrative and the nature of entities known as BTs, but I’ll leave that to be discovered as it is quite fascinating.
The willingness of Death Stranding to display these small changes further exemplifies a departure from the violence that is so causally depicted in other titles, usually represented as the norm.
The environment of Death Stranding can also be representative of the world we currently live in. The absence of people occupying the natural world has given rise to nature taking back the land. The entire Eastern Region can be characterised by sprawling plains of green and calm hills draped in light clusters of fog. There is a stillness to the game that amounts to an interesting blend of haunting and comforting.
The sheer lack of people roaming around in many parts of the world due to various lockdowns feels all too familiar to those of us who’ve made the journey through the game. Death Stranding, in many ways, feels eerily similar to the current state of the world. It would seem that Kojima Productions had predicted the future and retroactively created a game that could be considered slightly ahead of its time.
In any case, it’s interesting to explore just how real this game feels to play right now. It personifies the need and value of communication and connection in a trying time of isolation and uncertainty.
A reflection and exaggeration of the separation being experienced through this game puts the current situation of the world into a larger perspective and offers a glance into the worst situation a living world could be in as wells as glimpse of how the pieces can be put back together using the connections we have to one another.
As a dark but peaceful game at its core, Death Stranding stands apart from many modern games of the past few years. Its themes of connectedness and perseverance can offer a welcome reminder of the that there is always hope.