Game designer Hideo Kojima has again conjured a strange, paranoid world that mirrors the dark corners of our own.
Kojima's new world is a postapocalyptic Earth that is the setting for Death Stranding, a Playstation 4 exclusive (a Windows release is scheduled for 2020) that is now available.
This is an open-world game that, like many of Kojima's games, features a troubled loner who gets caught up in momentous events that impact everything and everyone. Kojima is not just the game's designer. He's also the writer and director and has always had firm control over the games he makes.
This auteur approach comes with problems, though. Death Stranding is one big mixed metaphor, with Kojima linking beached whales and social-media obsession with notions of the afterlife and the apocalypse. He'd benefit from working with a strong editor who could help him pull his ideas together better.
His far-reaching philosophy has its merits, though. Fans of Kojima's games revel in trying to find meaning in his sprawling vision. I'm pretty sure I caught a Cthulhu reference in one early sequence, for example. Whether it was an intentional reference by Kojima or I'm seeing something that only I can see is just fine.
Gamers delight in trying to understand the meaning, and Kojima's intent is, frankly, irrelevant.
And there is something weirdly compelling about Death Stranding. This is a game in which you are, essentially, a courier. The central mechanic lies in figuring out how to carry hundreds of kilograms of weight on your back and still navigate a scrambling landscape. Strapping a package to your shoulder may balance you better, for example, than putting everything on your back.
As you progress through the game, you get stronger, you can carry more weight, and your ability to move faster with more weight also improves.
Be prepared to be patient in the game's first couple of hours, though, as you won't actually play much. The setup of the world and the characters is mostly a movie that you periodically interact with—this is another Kojima characteristic—and the script is often laborious, with characters given to long lectures that explain the story to us.
Although the dialogue's exposition is tiresome, the acting in Death Stranding is excellent. Norman Reedus stars as the protagonist, Sam Porter Bridges, and other prominent roles are played by Mads Mikelsen, Léa Seydoux, and Lindsay Wagner.
The mystery of what happened to Earth—and to the former United States, where the game is set—is slowly revealed through the course of the game. It revolves around time and dimensions and the connections between them. Rain is known as "timefall" because it ages anything it touches, and the countryside is filled with otherworldly creatures that used to be humans before they died.
These "BTs" cannot be seen by normal people, so "bridge babies" are used to sense and see them. Bridge babies, "BBs", are premature infants removed from their mothers and placed in artificial wombs.
There's not a lot of combat in Death Stranding. Although you are often confronted by antagonists like the BTs, your best approach is usually to use stealth and to run when necessary.
Death Stranding is a game that many people will not like for various reasons. But there will be people who will find exploring a strange and bizarre environment and becoming the best possible porter a sublime experience. And we've got Hideo Kojima and Sony to thank for it.