Death Stranding review round-up

death stranding review roundup
(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

The Death Stranding reviews are in and they are, quite suitably, confusing. Despite the spoiler-filled launch trailer, hour-long gameplay glimpses, and now full reviews, it can still be tough to grasp what Hideo Kojima’s first post-Metal Gear project really is. To some it’s an arduous walking holiday through picturesque landscapes. To others it’s the birth of an entirely new genre, kickstarted by a genius auteur, no longer untrammelled by corporate overlords. It’s also a post-apocalyptic FedEx simulator.

For us? Well, we don’t know. Since the Death Stranding PC release date isn’t until early summer 2020, we haven’t had the chance to go hands on with the game yet. And while we’re sure you’d have happily waited the best part of a year for our verdict, we thought it prudent to give you the consensus of our fellow critics on the console version. In short, there isn’t one.

A quick primer: In an alternate future, the world has been obliterated by an event known as the ‘Death Stranding’. As courier Sam Porter Bridges it’s up to you to negotiate this ravaged Earth and deliver packages to restore internet infrastructure to the United States, while avoiding evil spectress known as ‘Beached Things’. In other words, you’re a sci-fi postman saving the world by re-activating Twitter *shudders*.

Stranding tall?

For Kotaku reviewer Heather Alexandra, Death Stranding’s narrative is "spellbinding" but ultimately it’s one better conveyed through gameplay: here, the "mechanics are the message". On the other hand, don’t expect a review from our friends at EDGE magazine anytime soon as they "ran out of enthusiasm long before we ran out of time." Woof.

Scored reviews are wildly divergent. Kirk McKeand at VG247 comes in on the lower end with 3 out of 5 stars, pointing out that for all Death Stranding's high-minded reflections on the state of the world and its intriguing liminality, it’s ultimately undermined by unsubtle storytelling and Kojima’s penchant for the puerile: "This is still a game in which you can equip and unequip your penis so you can piss out Red Bull." However Trusted Reviews' Jade King, with a perfect score, argues that Death Stranding is "a weird, wonderful masterpiece," and "unlike anything else out there in the gaming medium right now."

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This is the full range of scores between the bigger outlets, which writer for PC Gamer and others Chris Schilling highlights as "quietly damning" when it comes to the state of how we assess games as an industry: 60 is deemed a catastrophe, when really it’s a solid experience with significant caveats. As ever—and Death Stranding appears to be a most pertinent example of this—be sure to focus on the written words of the review, rather than just the big ol’ number slapped to the top of them.

Predictably, despite games development being a collaborative process involving a huge number of very talented people, Hideo Kojima seems impossible to separate from his work. Following the cancellation of promising horror game Silent Hills, Death Stranding represents the famous auteur’s first chance to unleash his full creative vision after departing Konami in 2015. Partly fuelled by the man himself, this has generated an abundance of excitement around his first Konami-free outing that some critics suggest the game could only fall short of.

It's a phenomenon our sister site GamesRadar outline in their 3.5 out of 5 review. Burdened with the weight of Kojima-driven expectation, reviewer Leon Hurley contends that Death Stranding buckles under it. For them, "there are no real ‘holy shit’ moments, no surprises, just an okay-ish game about carrying boxes at the end of the world."

(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

Elsewhere in Kotaku’s more favourable review, they claim that this has created "two Death Strandings [...] the first is a dream, an impossible (and frankly unnecessary) vindication of games as art created by a glorified mastermind. The actual game is a fantastic mess." Don't get swept up in the marketing, no matter how exciting. It's something to keep in mind when Cyberpunk 2077 releases in April 2020.

As plenty of other reviewers point out, the game is long with extensive cutscenes laced thick with overt symbolism and social commentary. Joe Skrebels, IGN UK Deputy Editor makes the useful analogy that some critics would say that Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino’s best film "because it forced him to forget writing and just *direct*". Death Stranding is the first example of Hideo Kojima’s full creative freedom at work, warts and all. 

So, should you play Death Stranding? If you’re looking for a more specific answer you’re going to have to wait for our definitive review when we get the chance to play it in early summer 2020. And for a game that seems to extol the virtues of delayed gratification, revelling in the journey rather than the destination, learning to wait patiently is rather fitting really.

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But if you truly can't wait, the PC is already home to its own beloved parcel delivery sim, as PC Gamer contributor Jeremy Peel so aptly points out. 

Harry Shepherd

UK — After collecting and devouring piles of print gaming guides in his younger days, Harry has been creating 21st century versions for the past five years as Guides Writer at PCGamesN and Guides Editor at PC Gamer. He has also produced features, reviews, and even more guides for Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and Top Ten Reviews. He's been playing and picking apart PC games for over two decades, from hazy memories of what was probably a Snake knock-off on his first rig when he was seven to producing informative guides on football simulators, open-world role-playing games, and shooters today. So many by now he steadfastly refuses to convey information unless it’s in clickable online form.