When you set out for your first cargo delivery in Death Stranding, you’ll probably be hit by a strange feeling. This game is supposed to be set across the USA, yet it doesn’t really look or feel like any version of America you know. Despite this unfamiliarity, one thing’s for certain:
It looks absolutely stunning.
When Hideo Kojima was conceiving this post-apocalyptic world, he didn’t want the typical setting of ruined buildings reclaimed by nature. Taking inspiration from the volcanic island of Iceland, he instead wanted to create the sense of a world reborn from the ashes of disaster.
That’s why America as depicted in Death Stranding is a mesmerising mix of vertiginous mountains, glistening black rocks and vast volcanic plains. Fitting with the game’s themes of death and rebirth, the landscape flows effortlessly quickly between verdant vegetation and hostile wastelands.
At times, Death Stranding feels veritably Martian as you cross a field of black and red rocks, where gases belched out from the Earth turn the sky brown and thick. But those versed in geography will quickly recognise even these places as being inspired by the more extreme environments on Earth.
Where other open-world games can often look hyperreal through saturated or otherwise intrusive colour palettes, Death Stranding’s cold, understated tones let you appreciate its environments in a raw, unadulterated light.
Another thing that makes Death Stranding’s landscapes so unique is the level of interplay between them and the player. This isn’t just pretty scenery to passively appreciate while you go around chatting up strangers and picking up sidequests. There are almost no NPCs in Death Stranding (and the few that are out there aren’t usually friendly), which means that you have a lot more time to take in the world around you than you normally would.
And while you’re sucking up the scenery, you’re constantly looking for new ways to traverse it. Do you try to scale that mountain using ropes and ladders? Do you take the riverbank down to the next waystation, or cross a field of otherworldly rock formations that look like the real-life Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland?
Despite the sci-fi tech at your disposal, the way you interact with the world feels like you’re exploring the wilderness with an ordnance survey map and compass. Discovering a narrow pass cutting through a seemingly impossible mountain feels like a genuine achievement, and is the kind of moment that you savour in Death Stranding.
You develop a love-hate relationship with these majestic landscapes, because they’re so intimately tied to your experience of the game. In a way, the world is Sam’s closest companion on his journey.
Should the unthinkable happen and a voidout explosion occur (hint: don’t die or leave dead bodies around), a massive crater will permanently scar the landscape, forcing you to work around it. Even though you’re endlessly adapting to the landscape, you also have the power to destroy it.