Death Stranding has been around on PS4 since late 2019, but even now as it’s arriving on PC, there’s a good chance that you still don’t /really/ know what it is other than ‘Kojima’s latest game, starring Norman Reedus… and a baby... with the dead fish and Mads Mikkelsen’.
It sounds fascinating, sure, but also kind of confusing.
So we’re here to explain everything you need to know about Death Stranding before you take the plunge. Saddle up.
What’s the story?
We don’t want to spoil things, but we also appreciate that the artsy trailers showing beaches, fish and a naked Norman Reedus may not have given you enough context to know what any of it means.
And while the story isn’t quite as abstract as the trailers would have you believe, it’s still pretty strange.
The game is set in a futuristic America that’s reeling from a global catastrophe called the Death Stranding. This event caused a dimension of the dead between life and death called ‘The Beach’ to spill over into the land of the living. This left the world haunted by dangerous spectral entities called Beached Things (BTs).
The BTs caused all kinds of chaos - from so-called voidouts that blew up entire cities, to ‘Timefall’, a type of rain that causes everything it touches - from metals to humans - to age freakishly fast. All this left America’s entire infrastructure in ruins.
Who are you/Norma Reedus?
You are Sam Porter-Bridges, played by Norman Reedus. As a well-regarded courier whose job it is to ferry invaluable cargo between the isolated cities of America, you’re assigned by the makeshift government to make your way across the country and reconnect the cities under a kind of futuristic internet called ‘the chiral network’.
Sam isn’t any old courier though. He suffers from DOOMS, a condition that gives him a supernatural connection with the Beach, and is also the carrier of a Bridge Baby (or BB). These premature babies-in-pods are used by porter companies to enhance their employees’ ability to detect when BTs are near. By connecting with this BB, Sam also inadvertently taps into its memories, which is where Mads Mikkelsen comes in.
Has all this left you with a million questions still to ask? Good, we’ll leave it at that.
What genre of game is Death Stranding?
Hideo Kojima was his usual enigmatic self when saying that he wanted to create a new genre with Death Stranding. Kojima calls this a ‘strand game’, because of its unique asynchronous multiplayer where players can help each other out in their separate games by building structures like bridges, sharing resources, and leaving ropes for each other to climb. By doing these and other assistive actions, you earn ‘Likes’ from other players, which increase your reputation and contribute to improving your character’s stats.
Beyond that, Death Stranding borrows from a mix of genres. It’s an open-world game, for example, but the world is largely unpopulated and you’ll spend much of your time in solitude. Nearly all your missions involve transporting supplies between cities, making it somewhere between a walking sim and a high-tech parcel delivery simulator.
Long periods of moving across the stunning American landscape are broken up by intense sequences when you stumble into hostile areas populated by BTs or Mules - former porters turned bandits living in camps in the wilderness. You can engage enemies in combat, but with all that cargo on your back it isn’t easy, so you’ll need to judge whether to fight or sneak your way through.
And of course, being a Kojima game, it's super-cinematic, and isn't afraid of pulling you into some lengthy old cut-scenes.
Is it anything like Metal Gear Solid?
Long cutscenes, complex plots, big personalities, even bigger boss fights, and outside-the-box design ideas are all traits that Death Stranding shares with Kojima’s most famous work, Metal Gear Solid.
But while Death Stranding has the tone and authorial feel of a Kojima game, it’s a whole different beast to actually play. It’s strange, slow and beautiful, capable of being horrifying as you hold your breath to avoid BTs, and serene when you scale a mountain to take in the incredible landscape.