Hey, did you see the trailer for Death Stranding 2 (working title) that dropped at the Game of the Year Awards a couple months back? If you haven’t played Death Stranding then you probably had no idea what was going on. Well, good news! I did play Death Stranding and I was pretty fucking lost, too! It kept up the grand tradition of ‘I am confusion Kojima explain’ from the first trailer.
Death Stranding is a game by Hideo Kojima, legendary creator of the Metal Gear series and Guinness World Record Holder of The Most Plot in Any Story Ever Written. And while Death Stranding is, in fact, fully weird and convoluted and over-plotted and contains what is, potentially, the single worst line in the history of video games and I know that’s a loaded category but I am not fucking around here it’s so hideously terrible it’s begun to echo out through time and space and if there is intelligent life out there they ain’t coming…anyway, I think it’s actually way more accessible than people might realize. So let’s go over some reason you might actually want to play Death Stranding.
You Like Being Assigned Tasks, and Then Completely Those Tasks
While the story of Death Stranding is, to put it lightly, poo-flinging bugfuck crazy, the actual mechanics of the game are straightforward. Once you get through a literal movie’s worth of insane cutscenes, you will finally be in charge of piloting Sam Porter Bridges, the Best Deliveryman in the Apocalypse.
America has separated itself into cities and individual preppers in their doomcaves, and the main crux of the game is you are delivering needed packages from points A to Z in an effort to reconnect the country and avoid another extinction event.
There is some combat in this game but the majority of it is super tame and the rest of it is fucking weird but still relatively easy to get through. There is a lot of driving, but all of it is in service of delivery packages. I know, I know, it sounds like I’m full of shit, especially if you watched the trailer up there. Plenty of people were actively mad when the game came out because no one watched that baby up there and expected this sort of gameplay. People began derisively calling it a ‘walking simulator,’ which is sort of funny because…
It’s Probably the Only Actual Walking Simulator in Existence
The term ‘walking simulator’ can be an actual descriptor of a game. It can also be used as an insult. A lot of walking simulator games involve playing as a first person character and – surprise – walking around and exploring both the location and the story, usually through picking stuff up and reading about it. These games hinge entirely on the story hooking players, because the gameplay itself is basic on purpose.
Walking simulators are basically visual novels with extra steps.
Sometimes fucknuts on the internet use the term as an insult for a game they think is boring, and this criticism got leveled at Death Stranding, but the thing is they are technically correct, the best kind of correct.
In actual walking simulator games, the walking is just a way to get from story point A to story point B. You usually can’t even see your character, the way the world bobs past you the only visual indicator that you are an actual person on legs instead of a camera on a dolly. The walking doesn’t matter, the story does.
Well, if you’re playing Death Stranding buckle the fuck up, and I mean that literally because you don’t want to fall and hit your head. For large swaths of the game, the walking is the only thing that matters.
Unlike other games where the amount you can carry is only limited by your heart, in Death Stranding the packages Sam carries all have actual weight and dimensions. Put too much weight on Sam and he’ll struggle to stand. Stack your packages too high and Sam will start to fall over if you turn too sharply.
Is the terrain flat or rocky? Is the slope gentle or steep? In other games: who cares! Video game characters will sprint through the world at the same improbably speed through rivers and snow and over fields and giant boulders for as long as you press the run button. In Death Stranding, you have to pay attention to what’s in front of you, because Sam can and will trip over a single rock in his path and eat shit and damage everything he is carrying if you are not careful.
In some games there is a stamina bar when your character sprints, eventually running out and leaving your character to jog casually for a few seconds until the stamina bar replenishes and you can go back to sprinting. Meanwhile, Sam eventually gets so exhausted that if you don’t go home and sleep for a night the stamina bar becomes nothing more than a nub and he will pass out in the middle of a river.
Death Stranding isn’t a walking simulator because it’s boring, it’s a walking simulator because the entire point of the game is analyzing every little detail about what you are carrying and where you take your next step.
You Like Cozy Games
A lot of the time when people think of cozy games they think of Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley, the sort of games with cutesy animation and anthropomorphic animals and lots of farming and no violence. I think the definition, though, is broader than that, and the term simply means any game that lets the player relax and unwind. This definition ultimately means that what counts as a ‘cozy game’ depends on the person. I’ve never picked up Animal Crossing myself because just the thought of having to permanently build and then decorate my home and island and get everything exactly right is enough to give me hives.
My ultimate cozy game is Breath of the Wild, because I have spent hundreds of hours wandering around and collecting apples and mushrooms and when I did build my house it came with a handful of very specific options that I didn’t need to stress over because, like, you have Bolson build you the shield mount or you don’t. That’s it. Those are your options.
That makes it no surprise, then, that I consider Death Stranding a cozy game. You roll into a prepper’s station, you find out what they want you to deliver, you find a way to carry everything, and then you fuck off across the game map. It’s quiet. It’s scenic. There’s stuff for you to find and pick up along the way, like other packages that will net you even more points with the people you are delivering to. You can avoid fights. Hell, you can mostly avoid people entirely. The only NPCs also wandering out in the world are other Porters, and the only thing you can do with them is exchange packages and thumbs up.
Everyone else is sitting in their underground bunker, waiting for you to arrive with fresh underwear.
Also, when Sam gets really exhausted and you don’t want to go a private room, you can pick a nice spot in nature and nap for as long as you want.
If taking cute naps next to a creek isn’t cozy then I don’t know what is.
You Like A Tiny Amount of Social Interaction
I fucking hate multiplayer games where you play with people you don’t know because it’s basically social interaction and why the fuck would I want social interaction in my video games when video games are supposed to be my escape from the real world?
That said, I love the social interaction in Death Stranding. Here it is:
Another player in their game builds a bridge because they need it. Then the bridge shows up in your game, in case you need. If you want, you can spam the Like button to give the other player lots of love for building a necessary bridge. The other player gets the Likes and feels appreciated. Otherwise, the two of you never meet.
It’s great. It’s basically fostering a sense of community but I never have to get on a headphone set and try to chat with someone halfway across the world while some virulent twelve year old spouts slurs like some sort of sludge-gargoyle. You can even directly friend one of these other players and it doesn’t change much. There’s no chat feature at all. You just keep sharing structures and Likes until one of you logs off forever.
Sam can wear a Santa hat.
You Enjoy Being Assigned Tasks, and Then Fucking Off and Doing What You Want for Several Hours
Unless it’s a timed delivery you don’t get penalized for how long it takes you to deliver something because generally the recipient doesn’t know it’s coming so sometimes I will carry a single package for eight hours while I do everything else under sun and then spray the container down with repair juice before dropkicking it into the prepper’s delivery slot and only because I happened to be in the area chasing down chiral crystals.
The moral of the story here is if you’re able to either enjoy or ignore the Kojima-ness of it all, Death Stranding is mostly a chill little game where you wander around delivering packages and trying not to trip over a cliff. It’s chill, it’s cute, it’s moody, it’s the best way to calm down after a long day of talking to people you don’t know who definitely wouldn’t gift you a Like, and you wouldn’t give them shit either.