Still, people are eager for answers to questions they’ve held for years. The Washington Post has played and finished the game, and we’re here to answer as many questions as we can for fans of Kojima and his past work, most notably the Metal Gear Solid series.
The game isn’t out until Nov. 8, so we won’t be delving into story spoiler territory. There will be some details about gameplay, but we’ll try to leave some of the bigger surprises to you.
On to the most important question.
Is Death Stranding a real video game?
Yes. It most assuredly is. In fact, it is a lot of video game. There’s more gameplay here than all Kojima games except for possibly 2015′s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Kojima’s Twitter biography states that 70 percent of him is made up of movies. This is not the case with Death Stranding.
Wait. Uh oh. Did Kojima pull another Phantom Pain and there’s barely any cutscenes? Is the story as disjointed?
No and no. This is in reference to when Kojima’s previous employer Konami had rushed the game out (after a very expensive production period). The game released in a clearly unfinished state, with large elements of the story cut out. This was the beginning of the end of Kojima and Konami’s 30-year relationship. Kojima eventually cut ties and formed his own company, Kojima Productions, a rare feat in Japan’s gaming industry. Death Stranding is Kojima Production’s first effort.
And after a relatively quick three years (especially for something this large and expensive), Death Stranding is a complete project from beginning to end. No matter how you might digest the story, it’s clear that Kojima and his team are telling the story they set out to do. You can begin and end the game feeling like you have a finished product.
Wow, so are there lots of cutscenes, even ones not shown in the exorbitantly long trailers?
Oh, BB, don’t worry. You will get more cutscenes than you could bargain for. Several of them run well over an hour. There is more footage here to fill more than entire season of TV.
You’ll get plenty of gameplay sandwiched in between them, but long cutscenes are essentially your reward for completing a significant portion of the game.
And the story is not disjointed. We’ll get into the mythology later, but as far as the goal of the game goes, it’s actually very straightforward for most of the game. Your objective is as clear as it’s been in video games, ever since Super Mario Bros. asked players to “go right.” Instead, Kojima is asking you to take Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus) to go west.
OK so what is the game about? Are the trailers lying to us?
The trailers are not lying to us, for once. In fact, my biggest advice for anyone is to trust the trailers.
The trailers show the core gameplay. It’s a lot of walking. You’re going to hear “walking simulator” a lot, and it’s not inaccurate. It’s absolutely about making deliveries. Watch Kojima’s 49-minute demonstration of the game. He gives you more than enough information about how exactly the game plays.
The game is, for the most part, about being a lonely, introverted Norman Reedus walking across America from east to west with a mission to reconnect the Internet and the world during an ongoing mass extinction event. This focus rarely strays throughout the journey, and even the detours ultimately go toward this goal.
Trust the trailers? So everyone cries a lot?
Yes, the latest launch trailer has the entire cast crying. There is a lot of crying. Everyone will cry, all the time. It is, as the kids say, a big mood.
Speaking of the launch trailer, which Kojima himself edited, I’d avoid watching it if you haven’t already. I’m not going to say whether the trailer has spoilers, but if you’re the kind of person who thought the exploding football stadium in “The Dark Knight Rises” should’ve been left as a theater experience, you don’t need to see this trailer. It won’t illuminate that much more of the story, but some of the visuals it contains are best left to be discovered within the context of the story.
Is there stealth like in his Metal Gear games?
Kind of, but it’s pared back. The stealth is about as complicated as it was in another Sony-published game, Horizon Zero Dawn by Guerrilla Games. Death Stranding uses the same DECIMA engine made by Guerrilla. You can hide in tall grass, and you can sneak and do stealth attacks. But there’s no going prone and no cover mechanics.
But the game encourages constant movement. When you eventually run into MULEs (the yellow HAZMAT suit-wearing dudes in the release date trailer), you’ll not only be surrounded, but they can ping your location and move to your spot, even if you’re hiding in grass. The stealth approach doesn’t usually last long, but there’s challenge in trying to stay hidden and make your delivery route as smooth as possible.
So, if it’s not like Metal Gear, how does the game feel?
It is unlike any other game I’ve ever played, but it is made up of several elements that reminded me of other games. Kojima boasts this as a new genre on its own. I wouldn’t go that far quite yet, but it’s a game without a genre. A character in the game says straight up, “I’m Frankenstein’s monster,” and I can’t help but think that’s the perfect way to describe this game.
In any case, here are the games and elements Death Stranding reminds me of:
- The feel of movement from The Phantom Pain: Sam walks and runs like Venom Snake did. This time, there’s a lot of focus on keeping balance and watching your step. Rough terrain can not only increase the chances of you falling and losing health, but they also add more wear and tear on your boots, which you have to replace every so often. Sam’s melee combat is more similar to the original Metal Gear Solid: a single-button combo and nothing else.
- The solitude and traveling of Shadow of the Colossus and Zelda Breath of the Wild: If you enjoy traversal and taking in scenery, this game boasts arguably the most beautiful world ever created outside of last year’s Red Dead Redemption 2. The barren American wasteland is diverse with deserts, snowy mountains, craters and bombed out shopping malls. If your enjoyment of any of the above three games derived from simply traversing the landscape, this is the game for you. Again, I stress: The core of the game is walking.
- The online cooperation of Dark Souls: The game’s only online component is inspired by Dark Souls and how other players could leave “signs” as warnings to other players of traps. In Death Stranding, you’re one of many Sam Porter Bridges. As you progress through America and bring more of it online, the more you’re connected to other players. That means you’ll see more and more of their stuff and handiwork lying around. For example, as I returned to the game a day later, I went outside and saw an entire freeway built by other players. On another day, I used a motorcycle left by YouTube games critic YongYea. This is the essence of Kojima’s concept of “Strand” gameplay.
And then there are elements of No Man’s Sky (feeling alone on a planet), as well as Heavy Rain (small detailed interactive cutscenes during private moments). I also got a tinge of dealing with inventory management in Resident Evil. The game is all about keeping your balance as you carry cartoonishly large amounts of cargo on your back, shoulders and legs.
It was a big moment for me when I got the ability to 3D print myself a motorcycle. So yes, you’ll eventually unlock more equipment to use. Among them, you’ll get a few guns, vehicles, a floating wagon to carry more cargo, and robotic frames for his body that could help Sam either carry more stuff or help him walk or run faster.
Keep in mind: This game continues Kojima’s trend of prioritizing pacifism over violence. The game gets harder (and more annoying) the more you actually kill people. While the game has violent and terrifying imagery, I didn’t shoot a single bullet in the game after several hours of playing. In fact, the only time I took “damage” in the game was when I clumsily stepped across some rocks at a small stream, falling on my face, and causing Reedus to yelp, “Get it together!”
I actually like Kojima’s confusing, illogical and melodramatic plots. Will I like this?
Oh boy, you will. You wanted Kojima unhinged, and this is it. If you can’t tell by characters named Deadman and Die-Hardman, this game lacks subtlety. He tends to overexplain many concepts of the mythology, which is not in any way moored to silly things like logic and reason.
That said, there’s a lot in the game that remains unexplained. Remember how Volgin, the antagonist of Metal Gear Solid 3, had electricity powers and we never found out how? If you’re able to accept that, you might do OK with this plot.
Kojima is the kind of storyteller who obsesses with the “why” of stories and characters, not necessarily the “how.”
Tough call here. Depends on what else you like. I’d sign up if you enjoy horror fiction, particularly imagery from the likes of artists like Keith Thompson, who frequently collaborates with another Death Stranding cast member, Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro. Same goes for legendary horror manga artist Junji Ito.
But if you really need your plots to make immediate sense to you, this might not be the game for you. Huge plot holes and unexplained phenomena may distract you from enjoying the game.
What if I really like anime?
You’ll be right at home. There isn’t much in the story that you’re not already used to.
How long or large is the game?
The game took me about 40 hours to beat, but this is me avoiding a heavy dosage of side quests. If I bothered to do more of the side quests, it could easily run me up to 60 hours or more.
Although you are literally walking across America in the game, the actual land mass of America has been shrunken down to manageable, smaller sections. Some of it is explained away by the apocalypse, but you just have to suspend your disbelief and remember this is a video game. And this game gives you constant reminders, as characters in the game flash a thumbs up at the screen, awarding you with more “likes,” this game’s version of experience points. You can get likes from in-game characters, as well as other real players who use your equipment.
So it really is a video game.
Very much so. And if you’re a Kojima fan, you’re probably “in there, Day One.”
If you have any more questions, let us know in the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer them.