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August 2021

Death Stranding

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Kojima Productions
Release Date: July 14, 2020

About Chris Barnes

There's few things I'd sell my soul to the devil for. However, the ability to grow a solid moustache? I'd probably sign that contract ... maybe ... (definitely).


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PC Preview - 'Death Stranding'

by Chris Barnes on July 3, 2020 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Death Stranding is an open-world action game that follows the story of Sam Porter (Norman Reedus), who must travel across a ravaged wasteland and save humanity from impending annihilation.

It's not exactly a revelation that Hideo Kojima's games are a bit weird. With raven-loving tank drivers, flaming space whales, and nanomachines that inexplicably do everything and anything, my experience with the Metal Gear franchise led me to believe that I was ready for just about anything Kojima could throw my way.

I don't think I was expecting this, though.

It's been six months since Death Stranding released on the PS4, but I managed to avoid any spoilers. Looking in from the outside, I had seen headlines and read divisive reviews about a game that sounded like a game I'd abhor. Taking on this preview felt like walking into a minefield. I've played five hours of Death Stranding on the PC, and despite my preconceived notions from the PS4 coverage that I'd consumed, I enjoyed it.

There's a lot going on in the story — too much for five hours of gameplay to do it justice (let alone a preview article). I'll do my best to summarize. Death Stranding takes place in a world devastated by an event in which the worlds of the living and dead have collided, also known as "The Death Stranding." Since those events, "BTs" — gooey, dripping, wet apparitions invisible to everyone but those afflicted with "DOOMS" — stalk the world. Some people, including the protagonist Sam Porter Bridges, have an innate ability to avoid death from the BTs, but most characters do not. Those who die in this world set off a massive explosion.

With the world rattled by corpse-induced nukes and floating goo monsters, infrastructure is no more, and the living have isolated themselves from the outside world. Sam Bridges is a porter who's responsible for transporting packages and messages from one isolated hub to another. If this all sounds like nonsense, you're not alone. Lots of the story is also nonsense to me, but the way it's presented is so cool.

The cinematography and visuals in Death Stranding are striking. The seamless vibe drew me into the world. Bleak skies and rolling, desolate valleys are stark against the technological advancements of human bases scattered across the country. Sam navigates his holographic menus to absorb an overload of information. The title screens and credits show thin, unadorned font that's reflective of the empty world. The dichotomy between evolution and the void exists everywhere you look in Death Stranding.

To back up these impressive visuals is a PC port that other developers should note. Yes, the open world is very desolate, but that doesn't take away from the fact that Death Stranding is a technical marvel. With an RTX 2070 Super GPU and a Ryzen 3600 processor, I managed to maintain well over 60 fps at 1440p resolution with all settings maxed out and DLSS on. The frame rate was also consistent, making for a buttery-smooth experience that was an absolute joy to play.

It wasn't the story or the gorgeous visuals that captivated me, though. Instead, I loved the downtime between the lengthy cut scenes. There are long stretches of the game where you're simply trekking from one point to another across an empty world. As Sam states early on, he's "just a delivery man." The game goes out of its way to make that very clear. If you want fast action, blazing bullets, and heart-pounding moments, Death Stranding isn't for you. This is a meditative experience that borders on hypnotic. As you trek into the void world for solemn climbs through mountain passes, the camera pulls out and Radiohead-esque tunes begin to play. The experience stands in stark contrast to other big budget games that try desperately to get your blood boiling from the get-go.

There are certainly times when the game slaps you out of that hypnotic state with moments of frustration. It's possible to fall after taking one bad step on a ladder, causing you to lose the precious cargo you've lugged around for 30 minutes to the winding river that you're trying to cross. Other times, when you're doing your best to reach the destination before your cargo is destroyed by the timefall (precipitation that accelerates time on anything it touches), BTs surround you and force you to slow down. These scenarios are common and will drive away some folks from seeing the experience to the end. Despite this, I kept returning, and I always looked forward to a relaxing escape from the real world.

Can the slow-paced cargo delivery gameplay in Death Stranding keep me engaged for 40+ hours? Will Kojima be able to make sense of the weirdness in the story? I'm not sure yet. The narrative is intriguing enough to get me through the melancholy nature of the deliveries. There are many inexplicable ideas and moments in Death Stranding, and perhaps I'm hoping for too much, but I'd like the story to make sense of the complexities before the credits roll. The first five hours have caught my interest more than I could've imagined, and I'm definitely ready to play the full game when it hits the PC on July 14.

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