After a four-year wait, Hideo Kojima’s long-awaited Death Stranding has finally been released into the wild. In many ways, the game is as weird and surreal as the trailers have led us to expect. Yet at the same time, the world’s first Norman Reedus simulator is surprisingly rooted in the real-world limitations of the human body.
As Sam Porter Bridges, you’ll need to poop, pee, shower, and chug a Monster energy drink every now and again. But anyone familiar with adventure games of the Tomb Raider and Uncharted variety will quickly find themselves thrown by Sam’s limitations. You can’t just launch yourself across a 30-foot gorge and scuttle over the cliff edge with a quip.
"Sam will huff and puff, even as you walk at a normal pace.
And unlike most open-world games, you can’t store an infinite amount of swords, feathers, animal hides and tents up your butt. You literally have to find a place to put every single item you choose to carry, and you can see it on Sam’s character model as he trundles across the sparse landscape of the ruined continental United States.
Twitter wags have already dubbed Kojima’s latest a “hiking simulator” or a “walking simulator,” and while there’s a fair bit of truth to that description, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not only will you spend a lot of time walking in Death Stranding, you will spend most of your time walking in Death Stranding.
This aspect of the game is fascinatingly nuanced and complex. Depending on the heft of his cargo, Sam will huff and puff, even as you walk at a normal pace. Leave your controller idle for a minute or two, and he’ll take a knee for a little breather. Anyone who’s repeatedly watched Sam take a shower to get a screenshot of his bottom (not me!) knows the guy is in impeccable shape. But anyone would be winded with 60 kilos of metal or a big wobbly corpse stuck on their back — not the mention that creepy baby hanging from his chest.
Naughty Dog games like Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us are giddy fun because they make superhuman feats of athleticism and endurance seem oh-so-easy. On the other hand, one of the central gameplay tenets of Death Stranding is that simply traversing the landscape can be flippin’ hard, even if you’re in damn good shape. The game reminds you of this constantly. If you try to make a beeline over some slightly jagged rocks in the middle of a plain, Sam can easily fall down and go boom, scattering and damaging your precious cargo.
Death Stranding asks you to constantly reevaluate your instinctual knowledge of How Games Work, and instead find a path with a gentle slope you can actually traverse rather than boldly plunging ahead. Even attempting to wade across what appears to be a shallow river brings to mind playing The Oregon Trail as a kid: Once you lose all your precious buffalo meat, you’ll wish you’d shlepped the long way round or paid the damn ferryman.
Some people will love this aspect of Death Stranding. Sam’s long, hazardous walks are contemplative and somber experiences, in keeping with the game’s narrative themes, as well as the philosophy behind its asynchronous multiplayer components. Others will find it incredibly frustrating. I haven’t figured out which camp I’m in yet, but I’ve got a whole continent ahead of me to find out.
Death Stranding is available now on PlayStation 4.