At one point in time, it felt like the image of The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus wearing a spaceman suit while carrying a baby in a vat of yellow-orange liquid was inescapable. Even Hulu had commercials advertising visionary Hideo Kojima’s latest, a post-apocalyptic supernatural video game called Death Stranding where you play as a guy delivering packages across America while avoiding the dangerous Lovecraftian ghost beings that destroyed the world. Helen Mirren went to the game’s launch party, despite the fact that she was not one of the countless celebrities in the game.
So yeah, it was a big deal.
Death Stranding’s obtuse and compelling narrative is nothing short of an abstract masterpiece. But as a video game, it is an intentionally obtuse experience that elicits frustration and fascination in equal measure. This is a terrifying world, and the work done by protagonist Sam Porter Bridges often feels Sisyphean by design. Life is tough in the apocalypse, so shouldn’t it feel that way as you’re playing?
Until April 17, Death Stranding Director’s Cut is available at an all-time low price on Steam at $19.99 (or you can pay $4.99 for the Director’s Cut upgrade if you already own the base PC version). That’s 50 percent off the typical price these days. Particularly for newcomers who never got around to trying this 2019 Game of the Year contender, the Director’s Cut offers a far more accessible alternative to the original with some enhanced combat options to make things a tad easier.
Even if you’ve already played the 50 or so hours it takes to beat Death Stranding, you probably walked away confused as to what went down thanks to the myriad of strange metaphysical concepts and terms at play.
A mysterious cataclysmic event called the “Death Stranding” fractured the boundaries between life and death, causing invisible Beached Things (BTs) to emerge from their afterlives (Beaches) to roam the Earth. These are ostensibly ghosts that can interact with the material world. Not only can these ghastly creatures easily destroy anybody they encounter, but massive explosions called Voidouts level entire cities and devastate mankind. There are also the Timefall rains that rapidly erode everything exposed, and even cause people to age.
The player-character Sam has a condition known as DOOMS that allows him to naturally sense BTs, but only with the help of a Bridge Baby (BB) can he meaningfully evade them. (Hence the strange baby in a bottle situation.) He’s also a Repatriate who can effectively come back from death by traveling through the Seam, a place that exists between the real world and the Beach.
In execution, all of this horror-tinged lore makes for some really evocative imagery — and in-universe explanations for all sorts of game mechanics like how you can die and then come back to make more deliveries. Sam’s very serious mission as a porter for BRIDGES is to deliver packages with the ultimate aim of reconnecting the various remaining human colonies across America using the Chiral Network, a sort of neo-internet that leverages the Beach. But Sam also gets swept up into an overwhelming cosmological conflict that grapples with the very nature of Death Stranding itself, one that could finally annihilate humanity once and for all.
So much of the gameplay moment-to-moment, however, involves Sam trudging through the stunning post-apocalyptic landscape, lush in its greenery in a way that still feels desolate and lifeless. Remember, the rain makes you old, and violent ghosts lurk around every gentle hill. These dangers feel so much direr when Sam has to meticulously plan how much he’s carrying in his pack so he doesn’t wind up teetering off the side of a mountain. It gets quite tedious, especially when Sam begins to teeter one way or the other, and you have to use the left and right triggers to stay balanced.
On a far less-serious note, Death Stranding also leverages Hideo Kojima’s penchant for the bizarre and silly. You can make Sam drink Monster energy drinks and then save his urine to make some pee grenades that cause BTs to run away. Oddly enough, the poop grenades lure the BTs in so Sam can then use blood grenades to send them right back to the Beach.
It may border on the nonsensical, and yet the game at large remains ambitious, admirable, and provocative.
In an uncanny way, Death Stranding will always feel like a prescient time capsule. Much like the writers of The Simpsons, Hideo Kojima seems capable of predicting the future.
Death Stranding was originally released for the PlayStation 4 on November 8, 2019. So millions of gamers spent a few weeks contemplating the nature of isolation in an apocalypse that meditates on death and destruction where your goal was to find a way to bring people together. Mere weeks later, the world changed, even if most of us didn’t feel it until the March 2020 lockdown.
With Death Stranding 2 officially on the horizon — and totally rewritten so as to feel less true-to-life — along with a Death Stranding movie, there’s never been a better time to experience the original in its best form.