Prophets don’t get a lot of respect. Predicting the future is a dicey proposition, often containing some hard truths about powerful forces. Cassandra, the tragic Greek heroine cursed to always know the truth, but never be believed, was axed to death in a bathtub. Jesus, famously, had a rough go of it. Hideo Kojima lost the Metal Gear franchise but gained the freedom to give us a game about an isolating cataclysm — just months before one actually happened.
Death Stranding began its Nostradamian life as Kojima's first project of his post-Konami career. Set in a dystopian near-future America (on a map shared by players) it takes us to a world ravaged by invisible dangers where the most essential heroes are the dudes who deliver our stuff. Everyone is lonely and most are bad tippers. Sound familiar?
Death Stranding is currently free in the Epic game store until May 25, giving anyone with a half-decent PC zero reasons not to dive in and start strandin'. Kojima described it as a “strand game,” because players are able to leave things behind for each other but don’t actually play together. Traveling is treacherous, so one player can spend time and resources building a bridge, for example, that will exist for other players in their games.
On a deep level, it’s Kojima’s way of showing how we are increasingly forced to make digital connections instead of personal ones. On a surface level, it ranges from cool to useful to funny.
It’s also a star-studded affair. Norman Reedus plays the protagonist, Sam Porter Bridges, who you will schlep all over the countryside trying to make deliveries and avoid Timefall, the mysterious phenomenon causing all sorts of sci-fi shenanigans.
Walking is a major mechanic. Seriously. Players need to use the control sticks (or mouse buttons) to keep Sam centered as he lopes along. Easier said than done when the terrain is inhospitable and you’re carrying a tower of packages on your back.
There are other big names in roles big and small. Mads Mikkelson plays Cliff Unger, the big bad with a vendetta against Bridges. Guillermo Del Toro shows up, and so does Conan O’Brien. It lends a bit of Hollywood gravitas to a Kojima story that is, unsurprisingly, layered, complex, and a little bonkers (not even going to try to explain the baby thing).
Fans of the Metal Gear franchise will feel right at home, but it’s a helluva ride for anyone with even a passing interest in sci-fi and supernatural stories. Wholly unique and original, you really won’t find a story like it anywhere else. Except maybe in the news.
The arduous exploration gives way to triumphs big and small, from unlocking helpful vehicles and equipment to encountering bits of found narrative that round out the world in significant ways. Danger lurks everywhere too, whether it’s raiders, government thugs, or otherworldly phenomena.
Can it be overwhelming, even downright confusing? Yes. But it’s unlike any game, or any story, anywhere. At least until Kojima predicts the next awful thing. Play it ASAP.
Death Stranding is free for PC in the Epic Game Store until May 25. It’s also available for purchase on PlayStation, Xbox and PC.