Please read the previous part to understand this…
NOTE: SPOILERS FOR DEATH STRANDING AT THE END OF THE ARTICLE
When the world is ending, there’s nothing like a warm pizza. Well, at least in the mind of characters in Death Stranding. Despite the recognition that every religion not only got it wrong, but dramatically wrong; despite the realisation that there’s no guarantee you’ll make it to the after-life; despite the fact there exists a person who cannot die but keeps coming back; despite all this, some weirdo still wants a pizza.
Finishing Death Stranding confirmed to me that the slow ebb of weirdness matters as much as the larger. This is a game that attempts to confront issues of humanity, legacy and community through an apocalyptic lens, with twists and turns and strange acting. It focuses on connectivity and reinforcement, with other players and avatars of yourself raising fists and encouraging you – with your tiny baby companion sending you heart emojis and other people sending you thumbs up. You will face a difficult terrain, slowly and painfully trying to navigate from one place to another – only to find yourself connect to the in-game network, allowing you access to other players’ structures drastically reducing your own efforts. Ladders and bridges, bikes and trucks, built and left by other players will litter the previously unpassable landscape to aid you in your adventure. You will feel encouraged to do the same, knowing it will help others. Items you require you can request and receive, through no real benefit to the other person.
Yet, this is a dark, terrifying world – filled with creatures that Cthulhu would have nightmares about. Villains are cartoonishly powerful, cackling and clearly enjoying bringing the world to an end.
Unfortunately, one of these villains, Higgs, made no sense to me – not aided by Troy Baker trying – and failing – to be evil. Baker is truly a phenomenal performer, but I could never take him seriously as the villain in Arkham Knight and he fails here, too. As Higgs, his performance is too cartoonish and the character’s motivations are non-existent. He wants to bring about a final extinction but I could never work out why. It’s a strange indictment that one’s is incongruent with being a villain, but I’m tainted by Baker’s continued performance as the Good Guy. Even his most evil role, Joel from The Last of Us, was problematic good rather than menacingly evil. I have the sense he was perhaps just badly directed.
But aside from this frustration, the latter half of the game is more of the same – with only a few instances that changes things up – including a long section where you must backtrack, but with a very precious piece of cargo.
It very clearly, however, becomes a Hideo Kojima video game: you have your boss battles where you’re small and must fight a giant entity, some bad dialogue and awkward familial connections you may not see coming. And, since it’s a Kojima game, there are of course twists and twists – one of which I did not see coming, and when I realised, I was openly weeping.
Yes. I wept for a Kojima game.*
Death Stranding refuses to end. It has what felt like 300 different endings that refused to give you a fullstop. One ending in particular, which sees Sam carrying out one last delivery I made with moist eyes. I did not expect to be so moved by this weird, big, frustrating, beautiful game – least of all one penned by Kojima with free reign to let his imagine spill everywhere. And yet here we are.
Death Stranding is undoubtedly my game of the year. It seemed determined from its conception to not fit into any boxes. Even though I’ve spent two posts talking about this game, I will struggle to tell you what genre this is. Undoubtedly it is an open world third person action game, but it is a fascinating exploration of a world and a people that refuses to die. It is my game of the year not because it is a technical marvel and enjoyable. It is my game of the year because of its message: It looks at the world, the dying, dead, ghost world, and tell you to keep on keeping on. It tells you the networks we make, the connections we create, will be that which catches us when we fall. It tells us we are greater together than we are apart. It tells us the world may be a ghost but we won’t be haunted by it. It refuses to give in to the shadows and darkness that everywhere are consuming: It shakes its fists at the heavens and says, even if they’re empty, our hope is not.
*I explain below why but it’s spoiler territory…
The realisation that one of the big bads in this game is your father, not BB’s, still sits with me. To think he was calling to you, Sam, and that all of this connects – your blood hurting BTs, your inability to die, your connection to Amelie/Bridget. This is some of the most sophisticated connection Kojima has made in a story and I’m genuinely surprised at how clever it is.