Hey Harvey!

Posted on Nov 12th 2019 at 03:47:55 PM by (slackur)
Posted under Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima

I'm not interested in reviewing Death Stranding for various reasons, but I would like to share some thoughts about it.

Some creative works are impossible to separate from their creators, being indelibly linked by distinctive fingerprints.  Steven Spielberg, the Beatles, Neal Gaiman, Shigeru Myamoto.  Hideo Kojima will always be known as the respected creator of the Metal Gear series, but he has many less popular works that clearly bear his unique mark.

If you are interested in Death Stranding, the best way to judge if it is for you is not likely to be found in typical review numbers.  Rather, I'd start with the question, "do you like Hideo Kojima's other work?"  And not simply Metal Gear, but the tone and exploration of his work more broadly.  What are your reactions to Snatcher, Zone of the Enders, Boktai, and even P.T.?
That would be the best way to know if his new, ambitious project is something worth your time.

The most negative aspects are easy to poke out of reviews. You may have heard that the gameplay is reduced to primarily fetch quests with annoyingly realistic physics and tedious elements that frustrate the overall experience.  I'd have to argue that while a part of the core could be distilled into such an explanation, anyone who has played any of the Metal Gear Solid games know they are far more than simple stealth games, and to declare them as such is to grossly oversimplify the puzzle-solving, minigames, extensive narrative, extreme attention to detail, combat, and sandbox-style openness sometimes overlooked as hallmarks of the series. 

True to Kojima's standard, Death Stranding contains extremely long expositions, tons of in-game readable lore, frustrating and over-complicated mechanics, gorgeous graphics, awkward attention to the human body, a complete lack of anything approaching subtlety, an ever-growing list of tools and methods to approach the game's challenges, less-than perfect gameplay, long stretches of tedium, weird but interesting characters, a flair for the completely over-dramatic, and naming conventions plucked from a 14 year old's brain.  Kojima's projects are less refined across specifics (such as the moment-to-moment fun-factor) and more refined across an entire stack of interlocking layers of slow reflection, intense and cinematic action, and bombastic goofiness mixed and sublime set pieces.  While Kojima's self-admitted cinephile nature is directly projected into his modern games (I distinctly remember Metal Gear Solid 4 as one of the first games with the ability to pause long cinematic scenes) I disagree with critics that claim he should change mediums and work on movies.  Works like Death Stranding could never be correctly served as a distilled long-form movie simply due to the amount of content and exposition.  Even a long-running television series would suffer in the pacing, fourth-wall breaks, crazy effects budget, and overall narrative tension between comic book-like ideas against highbrow science fiction and realism.

No, video games are Kojima's correct medium in the same way that Watchmen is a graphic novel first; taking this type of work outside its native home can be worthwhile, but only sacrificially.  Thus, a player's enjoyment of Death Stranding lies not necessarily in "yeah, but is it fun?" nor in the "doesn't matter, it's art!" but more "do I like Kojima's work?"

I typically do, and his latest is no exception.  Personally, I find the gameplay more interesting than most of the Metal Gear Solid games, although the concepts and lore are much more esoteric and a matter of taste.  Kojima's consistent explorations of what it means to be human, life and death, the deconstruction of the hero mythos, the bonds of family, a bend toward cyberpunk in themes and technology, the ties that bind all humanity, the thin line between good guy and bad guy, overtly complex gameplay systems, beating the player over the head with thematic elements, new and clever (and annoying) gameplay ideas, are all accounted for and present.

I haven't finished the game yet, but I will.  I intend to take my time with it; like a movie, book, or music album from an artist you follow, a new release means anticipation followed by digestion and then reflection.  I'm really into it and while Kojima is not among my absolute favorite artists, I do highly appreciate his work and try to keep up with it.  So far, Death Stranding has potential to be my favorite of his so far.

If you haven't liked Kojima's catalog so far, I'd assume his new game won't change your opinion of his work.  If you are moderately curious or half-heartedly a fan, I'd just wait for the inevitable sale.  If you are like me and appreciate one of gaming's most unique auteurs, by all means take the plunge.  I can't guarantee you will love it, but I can say you haven't experienced anything quite like it.


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