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Death Stranding Is Far Weirder And Better Than I Could Have Hoped

After waiting the better part of a year for the PC release, a friend and I got drunk last night and played Death Stranding for 6 straight hours, and I am delighted.

This is the first game from Hideo Kojima after his messy break up with Konami and founding his own game development company. Not since Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain released in 2015, have we had any exposure to his particular brand of weirdness. So, in a weirdly small America, after some kind of global supernatural apocalypse, you're a very rare and special type of person that basically can't die, and doesn't age. As such, you work as a courier by loading hundreds of pounds of boxes on your back, and walking them from place to place. You can eventually get vehicles, but you're going to spend most of your time walking. The mechanics of just trying to keep your balance, and not falling over and damaging any of your precious cargo are fully engaging. Not only do you have shoulder straps on each side that you can grab to help keep your balance, or secure you cargo, but bumps in the terrain that would mean nothing in an FPS or an Assassin's Creed game can cause you to wildly lose your balance, and you have to hold both your shoulder straps, and try and lose your momentum before you take a spill and scatter your cargo across the countryside and have to pick it all back up, possibly damaged. There are more sinister hazards you have to contend with, which I will get to, but as many times as I was tensed up from dealing with invisible ghosts or bandits with stun batons, I was just as tense at the prospect of having to walk down a rocky hill and lose my balance.

There are three hazards, aside from falling over, that you'll encounter on your trek across weirdly small America. The most mild is timefall, which is rain that will cause things to rapidly age. Packages you're carrying will have their containers get corroded, and possibly lose the materials inside, a mechanic that I'm only started to explore is that you can build structures, like bridges and power generators, across the land, and those will degrade over time, as the timefall wears them down. Threat number two are bandits with stun spears that have camps you'll come across. They can detect transponders in some of the cargo you're carrying, and if you get too close, they'll just come straight for you and try and steal your stuff. You can sneak around their camps, if you're not carrying anything, and steal some stuff back to deliver yourself. Threat number 3 are BTs, invisible ghosts that inhabit certain areas. You can't directly see them, but you have a detection device that warns you when they are close, and gives you a very visual indicator of how close they are and in what direction, as well as you can kind of do a scan, like a sonar ping, that will show you where they are for a second, if you're close enough. If you get too close, they can hear you breathing, and you need to hold your breath so that they don't notice you. If they do notice you, they'll chase you down, and black oily goo will rise from the ground under you, while arms and heads come out of the goo and try to grab you. If you don't shake off the goo and hands fast enough, the pull you down and drag you a ways, possibly knocking cargo loose, and then a black whale will breach out of the goo, and chase you around a much larger goo area, launching horrible tentacles at you. It's terrifying, but not as terrifying as tumbling down a hill.

So, let's talk about the Kojima weirdness, you're detection device? It's a baby in a water bottle strapped to your chest. Too much contact with BTs will cause the baby to get upset and cry, and then you need to find somewhere safe and rock it back to sleep, while it looks at you, and if you do a good job of that, it will blow a little air bubble in the shape of a heart. The people that you talk to have almost exclusively hokey names, like Die-Hardman, Deadman, Heartman (I promise, they're not Megaman villains), Fragile, Mama, etc. Sometimes these are said to be nicknames, but often that is just how they are introduced. The baby is called a Bridge Baby, or BB for short, and is born from the womb of a Stillmother, which I think is a brain dead woman that they use to breed these things? It gives me enough vibes of Mad Max: Fury Roads villainous portrayal of possessive sexism to make me uncomfortable. I've always known that a lot of Kojima games featured a lot of sexist fan service of woman, but this combined with the Metal Gear game where a woman has a bomb surgically implanted in her vagina is starting to make me really wonder about his general views of women, perhaps that's unfair.

What else? Not only the characters have weird names: BTs are "Breached Things", people with the power to detect them in any way are said to possess DOOMS. The bandit guys are called MULEs. There's a terrorist faction that they've mentioned, which I haven't yet encountered called HOMO DEMENS. The event which caused this whole apocalypse it the Death Stranding.

Let's talk about the Death Stranding a little more. The Death Stranding started as a number of massive explosions around the world. After this, a new element started building up in people's bodies. After they die, bodies will eventually attract BTs, and if they consume it, a massive explosion will happen, and the world is just covered in craters from this. One of your first courier missions is to take the corpse of the first and last female president, who's also your mother, to an incinerator far away from town. Because if they burn the corpse in town, the "chiralium" that's the problem, will just end up in a smoke cloud over the town, and then rain back down on everyone and keep building up. So in this new horrible world, every time someone dies, they need to be taken through the horrifying countryside to an incinerator, miles away, before the corpse can go Akira and crater the town.

As I mentioned, the President of America is dead. Although only the people bossing your around call it American, everyone else, and literally the patches on everyone's uniforms, identifies the surviving organization as "The United Cities of Bridges". Bridges is the name of some organization that is responsible for... something? You primarily work for Bridges, delivering packages, but more importantly, connecting all of these cities together via some sort of technomagic network made possible by the chiralium. So, Die-Hardman, Director of Bridges, has told you that no one is going to know that the president is dead, because then no one will want to join the UCB, so you go around and keep connecting cities up, until it builds enough momentum, and then the president's daughter, your sister, who is being held hostage by someone, but they let her project herself as a hologram? Will become the new president. Because that's how elections work.

Basically, it's a beautiful mess, I hope by the time I'm done with it that it doesn't actually start to make sense.


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