After years of waiting and being teased along, with Kojima never revealing more than he wanted to about it, his first project after breaking away from Konami has finally been released, and man does this game leave me with a whole bunch of mixed feeling. When I saw the polarizing nature of critics who first reviewed it, I knew that there was something special about this game. After all, it isn’t the first time Kojima has done this. When Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty came out, critics were unbelievably harsh to it. It’s a testament to his dedication that Kojima decided to own the backlash instead of running from it. Right out of the gate he said that this isn’t a game that everyone is going to like, and I can see why. This game has some genuine moments of brilliance that are fun as fuck, in a narrative that can get pretty heavy. The problem is that it also has some really ugly bits that hold it back from greatness. Let’s talk about it.
The story goes that some time after a huge event called the death stranding, the world of the dead was able to get mixed in to the world of the living. The results of this have been catastrophic, as humanity is teetering on the edge of oblivion. The story follows a man named Sam, played by Norman Reedus. He makes deliveries in this wasteland, as he has a hardcore phobia about being touched. An organization called Bridges shanghais him into helping them with their mission of reconnecting the country, but he has his own reasons for going along with it. What follows is a bittersweet story of loneliness and connection.
Here’s my statement about this game, if you don’t want to read all the rest of this. When this game is fun, it is really freakin’ fun! There are some spectacular boss fights and some hardcore terrifying set-pieces in an in-between world that Sam gets whisked away to, where he sees one of the true architects of the reason the world is going to shit. The problem is that when this game is not fun, it REALLY is not! There are some horrifically-repetitive missions that have you wanting to tear your hair out. For those of you who want to stick with me, I will get into specifics.
The central plot of this game seemed like a complete red herring to me, and kudos to my instincts, because I knew that there was more to it than just getting Amelie away from the Demens. One of this game’s strong-points is that there the central cast all has their own agendas, and this fact often finds all of them in a really horrible situation that there seems to be no escape from. When you finally get into the plot, and really start breaking things open, this game is so damn fun that it’s hard to describe. Throw in a genuinely hate-able villain like Higgs, brilliantly voiced by Troy Baker, along with Mads Mikkelsen, whose villain character is not as simple as one person, and you have a conflict that is pretty fantastic to dig your teeth into.
Then there are the boss-fights. Right from the first, I knew that I was going to be in love with this game and how they did these battles. Every boss is creative, along with how you take them on. It keeps you on the edge of your seat because Sam isn’t a super-soldier. Being stupid can cost you pretty quickly.
You also have some beautiful venues to explore, which makes some of the more zen places where you are on the move that much more engaging. I remember when people were talking about how this game was going to be a walking simulator, and you know what, the areas where that is the case don’t bother me. Not at all. Something about traveling through a beautiful and barren landscape with the game’s soundtrack coming on is really peaceful to me. Though, this ties into one of my biggest gripes with the game.
As I said, when this game is not fun, it is REALLY not fun. Here’s the issue. This game has you playing as a delivery person. Which means your primary mode of getting from A to B is because you have stuff to deliver for the various parties you want to bribe onto your side. More often than not, this isn’t so bad. The issue is that your journey to reconnect the world is so often hindered by the endless BTs that drift around and consistently make your life harder when you are trying to do your thing, and make something that is already not a short task due to how big the game’s world is take that much longer. It’s draining. One mission in-particular where I had complicated task after complicated task for this asshole who was being a giant dick-mule to me had me wanting to go beat him to death.
It’s a fact that this game’s narrative can get bogged down by the central elements. The red herring nature of the central conflict is also something that drags its ass getting you to it. Finding out the truth about Amelie and what Sam’s connection to it all is genuinely engaging, but it doesn’t help that Sam is a bit of a wet blanket through a huge part of it. Reminded me of Keifer Sutherland in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. You just thought to yourself – when are they going to give this guy a personality? Like I said, you do get there, but the journey takes far longer than it should have. Kojima easily could have cut a couple hours out and made the pacing so much better. Because I do love when you finally get to the plot because it is pretty hardcore.
Overall, this is not a perfect game by any stretch. I get why lots of people don’t like it. But for me, I think that it’s pretty engaging stuff. Were it not hindered down by some genuine problems, I think this game would have been among the all-time greats that I’ve played. Definitely glad I got it, and for those who can look past the pacing issues and some of the more tedious missions, I think you will find a lot to like here. I guess I’ll leave it at that.
7 out of 10