Unsurprisingly, Kojima’s latest creation is polarizing. I count myself among those who are thoroughly unimpressed with it for a variety of reasons, which I’ll get into in a bit. To the point of this thread here, if I’m being honest, I’m somewhat enjoying the staff’s largely negative reaction to it. I’m not here to just parrot their reactions after-the-fact, as I expressed many similar concerns a few weeks ago in this thread. For the record, I didn’t approach Death Stranding from a mindset of wanting the game to be bad; in fact, quite the opposite. I would generally much rather a thing make a bunch of people happy than upset, and there was certainly a part of me rooting for post-Konami Kojima to prove he was every bit the genius he and his fanbase seem to think he is and win me over. However, the more the game was shown, the less likely that scenario appeared to be in the cards.
Yet, last week, reviews started dropping, and a significant portion of the initial reviews of Death Stranding heaped praise upon it, largely because it’s merely “different”. In an age of formulaic video games (especially AAA products), there is indeed something refreshing to this game literally being one dude's vision. That said, different <> good, and this is an important distinction that many seemingly failed to make. The 9/10 and 10/10 reviews of this are bewildering. Not that people aren’t allowed to like the game or think it’s amazing (they are), but even reviews scoring this as a perfect or near-perfect game are littered with major qualms with much of it and go out of their way to excuse obviously lacking elements. There’s just seemingly this massive gulf between what this game actually is and what some people want to pretend it is, and it’s evident in scores that don’t remotely jive with what you’d expect after reading even the “positive” reviews. I’ve never seen anything like it.
I don’t think the glowing reviews will age well at all. There’s an argument that they already aren’t. GB’s coverage of Death Stranding has been well-reasoned, whereas many other outlets failed to have their thoughts align with their conclusions. I’m certain there are folks willing to die on the hill in touting this game who will never admit it’s anything but incredible. I’m just personally struggling mightily to understand the rationale there. I’m admittedly not going to buy or play this because it’s super not for me, but it clearly does appeal to some, and that’s rad. I’d be legitimately interested to hear reasons why and am genuinely curious if I’m just missing something here. For those on the other side of this thing who may well be wondering why people aren’t into this, I’ll go through what I’m currently struggling with.
I expected a certain level of self-indulgence from Kojima. At this point, expecting different is a fool’s errand. However, it’s way more offputting here than usual. That “everyone cries here” shit from the TGS show was eye roll-inducing. Sam Porter works for Bridges, at the behest of Bridget America Strand. This shit is maddeningly overt. It straight-up disrespects the intelligence of the audience and unintentionally exemplifies how there is little to no depth here. Moreover, the video game annoyingly goes out of its way to make references to video games. I guess Kojima thinks this is all some brilliant meta shit? Kojima’s brand of “storytelling” is basically nonexistent. Having “characters” who are literally there to live up to their trait/descriptor of a name isn’t an arc. It’s “x is x”, which says nothing and means nothing. They might as well be cardboard cut-outs.
Worse yet, the characters in this are pretty much just his buddies, or more accurately, people Kojima wanted to hang out with. Most of the people in this game are at least actors, but del Toro, Refn, Keighly, Conan, etc. are just random cameos there for Kojima amusement. Having to dub over several of them should have maybe been a sign, but fuck it, Kojima don’t care as long as he can fancy himself among the Hollywood crowd. Ironically, he lampoons the need for likes within this game while very clearly basking in fame, and this game’s setting of “America” is hilariously off-base geographically, but Kojima is clearly too busy living his IRL American dream to notice. The auteur thing at this point isn’t helping; Kojima just seems like a guy who’s fairly out of touch and doesn’t really concern himself with anything beyond what he thinks/wants.
Further amusing is how the game initially seemed to be going for this loosely anti-capitalist bit, yet has brazen product placement of Monster Energy drinks and ads for RIDE with Norman Reedus on AMC. From what I can gather, the narrative does the Far Cry 5 thing of not really committing to being bold enough to say anything that would potentially alienate a portion of the target audience, and even that is arguably a bit of a failure to read the room. Let’s also acknowledge that the things being advertised can’t even really exist in the Death Stranding universe. I could enjoy Kojima’s attempt to explain the “strand” that ties back to a present-day AMC TV show or to feature the rogue Monster energy drink factory that survived the apocalypse. That’s the kind of dumb shit that actually might have helped this game, but it’s instead just kind of nonsensically there.
I’m trying to put my finger on why this game bothers me as much as it does, and I think it’s because this thing had some potential. I would have respected if it had totally played it straight and really committed to the walking sim bit. However, that requires some variance in visuals, music that goes beyond scripted moments, and immersion not being constantly broken by meter maintenance survival mechanics and off-screen characters interrupting you all the time to tell you shit you probably already know. This game never really gives itself a chance to achieve a No Man’s Sky-esque atmospheric thing due to its design. Nor is it wacky/dumb enough to pull off an MGS3 thing where it breaks up the seriousness with some moments of levity/absurdity. It seems that Kojima tried to mostly play it straight, but simply doesn’t have the chops to pull that off.
Ultimately, the product we got features an apparently aimless narrative and gameplay that it might be being kind to label tedious. After hearing a bunch of generally smug “this is art” crap from Kojima himself and some early reviews and then seeing what this game actually turned out to be along with the GB staff’s experiences with it, it is a little satisfying from a standpoint of helping me feel like I’m not the only crazy person who doesn’t see the appeal of this thing. Still, it’s worth noting that there are more positive than negative reviews of this game, so it would seem I’m in the minority here. Truthfully, I wish I felt differently about Death Stranding and I’m glad others like it, but I’m disappointed that unfettered Kojima isn’t better than I hoped he was, so I’m left to derive some small joy in hearing others express frustrations with it and call it out for what it is and isn’t in my mind.
All of that said, it has been more interesting to follow and discuss this game than just about anything in recent memory, so I don’t want to brush that aside as if that’s nothing. This will be talked about and remembered far beyond most video games, and that’s a credit to Kojima. I just can’t shake this feeling that the guy exists now in this Apple-esque space where people are so enraptured when he makes something that it doesn’t even really matter what it is or if it’s even good, and that’s fairly annoying. Based on everything I’ve seen, I don’t think Death Stranding in and of itself is a good game, by any metric. I firmly believe that if someone who isn’t Kojima put out this game, it would be near-universally panned for its myriad flaws. I’m honestly willing to listen to praise of this game that delves into territory beyond the trite, vague “it’s Kojima/it’s different/it’s art” lauding in most of the reviews, because right now I’m falling very much in line with the GB sentiments. Regardless, thanks for reading and thanks in advance for any comments.