It's honestly hard to put into words how weird and unsettling 'Death Stranding' is, and how difficult.
Many reviews and much coverage of the game have centred on how devoid of action it is (it isn't, not really) and just how deep and strange it all is (that part's correct). Really, what 'Death Stranding' is is an attempt to make something like an art film into a video game. That's the closest comparison you can give. For example, there's an over-emphasis on space, time and atmosphere and long parts of the game will simply find you walking across an empty landscape, trying to balance Norman Reedus and keep him moving.
If you're familiar with large, open-map games, then this isn't much of an issue. Games like 'Journey' (and to some extent 'Skyrim') have really dug into the idea of simple traversal being as much a part of the game as action and combat is. You could very easily look at 'Death Stranding' and the various missions and simply say, "Oh, it's just a fetch-carry game over and over again", and you would be technically correct. But, to be fair, the game isn't trying to dupe you into thinking it's anything else.
You play Sam Porter Bridges, a legendary deliveryman whose entire existence consists of travelling from place to place, delivering essential items, and then taking off once again on another mission. The game's remarkably dense story fills in the blanks - to a point - and like any Hideo Kojima game, you know it's dealing with massive topics like the concept of human intimacy, technological loneliness, nationalism, identity, artistic intent - all of it. It's all in there, all swirling around in a mess of long-winded speeches, some of them profound, some of them utterly distracting and demented.
The motion-capture performances and the cast really are incredible, and it's one of the few games you're likely to play where you're actually happy to let a cutscene run its course. In fact, sometimes you'll almost need a minute or two to refocus after they've finished. Some of the lighting and cinematography is strikingly comparable with an actual movie, and you can see why Kojima enlisted actors like Mads Mikkelsen, Norman Reedus and Lea Seydoux rather than simply hiring generic voice actors to create characters out of thin air. It gives it an intensity and a naturalism - if that's even the right word - that makes the emotional beats in the story all the more authentic and impactful.
With 'Death Stranding', you really have to lean into the fact that this is not going to be some conventional, straightforward game. There are at least 80 hours of gameplay in it, some of which are repetitive, but all of it is filled with meaning and connected to a wider story. Again, it's like an art film - you have to accept from the beginning that not all of it is going to make sense, not all of it is going to have its meaning clearly signposted, and that quite a bit of it is interpretive. Your own experience, your own beliefs, your own active intent are what is going to have an impact on the game.
If you decide to fight everyone you see, you're going to have a much harder time making your deliveries. If you constantly push Sam and your Bridge Baby (really, we'd be here all day trying to explain all that) to the very limit of his abilities and run him to the end of his stamina, there are consequences for that too. If you've played any 'Metal Gear' game from Hideo Kojima, the emphasis is almost always on avoiding conflict and allowing the atmosphere to seep in by staying low and crawling slowly through to avoid detection, and it's the same thing here.
You can eventually reach a point where you can shoot, kick, punch and run right over your enemies, but then there are certain outcomes from that behaviour which are probably best to experience for yourself than explain here. In short, the game actively discourages you from your normal way of acting, and that's a really powerful thing.
'Death Stranding' doesn't feel like any game you'll have played before. It is actively trying to do something original - really original - with its experience, and that's to be commended. If you play a lot of games, you can get the sense that you're experiencing the same thing over and over again, albeit it with different graphics and slightly more complex missions or quests. With 'Death Stranding', you can tell that time, effort and thought have been put into it in order to craft a one-of-a-kind experience.
And that's what 'Death Stranding' is, a one-of-a-kind experience. It's absolutely going to split audiences right down the middle, and for a game that's supposed to be about healing the rifts between people, it's ironic that it will no doubt become polarising when it's released.
'Death Stranding' is set for release on PS4 and PC on November 8th.