The drafting of this piece was decidedly difficult in its embryonic phase. Confronting a game like Death Stranding and having to "deconstruct and analyze" it presents several critical issues, at least on the surface. After all, we are talking about a product that appears on the market in such a cryptic and atypical way that it can easily leave crowded out, victims of complexity of the work under discussion. Being able to boast of the honor, but above all of the burden, of writing about a title of such importance and so discussed as the latest production of Hideo Kojima and of his new study, he has revealed himself so much as difficult as it is intriguing. It was even more difficult to start the game free from any prejudice, especially considering the fact that this article arrives at a time when the reception of critics and audiences has already been strongly consolidated. Just in favor of what is written above, however, my desire was to face Death Stranding in the most possible way as clear and objective as possible, which is a fundamental prerequisite for the preparation of each review obviously, but which is perhaps even more important for this specific production, trying to capture the authorial imprint of Kojima but also not to run into the error of treating his latest effort like a creature that moves beyond what is the current terrain of the video-playful medium.
From the very first presentation trailer, it was clear that Kojima wanted to build an opera in stark contrast with the "triple A" productions we are used to. A game that presented high-level productive values, without having to come down to commercial compromises that could compromise its identity. Month after month we learned more and more details about it the idea behind the production, discovering how the desire to talk about a world deeply wounded and abandoned to itself was rooted in it. A land tormented by a mysterious event that is bringing the planet to the brink of extinction, but at the same time suffering from an even more cruel evil: loneliness. In this sense, Death Stranding is also a game politician, which recounts the actuality by exploiting the genre narrative, in a science fiction context that becomes a mirror of a strongly contemporary situation. Without wanting to perform in pindaric flights of any kind, and regardless of everyone's thoughts on our era, it is evident that we live in an increasingly favorable climate for the themes of hatred and violence (in all its meanings) and a society that tends actually to be more and more frayed and disconnected.
Every character, every event and every element of the game is a continuous reference to this concept and it is therefore difficult to completely separate the narrative component from the playful one, although they are often very distinct from each other. However, Death Stranding throws more meat on the fire, often giving the idea that it is too much, going to touch an impressive amount of themes, some more mentioned, others more meaningful but all indispensable to complete the picture that the story wants to portray. The narrative takes advantage of one rich dose of evocative and fascinating elements, as the Cronopioggia for example, the atmospheric phenomenon that literally "rains down" (the original term is more effective Timefall) and manifests itself with a pounding deluge of drops that accelerate the process of growth and decomposition of everything they touch. It is impossible not to mention the Beaches: parallel worlds linked to each individual and which take the role of intermediary between our world and that of the dead, becoming a sort of personal limbo. However, the amount of narrative cues is impressive and contributes strongly to the sketching of a dense, multifaceted and bewitching story but in some situations too long-winded and convoluted. The impression is that, at times, the game tries to raise the level of the discussion, ending up instead embellishing only the lexicon and the exposure. This is certainly due to the strong self-reference of which the work lives and to the author's desire to manifest his new-found authorial freedom, a desire that is more than understandable, of course, but which in fact often translates into an excessive manifestation of inspiration and of the author's ego. Net of this, Death Stranding lives on its undoubtedly effective, congruent cosmogony that manages to outline a credible world, once you become familiar with the perspective, sometimes a little too much towards yourself, of Kojima. In short, from the very beginning, the game envelops us with questions, doubts and misunderstandings that build up a very tangled weave and although all (or almost) i Nodi be loose, the game here shows conspicuous narrative dysfunctionsnot so much in its exposition as in the rhythms, victims of a "distribution" within the game economy, at times incomprehensible. Some answers, some sub-plots are expertly managed in the unraveling of the experience while others try to keep the player on the rope, and then resolve all in one breath, in long exclusively narrative sequences, which, although interesting, go to create more or less consistent burrs in the overall balance of experience. Paradoxically, however, and perhaps this makes such lightness even more unpleasant, Death Stranding can boast an unexpected "quadrature", thanks to a perfectly coherent conception among all the counterparts that make up the production.
The best carrier in the world
Immediately nicknamed by his first-time detractors as "Bartolini Simulator" or other similar epithets, the Death Stranding gameplay is often represented, not without a certain malice, like a walking simulator. On balance this is true, but as well as possible. If in the first three chapters we are given very few elements to exploit and a rather sparse equipment, in the course of advancing the adventure our possibilities will increase dramatically, building a sense of progression that is frankly unexpected. The depth of Death Stranding lies right here and is better built than the game makes us believe in its early stages. The concept of gameplay does not remain so much in proceeding from point A to point B, as for the trip preparation, knowing how to manage and carefully choose their resources and evaluate the best routes. Traveling too heavily does not only mean being slower and afflicted by a precarious balance but also being unable to follow certain paths and being easier prey if we come across some enemies. At the same time, however, being loaded with materials and equipment can make our wandering more malleable according to needs and unexpected events, as well as giving us the opportunity to build more useful and complex structures than those contained in a lighter backpack. An unweighted shipment can lead to dire consequences quickly.
In addition, the construction of its own path, the approach to the game world, the real enemy to beat, and the indispensable adaptability further enrich playability, without counting the asynchronous mulitplayer that offers further depth to the whole. By viewing the route to follow on the map, we can see the points where other players have built a road, a path, a refuge or even just an element that can make the route less impervious. Thanks to this mechanic, Kojima continues his interconnection speech in a practical, effective way even more than in the narrative counterpart. Expand the Chiral Network it allows us not only to be able to build a large number of structures, but also to be able to see and exploit those of the other players. Hitting a journey outside the coverage of the Network is therefore a small odyssey, which perfectly returns the sense of solitude desired by the author in these portions of the game, making our task much more harsh.
The care taken by the team in this aspect is noteworthy and creates an experience definitely not for everyone, also because of its dilated pace but absolutely effective and consistent, as well as perfectly consistent with the soul of the product. There are also phases aimed at breaking the rhythm, infiltrating the MULI fields for example, or going through a stretch infested with Stranded Creatures focus on more phases stealth that can also result in desperate fights against titanic monsters or small skirmishes towards our fellows. Then without revealing anything some chapters that focus on action, also allowing us to use a rather large arsenal of weapons. Although these portions of the game are much smaller, and therefore less impactful on the whole, they are still well built, although very light in their structure. The same cannot be said of the sporadic Boss Fight which result, with perhaps one exception, no bite, albeit visually spectacular. Surprisingly, the real surprise of the title lies in its gameplay therefore, which is much more complete and concrete than one would expect, even taking into account the necessary imperfections.
What does "Chiral" mean?
/ Who-le-ra /
adjective Not superimposable to its own mirror image, enantiomorphic. In chemistry, a compound whose molecule has an asymmetric atom (called ch. Center), ie an atom linked to different groups arranged in space according to a geometric configuration such that its mirror image is not superposable (stereoisomers).
Probably, the most important concept of Death Stranding, it's right here. Specularity is in fact the cornerstone of many of the aspects of the title. The concept of the Beaches for example but also the dualism between soul and body (Ha and Ka, as defined in the game referring to Egyptian mythology) and in a certain sense by the fictitious world represented in the title and ours. There Chiral Network is what allows Sam's journey, an infrastructure capable of connecting the whole world and which allows the sharing of any concept, idea, invention or object among the American inhabitants. All this takes value when it appears not a mere narrative tinsel but true pivot of experience. Without the Chiral Network and the undoubted benefits that we can draw from it thanks to the aforementioned asynchronous multiplayer, Death Stranding would be a broken game. Not only because the Net has reason to be in conceptual terms (a game that speaks of connection and does not allow comparison with other players would be at least inconsistent) but precisely at a purely playful level. Underestimate this aspect o believe it secondary it would be wrong, because we find the fulcrum of experience right here. Helping to build a structure such as a portion of road or bridge allows us to proceed in a safer and faster way but also gives real satisfaction. Being in the middle of a journey and seeing a shelter for rain, or even simply a cleverly positioned staircase, can make the difference, allowing you to complete a shipment otherwise doomed to fail. The result is a game in which all participants are led unconsciously to think not only of themselves but also of the other porters scattered around the world. Obviously, this concept will ecstasy some players while others will remain indifferent, nevertheless it is a point in favor in the thought carried out by the author, which does not only resolve "in chatter" but becomes Keystone of production. The beauty of Death Stranding resides here, in wanting to express a particular point of view, which clashes with the canonical concept of "hero" and manages to do so not only in the progress of the story but also to make everything effectively usable, creating a title with a well-defined identity in each appearance.
One of the most interesting aspects of Death Stranding, lies for me in his basic criticism. A topic that has been little talked about, perhaps because it is not clearly visible immediately or perhaps because it is very subjective, but absolutely present. The possibility of being able to appreciate the structures built by the other players, choosing to leave one or more "thumbs up" to them, seems to be a simple quote to the social functions that we use daily but hides an important subtext. Kojima tries to tease us with the idea of receiving as many likes as possible, triggering just one sense of addiction. the frantic search for approval and gratification through small icons for themselves is presented very well in the title, showing the most grotesque face of the desperate search for likes, which do not represent our satisfaction in having been useful to someone but in a simple star to pin on the collar, to satisfy our ego. This concept of criticism, more or less harsh, towards the senseless run-up to the like is presented several times in the course of the work, can be deduced from the speeches expressed by some secondary characters, but also in some important phases of the story, in a continuous "meta-playful" exchange between author and player that does not stand out from the start but that becomes increasingly clear and brazen during the adventure. Another hit by Kojima towards the current society, increasingly marked by appearance and superficiality, the most frivolous and patinated aspect of things, without the desire to deepen, to formulate a proper thought but crushed by the visceral desire to be accepted and appreciated, even at the cost of homologation, pigeonholing, labeling.
Coast to Coast
Technically Kojima Productions flanked by the excellent Tenth Engine and backed by well 70 developers of Guerrilla Games, manages to convince from beginning to end. Leaving aside the models of the characters, who despite the use of subsurface scattering and equipped with more than good polygonal models, are not able to fully excite, resulting in not too defined and almost looking "Plasticky", the game world, true protagonist of the production, constantly offers breathtaking views, from the lush and bristling moss areas to the barren desert expanses, up to the snowy areas. Obviously in such an extended world there are some smears but overall, thanks to a good use of the parallax occlusion mapping and an intelligent lighting management the result is almost always exceptional, without disfiguring too much even on the "basic" PS4 models. The animations are usually good but sometimes they are low-cut and imprecise, awkward but nothing to lose sleep over. Artistically then, thanks to a well-kept characterization of the game world, a dark and fascinating stylistic cut and a solid and original character design, the production stands out succeeding in being in this case also endowed with a strong personality.
Despite the premise at the beginning of this article, gaining confidence with the eldest son of Kojima Productions, getting a clear idea of the title was simpler than expected. Defects are not missing, starting from a too long life span and game rhythms that sometimes are diluted too much, making some missions, if not entire chapters, decidedly too watered down and dispersive. Narration at times forcibly complex and poorly distributed remains effective and interesting, but remains a victim of these and other defects, like a swinging regia that gives beautiful moments but also situations with which one does struggling to empathize. In part Kojima remains burned by the use of actors perhaps, loading in some points only on them and on their expressions (sometimes exacerbated by motion capture) the effectiveness of some scenes and thus breaking up the much sought after catharsis. To whip the whole and smooth out even the situations that can be haughty or even pretentious, Kojima inserts some of his canonical flashes of eccentricity, or absurdity, only apparently out of place. Thanks to these situations on the verge of ridicule, production succeeds (I hope voluntarily) not to take itself too seriously e to dampen tones that would otherwise be really too pompous. The idea that I had during the sixty hours of play that were needed to see the three titles is in short that of an author who, well aware of having a tendency to get lost in his own thoughts, deliberately inserts some elements that cannot fail to raise the eyebrow of even the most skilled player and who, on the contrary, often goes to make fun of just that criticism and that audience who love to talk to each other and talk about the depth of this kind of production. At the same time though, Kojima's message is crystal clear and shareable, as well as well represented by this small virtual universe, which is completely permeated by it. On balance therefore Death Stranding is not an impalpable, ethereal title and made of the same material of which dreams are made but a product with its feet firmly planted on the ground, which does not disdain a strong artistic component and a strong authorial imprint. The care in every aspect allows him to be an all-round work and therefore to allow himself the luxury of indulging in ambitions and whims that always fertilize the mind of an author. It won't be futuristic, it won't be revolutionary but Death Stranding is certainly a brave, intelligent and, above all, functional product. The challenge of Hideo Kojima is won, but perhaps not as his fans would have expected, and this could prove to be a great fortune.