[Test] Death Stranding: love on the heels

If there is a certainty with Death Stranding, it is that he has always advanced masked. Each trailer exposed a different gameplay, each embryo of the script track was lost in the limbo of misunderstanding, each explanation of the concept seemed cloudy. An excellent thing, because its specificity comes from its strangeness. However, its quality comes from many other sources.

The big question, which one of the game’s characters in one of the latest trailers had fun to answer evasively, is of course: what is Death Stranding? Unsurprisingly despite the circumstances, this is a game in which you have to deliver packages from point A to point B. A simple concept in its foundations, much more complex in its ramifications. Because keeping an obvious idea on paper head-on is often more difficult than being caught up in a vague principle that wants to be deep. It is therefore a fact, the player embodies Sam Porter Bridges, transporter whose goal is to stack different types of cargo on his back in order to reach the rare outposts of a devastated America. These monolithic buildings with mineral coldness are empty. Of humanity, of character, of any intensity. The contact is reduced to a hologram, a simple projection of a real person buried in secure basements, and of a machine that receives the package.

Men and women who no longer feel the wind beating their faces, detached from a world that has become hostile to them. Only Sam, the ultimate delivery man, opposes his flesh to the ruthless severity of the environment. This opposition is a fundamental element of the immersion work carried out in Death Stranding: everything is a struggle. And this begins as soon as the packages are available, the mass of which will influence the difficulty of progressing on the trails. Sam may be a good guy, his lower back has limits and convey a stock exceeding the maximum total weight that he can support the nail on the ground. If improvements come later to improve these very human deficiencies, increasing the load, it is important to always keep in mind the impact that the goods will have.

Covered world

As long as everything is going well, just balance Sam by pressing L2 and / or R2 to give him support on the left and / or right. Easy to say, much more complicated to optimize in a terrain with chaotic topography where you have to learn to read the relief. A simple slope then becomes an enigma to decode, danger of every second where the slightest concentration error implies a fall and therefore the possibility of damaging the cargo. Like Shadow of the Colossus which made colossi ersatz levels to analyze, Death Stranding extended the concept to the whole environment, where each natural obstacle is a weapon against the player. Like Breath of the Wild in its time, Kojima Productions’ game redefined the open world, both in how the player relates to him and how he feels about it.

Using ropes, ladders, bridges, he models the world around him to access the most remote corners, almost without any limitations other than on-board equipment. The idea is to make life easier for future journeys by increasing the possibilities of exploration. Everything is done in a clear way, and apart from a few investment concerns – especially when a decorative element is in the middle of a structure – creating a new access route is surprisingly simple. Without making this world its garden. Death Stranding constantly reminds us that everything around Sam is conducive to the failure of his quest. There is the feeling, this impression that victory is inscribed in the humus, sand or rock step by step. The terrain created by Kojima Productions brings a unique element in the field of the open world, the feeling of distance. If the playing area is not as large as that of recent references in the genre – Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Witcher 3 – rallying two points on the map is a real epic where each kilometer traveled oozes physical suffering. You have to deserve access to the next step, in a sum of moments when each landscape discovered becomes a reward, a new enigma to overcome. Being efficient means here knowing how to determine a trajectory according to the handicap that one has agreed to inflict on oneself, and this concept executed brilliantly only deepens over the course of the game. The dangers quickly spread to something other than pebbles.

Mule tests

With his well-managed physique, the source of a number of trips, slips and uncontrolled rolls of Sam facing the open world, Death Stranding could have been content to rely on this element of game-design as he manages to arouse real pleasure when is defeated. But as usual, Kojima Productions has enhanced everything in several layers, in order to give the player a large box of possibilities in which to delve. First, the MULES, former porters who are now highwaymen, whose very personal delirium is to attack other conveyors as soon as they enter their territory. Equipped with a technology as powerful as that of Sam, they also have practical electric lances to dislodge a package from his back or stop any vehicle.

Rapid enemies, ready to track the player over long distances, but whose camps contain valuable goods, as well as those stolen in a clash that would have gone wrong. We find in these sequences all the codes of a certain Metal Gear Solid with a variation of approaches: stashed in the tall grass, provided that the cargo does not exceed too much, to go unnoticed, or frontal attack with blows non-lethal weapons. Knowing that these enemies also appreciate using their scanner to locate your last known position. In short, sacred thorns in an already bruised foot, whose aggressiveness is unfortunately too quickly evacuated when non-lethal weapons come into play. Effective beyond expectations, they reduce the anxiety caused by the rare encounters with Mules and somehow break the tacit agreement of the game with the player on the notion of survival. Which is not the case with the most important threat in the game, the Stranded.

The dead crunch

Ghostly presence whose appearance in certain areas is only made in rainy weather, the Beached enter without touching the ground in the category of memorable memories of the video game. The first confrontation with these hidden adversaries is memorable, a source of stress evoking the great hours of Silent Hill. In a beautiful rereading of the concept of infiltration of MGS – where, instead of playing on concealment with the help of the decor in front of clearly visible soldiers, everything takes place in an open space facing an almost invisible force – Death Stranding bases fear on what betrays life. To escape from the Stranded means staying at a good distance and above all to hold your breath as much as possible, while knowing that getting out of breath means taking a big breath of fresh air. This obviously reveals Sam’s position. Everything is therefore a question of moderation and panic management, which also applies to the B.B.

In order to promote the attachment of the player and make him more of a character than a utensil, the baby placed in the species of artificial uterus attached to the hero feels the surrounding tension as well as the various shocks. In the event of repeated falls or too long a walk alongside the Stranded, the latter begins to lose his composure until potentially stopping interacting with the player. Rocking him allows him to regain his confidence, an acrobatic activity when you are facing one of the game’s bosses or entangled in a chase with enemies. Enough to maintain the notion of permanent danger even in this intimate relationship: the leitmotif of a game where the primitive relationship with nature is so present. Especially since this little being who has probably not had his night is the main component of the odradek, a means of spotting the Stranded. The latter makes them appear for a few seconds, just to give time to clear a path in the middle of these specters, where the slightest misstep ends in tragedy. Sam’s apnea is then that of the player, a skilful parallel in a sticky atmosphere where the tension does not drop until these creatures are passed. Weapons impregnated with the wearer’s blood are available later, but if they are effective and allow them to feel more in control of the situation, they do not at any time remove the consequence of an excess of certainties. The kind of attention betraying a particular concern led to the construction of the general atmosphere. It is essential that no matter how advanced he is in the game, no matter how comfortable new equipment is, the player can experience the impact of what surrounds him on his progress to the very end.

The Rope of the Contvent

Why do all of this? In order to find a connection between all the human beings hidden since the arrival of the Stranded in the world, source of destruction on a large scale. Porters are the only ones able to cover the distances between shelters and other relay cities in the absence of passable infrastructure. Situation whose evolution will depend not only on the progress of the player but also on that of all the others. Like the Souls series, Death Stranding offers an asynchronous multiplayer based here on mutual aid. In these inhospitable regions where transporting equipment makes progress difficult and where corrosive rain nibbles on it, joy comes from simple things, such as a ladder or a rope. During his advance, each player can indeed leave available any item placed in the wilderness, which will later be used by all those who will need to borrow it. Of course, it is quite possible to dismantle them, but in most cases coexistence is benevolent. All this thanks to a subtle implementation of the concept of galley. The player knows full well that delivering massive packages is a struggle, and will therefore be relieved of any visible help on the field. Especially since these few objects will later be accompanied by bridges, rain shelters and a whole arsenal of supports generated using collected or earned materials.

A sound logic is quickly put in place, with those spending their resources to improve their lives (and that of others by extension) and those “rewarding” them for their efforts. Because the way of evolving in Death Stranding is the same as that of the “street cred” on social networks, that is to say collect the “like”. Equivalent to experience points, these “likes” are obtained after various deliveries, depending on the condition of the packages, and by the reaction of other players to your knocks. The idea behind these exchanges of good procedures is to give strength to group work towards the same goal. Everyone is seen as a mountaineer, paving the way for others to follow, replacing the jammers and securing everything. Because yes, repairing existing facilities is as important as creating them. Idea of ​​game design of a flawless consistency with the context of the game, this interdependence at no time prevents the emergence of the feeling – fundamental – of loneliness. You will never come across other players, reported only by the said facilities, lost packages to pick up if you feel like it, and a few communication signs, once again in Dark Souls. Once all these likes won translated into a sum of points, Sam climbs the ranks of the profession and each level improves either his abilities (balance, maximum load, etc.) or his social skills (more likes received, etc.). The player is part of an invisible whole that goes in the same direction as him, creating a unique feeling of support, an impression of defending a shared cause, extremely rare in the current video game (except MMO). It is the ability of players to stand up that is questioned here, in an intelligent and positive logic where the smallest part is important. Yes, even the simple fact of taking charge of the correct routing of a package that does not belong to you.

Spectral Gear Solid

This skilful network of worked systems, new ideas and fine reinterpretations however does not succeed in preventing missteps, like the majority of boss fights, epic on form but much less in substance, especially disappointing after the memorable clashes that made one of the hallmarks of the Metal Gear series. Another concern resulting from the need for precise management of the various gameplay strata, the interface suffers from design flaws, too often leaving aside the practical aspect to favor the quantity and therefore the multiplication of information and tabs not always clear. In particular during the crafting / recycling phases of objects requiring far too many validations or as soon as it is a question of having an overview of the orders in progress. What quickly becomes laborious during “races” chained in a short period of time. Problems already present in Metal Gear Solid V and which would have deserved a small passage by the optimization of UI (user interface note). Nothing that prevents you from enjoying the gaming experience, but an astonishing lack of tweaking compared to the sickly concern for consistency and detail shown by Death Stranding. Without revealing too much about the plot or the themes addressed, despite a launch trailer that does not deprive itself, the title of Kojima Productions reaches new heights in terms of background / form juxtaposition. Constantly asked to connect women and men cut off from the rest of the world, Sam, and by extension the player, is the insignificant element that can change the future of a world based on fear.

It is through his desperate, breathless, disenchanted marathon runner that the bearer endures the hope of a dead nation. He and the player are exhausted after a delivery, nervously, and then appears this other connection, much more difficult to create between the avatar and the one who directs it. But not this feeling of all power on a character, not a real sharing of galley. It is precisely the “homo ludens” of which Kojima speaks, the last link in the great human web that the game weaves. Death Stranding is a work of fascinating anticipation, which does not content itself with studying the consequences suffered by a society in which death lost in mysticism what it gained in raw reality. In a clearing that follows in a sense the trace of a more verbose The Leftovers, the game pummels the symbol of the link, of its breakage and therefore of loss. In an intimate scene, at a specific time, it means what it is to reconnect, with the past, with memory and even with what video games can do. Because at this moment, no kinematics, but a simple touch to press, movement that says everything and symbol of everything that means Death Stranding in a few seconds. Kojima then proves that he is far from being a game designer who would like to make films, but a creator who, like Fumito Ueda, understood how to best use his media with a sensitivity derived from another. For this kind of moment, Death Stranding is and will remain a major game, as elegant and rough as the play “The man who turned into a stick” by Kobo Abe from which he draws part of his concept.

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