Death Stranding: The Kotaku Video Review

By Tim Rogers on at

How does one make a video review for Death Stranding, a game with like 900 trailers – many of which the game’s director, Hideo Kojima, edited himself? On November 8th, 2019, the meta-game of guessing what Death Stranding is will end and the meta-meta-game of playing Death Stranding will begin. Until then, while we still have four days left to enjoy the meta-game, please watch this bizarre, spoiler-free, one-hour video in which I review Death Stranding five times.

In the spirit of Kojima’s history as a hype-man, I begin this review with a seven-minute prologue.

Then I review Death Stranding as a video game, as a virtual pet, as a film, as a book, and, lastly, as the latest instalment in the Hideo Kojima Canon.

All of these angles provide fertile ground for reflections about the very nature of games. I also use each of these angles to make jokes. Some of the jokes are easy. Some of the jokes are not. Some of the jokes – I’ll be real with you: some of the jokes, I don’t know if they’re actually jokes.

To further tenderise this horsemeat, let me reiterate my awareness that, for so many game-anticipators, merely thinking about Death Stranding has been a source of great pleasure for the past three years. It saddens me to think of spoiling any of its plot or visuals in the name of something so mundane as a video game design dissection. Sony’s PR clearly anticipated this sadness when they told me I could use only 20 minutes of new gameplay footage for the review. Once I’d progressed deep enough into the game, I understood this request. Death Stranding is a weird sometimes-cavernous labyrinth of quiet, details, exposition, and moments of emotional power both simple and complex. At times it’s every bit as goofy as the exclamation point sound effect from Metal Gear Solid; at other times it’s as photogenically poetic as a Criterion Channel video thumbnail.

In my review, I tried to do the game’s baffling texture justice with a baffling texture of my own. I call the game “The Gran Turismo of Walking Simulators,” and I also call it “Andrei Tarkovsky’s Super Mario Bros. The Movie The Video Game.” My Pomeranian puppy also guest-stars in this video, playing the role of a Pomeranian puppy named “Bibby Babbis (BB).”

While avoiding visually or specifically spoiling any of this rich game’s myriad details, I speak nebulously of the emotions its finale made me feel. Finally, we have a triple-A video game with the texture of The Young Pope.

Playing Death Stranding exhausted me. The game ran me about 70 hours to complete the main campaign, though I spent an extra 10 hours capturing footage. Sony sent us the game on October 14th, so I had a couple of weeks. Making a video is especially time-consuming, however, so I had to play the game fast. I completed it in just four days, barely sleeping. I would not recommend this experience. I’d recommend you luxuriate in it.

Thanks to Fred Wood (@thatsmytrunks on Twitter!) for doing up a couple weird Photoshops for me for this video, including this one.

Frenzy defined my reviewing process. The script you hear me read in the video represents my thoughts during the 48-hour period after I had just completed the game. Throughout the video editing portion of this review, I continued to process my opinion of the game. I’d need to make ten more videos of this same length about this game to truly explain every detail I find fascinating.

Of course, I couldn’t do that using just 20 minutes of footage. And I wouldn’t want to have done it before other people have played the game. As I say in my review, the Death Stranding subreddit right now is like little league compared to the MLB that will commence once this game has been released. Googling theories about Death Stranding’s plot will suffice as a hobby for millions of people for years.

The real review of Death Stranding is going to be written by the people who play it over the next several years.

I arrived at the end of editing my video feeling optimism that Death Stranding will get a whole lot of persons younger than I am interested in some of the cool weird artsy stuff I got interested in when I, too, was younger than I am.

So in the game’s (surprisingly sublimely preached) spirit of “connection,” I saw fit to tie a knot where Hideo Kojima had left a loose end.

Kojima sees fit to open Death Stranding with a quote from a short story by the Japanese author Kobo Abe. The story is called “Nawa,” meaning “Rope.” That quote, on a black screen, is the first sight the player sees after choosing “New Game” from the title screen. The quote occurs to the player as an enigma. You might forget it soon, and that’s fine. Later, it might resurface at a poignant moment in the game’s plot.

I was not able to find an English translation of “Nawa.” I had read the story a long time ago, in Japanese. I’ll be realistic: I’m lucky if I understood half of it.

Interestingly, Kojima and I had talked about the story when I met him in 2004 to conduct an interview for Wired magazine. That he’s still thinking of the story 15 years later is impressive.

Inversely impressive is the fact that “Nawa” still does not have a readily available English translation.

So in the spirit of connection and togetherness, I went ahead and translated the story from Japanese to English. I’m not a professional translator of literature, though I did my best. I’d recommend you read it if you’re interested in the game. Medium Dot Com says it’s only a 27-minute read.

You could put on Hiromichi Sakamoto and Haco’s 2002 album “Ash In The Rainbow” while you read. I think it fits pretty well.

In my video, I say that Death Stranding addresses literary themes that would do Abe’s fiction proud. I reference numerous cinematic touchstones. I dive into the emotions of caring for other living creatures.

(I also have some moments like this. So maybe watch it if you want to see stuff like this.)

I do this all without using more than 20 minutes of my own gameplay footage.

It turns out that the bodacious texture of Hideo Kojima’s years’ worth of cryptic trailers rubbed off on me, both in the approach I took to writing my review and in the footage I used. I got a lot of mileage out of the clip of Sam Porter Bridges ripping a festering toenail off from the E3 2018 trailer.

Seriously, Hideo Kojima’s trailer editing technique inspires my awe. Buddy, if you’re listening: do you wanna come over and edit my video, next time?

In closing: many concerned individuals on Twitter have been asking me, all weekend, what I think of the divisive critical response to Death Stranding. Many of you come to within a hair’s breadth of straight-up asking me, “Why do you like Death Stranding if some other people don’t like it?”

Here’s my heartfelt answer: I love the divided critical response. Divided critical responses absolutely always signal a more interesting piece of work. I feel like I could prove this with maths.

You might not like Death Stranding. It is long, slow, brutal, and weird. Though if you do like it, buddy, you’re gonna love it.

I personally love it.

If you want to hear from someone else who also loves Death Stranding, you should read Heather Alexandra’s excellent review, which says many of the things I say in this video, only without the multiple, frustratingly dense layers of self-referential meta-commentary. You’ve probably read it already, of course, because that’s what everyone on the internet does, right? They all read every word of as many reviews as possible of video games that they’re interested in, so that they take on every possible opinion and consider all of them simultaneously, letting every point on the grading scale validly live in critical harmony, right? Maybe that’s just Death Stranding’s optimism talking.

Because it wouldn’t be a piece of Kojima-related content without an epilogue, here’s an epilogue: I sincerely doubt this is the last bit of coverage you’re going to see from me about Death Stranding. I mean, I already reviewed it five times. Let’s keep this party going.

Actually, here’s a stinger: yes, my good friend Bennett Foddy is coming into the Kotaku office this week, and I’m gonna make sure he does not enjoy Death Stranding as much as I do.