A Moment In… Death Stranding

Video games are transportive. They whisk us away from our living rooms and bedrooms, to their far-off imaginative worlds. It is no wonder that gaming is seeing its evident mainstream boom over the last ten years, as people want a taste of that escape – especially when most of us have been stuck indoors for the best part of four months. So, I wanted to reminisce on the times I have lost myself in a game, and the self-generating story left in its wake stayed with me for one reason or another.

The focus of this entry is Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding. Now, this may seem odd to anyone that knows me considering I have yet to complete the game, despite it being a day one purchase. My commitment to Death Stranding sporadically dipped and soared in the twenty-odd hours I played, as I bought into the “plan your route” style of travel, and the inclusion of topography and landscapes as genuine obstacles – I never thought I would spend so much time in a video game figuring out how to cross a river – yet I despaired as I walked through yet another BT infested zone, or was flung callously into an additional lacking boss fight.

All the same, it was on a faithful Tuesday evening that I booted up Death Stranding once more. Finding myself in a safe room of the Distribution Centre of South Knot City, I commanded my avatar Sam to have a shower, neck another can of Monster Energy, and gear up. At the depot, a supposed mistake in the system leaves me with a nuclear device addressed to the teleporting Fragile. After some hammed up dramatics with the “surprise” that your awkward delivery handler was in fact the big bad Higgs, a panicked Fragile sends you to dump the bomb in a nearby crater. So, with twenty minutes on the clock, I heave the bomb onto my back, along with various other items I’m already carrying, swing my leg over my reversed trike, and rev up the ramp, passing the many signs wishing me well left by other players.

I am treated to the sweet sight of gargantuan mountains and an epically expansive landscape before me. It is relatively clear, with the hint of rain nearby – a BT zone isn’t far away. After a moment of taking in the sights, I swerve around to the direction of my destination. I have just shy of twenty minutes. By trike it will take five. I weave my way slowly around the various jagged rocks, before coming to a more open plane. Speeding up to the quiet electrical whirring of my trike, I cruise through the volcanic terrain, and gently turn the camera, taking in the graphical awe of DS’s world.

The trike comes to an abrupt halt. A small canyon lays before me, about twenty foot down. I look off to the right before flicking up my map. The canyon will take me on some detour, and one, despite me having plenty of time, I am not inclined to make. But alas, just fifty metres to my left, a fellow traveller has left a ladder which bridged the small gap. I drift the trike around, and skid to a stop, examining the ladder. Could I trapeze my way across on the trike? With just one ladder perhaps not, but with another… I have fifteen minutes left.

I dismount my trike, and carefully walk up to the edge. Flicking out the expandable ladder, I line the two up as close as I can. “That will hold it” I think to myself. Back on the trike, I anxiously edge my way across my makeshift bridge. It all seems to be going to plan when the front tyres clunks over the edge of the ladder. Suddenly, my balance is lost, and I find myself falling to the bottom of the crevasse.

Damage has been taken. I have lost many smaller items from ladders to PCPs, but the package will be fine. Same goes for Sam, who only needs to glug another mouthful of the nectar of the Gods, and he’ll be right as rain. The trike, however, did not survive the fall. Smoke gushing out of its engine, I look along the elongated rough hallways of the canyon, which seem never-ending regardless of which way I look. With the icon for my destination visible, I pick a direction and start walking. I have ten minutes left.

Using my lighter yet faster exo-skeleton legs, I sprightly make my way through the canyon with the remaining cargo taking up most of the leg’s weight capacity. The battery is full enough for sporadic running, but at this point I am still not worried. Then a ping goes off. Unbeknown to me, I have wandered straight into a MULE camp, with my precious cargo setting off their sensors on the perimeter of their camp. With the walls of the canyon still standing tall over me I start to panic. At this point in the game, I have no genuine weapons outside of the furious tapping of the square button for some good ol’ fisticuffs.

Sprinting now, I have to make decisions on the fly, as the rocky corridors begin to fork off in different directions – still trying to steer myself towards my destination. The warning wails and blinking lens flares alert me of the MULE’s proximity, as it seems my forced route is only taking me deeper into enemy territory. Then narrowly missing me and my cargo, an electrical spear thuds into the ground a few feet in front of me. With enough speed, I pass its radius before it lets out its electrical surge. Now the MULEs are practically on top of me, as I begin to see their shadows cast on the ground, and electrical spears rain down around me. As I am consistently highlighted by their scanners, more MULEs begin to surround me. I duck and weave enough to somehow miss most spears, until one’s surge catches me, allowing me to stumble briefly. By this point, my exo-battery is dwindling. I have five minutes left.

I take one more turn through the canyon, and the path begins to rise. Up and up I go until I reach surface level. Spinning the camera around, I see the mass of MULEs hightailing it towards me – all with a murderous need for my cargo. They are fast, but with some juice still left in my exo, I am faster. Steadily my pursuers grow more distant. I pass their perimeter scanners and continue until they are mere specks in the distance, and specks that have given up in their dreams of free loot.

My destination is close. Just on the other side of a hill that has added to its colour palette of charred greys and blacks with a dusty sprinkling of a crimson rust. Then my battery dies. Walking practically slows to a halt, as the weight of my cargo has suddenly and very nearly become too much for me to handle. I stumble and begin to lose balance. I begin to furiously strip off any unneeded materials but feel too conflicted to drop it all. Grabbing a hold of my straps, I begin to walk one foot in front of the other.

As I champion the hill, my destination reveals itself to be a lonely voidout lake, accented by glints of white atop the tar-like substance. Descending with less than two minutes to go, the water seems further away than it did when I first left base, as I slowly trudge my way closer. With less than sixty seconds on the clock, I approach the water’s edge, and lunge the bomb far into the black liquid and let it sink.

The black lake swells up as it contains the blast of the nuclear device, and I begin to feel the weight lift off my shoulders. I take a moment to sit in peace, as Sam stares off in the lake. I was and would continue to grow bored of Death Stranding’s experience, yet this singular mission, which after errors of my own, went on to become a naturally disastrous and utterly white-knuckle ride, would remain a highlight of what games can achieve, and to this day a moment in gaming I would not soon forget.

Published by Aaron Bayne

I’m a film and video games journalist based in Scotland. I write stuff about them on my website, talk about them on my podcasts and film videos about them for BBC The Social.

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