Over the festive break we’ll be running through our top 20 picks of the year’s best games, leading up to the reveal of Eurogamer’s game of the year on New Year’s Eve. You can find all the pieces published to date here – and thanks for joining us throughout the year!
I’m going to guess there’s no other game on our end of year list more polarising than Death Stranding. The good news is you know where you stand pretty quickly, once the first of many lengthy cutscenes with Kojima’s unique brand of techno babble and acronyms have come and gone, and you’re faced with what the game is actually about. In this case, the game is about strapping a pair of muddy boots on your feet, hoisting a tall stack of cargo on your back, and walking through beautiful vistas with barely anything of use on the horizon.
For what is a fairly high concept game about death, ghosts, and reconnecting isolated communities in a post-apocalyptic America, Death Stranding doesn’t ask you to do much at all. You pick up a delivery, and drop it off somewhere else. That’s basically it. Though it’s a game with vast stretches of land to navigate, you always know where you need to go, and you’re almost always well equipped for the task – you just need the patience to get there.
Death Stranding is simple and focused, long and repetitive, and I absolutely adore it. It’s beautifully presented in the way Kojima’s games always are, but it’s also reliably rough round the edges and fiddly to play, with menus requiring one too many button presses and oversized vehicles rarely suited to the task of getting around the barren, dangerous landscape.
It’s also never particularly difficult. BTs, the nightmarish apparitions that plague the world when it rains, are quickly dispelled with grenades (made of poop, by the way) which you unlock just a few hours into the game. Mules, the equivalent of Metal Gear Solid’s patrol soldiers, are dispatched with easily-timed on-screen parries. Even the QWOP elements it teases early doors, which sees you stumble dangerously if you don’t manage your cargo correctly or go too quickly, is easily circumvented by slowing down a bit and holding both triggers together to steady yourself.
And, as little as it does to encourage you to explore its vast, vast landscapes beyond your deliveries, it always encourages you to push how fast or safe a delivery should be. How many extra packages can you cram on your back before you can barely walk? Should you take the safe route, or simply plough through a Mule-infested camp to save a couple of minutes? And how steep does a cliff need to be before that cargo bouncing round the boot of your truck violently explodes and ends your 45 minute run?
My favourite moment is a trick it pulls about halfway through the game, which renders the vehicles you’ve become reliant on useless with the triple threat of snow, insurmountable mountains and excessive numbers of BTs. At the same time, I became obsessed with constructing my own zipline network, a series of pylons that can effortlessly glide you from point-to-point if constructed with a clear line of sight between them.
It was not necessarily to circumvent some of the backtracking – if I’m honest with myself, I probably spent as much time painstakingly scaling high rocks and scoping out far away basins as I would have just getting on with the job – but because it made me slow down and rediscover the glacial pace the game opened with. Death Stranding is at its best when it’s physical and demanding, instead of rocketing from one place to the next, and I relished this second opportunity to return to it.
I can completely understand why people bounce off Death Stranding, and even its most ardent fans will admit it’s too bloated for its own good, but I also wouldn’t have it any other way. With its long ending was over, I still wanted more from a game I didn’t know I’d even enjoy until making my first delivery – more rickety driving, more slow pondering walks, one more overambitious cargo run in the pouring rain.