Death Stranding – A player’s account

Not since Halo 3 in 2007 was I this excited for a game. And not even in the sense that Death Stranding will be the best game ever™, an expectation that led to a kind of hollow feeling after the end of Halo 3, which never quite lived up to it’s promise of ending the biggest space opera this side of Mass Effect.

No, I (as many) am excited for Death Stranding because it is something completely new by a notorious creator. And for the last three years, its famously avant-garde trailers eluded any effort of forming a coherent picture of what Death Stranding is going to be. And now, finally, it’s here. Everything will be revealed.

Which is mainly the reason I am writing my thoughts down in my public journal as I go through the game – scared of spoilers I went on a Death Stranding media blackout for the past week (reviews came out 7 days before launch, and I miraculously managed to dodge each one) – which is a feat worthy of it’s own blog post these days. (I used a browser plugin called Spoiler Protection 2.0 – which pretty much does what it says on the tin. No idea what trouble Version 1.0 got into though)

So, to cut a long intro short: After having watched every trailer, I am going into Death Stranding as blind as possible as public opinion is concerned. I don’t know if the game is considered good, bad, divisive, a work of genius or the jump-the-shark moment of an unshackled eccentric. I can’t wait to form my own opinion in the following week! (I may or may not have taken a week off from work solely to play Death Stranding) And, seeing if the general opinion alignes with mine.

***

The Story of Death Stranding – according to me, 10 hours in

Before every game, Kojima reads two books. Most of the fun is figuring out what themes he is going for this time. So I am going to recap the story as I understand it so far, ten hours in, open for future reference and revision.

It turns out meeting the amazon delivery guy at your door was the crucial thing that kept society stable as a whole. No, really – that’s the main plotpoint of Death Stranding. It’s called „drone syndrome“ Kojima will have you know, and it’s basically responsible for all the rising radicalism and tribalism in the world. So when amazon introduced large-scale drone delivery, the end of society was nigh. The government quickly abolished these kinds of innovation to guarantee logistics personnel their menial jobs. In this single unique case, curbing innovation via legislation worked perfectly and everything was well again. People again met their amazon delivery guy at their door and felt connected to each other.

Just as a side-note, good thing that AI will „never surpass human intelligence, because it can’t understand the concept of death.“ Which is a uncharacteristically contrarian and stubborn stance for Kojima. Perhaps he’s just sick of AI in his games and hand-waves it aside.

At the same time, the first female president of the USA put her daughter on a cross-country promotion tour to pitch government-controlled Internet 2.0. „But doesn’t more internet go contrary to the idea of more real human interaction?“ I hear you say, and you’d be right – but this Internet runs on newly discovered chiralium tech. You receive the new service called Bridges 1 via handcuff (don’t ask), which gives you the ability to project sweet holograms of people and whole rooms into your surroundings. It’s basically augmented reality so you never feel alone again. Take that drone syndrome! Oh, also Chiralium has time-travel and anti-grav properties – so clearly the best application for it is to sell it as faster data to the common man!

In the wake of the new and improved social network, 3D printing goes back in style big time. People send plans of complex gear over their chiralium lines to print at home. „But doesn’t printing at home go contrary to the idea of more real human interaction?“ I hear you say – and all I can offer is to give the guy one plothole for free, ok? Maybe it’ll make sense later!

Also screw details! One day for no reason the Death Stranding happened! Turns out there exists a parallel death dimension (always has, but maybe made manifest due to chiralium fuckery?). If your body comes into contact with your chiral counterpart (I am unclear if that guy always exists or if it’s supposed to be your ghost), in the famous image of a matter/antimatter reaction, a big explosion occurs. Which happened all over the planet all at once, effectively throwing humanity back into the dark ages. It still happens every time someone dies, unless you burn the body and spew the ashes into the atmosphere, causing charilium clouds that rain timefall, which seems like a way bigger logistical problem as it turns out to be in the game. Perhaps there just aren’t that many people alive anymore.

30 years later …

So now everything there is to do is basically start the whole thing over again. The president starts a new sales campaign, called Bridges 2 just Bridges this time, because she used to work for Microsoft’s XBox marketing team apparently. They even got a sweet new logo and everything. And we get to go from door to door and shill chiral internet all over the country again. Just the US though, because we don’t want to take this connection theme too far here!

And that’s the big picture, more or less! There is a boatload of secondary stuff that didn’t yet get time to shine, so I’ll just note down some quick thoughts:

  • What were bridge babies originally intended for and what fucked up person developed the tech?
  • odradek is a worse name than flapjack.
  • I predict timefall is just a plot contrivance to get rid of the road network and has no further thematic relevance.
  • Why where all cities renamed with a simplistic theme – knot – city just three years prior, when New York was still called that?
  • Same goes for human names.
  • If the president is Sam’s mother, is Amelie our sister? Why did we meet her grown self as a kid on our beach? (Or is that Bridget on the beach?)
  • Why does Sam end up on his beach in his sleep? I guess leeching out a pint of blood each night without our consent is bad for your health!
  • Sam belongs to some superhuman group of immortal people, but delivers packages.
  • Same for Fragile and Higgs.
  • Why is package delivery held in such high regard, if automated robots can and do it just fine? Also you can’t just say drone syndrome won’t happen this time, Mama!
  • You would think a society that can print roads in seconds would have figured the logistics problem out by now, exploding corpses and impossible air travel be damned.
  • GPS and Navigation work surprisingly well. Turns out you don’t need satellites after all if you have chiralium internet!
  • Mama and Heartman provide huge infodumps, but have yet to be formally introduced via cutscene.
  • Tommie Earl Jenkins has a way bigger role as Head of Bridges than I expected, but he seems to be solely there for exposition, not as an actual character.
  • The game is surprisingly easy.
  • Building stuff is so cheap that I am never short on resources, even though I never go out of my way to collect any.
  • Likes seem pointless. Meta Commentary?
  • The UI is a mess. Confirm buttons change from screen to screen, it feels like ech screen was designed by a different UI designer.
  • Oh, and the last point, how could I forget:

How could you put all secondary exposition into written pages instead of audio tapes like in every other game that had them, Kojima?! Listening to endless codecs was all I wanted to do while trekking through the wilderness! What else are you supposed to do?? Seriously, what the hell man. Major oversight.

To be continued …

***

More notes, 20 hours in

Boy we sure have hit the „gameplay“ portion of the game! One delivery mission after the next. And while they keep the variety going, I can’t believe we still haven’t met Heartman, Mama, and frickin‘ Mads Mikkelsen as the motherfucking death god he is in the trailers!

According to the map I am halfway through the journey, and I got most of the upgrades and gear shown off during gameplay demos – which also means so far the surprises have been few and far between. There was a wicked jumpscare with BB’s face turning into Gulliermo Del Toro yesterday… small bits like this make me wish Kojima hadn’t shot his load again with his trailers showing pretty much all the important scenes.

That said, there was a nice sequence with Fragile on her boat, and arriving at the harbour was kinda magical. Building the highway to cut across half the map was epic too. Higgs is an awful, AWFUL ham worse than Skullface, but his line of „That’s what you wanted didn’t you? And end to the grind? A game over?“ was the most epic 4th wall break so far. (I feel like the 4-hour explanation video of Twin Peaks I watched recently, that decoded it as basically a thinly veiled vehicle for David Lynch’s opinions and interests really helped me understand auteur-driven media better.)

A douchebag junkyard dealer NPC and his japanese girlfriend got the most in-depth character arc so far in the game. So far, all NPCs have been low-res 3D scanned holograms, which created a strange detached atmosphere. I am unsure if this is due to budgetary constraints, or intentional. I suspect the former, because completely out of nowhere, the girl gets a multiple minutes long monologue about her feelings, fully animated, thick accent, tears and all. I wonder who the two acters where, it really feels like a cameo of some of Kojima’s friends.

Speaking of the man, you really feel old man Kojima yelling at clouds at times, like when he has his friend Jordan Vogt-Roberts‘ avatar (who is in the game of course) rile on about the good old days when people went to the cinema instead of streaming on their ipads, or when he for some reason finds it necessary to point out in his videogame that the new generation has too little interest in sex, and if they do, it’s the wrong kind.

Still, I begin to feel like I have been stuck on Map #2 for long enough now. Please get on with the plot, Kojima!

***

30 hours in – Stuff happened!

Now, just to balance things out, so far I have (lovingly) ridiculed the plot and nitpicked a ton, but I guess it bears clarification: Death Stranding is awesome. That sounds a bit lame, but I think it’s the right word in this case. I regularly find myself in awe playing this game.

The game is structured into Chapters, or Episodes, each one seemingly focused on one of the many characters. So the last couple of days I finished Episode 3: Fragile, Episode 4: Battlefield 1 and Episode 5: Mama. Pretty good progress!

Episode 3: Fragile

  • Is Kojima serious with this villain? Higgs literally comes in with a silly hat and goofy mannerisms, and hands you an atomic bomb to deliver in Fragile’s name. I swear this guy is one scene away from wearing Groucho Marx glasses and twirling his moustache.
  • I felt really smart when my first thought was to dump the bomb in the tar pit, but the game adds a scene in between where Sam has to find out that guy was Higgs. He really couldn’t figure that out by himself?
  • Porters really need to start screening their packages.
  • Fragile’s flashback is pretty good! Felt like a movie. It falls a bit short because we know these characters so little, but Higgs‘ ridiculous overacting actually makes him pretty scary in this scene.
  • I am 100% sure that Kojima originally wanted Lea Seydoux to be naked in this scene, but her contract insisted on no nudity. This sounds sleazy without context, but I actually feel this scene would have hit harder if she was actually naked. Fragile and all that.

Episode 4: Mads Mikkelsen’s World at War

  • At least we get plenty of man meat during Norman Reedus shower scenes and (crotchless) Mads Mikkelsen rolling around in the mud.
  • Cliff finally gets introduced, and plays out exactly like I expected. A small, action-based instanced level to go to town.
  • I really liked this sequence. It felt good to fight back for a while, after being shoved around by MULEs for so long.
  • I hope these scenes are going somewhere!
  • You can replay them from your private room at any time, which will be helpful to show the game off to friends.

Episode 5: Mama

Hoooo boy. The delivery missions in this one. But let’s start at the beginning. I finally reached Mama’s lab in the deep south of the map. She had her introductory scene we know from her trailer, and reveals that the chiral internet actually caused the Death Stranding?! If I understood correctly? It brought the people together a bit too well and caused BT/Human matter/antimatter explosions (i.e. voidouts). I am still unclear what BTs and the death dimension actually are.

Sidenote: the game is structured kinda cool that way, the knowledge of past events got kinda lost with time, and I am puzzling this mystery together with the characters in the game.

Us „making america whole again“ (I swear Amelie and Die-Hardman overuse this phrase like crazy, and I grow more suspicious by the minute) actually makes the BT situation worse and could lead to a second death stranding! Great, now I feel even worse shilling for the man.

Good thing this problem is easily fixed with a firmware upgrade (I wish I was kidding), which we can get from Mama’s twin sister who lives in Mountain Knot city. (you know, the only mountain in the US). The trek to this place was gruelling. I got fucked by BT’s so hard (pardon the language) – it was some of the greatest gameplay in a long while. I genuinely felt exhausted when I made it back to safety. The BT sequences are delightfully scary, tense, but not too hard – the catharsis of making it by the skin of my teeth was such a rush.

Sidenote: This may be a good opportunity to talk about the respawn feature. Trailers led me to believe that once BT’s catch you and pull you under, you end up in the underwater world. But instead the oil level rises and you get a bossfight with a bigger BT monster. These rule, but so far have been so easy that I haven’t died yet. I am almost tempted to trigger a voidout deliberately, just to see how this system works. Will they actually replace the area with a crater? BT encounters seem hard-coded to specific areas of the map, so I guess it could be possible?

The only two times I have died so far where epic falls – one right at the beginning, 2 minutes after starting the game (which may have given me the neat baby doll sequence, because I had no BB at that point, so I feel less dumb for dying – it was all for completionists sake!) – and the other time I went over a huge waterfall, which played out like a nightmare.

Each time I ended up in the water dimension, which is noticeably less flashy then the version from the trailers. It’s a copy of the map, heavily filtered to look like the deep sea. You can touch other players‘ corpses, and get some of their cargo. You retain all your cargo on respawn, which I find crazy! There literally is no penalty for death it seems, on the contrary, you get rewarded with lost cargo!

Where was I? Right, trekking to Mama’s twin sister. I also met Homo Demens, your friendly terrorist camp in the forest on my way. I got lethal weaponry after Cliffs Battlefield intermezzo, but Die-Hardman explicitly warned me not to shoot people, because their corpses will create voidouts. Apparently you’ll have to dispose of any murders you commit?? No way I am dealing with that!

To cut a long story short, it took about two hours to reach Mountain Knot City – this map almost rivals The Crews, only on a pedestrian scale. Still, the biomes are surprisingly distinct and varied. You constantly get new terrain and atmosphere.

When I finally got there (again delivering a bomb, this time willingly – what is it with porters and bombs??) Mama’s sister bluntly advised me to fuck off and die. So all there was left to do was… to go back all the way to Mama?!?

I couldn’t believe this blatant backtracking. It took me hours to get here! Don’t these people have phones?? …I guess they literally have no phones. Le sigh. Time to make connections. I actually started lurking the discord, which I avoided like the plague in fear of spoilers. But it seems I am far enough ahead to be reasonably safe, and spoiler etiquette seems pretty good as well. Unfortunately that meant nobody had any tips for me either.

Turns out you can at least cut over the snowy mountain ridge to get back to Mama, which was a great change of scenery. It’s impressive how distinct and eventful each trek feels, I have to say. I have distinct stories from almost every delivery. Truly emergent stories, to a surprising extent.

After several close calls, I finally made it back to Mama. She gave me umbilical-cord cutters for my handcuffs (srsly where does Kojima come up with this nonsense), I separate her from her ghost baby, and then she wants to be taken back to her sister?!? Game, don’t make me weak! This must be the first back-backtracking ever in a game, and some of the longest to boot! Jesus Christ.

At least I got to take a bath with Mama

Higgs sends a lion like the one-dimensional villain asshole that he is (seriously, I hope this guy goes somewhere, otherwise Cliff has to pick up the slack!) – fortunately they let you craft during this bossfight, so the poor thing gets wrecked by the best weaponry resources can buy. Fun!

All-in-all, reuniting the sisters took 2 1/2 hours. Woof. No wonder this game is so long. Still, they managed to make each trek memorable in it’s own way.

Finally whole again, Mama promptly dies. The hell? Turns out she actually died in the cave-in! Which explains why she had a ghost baby. But it doesn’t explain how she was a ghost the whole time! Sometimes in Kojima games, you just have to roll with the punches.

***

40 hours in – this game is long!

Episode 6: Deadman

This episode was pretty unremarkable. Apart from a crazy shower scene with Deadman, that is! This is the wacky shit I need. Anyway, Deadman says BB is sick and takes it away, and we have to do several missions without him. Curiously, these missions were pretty uneventful runs across the snowy mountain, despite warnings of BTs I never encountered any. Just one – which I shot. Kinda demystified them a bit. If it bleeds, I can kill it.

Episode 7: Clifford

Yo. This is something. I can’t remember playing something this well produced in a long time, if ever. Cliffs‘ second action bonanza, this time in WWII, the sequel. Tag-teaming with Guillermo, who also got sucked into the mess. Several amazing scenes.

Of course we beat Cliff, so far not a lot new info, other than he was some special forces guy, and BB is his child.

Deadman gets an exposition dump in this episode instead of his own. Apparently he is 70% transplanted organs? The scar on his head seems to imply his brain is also transplanted?? Er, how? Why was this done? Anyone? I guess he is supposed to be symbolic, every character has some kind of twist or flaw about their humanity. He says he has no Ha? Ka? Anyway, no ghost. He is just a body. Still. This makes no sense. I require explanations.

Episode 8: Heartman

We have to trek high up into the mountains. I build my first zipline and feel super smart. Later I build a postbox by mistake and feel super dumb. Navigation gets really tough in this area.

Several uneventful deliveries later (seriously, this late in the game, just make them optional. Or make some tougher missions. I mean, I am the last one to complain about lenient games, but some of these literally have you go 200m to the left over flat ground. You’d think they’d come up with more and varied modifiers for deliveries.) we reach Heartmans lake penthouse. This guy knows how to live! What a mansion. Seems weird that he wasn’t yet in the chiral network.

Sidenote: How do these people outside the network send in their orders, anyway? The premise is that any long distance communications are broken, right? Heartman even showed up via chiral hologram. Guess he only had 56k chiral internet.

We get a huge (expensive!) cutscene with Heartman, he checks out Mama’s corpse (still ded), does his death thing every 21 mins (which is a great scene) – it feels like in this chapter we learn a lot about the Death Stranding phenomenon itself and older extinction events in particular. Basically it boils down to: The dinosaurs had their own Death stranding. Even though they aren’t mammals, umbilical cords were involved somehow, and beaches as well, even though it was stated earlier that only humans can have one? Oh well. It all sounds like Kojima read an archeology book and thought „This could have happened because of my thing!“ – still. I love this shit. Serious Ancient Aliens stuff.

Sidenote: I still haven’t died from BTs yet! I expect there to be some system that causes voidout craters, given that BT areas are fixed on the map. I rarely get caught by them, and if I do, I beat the boss – I don’t think they ever did any damage to me?? This time in a tough fight against two (!) lions, I actually got a game over, but I suspect it was because a mission critical object got destroyed. It just reset me to the last checkpoint. I really hope there is some kind of voidout system here, though even if there is, triggering it zero times in 40 hours of play seems kinda unbalanced. I’m curious, but not very keen on deliberately trying to fail.

***

Haha, the latest Heartman cutscene played like a /r/deathstranding theory post! I am just sitting there going „What?“ „Huh?“ „Okay“ – so let me try to sum it up for my own sake:

After being comically naive about Higgs and his bomb plan, we quickly agree that something is fishy about Die-Hardman. Not even I was willing to commit so early, but Heartman, Deadman and Sam already formed a little conspiratory club. Fine by me. He did show up in a Cliff flashback after all.

Some time earlier, Deadman has smuggled a piece of umbilical cord into my cargo (Mama’s corpse), a scene I must have missed. This cord is Bridget’s. Turns out, there are two types of umbilical cord, or rather, the Death Stranding variety has nothing to do with childbirth, but connects beings to the beach (?). That’s also why dinosaurs and other non-mammals can have them.

Not everyone has an umbilical cord (?), but those who do, don’t decompose after death. These beings Heartman calls Extinction Entities (EEs). BTs, EEs… the poor voice actors! In a leap of logic I didn’t quite understand these EEs are responsible for kicking of large scale extinction events. Did Heartman mean a Death Stranding?

Bridget was an EE, Amelie likely is one too, being her daughter – but aren’t I Bridgets son? Why is this never brought up again? Am I an EE as well? Maybe I am adopted. Sam did talk about having the „extinction factor“ at the very beginning, but that was way before Heartman came up with EEs. And what is DOOMs, really? It’s not very helpful that I don’t understand the old stuff, and now we get new outrageous stuff on top! Well, only thing to do is soldier on! I’m sure everything will make perfect sense at the end (HA!)

I took a grenade launcher with me just to be able to say I tried it out, and boy am I glad I did! I tranquilized (still no desire to cause corpses) a whole platoon of nosy Homo demens. They where like „We are here to make the game difficult and ruin your day!“ and I was like „Nu-uh, you sleep now!“. What a triumph.

I finally reached the tar belt cutting Edge Knot City off from the rest of the map. The game leaves you there to figure out a way across on your own. I have to admit I stumbled upon the solution by accident, but man what a great idea. You were supposed to let yourself get captured by BTs and actually lose to the bossfight and cause a voidout. I can say I did this very succesfully, if not all voluntary. I thought I was reasonably save in my truck, but the BTs pulled me out in a heartbeat. I didn’t even have time to fight back. An epic boss fight commenced – or at least I think so. I caught a glimpse of some big things, but since they have been so toothless up until now, I foolishly took the time to soothe my BB – and got bodyslammed by a frickin‘ tar whale! Man, I wonder if this fight could have gone on longer. It seemed very cool.

So now we finally know what a void-out looks like. A huge crater, as expected. It is closed off by a magical wall obviously inspired by Annihilation. But we can use the crater rim to cross the tar belt! Oh boy. I think we just reached the end game! I am super curious what happens next.

Hour 50 – endless endgame

I actually believed I’d reached the endgame after that crater. But the game refuses to end. Let’s try to recap what happened:

Amelie was at the end of the crater. I went to her, but sank into the tar like a fool. I think there was a quick scene on the beach here, with Amelie going crazy like „I am the Extinction entity bruhaha!“ (honestly there are so many of these, I lost track long ago) – anyway, I wake up on the outskirts of Edge Knot City. Cliff greets me with an awful, AWFUL ham-fisted Evil genius speech, bamfing all over the place. God. Just get to the point or die already.

Next up: Sneaking through the city street. Suddenly there is a new type of BT (?): Floating sacks of evil! Good thing they pop with a single shot. I sneak like a pro and slice a ton of umbilical cords. BTs give you likes if you stealth kill them! Huh.

Connecting the last Knot City! Curiously you need a BB pod for it. We did it! We beat the game. But the victory feels hollow. What have we actually achieved, other than a continent-spanning monoply for internet coverage?

No time to ponder, because Higgs the asshole is standing in front of the door with the fucking hand-head-titan from Trailer #2 in tow! I have to say I was pretty hype that we actually got to fight him, I expected him to be the cool trailer visual™ like the flaming whale of MGSV. But apart from lacking context and explanation, the thing starts going to town. Rocket and Grenade Launchers bring him down though. I actually die in the last 5% of the fight, but the game just pops me back out, no retry neccesary. Have a few more guns while we’re at it. (This game is seriously easy, in case I hadn’t made it clear enough before) I’m not complaining.

After this hilarity, Fragile is kind enough to bamf me to Amelies beach. She’s like „You love Amelie, right?“ – But isn’t she my sister?? I can’t believe I still have no explanation for this! She has a cute reaction while saying this, where you can see the thirst for Sam in her expression. The fidelity of the performance capture is truly excellent in this game.

On the beach Higgs poses (literally) as a final boss. This character is just. the. worst. PS1 games had better villains. He goes „The end is inevitable. Humanity has 100.000 years left, tops.“ Uh, sounds pretty good to me?! I figure he is referring to evolution, Homo Sapiens evolving into something different. Fine by me. Would it kill this character to start making sense?! After a pretty cool gun vs. rope fight, Kojima has the audacity to mirror the classic fist-fight between Snake and Ocelot. But this is so unearned for this ridiculous buffoon, it rang hollow. Higgs defeated, Fragile shows up. Higgs goes „You’re damaged goods“ (classy) – to which Fragile retorts: „No. You are damaged goods!“ – This was the best they came up with in the writers room?? Groan.

So Higgs is dead (at least we hear a gunshot offscreen, which means he surely will not come back later, and Amelie and Sam have the worlds most awkward scene in which they are frolicking and jumping along the beach all the way from the eastcoast to the westcoast. This must be the weirdest shit I’ve seen so far in this game.

Amelie is like „Wait here!“ and goes over a hill – on the other side, a younger President Bridget is held up at gunpoint by Die-Hardman?? He shoots, but the shot seems to go right through her. How awkward! Good thing Cliff shows up with perfect timing! What are all these people doing on Amelies Beach? This is a real free-4-all. Cliff is like: „Die-Hardman? I haven’t seen you since the last war, you Asshole!“ Die-Hardman is like „Oh god please don’t kill me, kill her!“ Bridget is like „Lol you idiot your BB is right over there.“ Cue us, standing on top of the hill like a dope. Oops. Cliff is sending his cronies, but Amelie punts us into the water, which in turn warps us back to reality. Must be an awkward scene on that beach right now.

Oh man it really gets confusing now …

Somewhere around here, we get a BB flashback where Die-Hardman shoots Cliff on order of President Bridges.

There is a party in my private room. Deadman, Heartman, Lockne and Fragile all skype in to tell me how Fragile bamf’d everyone back to Central Knot City (for endgame reasons I guess), but now she’s so tired that she can’t be arsed to bamf me over. What the fuck guys. We have Internet 2.0, you’d think Lockne or whoever was this vital to the operation that they had precedence over me?? I am literally the key to fixing this mess. But it’s okay, I’ll just walk back across the whole continent, no problem. It’s not like the weather and BTs are out of control either. This will be a walk in the park, don’t worry guys. Enjoy your tea and biscuits, I’ll be right over!

Sidenote: This cutscene illustrates a thing I noticed – there is very little secondary action in these scenes. Actors stand in front of each other with nothing to interact with. You can practically feel the small volume these performances were captured in. Flat ground, barely any props. This is why Heartmans scenes feel so cinematic, because both actors actually have props to interact with. Granted the other scenes still look beautiful.

During the grueling trek (I actually get one of the worse game overs that resets me a long way – there are special golden grabby BTs now, that don’t send you into a bossfight but force a reset, because it would ruin the map I guess. Fair.) Deadman frequently calls in to drop some plot bombshells. If only I could remember which ones. (A lot happened in the last few hours, in case it wasn’t obvious!)

I’ll just summarize. Bridget was like „Yo let’s make weird Bridge Babies for the lulz and profit.“ Cliff was like „You can have my baby because I am a shit father apparently! Just don’t make it a BB maybe?“ when it turned out they made it a BB (genius!) he tried taking it back, but Die-Hardman (who had been serving under Cliff in the military) is ordered by Bridget to shoot him, which he does. This whole scenario understandably angers Cliff a bit. So the appropriate reaction is to cause the death stranding?? For real? Can’t anyone come up with a convincing theory around here?

Uh-oh, right on cue Cliffs party storm wisks us away onto a vietnamese battlefield. by now we are battle-hardened and dispose of him like he’s a slight nuisance. Visually, the Vietnam level is a bit disappointing, honestly. Something is off with the lighting. Another pass or different color grading may have done the trick.

But I digress. The scene ends with an incredible meeting between Cliff and Sam, in which Cliff is basically „Yo what’s up. Fancy meeting you here. Jolly good gunfight we just had back there old chap“ Sam is like „… u want ur BB?“ and Cliff is like „I see now you are the perfect father, please keep the thing I literally raised hell to get back, I swear off my wicked ways come on let’s hug“ And then they do. Cliff gets a suit and disappears with a gunshot. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the end of his arc. Man, that would be kinda short. But this scene was pretty amazing.

After this, we wake up back in Port Knot City, conveniently sparing us another boat ride. Deadman skypes in with a whole torrent of new exposition. Everything is fucked, the Internet is unstable. He has found a video of Die-Hardman labled „Watch me in case you need a plot dump“ – in which he proceeds to postulate a completely new theory out of the blue that Amelie maybe isn’t real, and in fact the evil mastermind behind everything. She controlled Higgs, gave him his powers, and turned him into the goofy idiot he is. Okay, cheap explanation but better than nothing I guess. Doesn’t explain why she let him manhande her every chance he got though. All work and no play I guess. I can buy it, if only because Amelie is fucking weird with her derpy expression and red dress all the time.

So I guess the real villain is Amelie now. Or Bridget? Nobody is sure anymore! What even is the plan? Isn’t wiping out humanity a bad idea for a human to come up with? Is it an X-Men thing? People with DOOMs vs. regular humans? What is DOOMs, anyway? Why can we respawn? Are we immortal? What actually caused the Death Stranding? Don’t we all have bigger problems?? Jesus take the wheel!

53 Hours – Thank you Sam.

There’s constant timefall now. Everything is terrible. We have to make it across the first map from Port Knot City to Central Knot. Easy, this is the tutorial map! But the designers throw two inescapable BT fights your way, in blatant disregard of their own rules. First three (!) lions at once, which actually cause my very first proper voidout! Luckily a pretty small crater, and out-of-the-way too. I am almost kinda happy to check this off before the end!

The second is a humongous monster whale! Looking at the map, failing this fight would wipe out Central Knot, so the stakes are high. Mechanically the fight is as simple as all the others, but the spectacle alone is good enough for me! I barely make it and the catharsis is palpable. Finally the finish is in sight.

Disclaimer: What follows is the most astonishing ending sequence in recent memory, maybe ever. An absolute barrage of cutscenes that almost took three hours, packed with drama, exposition dumps, false endings … an all-out emotional rollercoaster I’ll try my best to recall:

The crew is all here and explains to me that I have to go to Amelie’s beach and talk her out of destroying the world. So Fragile bamf’s me to her beach, which is taken straight out of Evangelion! Red sea, overlooking the earth – and the mission prompt says: „Stop the extinction“. Wow. What a moment.

Here, Amelie waits for us, and explains that she has to destroy all life, because that’s what’s in her job description. But also, she can chose not to, if Sam really wants it. And to make him really want it (because secretly she wants it to) she made him walk all across America so he’d develop some patriotism, dammit! At the same, she had a terrorist bomb the cities she wants to protect with atomic bombs, so I guess it’s safe to say she’s conflicted. Turns out our chiral network entangled all beaches, so the bang will be extra big. Amelie starts walking towards earth to finish what she started.

Sam is like „I don’t know what to do!“ and I am like „Neither do I man!“ – The game gives back control, but all we can do is aim with Die-Hardman’s revolver at the back of Amelie’s head. Like Spock said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – so sayonara Amelie, I’ll stay forever on your beach! But what’s this! An invisible barrier prevents me from hitting her! There was no budget left for a quick fail-state here?

Only when Amelie reaches a certain point, a fail-state plays. kinda weird. It took me two or three tries to figure out I could holster the revolver and instead hug her. (A brand new button prompt, so I don’t feel bad. How was I supposed to know) Sam overcomes his fear of touching, something that is never really explained. But through the power of love we persuade Amelie to hold off on the extinction for at least another 1.000 years or so. Instead she will sit on her beach and do nothing, promise.

Having saved the world, Sam somehow ends up on his own beach. I honestly forget how. It’s cool to finally be able to walk around in this environment. It’s like a huge megascan of an icelandic beach, probably the environment that inspired the whole game. We are all alone, and black & white for some reason. It’s a very strange atmosphere, as if our victory rang hollow.

Little by litte, credits start to appear, over the sound of nothing. All I could do is walk. This is a chilling sequence, I enjoyed it immensely!

Between credits (Kojima of course pops up multiple times), Sam sits down exhausted, and a vision of Amelie circles him, laying out her whole backstory: Her ghost exists on her beach, and her body in the real world. She learns that on her beach she has access to the knowledge of all previous generations. Also, time doesn’t progress on the beach. So she becomes kind of an Elon Musk, using her superior intellect and access to a literal time machine to create the chiral network, and seemingly making it as far as vice president. Somehow, she also can make her ghost appear in the real world as well, at least as a hologram. Due to the age discrepancy (though how her ghost reached the age of 25 in the first place is unclear) Bridget presents Amelie as her daughter. Not sure why Amelie needed to interact with the real world at all …

Of course, one day Bridget/Amelies real body dies. That’s why Amelie needed Sam to reconnect all Knot cities. Sorry I’m drawing a blank on why exactly this was necessary.

Also, Sam ends up as a fetus on Amelie’s beach at some point, and continues to visit, which he can do somehow. Here it get’s fuzzy again. We try to shoot ourself with Die-Hardman’s revolver at one point, but it doesn’t work! After a long, long while, BT handprints appear and guide us towards the sea.

Voices of our friends break through, we see the five floating figures and suddenly we are grabbed by Deadman and pulled back to reality!

***

It turns out over a month has passed while they were looking for me. In the end, Die-Hardman’s revolver led them to me. „The stick became a rope“, Deadman isn’t shy to point out. This ending is so complicated, I appreciate any help, even if it is this on the nose!

Die-Hardman is sworn in as the new president. He holds a fiery speech about coming together, but Sam, in best Big Boss fashion, leaves early. Deadman stops him in the corridor, but leaves quickly when Die-Hardman enters.

What follows is a tearful breakdown of Die-Hardman in front of Sam, where he profusely apologizes for killing his father. I am happy for Tommie-Earl Jenkins that he finally gets to ditch the mask and even gets a scene where he can act his heart out – and boy does he. Also, I am continually impressed by the graphical fidelity. I constantly forget I am watching realtime 3D models, and only see the actors.

Sam kinda shrugs him off, giving him some weird advice and shoving his gun in his hands. Die-Hardman says „Thank you, Sam“, so I guess the advice was taken the right way, even though I didn’t understand it.

Fragile now works for Bridges, and ditched her skin tight latex pants for a bulky bridges overall, what a pity! Sam also acts kinda cold towards her, and she really doesn’t take it well. Just kiss her, you fool! I wonder if Fragiles elderly body is a point of conflict for Sam? This is unfortunately never explored. Sam prefers to keep his distance, which goes kinda against the message of the game, but okay.

Deadman has BB, but it’s dead! What the hell? „Poor thing was never really alive“ Yeah ok, but how did it die?? Guess it simply expired?

Deadman unlocks our cufflink. So we can ditch it anytime and the UCA couldn’t track us. He also says, someone could take BB out of its‘ bottle, just to see what happens.

We give each other a big bear hug. So nice!

So, our last delivery in the game, like our first, is to deliver a dead body to the incinerator. On the way, BB’s theme plays, and I can’t lie, I had to gulp down some tears. I didn’t cry, but man, what a melancholic atmosphere. When you press the touchpad to speak, Sam goes „I’m so sorry Lou“. Argh.

At the incinerator, Sam hesitates. He plugs BB in one last time. And we still get a BB memory? Huh? We see how Die-Hardman (real name: John McLane, for real) helps Cliff to escape with his BB, because Cliff saved his life in countless warzones. Unfortunately their plan fails immediately (realistic!) and in a dramatic way, ending with Cliff getting shot by John on order of President Bridges. It turns out Cliff took the BB out of its bottle beforehand, and John hit it too! Bridget is devastated, as this BB was supposed to be the sacrifice/foundation for a Knot city.

The dying BB ends up on Amelie’s beach. She closes up the bullet wound on it’s stomach with a cross-shaped motion – and suddenly everything falls into place!

Sam is Cliff’s son! Of course! What a great twist. Every time when hooking up to our BB, we saw our memories. It recontextualizes the meeting of the two in Vietnam, I can’t wait to rewatch that scene!

Amelie bringing Sam back from his bullet wound appears to have made him into a repatriate (or he always was, I dunno) – but he’s useless as a BB now. So Bridget decides to raise him as her own son. Man what a family. A ghost sister on a beach that is really the younger ghost of your adoptive mother, who is the president of the United cities of America, and the Extinction Entity that will cause a Mass extinction sooner or later. No wonder Sam has problems connecting.

All that’s left is to bring Lou back. Sam takes the BB out of it’s bottle, and like a miracle brings it back to life. In the very last scene, Sam calls her Louise. Lou is a girl! It is implied that Sam raises her as his daughter. Awww.

***

What a grandiose ending. I loved that it managed to pull off a twist that I didn’t see coming, and that was satisfying, logical and emotionally powerful. I loved it!



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