A reader gives his verdict on Death Stranding and explains what he thinks Hideo Kojima needs someone to tell him ‘no’.
I see that, predictably, the launch of Death Stranding has given gamers another opportunity to prove just how petty they can be, with the game getting review bombed on Metacritic and one group arguing that the mixed reviews prove Hideo Kojima is a fraud and the another that there is a media conspiracy against him. Even the man himself seems to suggest that if someone doesn’t like Death Stranding it’s because they’re not bright enough (or American, which seems to be the same thing in his eyes).
Needless to say, that does not help but I think it points towards the truth that, while not a fraud, Hideo Kojima is nowhere near the creative genius he is happy to let other people pretend he is. Like most gamers, the first time I’d heard of him was with the first Metal Gear Solid on PlayStation 1, which I loved. At the time there was nothing else like it in terms of a cinematic action game and while the dialogue and voice-acting was hokey, and the tone a weird mix of Saturday morning cartoon and existential drama it worked.
As the sequels went on though you could see Kojima starting to believe more and more in his own myth, as the games became steadily more self-indulgent and nonsensical. I still played them all, even if I picked them up later when they were cheaper, and enjoyed Metal Gear Solid V’s break from formula enough that I was willing to give Death Stranding a go. Not just because of the hype but because it was a game daring to do something different with a big budget.
Whatever his other faults I do admire Kojima’s ability to convince people to fund him and the small group of B-list celebrities he has begun to form around him, like an old fashion troupe of actors. How he ever met Norman Reedus and why he suddenly became convinced he should headline all his games (he was to have been the lead of Silent Hills) I don’t know but it’s strangely endearing.
But there’s no getting way from the fact that Death Stranding is… boring. It seems to be purposefully designed that way too, with simplistic gameplay that serves only to make walking in a straight line – which is the game’s primary gameplay mechanic – as difficult and frustrating as possible. There is no meaningful interaction (I don’t count cut scenes as interaction) with any character, most of which, for no good reason, are holograms and the story is pure and utter nonsense.
It’s easy to find fans online desperately trying to create allegories for all the various plot points and features, from the distancing nature of social interaction on the Internet to the damage caused by absent fathers. But none of that is actually in the game, it’s just being made up by fans. The game is about how people should co-operate together and… that’s it. Connecting people up by delivering them post is not just a boring gameplay premise it’s a very simplistic narrative premise.
Frequently in the game you’re told that someone won’t easily join the UCA (United Cities of America) but all that means is that you might have to deliver them two packages instead of one. Everyone you meet acts in a very robotic and unnatural way and almost all of them are dull and unmemorable – except for the non-hologram people back at base.
Obviously, working with people and trying to make friends instead of enemies is a good and positive message but it’s a very simplistic one, that does not require a purposefully dull 45-hour video game about delivering parcels. There’s no effective subtext to Death Stranding and the point is best made by the online cooperation with other players, to the point where you don’t really need all the long-winded storytelling anyway.
Worst of all is the almost two hours straight of cut scenes at the end of game, which give up on the main themes in favour of spelling out the silly plot in excruciating detail. Going over the same plots again and again and repeating scenes you’ve already seen is like being hitting over the head with a hammer.
Kojima’s primary strengths are in mixing cut scenes and gameplay, something he doesn’t do nearly as much as he should and still hasn’t been surpassed since the end of Metal Gear Solid 3. His other skills include convincing execs to give him lots of money and relatively famous actors to appear in his games. His weaknesses are that he hasn’t an ounce of subtlety or restraint in his body and he is terrible at writing dialogue.
He also seems to be bad at taking criticism or advice, and you can’t help but think a lot of his work would be a lot better if he had a producer-like figure who wasn’t afraid to tell him ‘no’. Death Stranding would’ve been a lot better as a result and while it’s still fascinatingly unique it’s not something I would recommend to anyone without a dozen caveats.
Hideo Kojima is not a genius or anything close to that. He has a lot of talent, but it’s rarely used to its full effect and the more he listens to people telling him how great he is the worse he seems to get. I’ll still be interested in anything he does but I’ll always assume it’s going to be a deeply flawed experience, which Death Stranding certainly was.
By reader Wendel
The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.
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