Still thinking about Death Stranding and why in the end it really failed for me. I think the sense that the interactivity was completely divorced from the narrative is one of the major elements. A lot of games I really like tell a good story with an involved narrative and a decent number of cutscenes, but they also manage to allow for interaction both during the cutscenes and to shape, in at least some ways, the course of the narrative &em; which really is what a game is all about, at least those that have stories. For instance The Witcher games, the third one in particular, have a really involved story with backstory and tons of characters and all kinds of things going on, but by giving you dialogue choices and action choices at different moments it lets you shape the narrative and also makes it feel like you're interacting and playing in the non-action parts, rather than just watching. Particularly in the beginning and the very long end of Death Stranding, I only felt like I was watching and that any interaction I had felt like a token bit of controller use that had no stakes and was completely pointless: things like walking on an endless beach while credits roll or controlling a character to run from one place to another that you have already visited that had no real obstacles of any kind just to play out another cutscene. And as a whole it was not helped by the narrative being kind of silly and obscure and frequently logically incoherent. So much of the narrative interacting with the gameplay felt arbitrary and design to limit what happens in a very structured manner (you have to walk, despite walking right past some vehicles, because the game wants you to do that before giving you access to vehicles). Also, throughout the game there was no sense of customizing the player character you had even at the barest of levels. Your average adventure game will at least give you something like choosing skills or being able to solve problems in different ways. I never felt like I had too many choices about problem solving in this game other than which direction I took and whether I walked or drove a vehicle or something like that. And that will be the last I talk of that game, I think.
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Just, I think, finished Death Stranding. I say, I think, because it is now the second time the credits have rolled, and if showing the credits twice during the game is super weird and annoying, showing them three times seems unbelievable. This game is... a big mess. It's like a game about walking and being a post-apocalyptic postal service mixed with a small amount of fighting game, mixed with a weird (and very bad) motion captured sci-fi movie. I read that Kojima, the director, wants to move into movies and this feels like his really awful attempt to mix what he has become famous for (games) with something he wants to do that he is clearly ill-suited for, making a mix that is... frustrating and annoying, and sometimes fun in between. After the crazy beginning I already mentioned, the ending is endless. There is like an hour or more of "game" that is tons of endless cut scenes with characters talking about stuff that had no real bearing on the actual play of the game, intercut with token elements where you can sort of do stuff with your control. But those parts are all severely limited and, in context, completely pointless, because there is still only one result. In fact, in all of this game there seemed no point where the narrative would actually be different.
This article from IGN does a pretty good job summing up some of the good and bad of the game. I find myself agreeing with a lot of it.
By the end (the endless end), I was just skipping through the cut scenes because they were so slow and it had become obvious they weren't going to really serve any purpose other than letting this narrative about a bunch of NPCs play out. Even from a narrative logic standpoint (as opposed to just a gaming one) much of it made no sense. Not just world building that was never explained, but even the main conflict seems like it could have happened without any of the intervening elements. One of the enemies was built up as this bad boss guy and was in some scenes given inexplicable and seemingly boundless powers and then in the end he wasn't even the end. You defeat him and then there's still endless more, and the story never gets around to explaining why that guy was of any important or served any purpose at all.
By the end it was more like watching a car crash than playing a game. I just got curious to see where it was all going to go even though I stopped caring about any of it. And... of boy, post second rolling of the credits there are... more cut scenes! Oh more credits... And a summary and oh my, it says I spent 34 hours on this game. That seems unbelievable. I wonder how many of those were spent in cut scenes.
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Death Stranding continues to be both interesting and frustrating. If I weren't playing on easy I would have given up by now. I eventually figured out how to skip some of the little cut scenes, but it takes no less than three button presses to do it, and some of the ones you see regularly (like when going into your "private room" so you can heal, repair vehicles, and restock supplies) has no less than 6 different scenes you have to skip. It's absurd.
The way the game uses actors (some famous enough that I recognize them), is pretty interesting, in that it seems like something we'll be seeing more of. It does make the game a little more movie-like, and that is partly the frustration of the game. There is a story being told through a lot of cut scenes and monologues (the primary character, who you play, hardly talks at all), and the game part of it is mostly travelling from one place to another, dealing with various obstacles: difficult landscapes, bandits, encumbrance issues, time limits, and the creepy death monsters that are mostly invisible until they are right on top of you. The things you do in the game, as far as I can tell, have no bearing at all on the story.
With the game mostly about travelling and, in general, avoiding conflicts with the bandits or the monsters, it is extra weird that there have been two times where it drops you into this other world and suddenly you're playing a combat simulation fighting dead soldiers. It was a jarring change and one that the rest of the game really doesn't prepare you for. Even when you can't avoid fighting the bandits you have to fight them non-lethally (only explained quite a ways into the game) in case the bodies are left lying around and somehow... cause some kind of catastrophic event related to the death monsters and other worlds.
The mythology of the game is interesting, and very focused on death, but also rather underexplained (not sure if that will change as I get to the end). All the main characters have some kind of differing relationship to death: one character is some kind of artificial Frankenstein's monster and thus was never born, one character is constantly dying and coming back to life, the main character can't really die (he goes into this weird watery place and then comes back to life), one character doesn't really die but merges into her twin. It's all pretty crazy, and they all have names like "Dead man" and "Heart man" and "Mama".
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Death Stranding continues to be a kind of weird, absurd, at times frustrating, at times creepy game. It's flaws do not, as yet, outweight my interest in playing and seeing where it goes, but there are times I am really annoyed by very minor concessions that could have been made to the player. For instance, the proponderance of tiny repetitive cut scenes that cannot be skipped though. Too many games have such things, where you perform some action and then have to watch as the character does something. This happens again and again in the game, with the same scenes, and it becomes increasingly frustrating to not be able to just hit a button to skip past.
The game continues to be, basically, a game about a post-apocalyptic postal worker, which is a pretty funny idea for a game. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The mechanics of carrying stuff seems to be a commentary on other games where your character carries a seemingly endless amount of stuff without appearing any different or suffering any penalties. In this games, encumbrance is the primary rule, moreso than almost anything else. When you carry something you see it on your character, and since the game is about carrying stuff, you often have all kinds of stuff strapped to your body or precariously piled up on your backpack, swaying from side to side if you don't walk carefully, tumbling off you if you take a fall or get hit by one of the bandits who try to steal your deliveries. Resource management is important, though, since I am playing on easy (though not the very easy, this game kindly does have a lot of difficulty levels), it's not been overwhelming me. This is mitigated a lot by the really interesting use of online play. You don't explicitly play with or see other people, but you can interact with the structures they create and the things they leave behind. It is an unusually cooperative form of online play for a video game, in a medium where competition is more often the case (or small scale cooperation in competition with others). My character can improve a road, and then another character can improve the next section and we all get to use both parts. I can contribute to upgrading a power station someone else built. This nicely mirrors a main/rule of the game, where your goal is connecting various disparate bases and people together via a "chiral" network (one of the many world specific things in this game that only sort of make sense). So as you connect the entities in the game, the area covered by that entity then starts to include the cooperation of other players. You get an actual connection to other people via the in story connection. It's pretty effective. I'm actually curious how that all works on the back end. Am I always seeing the content from a specific group of people? Are all players somehow group together in some way? I recall, now that I think about it, that very early on the game asked for my birthday and then made some comment about zodiac signs. I wonder if that is how they batched people together.
Some of the weird/creepy aspects of the game are also really effective. There are mostly invisible human shaped creatures that seem to be from the world of the dead... or something, that appear in places when it rains. You have a scanner that detects them via direction and proximity. So at times you'll be moving along and you'll hit rain and then suddenly your scanner goes off and you have to start creeping around, trying to ascertain where the monsters are and not have them appear and grab you. A pool of black sludge appears with sludgy torsos rising up and trying to drag you down, and it is really effective as something you want to avoid. I'm assuming at some point there will be some basic explanation for what it all is.
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Death Stranding after more play is still mostly cut scenes and narrative that makes little sense. Your character is... walking across a post-apocalyptic US in order to connect a bunch of bases and cities via some kind of advanced networking technology. But it's not even slightly explained why he is walking rather than driving the all terrain vehicles you see parked at the base he starts from. Nor why he's just one guy doing this mission by himself. The character himself is also sooooo clichéd, all reluctant and "leave me alone" and "I don't care about your plan," but then of course he goes along with the plan anyway because... he has some kind of dream.
The whole game is in need of serious editing. One wonders if Kojima, with his own studio, just doesn't let people edit his ideas, or if the people who work for him are incapable of editing him for some reason. Just the screens that show up when you complete a delivery (the protagonist is a porter) are filled with all kinds of text and numbers and charts and calculations and... I have no clue what any of it means, why I care, nor what effect any of it has on actual game play. You seem to be earning "likes" (like in a social network) as experience, but no apparent leveling has revealed itself.
The scale of the game is also super weird. It shows me this map of the US, and in one section about 5 minutes of actual movement in the landscape seemed to be a trip from Washington, DC to Ohio. And that's a human walking. Distance seems completely shrunk down. It's like they wanted to convey scale and distance through the slow process of walking, but then undermine that by exaggerating on the larger scale map how far you went.
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Started playing Death Stranding the new Hideo Kojima game. It's got so many cut scenes that, so far it's more like an interactive digital movie than a game, and not a very good movie at that. It's a lot of too on-the-nose events and shots. And the explanations of what is going on verge from the excessively narrated obvious stuff to the completely incomprehensible. Of course the protagonist is the reluctant hero. It also appears to be all about "rebuilding America" which is super odd considering it's a Japanese made game. I may regret this purchase.
It started with a cut scene, then one where you pick up some boxes and walk to a cave. Then a long cut scene. Then you walk and pick up more boxes and go to a town. Then a cut scene. Then you're in the back of a truck and the only interaction is looking around. Then a really long cut scene, and another one. Then you walk across a town. Then a really long cut scene. Then you walk carrying a corpse from a town to an incinerator... then another cut scene started and I paused. So far I've spent way more time in this game with the controller sitting on my desk than actually doing any interacting.
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