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Fans are still a week away from getting to play it for themselves, but the reviews are finally streaming in for Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding, by far one of the most buzzed-about games to grace this current console generation.
From what critics are saying, Kojima appears to have lost none of his trademark weirdness and gift for movie-style melodrama as he escorts Norman Reedus, Guillermo del Toro, Mads Mikkelsen, Léa Seydoux, and more of his real-life celebrity pals on an epic sci-fi journey across a dystopian American landscape. Reedus is the star of the show as protagonist Sam Porter Bridges, but Mikkelsen, Lindsay Wagner, and del Toro (who lends his appearance but is voiced by actor Jesse Corti) also are getting tons of love for giving life to interesting characters who know how to chew the post-apocalyptic scenery.
While lots of reviewers say they still don’t know what to make of Death Stranding even after they’ve played through it, the consensus seems to be that Kojima and friends have definitely broken new ground — especially when it comes to challenging players’ long-held assumptions about what kind of experience a video game can be. Without spoiling anything too much, it’s safe to say that you’ll be spending tons of alone time with Reedus’ character as he walks across beautifully broken vistas, sneaks past half-living supernatural tar-monsters, and dodges a hellishly brutal sci-fi version of acid rain.
Reviewers mostly loved the game’s solitude and slow-boil, patient story, but some say those very features also make Death Stranding feel more like an interactive movie than a conventional, attention-span-gratifying video game. Just as he did with Metal Gear, Kojima has loaded Death Stranding with hours and hours of cutscenes (seriously, there’s probably enough cinematic footage in Metal Gear Solid IV to break out into a Netflix series) — so your mileage may vary, depending on how much storytelling you like with your running and gunning.
From mainstream outlets like TIME and NPR to gaming pros like IGN and Polygon, here’s a sampling of what the critics are saying:
"Death Stranding is epic, weird, and not like anything I’ve ever played before. The story is a core draw here — Bridges’ journey across America posits big questions about technology’s role in American life, about the isolation created by the internet, and our culture’s dysfunctional relationship with death. It doesn’t always answer those questions, and sometimes it answers them poorly. But there’s no other big-budget video game on the market today doing anything as innovative or as strange as Death Stranding." — Matthew Gault, TIME
"Make no mistake: This is thoroughly a Hideo Kojima game. Though made by many individuals, it bears the unmistakable marks of its supreme creator. In fact, it is maybe the most Hideo Kojima of all Hideo Kojima games ... The reality is that Death Stranding is neither a masterpiece nor a failure. It's a fairly average but ambitious experience, elevated by the enthusiasm and eccentricity of its creator. As frustrating a creative work as it often is, there's no doubting that it's an earnest one." — Vincent Acovino, NPR
"In Death Stranding, Kojima has delivered a game that digs into conversations and topics around environmentalism, war, politics, the rifts we see in society and culture and notions of American exceptionalism. I came away from the game exhilarated, confused and wanting to find others who have played it not only to put together the missing pieces but to commiserate about the experience. In a clever meta twist, Kojima has created a game that begs for a larger discourse, a connection for all those who have played it to share." — Kahlief Adams, The Hollywood Reporter
"To fully embrace Death Stranding, you have to let go of that desire to know everything. Much like watching Lost or playing pretty much any JRPG, the overall narrative is just a means to an end. It’s a setup for creating dramatic, emotional moments. It’s not always easy to get to those moments, and you’ll have to suspend your disbelief quite often to fully enjoy them, but for a certain kind of player, that long, exhausting journey will be worth the effort." — Andrew Webster, The Verge
"Hideo Kojima promised the world that he'd be delivering a new genre, and his friends and those who had tried the game in its infancy dared to dream that Death Stranding could be revolutionary. It's not the best game ever made, but it's one of the best experiences in modern gaming. Death Stranding delivered on its impossible promise in a breathtaking way, and it's a must-play for everyone who has ever held a game controller and wondered about what comes next." — Cody Gravelle, Screen Rant
"There is a fascinating, fleshed-out world of supernatural science fiction to enjoy across its sprawling and spectacular map, so it’s a real shame that it’s all been saddled on a gameplay backbone that struggles to adequately support its weight over the full course of the journey. It’s fitting that Kojima Productions’ latest is so preoccupied with social media inspired praise, because in some ways I did ‘Like’ Death Stranding. I just didn’t ever love it." — Tristan Ogilvie, IGN
"Death Stranding feels like two games in one, designed for seemingly opposite audiences. One is a wholly unique open-world adventure with asynchronous cooperative multiplayer that allows me to feel like I’m part of a community, building a world from scratch. And the other is a long, confusing, deeply strange movie ... it’s impossible to separate the good from the bad. It’s all in the same box." — Russ Frushtick, Polyogon
"Death Stranding is a long and grueling game, but that grind and sweat is fundamentally important to its identity. After the initial plot is set up, the next 40 to 50 hours are devoted to quiet hikes and desperate forays with only a few plot punctuations. In Death Stranding, labor is key, and offering any convenience to the player outside of a few weapons and gadgets would rub against the game’s themes. If players are meant to value connections, they need to be alone for hours." — Heather Alexandra, Kotaku
"It’s a game that isn’t afraid to be unconventional at times and mundane at others, and which benefits from a willingness to be both. Death Stranding makes me glad that Hideo Kojima makes video games—because our hobby would be boring as hell without him ... In the end, Death Stranding’s biggest mystery isn’t any of the elements we’ve had teased in three-plus years of trailers—it’s what people are going to think of it. Even from a man known for making love-them-or-hate-them projects, this may end up being one of the most divisive games ever created. For me, it was an experience that I can truly say was unlike any other I remember." — Mollie L. Patterson, Electronic Gaming Monthly
"At its heart, I guess you could say Death Stranding is a post-apocalyptic survival game; one where the dead have flooded in from the afterlife, and Amazon delivery people have become feral rogues. But mostly it's about delivering packages. Lots and lots of packages. It might be Kojima's boldest and most interesting game to date. It may also be his most tedious." — Kat Bailey, US Gamer
"Death Stranding is a hard game to absorb. There are many intertwining threads to its plot, and silly names, corny moments, and heavy exposition belie an otherwise very simple message ... It's positive without ignoring pain; in fact, it argues in both its story and its gameplay that adversity itself is what makes things worth doing and life worth living. It's a game that requires patience, compassion, and love, and it's also one we really need right now." — Kallie Plagge, Gamespot
Overall, the early reactions are definitely tilting toward the positive side. As of publication time, Death Stranding was sitting at an enviable 84 percent favorable rating over at Metacritic, and even with a week to go before it’s actually available, the game’s social buzz is through the roof (hey, even The Onion can’t resist getting in on the hype).
After years of trailers, questions, and hand-wringing, we’re only days away from finally seeing what all the post-apocalyptic fuss is about. Death Stranding arrives for PlayStation 4 on Nov. 8.