Games: Hideo Kojima's $100m sci-fi epic Death Stranding a 'wildly ambitious fetch quest'
Death Stranding (PS4)
BEING a bona fide videogame legend didn't prevent customs from nabbing Hideo Kojima when attempting to enter the US to promote his latest with what looked like a baby in a jar. But, if Kojima's defence was explaining the plot of his latest futuristic folly, he'd still be there.
On parting ways with long-time partner Konami in 2015, the Metal Gear Solid auteur was quickly snapped up by Sony. But does he deliver the goods with his goods-delivering epic?
Death Stranding is no committee-designed game, the kind of singular vision only an unfettered madman with a runaway budget could deliver. It's also a hot mess.
Death Stranding's cast includes a 'super-group' of off-kilter legends; Mads Mikkelson, rotund fantasy peddler Guillermo Del Toro and Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn. And the game itself lies somewhere between Winding Refn's style-over-substance and Guillermo's eye-popping sci-fi schlock.
When it takes all of Death Stranding's 50 odd hours to wade through its post-apocalyptic plot, I'll have to cram this nutshell. Needless to say, Sam is on a quest to rescue his sister (septuagenarian Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner) by working for Bridges, a Federal corporation run by the masked Die-Hardman.
He's visited by an otherworldly woman called Fragile and haunted by visions of Mads Mikkelsen, who seems connected to his BB. His BB? That'd be the 'foetus in a bottle' Sam lugs around with him, helping him sense BTs – apparitions that stalk the world.
This is only scratching the surface of an incomprehensible gobbledigeek sci-fi narrative starring Norman Reedus off of The Walking Dead. And he does his fair share of walking in this: when the exposition is interrupted (not often enough) by actual gameplay, you're essentially a post-apocalyptic postman, balancing Sam's cargo as you dander through rocky fields.
Yes, Kojima has built a $100 million game around A to B fetch quests. Above all, this is a mood piece and the highlight is the wonderfully creepy BT encounters, where Sam tries to evade the Dementor-esque (thanks, Guillermo) spirits while holding his breath.
You'll also carry around that baby, who alerts Sam to the presence of inter-dimensional entities and, when knocked around, starts to bawl, requiring soothing by gently rocking your controller.
Yes, it's mad as a bag of cats. Unfortunately, it's also rather dull and, as a futuristic Royal Mail simulator, the one thing it can't deliver is excitement, as you retread the same route over and over.
And, by overstaying its welcome by around 20 hours, only those with truly heroic patience will see the credits roll. The rest of us will mark this one as "return to sender".
Yet for all its failings, gaming is better off for Death Stranding existing. A breath of fresh air in a risk-averse industry, it's bloated and ludicrous, but wildly ambitious and technically accomplished. It's Kojima's White Album – overlong, self-important, and not for everyone. Hell, it's not for most. Depending on how much stroking your chin can take, it's either brilliant or awful.
Even if you feel Kojima has outsmarted himself, you can't help but surrender to the sheer majesty of it all.