Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on February 10, 2020
I would like to preface this as being a good, even a great game. Played on PS4 launch console, I have beaten the game and managed to get the platinum trophy. Don't expect DLC, as the game is very finished and polished with a fairly definitive end.
You are Sam (Norman Reedus), a Porter (essentially a UPS delivery person) that delivers various types of cargo to underground cities and shelters following a post-apocalyptic event known as the 'Death Stranding'. The overarching plot is to link these different cities and shelters (Preppers, almost like Doomsday Preppers with their own shelters) to reconnect America, and make it whole again. Sam is disillusioned with the idea of America, another plot that comes to light as the story progresses. In typical Kojima fashion, his story is full of twists, turns, conspiracies, and drama. Gone is the reliance on combat heavy actions from his prior Metal Gear series, in this game, you're actually discouraged from killing other human beings, rarely will you see a civilian outside these shelters, but there are human enemies around the map in certain areas, to include the MULES, which seem to be overly obsessive about claiming cargo for themselves to the point they will attack you to take what you have (they'll leave you alone if you're not carrying cargo), then there are terrorists, essentially the same as MULES, but far more aggressive with much better firepower. They intend to just drop you, and take your stuff in the process, cargo and gear alike. The other threats are the BT (Beached Things), ghosts of the dead that roam specific areas of the maps, If you're careful, these aren't much of a threat, even less so later in the game when you have equipment to clear your paths. You can be attacked, where you will be launched into an impromptu boss battle, where you have to combat an animal equivalent creature from the BT. If you win, you're rewarded with in-game goods, if you lose and the BT manages to eat you during the battle, it will create a map-altering voidout, a large area explosion that creates a crater on your map for a period of time. This is kind of cool. Of course there is a big baddie, a bit on the strange side with his intentions, but he is voiced by the wonderful Troy Baker.
Core gameplay is simple, deliver cargo to other locations within parameters given by the sender (deliver with less than % damage, time limits, fragile cargo, retrieval, amount of cargo, etc.) which will earn you 'Likes', yes, like Facebook 'likes', which increases your trust and connection with these locations, opening up more cargo, more options, more gear, etc. Not all of these are straight forward either, sometimes you have to use your gut, or YouTube. What's really cool is that structures built in other games can potentially appear in yours and vice-versa. So if you built a bridge to get over a stream or river, it could appear in other games as well, and you can earn 'Likes' from other players for helping. You can also remove objects that are invasive in your game, but they're only removed in your specific world. Of course, there are trolls, can't avoid those. They'll place signs that generate 'Likes' automatically in high-traffic areas, which isn't a big deal at all, kind of made me think "Wow, you're sad". It's when they plant vehicles in your way and abandon them, which can be really frustrating at times, but fairly easy to deal with, some signs will be planted with the intention of misleading you, other signs are planted as humor (I got in the habit of putting jump signs at the edge of high cliffs).
The world is huge, open, and vast. Don't let that get to you though, there is a fast travel system in place, and other modes of transport available as you progress. This game seems like nothing more than a walking simulator, but once you start getting into the meat of it, you find yourself invested. The story is pretty engaging, the acting is on point, and you find yourself really invested despite most of it feeling disconnected at times. And yes, I know Kojima took a political jab at this, notably saying this game was a "metaphor for Trump's America", a quote which I groaned at, as when I play games, read a book, or watch movies, I like to get away from reality for a bit. Turns out, you *could* find the link to this quote, but it isn't in your face, and the only place I picked up any was a throw-away line near the end of the game. I do see the disconnection metaphor as more on the nose, referencing how disconnected we really are, despite the fact that we have all this social media "connecting" us, yeah, that was pretty easy to pick up, how we use devices to connect with each other, but can't be bothered to look up and really connect anymore. As done in the past, Kojima allows the player to make up their own mind in the end, so no, I do believe Kojima was hinting at certain things, but it is up to you how you receive the message in the end.
Visually, I was taken aback by the first few visuals I saw, I thought I was watching a FMV and not in game yet. It wasn't until I saw the first shots of characters on screen did I realize I was looking at the Decima Engine (Horizon: Zero Dawn's engine) and this was also gameplay. The way certain things happened in the environment moved naturally, objects had weight, and gravity for the most part, a few things did move oddly every now and then, but if you're immersed in the environment, then you wont notice it so much. The game is pretty, I can only imagine this on a PS4 Pro with HDR and a good TV. The environments are varied, well detailed and engrossing, ranging from grassy, wetland, mountainous, desert, and snowy peaks (including occasional white-out conditions where you cannot see at all). It's a very pretty game overall.
Sound was great, directional noise and sound effects, a soundtrack of different music kicking in at times when there will be a lull, usually when you are on foot with a target quite a ways away. I didn't really notice a lot of usual score type music, but a lot of licensing. The vehicles were fairly quiet, but they're battery powered, anyway. Sam occasionally talks to himself, pressing the touchpad makes Sam call out, and if structures built by other players are close, they will respond to you.
Story is engaging, if you came here expecting a Call of Duty, or a Metal Gear, it will be disappointing for you. It's a good story, with a lot of exposition and cut scenes at the start and end, which is what Kojima is well known for. Good thing is that you can pause them to take a break, or get a snack.
Controls, probably the weakest part of the game. You have to maintain your balance with the shoulder buttons, you can trip on environments, Sam will walk over rocks and other obstacles realistically, all of which are affected by how much weight you're carrying, its a very deep game mechanic that is more fun than frustrating, but it has it's moments. More often than not, controls works great, and is pretty realistic, sides of hills and mountains are a bit nuts, you'll slip a bit, then fall on a fairly stable surface (animation shows you're free falling) then hit in a random spot where you "die" (you can't permanently die in this game), your cargo gets damaged, and you have to get it all back together. The vehicles are great on stable surfaces, its when you're trying to climb or go over rough terrain where the physics get wonky.
There's a lot to go into, I don't regret my purchase, I certainly got my money's worth out of it. But it really depends on the kind of experience you are looking for.