Death Stranding might be the first video game I have ever played, or that’s ever been created, that was intentionally designed to be an unfun slog.

I say that without any hint of playfulness or trickery. The game, a lot of the time, is an unfun grind. And its very clear, at least to me, that this is a tool that was intentionally put into the game to function as a story telling device. I understand that a lot of people do enjoy the gameplay loop Stranding puts in front of them, but I don’t find it very controversial to say that Kojima Productions made this long, depressing, and grueling piece of media the way they did without understanding how drawn out and taxing it was going to be on the average player.

The game begins, develops, and ends with the player going from one location to another over difficult terrain and at a tiresome speed. And what happens in between this gameplay is the reward for the player’s appreciable efforts: an ungodly amount of cutscenes with incredible acting, writing (mostly), and art direction. Honest to god, they could have made this game a six hour movie and it would have functioned almost the exact same, with one huge caveat. It wouldn’t have been as much of a total slog.

And I mean that in the best way I possibly can. Its been a while since I played the game, but I remember distinctly being off-put by the first hour of the game’s desire to show a limited amount of mechanics and fun, only to be enthralled as Troy Baker’s character, Higgs, looked me in the eye in an almost 4th-wall-breaking moment and asked if I wanted it all to be over. To get an endgame. He asks this as though he knows just how bored you are.

It was in that moment that I knew there would be nothing else in the game to make me enjoy my time playing it anymore than there already was, aside from the most experimental form of story telling I had ever seen. And it sufficed. I trudged though the whole thing knowing full well that what I was seeing was exactly what I was going to get. Sort of.

As aforementioned, the biggest reason people play this game throughout its entirety is because of the cutscenes, the character development, the writing, and the artwork held within. You can only receive more of those cutscenes, we’ll call them drugs (because they are that good), if you play through more and more of the game. And by more and more, I mean all 40 hours of it. That’s 37ish hours of dedication and annoyance and sheer boredom for the payoff of 3 (or so) hours of the most enthralling story telling you’ve probably ever seen.

Or, it isn’t. Some people have decidedly marked this game off as a waste of time. A piece of media that tries to be heavy, philosophical, and macabre, and fails miserably. And they aren’t wrong to think that way. Its an opinion that can be easily defended: “This game isn’t fun. Why play a game that isn’t fun? Too much exposition, not enough variation.”

I’ll reiterate that caveat. They aren’t wrong to think that way. But I simply don’t agree with that line of thinking. I think Death Stranding takes an incredible step in a direction for the gaming medium that other studios and creators just don’t have the talent, vision, or patience to undertake. Its a game that believes in itself and its relevant developers, writers, artists, and actors so much that its willing to make the game boring on purpose and tell you, to your face, that you don’t have what it takes to sit through the gameplay it puts in front of you because it knows just how incredible the story is.

Yes, the game lacks variation. Yes, the game has a lot of exposition (and it doesn’t always play to the story’s strengths.) But it also seems to be the case that this is far and away a most intentional design in an effort to make the player feel like what truly matters in this story isn’t the player’s enjoyment of the gameplay itself. It’s the characters surrounding the protagonist, and the relationships they build with him, friendly or otherwise. And they only give you small glimpses of development at a time, and only after a considerable amount of grinding. You can only ever see so much progression at once in Death Stranding. It’s a game that wears this as a badge of honor.

It knows you want to see more and more of it. And it knows a majority of players, whether they’re happy about it or not, are going to stomach delivery after delivery just to get a glimpse of more story development. A hint of expository dialogue, delivered by the incredible Mads Mikkelsen. A piece of emotional acting, performed by Léa Seydoux. Anything and, eventually, everything, at whatever personal cost of time, energy, or sanity it takes on the player. This is the incredible low-point of the game that entirely defines its high points to a degree that no other piece of storytelling in creation’s history can claim to have achieved in quite the same manner.

What a unique and masterful piece of art, I’ll never touch it ever again.


Comment Below