What is Death Stranding?

Hideo Kojima is mad. It’s not an insult, in fact it’s one of the things I admire about him. His mind can come up with some of the most complicated and unusual worlds ever seen. He created the Metal Gear franchise and somehow made it make sense when everything in it suggests its rubbish. His new studio is about to release Death Stranding, and I have been looking forward to the game since the very first strange trailer a couple of years ago. 

Last Friday, the review embargo passed, and people started to talk about it. I was intrigued and I wanted to know exactly what I would be getting myself into this coming weekend when it hits the shelves. In Death Stranding, you are essentially a delivery man walking around a desolate world, and the world is populated by various obstacles, be that a valley, a river or a base of people who want to hurt you. Oh, and by weird ink monsters that you need to use your connection to your BB to fight somehow. BB stands for Bridge Baby, and that’s why you have a new-born floating in orange jelly strapped to your characters chest the entire time. Because Kojima.

That is essentially the core game play. Walking around, admiring scenery and then figuring out how to get across it to your destination. You’re supposed to be trying to reconnect one side of America to the other, because somethings happened (the death stranding) that has caused it to be disconnected and just generally not a great place. The graphics look great, and the character models look stunning with performances that are reported as being excellent by all reviews I have seen.

The cast is incredible, and if they are all as committed to this and deliver, it will be a great story to see unfold. However, I have a huge issue with my potential play through of this game, it sounds so incredibly boring. The main mechanics of the game revolve around you walking and balancing the cargo you are couriering along to someone else. It sounds like you’re literally walking between cut scenes, to then be given something to take to someone else. It’s an odd game play cycle, but perhaps the multiplayer elements make it more interesting?

Well that’s another worry for me. If the idea is for me to build structures and find ways around to get me from point A to point B and so on, then the multiplayer seems like it might end up eliminating much of the interesting parts of that. The MP in Death Stranding is odd in that you don’t see other players, but you can find the structures they have placed. People can leave signs for other players with instructions, and even leave useful structures to get around issues.

Initially that sounds good, and I understand what the developers are aiming for, creating a game that encourages you to help others is a noble idea. My concern is that due to the success of the game, it will become a game that is full of other people’s structures, making the game a cakewalk and therefore your path will just be strolling between cut scenes as I mentioned, with no player agency or anything pushing your plot forward.

The game pushes you to have to return to a base and have a shower every few hours, or days in game, because you are a messy boy. You also need to sleep and recover and be ready for the next day when you will select what equipment you need and go out again for another walk to another destination. This level of detail is dangerously close to a game I really appreciated but was bored to sleep of after a few hours, Red Dead Redemption 2.

RDR2 was stunning, a technical marvel and a great story in an incredibly well realised world. The problem I had with it, was the gameplay was slow, unsatisfying and at times boring. It took forever to get anywhere in RDR2, and Death Stranding is a game entirely based on it taking a while to get places. This is a game about the journey, which I normally enjoy, see Borderlands 3, a game where the story is meh, but the journey is fantastic, because the game play is exciting and engaging.

What all this has pushed me towards is that right now, having not played myself, I am really wondering whether Death Stranding is going to be a game I can bring myself to play through. It takes between 35 and 45 hours to complete the story if you mainline the game, and that’s a big commitment to a game when I am yet to be intrigued by any game play I have seen. Right now, Death Stranding is close to becoming a game I watch a super edit of the acted scenes and enjoy the story that way, because I don’t really want to spend my weekend walking around with a screaming baby.

Yep the baby screams if its unhappy. You must cradle your controller and rock it to calm the fucker down. I really hope this game shocks me and I love it. Kojima is a genius, anyone who can create Metal Gear has to be, but I am not sure I can stick with him for this one.

‘Til Tomorrow.

ChAzJS

 

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Metal Gear Solid: Nostalgia

I recently downloaded the Metal Gear Solid 2 & 3 collection that has been added to the Xbox Game Pass. My love of these two games stems back over a decade to me being 12 or 13, playing these games religiously and determined to beat them. Picking them up again all these years later I expected to be thrown out by the graphics and controls, but I knew the story would get me back. 

The controls did completely throw me. They’re so unique to MGS to me that having not played anything like it for years they don’t feel natural at all. Shooting is done with a face button, not the trigger or bumper buttons like everyone has grown accustomed to. The movement is bizarre, you can run, or you can crawl. There is no crouched movement in either game. You can crouch, but it’s only a static pose. It’s bizarre.

After some teething problems, I was back into the stealth mechanics. What I didn’t remember was being so bad at any kind of fight. There is a real sense of fear here about being caught that just doesn’t exist in the latest game. Metal Gear Solid 5 allowed you to play stealthy, but also gave you the weapons, and more importantly the controls, to take on an army. There is no such capability here. You have a couple of seconds between being spotted and the guards calling in reinforcements. Once that happens, you’re toast unless you get a little bit lucky and can bottleneck the enemies.

Once I got used to the controls, I sped through the “Tanker” mission on MGS2 and then enjoyed the 25-minute-long cut scene between that and the next time I had control of the game. Sometimes I wonder if Hideo Kojima just wanted to make a high budget TV show but couldn’t get funding so turned the huge sprawling story into a game series. There is so much lore and story in this world it rivals any franchise in complexity. It doesn’t always make sense, but there is a core story that is equal parts genius and crazy.

Getting onto the Big Shell and taking over as Draco Malfoy’s hot cousin Raiden, I started to really get that nostalgic hit. The colours and the environment of the Big Shell are burned into my brain from the countless hours I spent trying to figure out where to go. This is a game from a time when googling something was slightly more complicated than pulling out your phone. In fact, I don’t think I even had a mobile capable of that at 12. Polyphonic ring tones were the big thing.

It’s a badge of honour that I completed these two games in my early teens with no help from a guide or a website. It was all me, and that is something I don’t know if I will ever do again. Nowadays if I get lost in a game, I can find out exactly where I need to go within seconds. I remember spending what 2-3 hours was probably trying to find a way to navigate around the map. It probably wasn’t that hard, but it took me time. I learnt the ins and outs of every strut, every bridge, every section had its own secrets and I stumbled around and learnt them all. By the time I got to the later parts of the game I could do anything with Raiden. The thought of going up against any of the boss fights now terrifies me.

To shoot you must hold X, Press RB to manually aim and then let go of X to let the bullet fly. I used to do this with deadly accuracy in seconds. Now I press x, I hold RB and instantly I am panicking aiming around like a madman and almost certainly losing track of where I am aiming. I am sure if I continue playing, I will get back to where I was, but I am not sure I have the patience in the modern gaming world.

My point here, as much as I ever really have a point, is that I don’t know if we will ever experience this type of purely Stealth based game again. The controls feel like they’re intentionally restrictive when it comes to combat, to force you down a path to play a certain way. That kind of thing feels alien in today’s world of player choice and agency.

I am normally all for games giving you choice. Letting you play “Your way” is a pretty standard thing for the big games now, even games like Uncharted and God of War give you the options to be stealthy or to use difference combat styles. Spiderman lets you be stealthy or just dive into a fight. Even Call of Duty and other first-person shooters now encourage you to find your own load out and make it work for you. Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 have no such options. You’re going to be stealthy or you’re going to be dying a lot.

I wonder what this would look like if it was made today. A game completely dedicated to stealth, and where the combat is so difficult that you actually care about avoiding it aside from horror games. I am sure there is a blind spot and there are games where this happens, for instance Horizon Zero Dawn gave me a sense of fear when sneaking past the larger enemies. Once I was confident though I was running up to their face and slapping down every creature I found.

Will I play through all the two games? Certainly not.

Am I glad I spent the time indulging in the nostalgia of them anyway? Definitely.

ChAzJS

 

This Week In Gaming – 01.06.19

Finally This Week in Gaming is back and its new day (Saturday rather than Friday) means I can get ALL of the week’s news to you without missing Friday’s stories. This week was a packed one for three huge games, Activision shooter Call of Duty, Crystal Dynamic’s Avengers game and Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding in more detail than ever before. All the information on those three and the usual waffle below.

What I’ve been playing

I spent most of the past month not really playing any games. The lack of new releases that interest around this time of year left me with nothing driving me to any game, and I ended up playing a bit of Football Manager and the odd game of Apex. That was until me and a few friends decided to dive back into Ghost Recon Wildlands.

Ghost Recon was in the news a few weeks back for the next instalment that was announced for later this year, and that sparked me back into thinking about the countless hours I have spent in the Wildlands world, systematically clearing bases, or at least attempting to before someone drops the ball and we have to fight through it the hard way.

It’s far from a perfect game, but the gameplay is fun with friends, its challenging, and it’s filled a hole in the calendar. With nothing major on the horizon for me I am growing increasingly tempted to dive into the Witcher or God Of War again, with the former never really grabbing me and the latter an absolute masterpiece. Either that or I will just be on football manager screaming at my laptop as my youth team striker misses a chance to put Arsenal top of the league.

Call of Duty comes back to today

Rumours started early in the week that the next instalment in the massively popular Call of Duty franchise was going to be titled “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare”. Not to be confused with “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” which is the game we got way back in November 2007. That right, 2007. It has really been that long since that game. To be honest, the name of the game doesn’t really matter, its Call of Duty. It will sell well, but this year the developers have decided to react to the slowly declining sales figures by rebooting the most popular sub-franchise in the CoD stable.

The trailer is intriguing, and seems to show series favourite Captain Price being all Captain Pricey, which I am very happy to see. The trailer did get me interested, and then on Thursday the embargo lifted for E3’s Judges Week, and Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller went through what was shown to the press at the pre-E3 Showcase event. Go and watch the video on YouTube for the full details, but he does go into some spoilers for what was shown that I will leave out here. Greg talked about a change of approach when it comes to the campaign, that right we are getting a full campaign, and he spoke about scenes that sounds like they will be up there with the “No Russian” level from back in the day.

In fact, this new direction is incredibly exciting and it sounds like the touch of some of the Ex-Naughty Dog developers that are working on the game is bearing some tasty looking fruit. The old Call of Duty campaigns were excellent, but over time became a mess and the consistent story told over the first few games eventually meandered into a bland mess.

All of this single player goodness is wonderful, but perhaps the most shocking news is that the game will have no season pass. The developers will be dropping updates for the game for free, with new maps and other gameplay items being added throughout the games life cycle. In an industry that has historically ignored its fans; the recent trend of listening to what people want is really refreshing, led by Epic games and Fortnite. The game releases October 25th, and for the first time in a long time, I am really excited for the next Call of Duty.

Death Stranding: Kojima Unleashed

Hideo Kojima created my favourite gaming franchise. Metal Gear Solid is an unbelievable, crazy, frankly ridiculous world and the stories are almost impossible to comprehend without hours of googling and reading Wikipedia stories. But I have done the hard time, and to me it was an incredible journey that got cut frustratingly short. The Konami/Kojima split was nasty, but Konami’s loss has been Sony’s gain.

They took the madman and let him out of his straight jacket. Death Stranding looks, from the nearly 9 minute long release date trailer, like something only Hideo Kojima could possibly come up with. There are babies in Jars, ghostly apparitions, walking, Ladders that can extend themselves in seconds, more walking, a cool looking bike, and a cast of famous faces that could combine to make one incredible Hollywood blockbuster film. Mads Mikkelsen Norman Reedus and Guillermo Del Toro are the most recognisable faces, and those of you who are big industry fans will know Troy Baker, the man behind a thousand of your favourite video game characters.

I couldn’t begin to tell you what the game is about, or what the gameplay is going to feel like, but I know for sure I am 100% sold on this. I will buy it day one, and let the insane journey commence. It’s with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to Metal Gear Solid, but this new, intriguing world that Kojima has shown us looks like it could be something really incredible. Or it could be a jumbled mess, who knows! It releases on November 8th a lot sooner than I expected.

The Avengers 

There have been rumours about the mysterious “Avengers project” that Square Enix have been working away on for a while now. Well developer Crystal Dynamics (who made the recent Tomb Raider games) have unveiled the official title and a few details about the gameplay have been leaked. The title, rather predictably, is Marvel’s Avengers.

There is no confirmation on gameplay yet, but the leaks suggest a game that is an action adventure game where you can choose an avenger and use them throughout the game and possibly improve their skills. I have seen it described as “Tomb Raider meets Destiny” and that is a really intriguing thought.

I have no idea what to expect really, but a Destiny style live service game where you play as your favourite Avengers is an incredible idea. If they package that in with a kick ass story we could be onto something special. My worry is that due to the wide range of abilities between the Avengers characters, none of them will feel quite as good as they should. Spiderman felt perfect in Marvels Spiderman last year because they spent so much time getting him right, has that same attention to detail and feel gone into every one of the Avengers characters? Will Thor’s hammer feel as good as Kratos’ Axe? Will Iron Man’s suit feel as mobile as Anthem’s Javelins? Will Hawkeye’s Bow be as fun as Aloy’s from Horizon? The truth is nobody will be playing as Hawkeye so that last one doesn’t matter. But the rest does, and if they don’t get it all right it will struggle to maintain a player base for very long at all.

More will be revealed about all 3 of these games at the upcoming E3 show starting 10th June, all the news and my reaction to it will be posted on here over that week, so keep your eyes peeled!

Until next time, thanks for reading.

Chaz