By EVAN MILLAR
When Japanese auteur Hideo Kojima revealed back in 2014 that he and horror stalwart Guillermo del Toro would be collaborating on the next SILENT HILL title, the news turned more than just a few genre fan’s heads. Two of the best creative minds working on reinvigorating one of horror gaming’s classic franchises? Too good to be true!
This announcement coincided with the surprise release of P.T., a “Playable Teaser” that emerged from the fog onto the PlayStation Store as if it were one of the aforementioned town’s disturbing denizens. Tragically, development of SILENT HILLS came to an abrupt end after the falling out between Kojima and longtime publisher Konami following METAL GEAR SOLID’s release, and the collective hopes and dreams of spooky gamers around the world died a slow, painful death.
We don’t know much about just how much work had been completed on SILENT HILLS, though we do know that THE WALKING DEAD favourite Norman Reedus was said to have been the game’s protagonist. All went quiet on the Kojima front until E3 2016, when Sony announced they were partnering with Kojima Productions to release DEATH STRANDING, a new independent property starring (surprise) Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Lindsay Wagner and… Guillermo del Toro?
Apart from being evocative as all hell, the first footage of DEATH STRANDING created more questions than it likely ever had the intention of answering. Naked Reedus. Floating, semi-visible demons with hands for feet. Reincarnation via a newborn baby. Truly, this was quintessential Kojima weirdness on a scale the world had yet to see – but would it be any good? Well, fear not, as DEATH STRANDING is an unhinged and unconventional horror game that’s truly one of a kind.
On the surface, DEATH STRANDING is an incredibly on-the-nose story about delivering packages and reconnecting a post-apocalyptic United States. Following a calamitous event known as the “Death Stranding,” players assume the role of protagonist Sam Porter Bridges, a porter who traverses the picturesque yet hostile wilderness of America carrying life-saving supplies on his back (rather comedically) and distributing them to any and all surviving outposts scattered across the country.
Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, there’s also “Beached Things” (BTs) roaming about just to make Sam’s task difficult. As the game’s main enemies, BTs can take on a variety of forms, though the majority are barely visible humanoid entities that hover in areas with heavy “Timefall.” Literal rain that accelerates the passing of time, Timefall is yet another roadblock for Sam as he works to deliver constantly deteriorating sensitive cargo. Naturally, these BTs can only be seen when Sam is equipped with his Bridge Baby (BB), a mysterious fetus encased in glass and connected to his suit by a synthetic umbilical cord.
The mere presence of BTs causes BB to quickly become distressed, meaning that apart from avoiding invisible death and maintaining his balance to avoid losing packages, players will often have to stop and gently cradle the BB at exactly the most inopportune time. It’s a brilliant gameplay mechanic that consistently keeps the tension high, and paired with Timefall, things can go south on even the most mundane delivery run.
DEATH STRANDING’s overall plot and execution is exactly what it needs to be, though sadly never much more. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with any one aspect of the game’s story, but it’s in the finer details where the game separates itself from the majority of its AAA, big budget brethren. Motion capture and voice work are fantastic across the board, and several surprise cameos (such as Japanese horror manga legend Junji Ito) are sure to delight players as they make their way through the nearly 40-hour playtime. Having Guillermo del Toro as your personal in-game tech guru is pretty neat, too.
Kojima himself has referred to the game as a new genre of sorts by calling it a “strand game,” and while it’s safe to say this isn’t purely the case, it’s a statement that does have a bit of validity. Every action other players take on their individual playthroughs has an effect on your game as well, but not in ways you may think. Any work projects completed will also appear in your version of this post-apocalyptic United States, making things easier for you in the long run. Think of it sort of like the online features of DARK SOULS, just if players were able to actually leave items behind for others that were of any use.
Though originally a PS4-exclusive, the newly released Steam version of the game boasts increased graphical fidelity, a few HALF-LIFE cosmetic items, and ultra-wide display options for players with monitors that support them. You’ll still be able to use these settings regardless, however, as long as you’re cool with black bars being displayed similar to THE EVIL WITHIN’s cinematic stylings.
It may not be SILENT HILLS, but in many ways, we’ve gotten the best of both worlds now that DEATH STRANDING is finally in our hands. By salvaging some of the creative effort that was imbued into that failed project and repurposing it into something even wilder, Kojima continues to demonstrate that he’s a rising voice to be reckoned with in horror gaming. Buckle up, because I get the feeling that he’s just getting started.