Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima’s long-awaited debut under his new studio, is a large and convoluted game. Most of your time is spent navigating indecipherable terms like “chiral network,” or delivering packages and grappling with goo ghosts. A lot of headspace goes toward balancing your cargo load and building in-game structures like bridges. When you do find downtime, it’s a welcome break — mostly thanks to how interactive and strange these moments can be.
Major hubs in Death Stranding, like cities, include underground private rooms where Sam (Norman Reedus) can relax. Each room includes a spot for his infant companion, BB, to happily hang out in its jar, as well as a combo shower and bathroom for all his toilet needs. On a practical level, these rooms are a place to refresh and recharge things like health or BB’s stress levels. The game makes a point to collect your bodily fluids, from blood to “no. 2” samples for environmentally friendly grenades, and occasionally it’ll force you into a rest to progress a plot point. It’s also full of fourth-wall-breaking moments and jokes that make the experience feel full.
While some are obvious — it’s impossible to miss the AMC ad slapped over the bathroom door for Reedus’ show Ride — others take patience to discover. Reedus will wink or shake his head at the camera often, as if to let you know he’s watching. Try to force too many drinks on him or stare inappropriately, and he might retaliate. The game encourages you to check in on BB by raising your bond little by little, but occasionally a well-meaning tap on his tank will lead to something nightmarish.
As the game progresses, private rooms begin to feel fuller. Action figures of enemies you’ve fought might appear on your shelf; gear you’ve compiled is easily customizable; extra snacks or drinks gradually find their way to your bedside table. Each room is identical to the last, no matter when or how you access it, right down to the number of Monster Energy drinks on your table. But the familiarity makes it homier, a regular place to take a break.
Death Stranding is overwhelmingly a solitary game, one where you’re frequently tasked with jobs that require you to struggle against the Earth itself. You can go hours without seeing another human in-game. You’ll probably spend a lot of time being outwitted by rivers, mountains, or really any sort of steep incline. Its private room moments are a chance to mentally prepare and recuperate before you take on that dreaded mission through a snowy mountain — a chance to feel human in a game that is otherwise incredibly alien.
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