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Death Stranding: Early Reviews Call It a Frustrating, Ambitious Success

The release of Death Stranding, the long-awaited debut title from gaming icon Hideo Kojima and his Kojima Productions studio, is finally here. While the esoteric plot of the title has been kept largely mysterious, the game includes some serious star power from actors such as Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Lea Sedoux, Troy Baker and even director Guillermo del Toro.

As Kojima's first major title since he left his longtime home at Konami in the wake of his cancelled Silent Hills game, Death Stranding was faced with incredibly high expectations that only seemed to grow with each passing reveal. While the bizarre original ideas that early footage revealed increased fans' anticipation, the game had definite pressure to carry on the technical and conceptual achievements that Kojima achieved throughout the Metal Gear franchise.

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So far, it looks like Death Stranding has lived up to those lofty expectations, for the most part. As of this writing, the game touts a score of 84 on the review aggregator Metacritic, based on the reviews of 75 critics. While that score is sure to fluctuate more after release, the early consensus around the game seems to suggest that the title is equally ambitious and frustrating but ultimately successful at achieving its goals.

"It's difficult to convey how effective Death Stranding is at delivering its messages without diving too deeply into spoilers. However, the journey, for all its frustrations - the slow, plodding pace of the early game and the obtuse beginnings of its story - still serves as a worthy foundation for the excellent experience that follows." wrote ScreenRant's Cody Gravelle. "Death Stranding probably isn't a game for everyone. There will be some who are turned off by how long it takes Death Stranding to really get going and that’s fine. It's not a game that's trying to appeal to every key consumer demographic."

Here's a selection of what other critics from various gaming sites are saying about the highly-anticipated game.

Christopher Bird, The Washington Post: "It is a game of delayed rewards. Only when the credits roll do its narrative elements snap into place with a magician’s flourish. It took me 56 hours to complete the 14 episodes that make up its core campaign. And it wasn’t until I hit Episode 5, “Mama,” that the game really clicked for me. Certainly, I found carrying packages to be a tedious activity at points, but what lingers in my mind are sublime moments like when I dashed through a valley swarming with bandits with a swaying tower of cargo on Sam’s back, or the time I rushed into a private residence that some blessed player built in an area overrun with BTs. I will remember the game’s characters (Heartman, Deadman, Fragile, I salute you) and the snowballing effect of its story, which I consumed with increasing enthusiasm."

Kallie Plagge, Gamespot: "In short, you give a lot and get a lot in return. There is a relatively small number of mandatory deliveries to advance the story, but there's a seemingly unlimited number of optional deliveries, and I often found myself picking up orders destined for any place that was on my way. It's a cycle that's easy to get swept up in; no matter how difficult a delivery or how far the distance, you will at least be met with gratitude, likely feel fulfilled from having completed a tough delivery and often given a tool to make future deliveries a bit easier. Most importantly, though, increasing your bonds with people is how you get them on the network, and the network is what elevates this core loop beyond the simple satisfaction of completing tasks and getting rewards."

Tristan Ogilvie, IGN: "Much like its stumbling protagonist, Death Stranding just can’t consistently get the balance right despite possessing equally lofty ambitions and countless inventive ideas. There is a fascinating, fleshed-out world of supernatural science fiction to enjoy across its sprawling and spectacular map, so it’s a real shame that it’s all been saddled on a gameplay backbone that struggles to adequately support its weight over the full course of the journey. It’s fitting that Kojima Productions’ latest is so preoccupied with social media inspired praise, because in some ways I did ‘Like’ Death Stranding. I just didn’t ever love it."

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Russ Frushtick, Polygon: "Death Stranding feels like two games in one, designed for seemingly opposite audiences. One is a wholly unique open-world adventure with asynchronous cooperative multiplayer that allows me to feel like I’m part of a community, building a world from scratch. And the other is a long, confusing, deeply strange movie. The former is pulling most of the weight, but they share equal screen time. It’s impossible to separate the good from the bad. It’s all in the same box."

Heather Alexandra, Kotaku: "For all of Kojima’s pretensions as a would-be filmmaker, for all of the celebrity casting and cameos from his famous friends, not to mention the corniness of the Monster Energy Drink brand deal (drinking the stuff in-game will fill your stamina gauge), the glue that holds everything together is how well Death Stranding works as a game. While a majority of the time is spent wandering, it’s never pointless, and even the emptier interactions⁠—what does it even mean to “like” a stranger, anyway?⁠—contribute to a whole that is always asking you to consider something. That can be the uncomfortable implications of American expansionism, the current era of Trumpism, the disastrous effects of climate change, the vapid but reassuring nature of social media, the raw physicality of bodies, or broader notions of labor. It’s all there, and it’s wrapped into a game that is both hard work and rewarding to play."

Created by Hideo Kojima, Death Stranding is developed by Kojima Productions and published by Sony. The game stars Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Lea Seydoux, Margaret Qualley, Guillermo Del Toro, Nicolas Winding Refn, Tommie Earl Jenkins, Troy Baker and Lindsay Wagner. Death Stranding will be released for the PlayStation 4 on Nov. 8.

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