Death Stranding isn’t an action game by reputation. Even our own ramblings about it here on PC Gamer tend to focus on its unique twist on the open-world genre, oddly meditative cargo-carrying gameplay loop, and its ingenious asynchronous multiplayer.
But the longer you play, the more gadgets you have at your disposal which let you indulge in some veritably action-movie set-pieces. It’s not all slipping down slopes, tripping over rocks, and hiding from interdimensional ghosts while a baby cries in your arms; it’s also ziplining down mountains, turbo-boosting bikes to jump over ravines, and battering madmen with metal cases and taser guns.
Yes, even though Mr Kojima would like you to think that Death Stranding is simply an artful meditation on death and the endemic roles of connection and suffering in human experience, it can also get pretty bombastic.
Case in point: My first encounter with MULEs – crazed former delivery men-turned-bandits – saw me sneaking through one of their encampments in a bid to raid their postbox for lost cargo. I only managed to garrotte a single one of them before they spotted me, descending on me like a barbarian horde.
More out of instinct than actual knowledge of how combat works in Death Stranding, I equipped some low-value cargo in my left and right hands, and started swinging. Maybe it’s not that surprising that 5kg of metal casing packs quite the punch, but it still felt gratifying to one-shot-KO three of these spear-wielding madmen, complete with a superfluous but satisfying slow-mo animation as I took each one down.
But I was getting swarmed, and there were only so many ladders I wanted to crack over MULE skulls. I duly cut away my heaviest cargo and made for an empty MULE truck at the far side of the camp. I jumped in, mowed a couple of MULEs down, then pressed the turbo-boost button (that apparently comes prebuilt with every pickup truck) to accelerate across the black lava-field plains, electrified MULE spears whistling past my head.
That little story of thuggery and carjacking wasn’t just an excuse for me to finally give a home to my ‘Strand Theft Auto’ neologism. It’s just one of the many ways in which Death Stranding bursts out of long periods of solitude and relative quiet into full-blown action.
It’s a game whose pacing kept surprising me. At one point fairly early on, I snuck past a host of spectral BTs with the help of some blood-filled grenades to emerge onto a stunning vista accompanied by the dreamy music of Low Roar – the band behind much of the game’s music. Just a few minutes after that, a villain with a gold skull mask set a tentacle-faced BT on me for the game’s first major boss fight.
It’s a strange balance that somehow works, which is testament to the experience and game design wizardry of Kojima Productions. Taken as a whole, this is a real slow-burner, but that’s easy to forget when you’re triking across a player-built highway or shooting BTs with taser-wire guns.