Like the box art of Death Stranding says, it's "a Hideo Kojima game," and there's nothing else quite like it. Making video games is expensive, and as a result, risks are rare and originality often takes a backseat to proven, money-making formulas. The AAA space of video games -- where the most money is exchanged -- has an admitted shortage of unique and pioneering games. That's at least part of why Kojima is so important in this industry, because his name and legacy permit him a level of creative freedom others lack. And if there's a game that's indicative of this: it's Death Stranding.
It's one of the most unique games of the generation, and I can promise you that you've never played anything like it, which can't be said about many games, including most of the critically distinguished titles of the generation. With the PlayStation 4 title, Kojima tries to do something different, to push the medium forward. You can say the game isn't stimulating, you can say its story is messy and its writing is imperfect, and you can even simply say it's not a good game, but there's no denying there's nothing else like it.
There's a lot of good games that released this year, but with each and every game, in my opinion, there's something that came before it that not only did the same things, but did them better. To be honest, I was bored by most of the games I played this year. On paper they were fun, but they were so familiar that my engagement quickly evaporated into going through the motions. Meanwhile, on paper Death Stranding sounds tedious and self-important. And occasionally it is, but I was enthralled by how new and different it felt. I had a better time chugging Monster energy drinks as I traveled across America to deliver packages than taking zany quests in space, popping heads off zombies, or trying to unravel the mysteries of a strange government agency. That might sound outrageous, but I promise you if you play enough of Death Stranding, you'll get it.
Death Stranding is not just wonderfully well-realized and admirably anomalous, it also has what made Kojima's past work -- Metal Gear Solid -- so good: a complicated multi-layered narrative that masterfully balances suspense and dubiety with excellent reveals that pay off your patience in exorbitant fashion. As I wrote in my review from earlier this year, the nucleus of Death Stranding is its slow burning story that brews classic sci-fi with old weird fiction on top of foundational ideas and perspectives redolent of writers and visionaries like Kobo Abe and Franz Kafka. It's heady stuff, yet somehow Kojima manages also to interweave personal, intimate moments and incredible character development that ground its pursuit to explore life's biggest problems and questions.
Art is peculiar. One person could pay a billion dollars for the Mona Lisa while another may find it fit to be a table for their TV tray dinner. Now, I'm not saying Death Stranding is the Mona Lisa. There's really not much of a comparison, but there's no denying this phenomenon holds true with Kojima's latest work. I think it's an incredible game, but I can also understand why someone may take one look at it and wonder how many of those pee mushrooms I ate before writing this.
They say blemishes stick out the most on a beautiful face, and for me that's Death Stranding in a nutshell. Its gameplay may be light on traditional video game stimulation, and there's a nonsensical element to its narrative, but it does so many things well. If it's not mapping out new territory, it's pushing pre-existing boundaries. Again, it's "a Hideo Kojima game," and that really says it all.