I had designs on writing at least something about all fifteen episodes of Death Stranding, but I’m getting tired of this already. The problem is that there is so much to go over, especially at the beginning and at the end.
After the last post, I learned what “BT” stands for: Beached Things. That explains everything, right? Some of the terminology in this game feels like translation mistakes that they just stuck with and doubled down on.
Reminder: Spoilers below.
Episode 2 “Amelie”
After we get back from cremating our mom, we get another puzzling story moment, because we’re told that the president wants to see us. Didn’t we just cremate the president? Well, yes, but the president still wants to see us, and Deadman thinks this is perfectly normal.
Sam is the only one who seems to notice this inconsistency, while all the characters around him ignore his confusion. This, of course, leaves us, the audience, to wonder whether he’s gone back in time, or forward in time, or is having a dream, or the writers made a mistake, or something like that. As it turns out, there’s no real explanation for why everyone treats Sam like he’s crazy.
Because, you see, we next meet Amelie, who is revealed to be the president. We are told that Amelie is Sam’s sister, but she doesn’t age, because she’s “stuck on the Beach.” (The Beach is another concept from Death Stranding that I haven’t even mentioned yet, and probably won’t get to. It’s like an afterlife.) Amelie looks exactly like a young Bridget, and she’s projected like a hologram. I recognized her immediately as a de-aged Lindsay Wagner, looking a lot like she did in the 70s renditions of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.
Amelie is credited to both Lindsay Wagner and Emily O’Brien. It’s not entirely clear to me who does what in that collaboration, but there are pictures of Emily O’Brien doing the motion capture work. The voice sounds like Lindsay Wagner to me, and Emily O’Brien neither looks like Amelie nor sounds anything like her on YouTube, but maybe she’s matching Lindsay Wagner’s voice. I don’t know. (If it’s Emily O’Brien’s voice, though, it would mean Lindsay Wagner was only in one scene in the whole game.)
When Amelie appears on screen in the game, it’s the first time I think I noticed that a lot of hair in this game “floats,” as if it’s in lower gravity than the rest of the surrounding body. This is something that happens a lot in anime, and especially in Eastern video games where they spend a lot of time and effort rendering hair, presumably because they want to draw attention to how great the hair rendering is. In this game, I started to wonder if they might actually be trying to say something visually about whether the character was “real” or not. I haven’t fully tested my theory, because it would involve re-watching a lot of cut scenes.
At any rate, it was stunningly clear that Amelie was in some way very connected to Bridget, more than just her daughter. There was something immediately hinky about the whole thing that made me think of time travel or alternate universes or something like that. The point is, I did not buy for one second that it would be as simple as “Amelie is Bridget’s daughter and Sam’s sister.” Sam, however, definitely knew and believed Amelie to be his sister. I think.
One aspect that was never explained was how Amelie suddenly became “president of America.” I didn’t think about this until after the game, but they completely skipped over the entire idea of, you know, democracy and elections and whatnot. Hideo Kojima apparently believes that the presidency is just handed down from mother to daughter like a monarchy, which, in a way, is actually pretty insulting to the entire founding principles of the country. But we’ll just let that slide for the sake of the story.
On the other hand, we will learn by the end of the game that Amelie and Bridget are technically two sides of the same person, so the presidency in a way never changed hands. This explanation actually brings up even more questions. If one is elected president, is it the ha or the ka that is elected? In any case, both Die-Hardman and Deadman must have known the “secret” behind Amelie to unquestioningly buy into Amelie being the new president after Bridget, and they never bothered to explain it to Sam. Poor Sam had to wait until the end of the game to get in on the secret.
Honestly, I felt like the Amelie/Bridget storyline was one of the weakest in the game. It doesn’t really hold up when you look at it critically, and it has a bit of an “infinite time paradox” feel to it, but it’s really interesting to think about. Even with plot holes, there sure aren’t many games with a story that you think about after you’re done playing them.
To make a long cut scene story short, Amelie tells Sam that she is “held prisoner” out west, and she implores him to travel out west to rescue her. Along the way, he is to stop off at a number of locations and hook up the “chiral network” which will bring America back online. This is our main motivation for playing the game, and it’s where we learn that this is definitely an “open world game,” if we didn’t know beforehand. It’s a bit of a contrived story, but it didn’t bother me.
Nothing says “open world game” like a story involving traveling from place to place to unlock zones, and that’s essentially what we’ll be doing in Death Stranding.
Sam is reluctant at first, because he doesn’t care about this whole rebuilding America thing, but story, story, story, yada, yada, yada, and he agrees to it. Because of course he does, otherwise, there wouldn’t be a story or a game.
One interesting thing is that Sam is given what is called a “cuff link.” It looks exactly like a pair of handcuffs clamped to one wrist. This is what allows Sam to connect to “the chiral network” and communicate with everyone in the world. It took me a while to realize it, but I came to appreciate the metaphor of being “handcuffed to the network,” a not-so-subtle message about the dangers of Internet dependency. The game, however, tries to tell us that they aren’t “handcuffs,” they represent our need to be bound to one another as a community. Six of one and half a dozen of another, I say.
Game On, Three Hours Later
This is the point where the real game loop begins, which was almost three hours into the playing experience for me. Yet even I say that, it’s not even the real real game, because the Eastern Zone is largely a tutorial area before the game “opens up.” The real real game doesn’t unlock until you finish with Episode 2 and enter the Central Zone, which was some twelve hours into the game for me.
For now, you visit an Access Terminal, accept as many “Orders For Sam,” as you can handle, and do what it says to do. Most orders fall into one of two categories: 1) Carry some amount of cargo from where you’re standing to a destination, or 2) Retrieve some cargo from a location and either bring it back or carry it to another destination. There may or may not be fancy cut scenes associated with each mission, but there will almost always be someone talking to you about the details or why you’re carrying stuff around.
Your goal in the Eastern Zone is to unlock four hubs, or “use your Q-pid to enable the chiral network,” if you will. Don’t even ask what a “Q-pid” is, because I don’t know. It’s the keys to unlock the things, and Sam has them, and he’s the only one who can use them, and that’s all we need to know. Or something like that. It’s a fairly straightforward series of tasks to walk back and forth between different places, but it’s made more complicated by having to sneak through areas of BTs, and tangle with what are called “MULEs.” MULEs-another acronym that I don’t even know what it stands for-are enemy NPCs that try to knock you out and take your cargo if you wander into their territory. Sometimes you just need to run away from them, and sometimes you have to go in and take stuff back from them. The whole Eastern Zone is a tutorial for all of these concepts and activities.
The Eastern Zone was probably the biggest slog in the game for me, and it’s probably where most people will drop out and say, “Screw it, this game is just walking around and falling down a lot, I hate it.” It’s true, this is the portion of the game where you learn how to walk around without destroying your cargo. You can get a bit sick of the repetition at this point. I actually tried to go beyond the mandatory objectives and start filling in the open world map with extra deliveries, but I started to find it a bit tedious to slog through areas of BTs and around MULEs multiple times. I gave up and moved on to the next area of the game.
The good news is that Death Stranding is fairly good at giving you new shortcut mechanics just about the point when you get sick of the previous longhand mechanics. After Episode 2 is finished, after we take the boat from the Eastern Region over to the Central Region, the games starts to give you more and more tools to make tasks easier.
Oh, I almost forgot the weirdest part of the game! Around this time, you’ll be introduced to your “private room.” You can access your room at many of the Access Terminals throughout the game. It’s basically a little game lobby where you can access email and “rest” your character to recharge for the next mission. It’s not precisely mandatory, except for a few mandatory story situations, but it helps to visit it now and then.
It’s a lot like a Norman Reedus simulator. In this area you can drink Monster Energy drinks to buff up your stamina bar for the next run. It shows a lengthy animation of drinking each drink. You can examine little green plastic figures that are constantly showing up as trophies in your room at various story points. You can interact with BB, kind of. You can check out your backpack and customize it, and put on a hat, and sunglasses. You can go to the sink and wash your face, and take photos in funny poses in front of the mirror.
And finally the pièce de résistance: There’s a shower and toilet! You can actually take a shower and use the toilet. (It doesn’t show you anything, don’t worry. It’s covered up by an ad for Norman Reedus’s AMC show Ride, because that’s normal in a video game.) And guess what? There are actually game reasons for doing these things. It turns out that the BTs are particularly sensitive to Sam’s blood, so his bodily excretions can be made into grenades which hurt the BTs. You’ll want them. Well, the Hematic Grenades, at least. I never found much use for the No. 0, No. 1, and No. 2 Grenades, personally.
Definitely never seen that in a video game before. Take a drink!