Here’s a trivia question to start things off. I’ll give you a description of a protagonist from a popular IP, and if you guess the IP right, you win the game. Your job is to fight alien-like creatures while other civilians are squirming in AI-controlled bunkers. These underground bunkers, inaptly named apart from its actual location, provide shelters for the people, though majority of the infrastructure you encounter are above ground. The sudden appearance of invasive alien-like creatures are the result of new world-changing phenomenon. Humanity was able to achieve technical breakthroughs since the phenomenon but at the great cost as well. These breakthroughs, however, still have limitations, obvious signs being the limited battery. Also, despite the best effort, a human factor, —floating human in an orange juice— seems to be a necessary evil to make the system go. Your employer seems to be harboring a dark secret against what the organization which you work for is advertised to do. In fact, you didn’t get to choose your job. Your job chose you, specifically, your employer. In what universe are you in? I’ll wait.
If you answered Neon Genesis Evangelion to that question, welcome aboard. An influential classic from the 90’s accurately describes what is happening in Death Stranding word to word. It also begs the important question: was Evangelion ever a good IP for video game adaptations?
The core issue behind Death Stranding is its cult like status. Born from an abandoned sequel to the yet another IP, Silent Hill, Hideo Kojima had created a playable teaser to announce a new game in 2014. P.T. was such a hit, to a point it opened a new sub-genre for horror games, P.T.-like, except for the P.T. itself. Konami subsequently axed the project and Kojima was let go. This is all public knowledge. Kojima’s long list of famous friends, his affinity to film-like qualities in video games, all of it. Before the internet, unless a monthly game magazine spends a page discussing the famous director, all of this would have been tiny details that adds spices to the game. But this is 20’s. We have the internet. Players are more prepared and exposed to what something “new” is. Seeing a familiar face in TikTok happens so naturally. There is no revelations in seeing the stars in video games.
Take for example, the core gameplay. The job of Sam is to take orders to make deliveries. Aside from the obvious fact that such “job” is not a new concept, let alone job simulators of any kind. Fixing traffic infrastructure in gaming predates the birth of Windows, and Ubisoft-esque hub expansion has been criticized before Death Stranding was a thing. QTE to walk is no longer a ground-breaking game mechanic, we call it ‘paying respects’.
It is then unsurprising when the game decides to take full-on FMV approach, with every moment plastered with motion captures with odd and somewhat outdated filming techniques, especially those close up shots. Nostalgia Critic said it the best when he was nitpicking 11 problems in The Lord of the Rings trilogy: not every scenes are fit to be close up shots. But certainly there is no easier way to scream ‘look at my film-like graphics’.
The game’s social status amongst its peers also raise more red flags. Both Valve and CD Projekt have entrusted easter eggs in the game. But easter eggs alone don’t make a game. Simply copy-pasting scenes from the movies usually make another E.T., not a proper game. In fact, we already have a game that is solely built on easter eggs and meta commentary, The Stanley Parable, while it was perceived positively, I am yet to see a single soul who wants to play another Parable-like games.
I believe the cause behind what I would call Death Stranding fatigue is it brings nothing unique or new to the players. Film-like is literally what it is; it is like movies. Job-simulating is literally like doing mundane tasks. Easter eggs are little funs borrowed from the past. And don’t even get me started on protagonists with childhood traumas. It’s really the 90’s stuff. None of them are truly Death Stranding itself.