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Hey single players! We’d like for you and us to get to know each a little bit better, so we’re going to try to get a different team member on the keyboard every weekend to chat about what’s caught their eye in the gaming world.

Our Editor-in-Chief Rhain had planned to write up this inaugural entry, but life intervened. You’re stuck with me this time. I’m Damien, former EiC and general nuisance. You might remember me from such hits as ‘This Isn’t What We Come Here For’ and ‘Shut Up, You Pretentious Twat’. Ah, good times. 

The Tokyo Games Show has dominated headlines this week, or, rather, Death Stranding has. After years of drip-fed information confused by the rhetoric of Kojima’s genius, the veil has been pulled back with well over an hour’s worth of footage. We have seen now the “basic flow” of the gameplay, the sponsored product placement, Norman Reedus pulling faces and punching the game ‘camera’, and I am so conflicted.

Death Stranding

Let me make one thing clear: I believe in Kojima. Over the years, he has constantly subverted expectations and surprised his fans (for both better and worse). The general regard for him as an auteur and one of gaming’s visionary directors is well deserved. Maybe that’s why I was expecting more from Death Stranding than what we’ve seen. 

Don’t get me wrong, the game looks fabulous. It’s remarkably pretty. The combat looks sublime. The vast environments scream of the loneliness that Kojima has been talking about, reinforced by the way that Sam’s voice echoes in the barrenness. The private room is an interesting inclusion, and that boss battle we got a glimpse of seems as though it continues Kojima’s tendency to do something a little left of centre.

For all that, Death Stranding doesn’t feel like a revolution. It feels like another vast open-world game rife with busywork. The narrative theme may be connection, but Sam’s willingness to explode into violence puts the gameplay at odds with that. Even if combat makes up only a small portion of the experience, it cheapens the whole idea. How can we connect in a world where even those people trying to connect us are willing to slaughter? Dressing it up as survival is a cop-out.

Why? In every other respect, Death Stranding looks like the highest budget walking simulator that the gaming industry is ever likely to see. It’s slower and more meditative than the norm and appears to be chock full of the weirdness that we’ve come to expect from Kojima. More of that and less kung-fu pew-pew would be fantastic, thanks.

On that note, praising many of the other big presentations coming out of TGS seems almost hypocritical. Final Fantasy VII Remake is shaping up more and more to be exactly what everyone wants; in the process, I wonder how far off the mark I would be to suggest that it’s providing renewed faith for the inevitable FFXVI. Square Enix finally seems to have struck onto a battle system that appeals to both old-school and new-school gamers—all it needs now is to evolve it and create a new, compelling story. 

To add to that, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Shin Sakura Wars, and Tales of Arise are all looking fantastic in their latest showings.

Death Stranding gameplay screenshot 3

However, what I think I’m missing is the smaller games. I love a blockbuster as much as the next person, but the indie developers are the ones that tend to blaze trails these days. Unfortunately, the trend isn’t as prevalent among Japanese developers as it is among Western ones, so the absence of small teams and small games from TGS comes as little surprise. 

Still, imagine what could have been if Gen Design had shown up, Elden Ring had made a proper debut, or NanaOn-Sha had teased a Project Rap Rabbit revival…

Damien Lawardorn
Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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