Dear Hideo Kojima,
Hi, It’s Adam. You don’t know me, but I’m somewhat of a fan. I special order hard copies of your game soundtracks from Japan. I have actually played Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. I also wrote a peer reviewed article about Metal Gear Solid, and have spoken about your games at Indiana Comic Con, Gen Con, and even a conference for teachers in the United Kingdom. For two years I covered the tumultuous rollout of Metal Gear Survive for Electric Bento, and given my professed yearning for your absent vision, the editor-in-chief there asked me to write a review for Death Stranding.
See, here is the awkward part, Mr. Kojima. I was wondering if you would mind contacting the editor, my friend Chris, and ask him if I can get out of writing this review? Because I have to be honest: I don’t think I can finish playing your new game.
I mean, I played long enough to begin the review. Death Stranding is the post-apocalyptic video game by legendary director Hideo Kojima (that’s you). This long-awaited game follows his/your tenuous exit from Konami, and fans around the world have heralded the arrival of a Kojima game untainted by toxic corporate oversight. This hype was amplified by a two year marketing campaign of teaser trailers and cryptic tweets, and now that your game has arrived Mr. Kojima, I have to contend with the fact that I don’t want to play it.
Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Kojima. From the opening moments of your game I was awed at the visuals. Your environmental design is as impeccable as ever, and the graphics of this game are awesome in the literal sense. Your game contains a stellar voice cast including Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead) and Mads Mikkelson (Hannibal), and you continue your notable legacy of producing dynamic game soundtracks.
Your game is also not fun to play. And one reason I don’t want to review your game, Mr. Kojima, is because the internet is hyperbolic and critics who can’t provide a nuanced analysis often resort to extreme language for shock value. I don’t want to sound like these trolls. But I found the experience of playing your game, Mr Kojima, to be somewhat insufferable. It was the most not-fun thing I have done in a long time, and I am the middle of writing a doctoral thesis, so that says a lot. It’s been almost two weeks since the release, and Chris is now asking how far I have gotten. Do I have the heart to tell him that instead of playing your game, I went black to playing Overwatch. Overwatch, Mr Kojima? What fan plays Overwatch the week one of your games comes out?
I think I just needed to play something fun, which your game is not. Perhaps you meant to evoke the theme of punishment, which to me doesn’t necessarily translate to a meaningful gaming experience. You play as a porter named Sam in Death Stranding (as you know), tasked with transporting cargo over a rock laden wasteland. For a moment I felt like I would relate to Sam, as a young professional telecommuter in an era of climate change and economic precarity. But when I squeezed my first playthrough of Death Stranding between a day of meetings and a night of writing, I realized the last thing I want to play is a game whose design revolves around fetch quests.
Death Stranding is also built around a core game mechanic of balancing yourself while carrying a heavy pack over rocky terrain. Your other games have featured quirky mechanics, like feeding Big Boss reticulated pythons, but the balance mechanic of Death Stranding becomes unbearable because it requires constant player intervention. It’s like that frustrating moment when you are sprinting in a game, and your turbo runs out, only that happens every few seconds in Death Stranding. As a result, Mr. Kojima, my first several hours playing your game oscillated between boredom and sheer frustration.
Death Stranding is also punishing because it is epically overwritten. You force us to sit through scores of cutscenes where characters provide endless exposition about gibberish. And trust me, Mr. Kojima, I will fight people in defense of your longwinded conventions. I spent hours listening to cut scenes, audio recordings, and codec conversations about “the boss’s will,” which spanned over several games. But Mr. Kojima, you filled all your dialogue with actual drivel. You exhaustively explain nonsensical things, leaving me feeling unrewarded as the story unfolds.
For all of your genius, Mr. Kojima, you also can be pretty basic. It baffles me that the person that created the metaphor of Outer Heaven also created poop grenades in Death Stranding. Like, I know that you are super excited about Guillermo del Toro, but the hype of including Guillermo del Toro only lasts until the second after we recognize that the character looks like Guillermo del Toro. After that momentary perk of nostalgia, we are left with a hollow vehicle for monotonous dialogue about how poop grenades work and how they are built.
Playing your game also requires navigating a series of menus that I found clunky and confusing. If only I could tell you how long it took me to figure out how to build a bridge. Despite the number of tutorial screens and audible reminders from other characters, I still struggled to navigate through the series of sub-screens and clunky displays.
The result is a boring game positioned in an inspiring world, and Death Stranding is missing the intrigue that typically draws me into your games. The characters are dull and flat, and the combat mechanics don’t fair much better. In my two weeks of resisting playing this game, I looked at other reviews. Many reviewers speak somewhat jokingly of having a Stockholm syndrome relationship with the game—that yes it is an insufferable experience, but if I just spend 15 more hours grinding, the experience will get less insufferable. Several critics said that after 60 hours of gameplay, they could not indicate whether they had fun playing the game.
And that is why I am writing to you, Mr. Kojima. I need you to know, on behalf of all your beloved fans, that none of us have any time for this game right now. You told an ambitious story about punishment and precarity, and that reminds us why life is too short to waste playing your game. Chris even offered to give this assignment to someone else, but I didn’t want to extend this punishment to someone else.
Perhaps I will finish Death Stranding someday, Mr. Kojima, years from now when I am home sick from work and feeling strangely masochistic. I’ll let some other critics out there argue that your game is probably good even though they did not enjoy any aspect of it. And I get it: you came from a climate where you had to tailor your games to fans so stubborn that they sent you death threats, and now you made a game for you. I support that, and also paid Sony $60 dollars so you could have that opportunity. Can I please stop playing your game now?
If you don’t mind, Mr. Kojima, please ask my editor if I can skip writing this review—or at least turn it into another self-serving meta-narrative about taking games too seriously. I have some Overwatch to play. Wait, what? There is a hamster character now?
Death Stranding is available now for PlayStation 4. This letter is based on a copy of the game the writer purchased themselves.