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    Hype Kind

    Death Stranding Review

    Death Stranding Review


      Death Stranding is a polarizing game. The reception has ranged from vitriol to absolute masterpiece. For the 40 hours I poured into beating the game, I will say: the game is like no other like you will ever play. I enjoyed my experience but can completely understand why other people would hate it. The best way to describe it is that it's a game with non-AAA gameplay but with the polish and budget of a AAA game.

        Sam Porter Bridges, one of the world's few porters, is tasked with “making America whole again” by connecting the country's scattershot cities and outposts with a link called the “Chiral network”. Think of manually laying down phone lines but with a set of keys that look like dog tags. The absolute bulk of Death Stranding's gameplay amounts to making deliveries for various people across a miniature version of future America. You go to terminal, take on orders and literally traverse the landscape and make good on those orders. Cargo can range from trivial items, like PlayStations, to foodstuffs, to human cargo. If you fail to deliver a story order – the game distinguishes between “Standard” and “Orders for Sam”, the latter being story-related – the game ends. This is the only way players can reach a game over, because there is a mechanic I'll explain later that prevents Sam from ever actually dying. There are some strategic elements to taking orders. Do you take on multiple at once and risk damaging cargo because you've taken on so many? Do you leave room for tools to help you traverse, like ladders or ropes, or even weapons? Sam can only carry so much. Then there's a concept called Timefall – rain that accelerates time and causes people and objects to deteriorate much faster – that has ravaged much of America (and helps explain why most of the country looks like Iceland). Most of the world's population now live in underground bunkers and players don't see much of these “cities”, if at all. Timefall is a bit of subtle enemy in that it occurs quite frequently and ruins cargo if the player is exposed to it for too long. Luckily, the game opens up figuratively when players are given access to vehicles after the first few chapters. The theme of connecting is also ever-present with the ability to share resources with other porters (players). You may find tools like ladders, ropes, bridges and vehicles that have been left behind by other people. If you play online, these become more prevalent and are extremely welcome help as you travel the world. The game really encourages giving and taking resources, and the more you do a bit of both, the more Likes you're rewarded (yes, the same likes that have both validated and ruined social media).

        The main conflicts revolve around a side character who players will witness flashbacks of on occasion (without much explanation until the later chapters), “BTs” or Beached Things, which are entities who stray the line between this world and the beach (Death Stranding's version of the afterlife), and the human MULEs. Of the three, BTs are the most commonly encountered, usually during a story-based delivery while traversing an area players have never been before. They can only be seen with the help of BB, Sam's “Bridge Baby”, an unborn fetus that can detect BTs. BTs themselves can be avoided by carefully walking around them, or eliminated entirely after the first few chapters. All I'll say is that they can potentially capture Sam, which results in a much stronger enemy being summoned. If Sam does “die”, he can find his body in the afterlife and automatically revive. MULEs are former porters who became addicted to the delivery lifestyle and have outposts throughout the world. At best they're just an annoyance to the player and are fairly easily dispatched. Lastly, there is a “big bad” in a more cliched sense that players will encounter throughout the story. Unfortunately, that character's arc and motivations are quite weak with regards to the rest of the story.

        The voice action and motion capture are superb. These are some of the most detailed and realistic face animations I've ever seen in a video game. The fact that the actors are able to exposit with a straight face while mouthing some of the game's more convoluted concepts (like BTs, “beaches”, etc.) helps add to the immersion of this universe. Even BB, for being an unborn fetus, has quite a bit of character and is responsible for some of the game's levity. The graphics are one of the game's strongest selling points. Ravaged America looks beautiful and haunting at the same time, courtesy of the Decima engine. Almost every location in the game looks like the work of an established landscape cinematographer, except it's interactive. That the amazing soundtrack that injects itself into the game at certain points helps drive the feeling of isolation that Sam is meant to project.

        I've tried to explain the gist of Death Stranding. But it's one of the few games where the most detailed explanation will never compare to playing. The initial chapters are a slog to get through; perhaps this is where the game will lose most players, if not the convoluted story elements. But those that persist through those initial chapters will find that the game opens up, and the variety of options they uncover help make the gameplay more engaging, and dare I say – fun. As cliche as it sounds, perhaps the reward is not necessarily what the player gets for making deliveries, but for the journey they take to make good on those deliveries.


    Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review (Mild Spoilers)

    Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review (Mild Spoilers)

      The end of the third trilogy in the Star Wars saga is here and it had the unenviable task of juggling tying up the previous two films, concluding on its own, and still maintain a sense of continuity with the other films in the series. Does it succeed? In some respects it does, and in others, not so much. I'll explain why. The previous film, The Last Jedi, is without a doubt the most polarizing film in the series because of its handling of certain fundamental plot points from The Force Awakens. This film feels like an attempt to backtrack on how some of those plot points were handled, while trying to re-establish Rey's internal quest to discover her heritage.

      What are Rey, Finn and Poe up to this film? If you've seen any of the trailers, you would know that spoilers – Emperor Palpatine – figures into the plot in some form or other. Obviously, Snoke was offed in the previous film and there needed to be a new villain, so here we are. The plot of the film is essentially Rey and the Resistance hearing news of Emperor's return and trying to find his exact location in order to thwart his menace once and for all. This involves going from one place to another to find clues to the Emperor's location at a brisk pace with almost no time to catch your breath. It doesn't feel like a two-and-a-half hour movie because every new location has visually appealing action piece to accompany it. Still, by the time we get to the final spectacle, it's almost hard to get excited because the Empire's side feels like it was doing nothing while waiting for the Resistance to show up. In fact, the threat of the Empire didn't feel as overwhelming as previous films save for one scene involving the destruction of a planet.

      Rise, whether it was mandated by the studio of not, contains quite a bit of fan service. Some cameos almost seem designed to elicit maximum fan reaction. In fact, some parts of the film don't necessarily feel earned and/or feel like they came out of the blue. Also, some characters from the previous two films are almost inconsequential in this one (Rose and Maz Kanata, for example). The parts that do work, worked great. I thought they did an admiral job incorporating Leia in the story the way that they did given the circumstances, and a specific scene involving a turning point in Kylo Ren's arc worked resonated with me quite well. Once again, the standout performances are Daisy Ridley's Rey and Adam Driver's Kylo Ren, with Rey battling her darker side and Kylo struggling with his former identity as Ben Solo.

      It goes without saying that The Rise of Skywalker is made for the fans. That comes at the cost of trying to win back some of the goodwill lost in the previous film by throwing tons of cameos and fan service on screen, with some working and others not. The action sequences are great but hardly the best in the series. The film is saved by the arcs of Rey and Kylo Ren and by decidedly ending in a satisfactory way. Overall, it was a fun watch given how it needed to tie up not just this trilogy, but the previous eight films.


    Kingdom Hearts III Review

    Kingdom Hearts III Review

       It's been so long since we've gotten a mainline game in the long-running Kingdom Hearts series that it's become difficult to keep track of the various stories and characters. Kingdom Hearts III attempts to wrap most, if not all, of those story threads in a neat package and for the most part, it succeeds.

       Unlike the slow start to Kingdom Hearts II, this game almost immediately launches Sora, Donald and Goofy in the thick of things with the Hercules-themed world, Thebes. From here, the characters weave in and out of familiar storylines as they traverse between worlds in the now-familiar Gummi Ship, some based on their respective worlds' narrative and some entirely new while running into members of Organization XIII, the series' main antagonist collective. Each world is massive and filled with tons of secrets, from treasures, Lucky Emblems (basically an in-game version of Disneyland's/Disneyworld's Hidden Mickey) and mini-games. Each world also has a unique feature for changing the pace of the game, from the ability to ride a mecha in Toy Box to captaining a ship in the Caribbean.

       Combat in KHIII is one of the game's strong suits. Although the game is decidedly easy, the sheer number of options for combat make battle a joy. For instance, each of the game's dozen-or-so keyblades offer varying fighting styles to suit your needs, from a honey-spouting keyblade to a blade that transforms into a giant mallet. Magic has become drastically more useful, and there is a new and visually pleasing “Attraction” mechanic that allows Sora et al to board Disney-themed rides for pummeling enemies with trains, carousels, etc. As with the other games, the targetting system is still not quite there, and the ability to spin around posts seems a bit wonky. Every other part of combat is fantastic.

       Outside of following the narrative and battling foes, KHIII contains a ridiculous number of mini-games. In fact, it's one of my principle complaints about the game – there are tons of systems to have to learn how to play. Most are simple enough, but some of the mini-games are hit or miss. Some feel like prototypes that somehow were approved! I will say that the Gummi Ship segments are now more fun than they have ever been before, and I actually looked forward to hunting and defeating certain enemies in space.

       The cutscenes, of which there are quite a bit, are well done. The voice acting is as suberb as any Disney production, although the instances where a character's original voice actor does not voice that character, it's obvious. While the way Sora and co interweave into the story in most of the worlds is fairly organic, some worlds (specifically Arendelle) just seem to be there for the sake of having incorporating that world. It's not necessarily jarring but it's unfortunate when some worlds “work” better than others, narrative-wise. The complex story also has to incorporate so many characters from so many games and doubtless will confuse some players.

       Kingdom Hearts III is impressive, bombastic, responsive and most importantly, fun. The emotional beats are there, and you really do feel like you've grown with these characters. The production values are up there, and the gameplay, while not mind-blowing, is engaging. Overall, when the end credits finished and I put the controller down, I felt quite satisfied that this chapter was done.