It struck me about 3 hours into Death Stranding (or roughly 5 minutes of game-play and 2 cut-scenes), that it felt very…familiar. The game’s awkward manifest destiny, that rested completely in the hands of every day workers. As the protagonist you sort of share the environment with other players in a sort of asynchronous play style, with an extra creamy layer of social gravy. I put down a ladder to cross a river, you may find it, and give me a ‘like’. You build a bridge over a chasm, I give it all the ‘likes’. Larger construction projects like highways are EXTREMELY helpful, and usually take participation from several ‘porters’, but when completed everyone is granted with a faster, safer zone of transportation.
All of that to say, I suddenly realized I was playing a bro-flavored sequel to The Tomorrow Children. There are a few layers of similarities, and possibly more since I still haven’t finished Death Stranding (mostly because I just keep building highways), but I wanted to highlight a few that I’d found so far.
The Basic Premise
OK, so ANYONE would be forgiven for not understanding the plot for Death Stranding after watching a trailer, reading a review, or playing it for ten hours. There are obvious themes, and un-subtle commentary for days, but hey, I’ll allow it since it’s not a murder simulator.
In Death Stranding you (Sam), must travel far and wide (and mostly West), seeking out pockets of humanity and bringing them into the fold of sweet, sweet civilization. Civilization here being America specifically, which has been all but transformed thanks to a cataclysmic event called the ‘Death Stranding’. This caused invisible creatures from ‘The Beach’ (a sort of afterlife) to start attacking, after consuming someone it causes a ‘void out’ which is a massive explosion. With America relying on networks of couriers for just about everything at this point.
The Tomorrow Children is a Soviet themed experience, where a project they started during the Cold War led to the merging of all human minds into one consciousness, ‘The Void’. This backfired killing most all actual life on the planet. You play as a ‘projection clone’, one of many, seeking out resources and survivors hidden in ‘islands’ suspended in the ‘void’. There are also giant kaiju like monsters called Izvergs, which are manifestations of our global fears.
While not word for word, they both deal with working class characters, performing basic manual labor in order to rebuild civilization, with the assistance of other laborers that you don’t really see. Which leads us to the main similarity.
For the Like’s
The Tomorrow Children featured a fairly unique cooperative experience. While you could see the other clones playing, you ONLY saw them when they were performing a specific action like mining a resource, or constructing a building. However the game had a whole encouragement system built in, so you could cheer on your comrades. Since the ‘Islands’ in the ‘Void’ were temporary and would (beautifully) dissolve after a period of time, you had to work fast and assist everyone else for the greater good. You could construct signs directing people, pickup dropped resources and move them to a loading station, where someone else would load them onto a sort of bus. Your actions, and how you support everyone else, all is recorded onto a sort of punch card which you process in town to receive funds to purchase more and better tools, and increase your various character ranks.
While there was a combat system, it wasn’t the greatest, instead the hook is building a community, that’s it. You log in, and work with strangers towards the goal of building, improving, and protecting a chunk of ephemeral land from the monsters our own fears create.
Death Stranding has a very similar social component that hinges on you either manually ‘liking’ something another player built, or just using it. The name of the player and often their PSN avatar will be displayed which helps to reinforce that feeling of community, even if the bridge was constructed by 420C00LDUDE69. Your ‘likes’ are all tallied, and go on your report card, which in turn increases your various character ranks as well. Aside from the real player component, a similar relationship is the basis of all the other game play; running errands for other people, assisting them and becoming closer as human beings (within reason).
Both social systems strangely work. If you glanced over a few reviews, you’d likely see similar stories about enjoying the actual game once the cut-scenes and story got out of the way. Helping people is, fun, and while gamers have long been desensitized to ‘fetch quests’, simply adding the element of other human interaction to assist with said quest, suddenly makes it more fun. Instead of plowing towards the destination in a straight line I found myself trying to build structures to help everyone else struggling with the same area.
Often you find cargo cases that another player dropped (maybe they took damage, needed to shed weight, or decided to say screw this), the quick and easy thing to do is pick it up, and deposit it at a way station, you get some quick likes and you’re done. But you see, that case didn’t magically disappear, it’s still sitting there, waiting to be delivered. Helping that package find it’s home is an easy way to help everyone out.
While I want to continue this train of thought, I’d also like to continue playing, so here’s a few other quick thoughts, examples, and a mashup.
Making games is an iterative process, and it’s cool to see ideas from great niche games, make their way into the mainstream.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
- The talented Joel Corelitz helped score both The Tomorrow Children and Death Stranding.
- They both feature overt patriotic imagery CONSTANTLY to reinforce the idea that you are working towards a greater good.
- The BBs seem to have a similar use to that of how the Matryoshka dolls were used in The Tomorrow Children.
- Death Stranding’s main tagline “Tomorrow is in your Hands” has a certain symmetry with The Tomorrow Children’s title (at least when you are looking for it to).
- The Tomorrow Children is actually way more violent than Death Stranding is (so far, finishing chapter 3).