Connecting the dots of Death Stranding across the indie landscape.
Death Stranding has been storming headlines with its love it or hate it division of the gaming populace. It’s certainly a unique game, but that’s not to say there aren’t other titles out there grappling with similar themes, mechanics, and settings. From trucking across Europe to investigating sandy mysteries with strangers, we count down seven indie games that take on Death Stranding’s strange and often confusing parts and assemble them into the warm indie games within our comfort zones.
Just because Death Stranding features enough journey time to relate it to the walking simulator genre doesn’t mean it’s not going to keep your fingers nimble. In fact, there are many secondary gameplay mechanics at work as you collect, carry and navigate its beautiful environment. While QWOP takes the balance and measured load-bearing mechanics to their logical conclusion, the end result is not dissimilar.
If you’re not familiar with what has essentially become a party game now, QWOP tasks players with making an on-screen character walk or run by moving each of their joints independently through the keyboard. It’s surprisingly fun, and Death Stranding’s requirements for precise movements and constant balance reminded us of sitting down at that strange viral indie game all those years ago.
6. FAR Lone Sails
FAR Lone Sails looks and feels like a Death Stranding minigame. While that’s easily explained away by the traversal of a barren, post-apocalyptic landscape, it’s the way players must keep their load light enough to prevent their ship from collapsing, while ensuring they keep all their upgrades and bounty on board, that Death Stranding calls on. Both FAR Lone Sails and Death Stranding feel like a constant uphill struggle. In FAR, however, those disparate strands of humanity that makeup Death Stranding’s main storyline, and name, keep you moving forward through the hope that your own desolate survival in the unflinching world has an end goal. Both games are mysterious and deadly, while maintaining a few simple mechanics done well.
5. Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy
It could be easy to dismiss Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy as another QWOP or I Am Bread type game, but we all know the experience does so much more than that. It’s in the messages that players encounter as they progress that connects Foddy’s title to Kojima’s. In a weird way, much like Death Stranding, Getting Over it is one man’s curated experience shared with others.
There is a struggle inherent in both games that is both central to the experience as a whole and deeply telling of the game’s underlying ideas. Both games are cruel and, at times, incredibly frustrating, but that’s where they shine from a ludo-narrative perspective.
4. Euro Truck Simulator
What list about Death Stranding-like games could exist without a Euro Truck Simulator title. That’s a pretty weird thing to be saying of Kojima’s gritty, story-driven look at humanity in a naturally post-human society – but there’s just so much transporting of goods that this is actually a pretty concise comparison. They essentially share their core gameplay motive, just with very different contexts around that motive. Euro Truck Simulator is exactly what it says on the tin – players take on mammoth trips across a range of locations in order to deposit their cargo – a hyper-real delivery game that takes players across Europe. While Death Stranding takes players outside of this comparatively mundane setting, the sentiment remains.
3. Dear Esther
Yeah, we said Death Stranding was far more than a walking simulator but it is pretty walking simulator-y at times. Dear Esther carries a very similar atmosphere and tone, from the mystery of your position on an isolated and barren land all the way to your slow progression across seemingly insurmountable terrains. The story of The Chinese Room’s first exploration adventure, and the very game that many argue popularised the notion in the first place, explores a Hebridean island and the strange, warped narratives woven into the artifacts players come across. There are obvious analogies between the two in terms of their mechanical make up, but the idea of piecing together a society once tightly knit in an increasingly hostile environment will also ring true to Kojima fans.
2. Rain World
Despite looking and feeling like a pixelated version of Death Stranding’s dramatic backdrop and claustrophobic atmosphere, comparing a puzzle platformer with the complexly interwoven narrative experience of Death Stranding makes Rain World an unlikely reference point. That said, Rain World has all the industrial apocalypses, mysterious exploration, and toxic rain to draw enough similarities to make this list. In fact, the experience of playing Rain World feels remarkably similar to the desperation and struggle of Death Stranding – just with far more jumping and less babies in jars. Rain World also regularly makes use of the collect and deliver model that Death Stranding has so heavily rested its mantel upon.
Journey is a relaxing, whimsical game of sublimity. Death Stranding is an anxiety-inducing philosophical bounty of confusion. So why are they coming together in this, the top spot of the list? Well, Death Stranding features an asynchronous online multiplayer experience in which players from across the world can build structures, bridges, and barriers to help others traverse the cruel landscapes they encounter. This is all nameless and faceless, with players often relying on the kindness, and building skills, of strangers.
To players of Journey, these connections will be familiar as Journey too uses this anonymous but supportive multiplayer set up in order to breed a wider narrative about the potential in connecting strangers around the world. If that’s not a mechanical and thematic marriage, I don’t know what is.
Death Stranding as a whole may be a game like no other, but as we’ve seen here there are plenty of games that contribute their own stories and themes in a similar manner. While taking a break from trying to work out just what Death Stranding actually is (including whether or not it’s an indie game in itself), we’ve been toying around with the top 50 indie horror games as well as the best indie games of 2019, why not check them out.