Death Stranding accessibility review

Mike Matlock6 minute read


Deaf / Hard of Hearing: 3 out of 4
Blind / Low Vision: 3 out of 4
Fine motor: 2 out of 4
Scores transferred from DAGERSystem (now AbilityPoints)

In this dark future our only hope remains in our connections to each other. Death Stranding is a 3rd person action game directed by Hideo Kojima and was released by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the PlayStation 4. Leading up to this games release, many gamers were unsure of what this game’s mechanics were actually going to be because its development was steeped in mystery. People knew that the game would have many celebrities like Norman Reedus playing the main character Sam Bridges, but no one really knew what kind of game it was going to be in the end. It turns out that Death Stranding is a dark apocalyptic sci-fi game with a mysterious story, but the level of helpful accessibility options in the
game is all over the place.

Death Stranding’s gameplay consists of traversing a beautiful open-world environment in which your goal is to deliver important packages to many different cities around the country of the United States of America. When doing this you’ll also be connecting these towns to an online system that help with communication. While traveling the terrain itself can hinder your progress with steep hills, mountains, and rivers. You must make sure that Sam doesn’t lose his balance, otherwise all of the packages will fall and be damaged or become completely lost. There is definitely a weight limit for what you can carry and the more packages you have on your body the slower you are. Delivering cargo is what you’ll be doing the majority of the game. However, you will sometimes deal with combat in the form of bandit-like MULES who try to steal your packages and fighting these otherworldly spirits known as BTs. The BTs are mysterious entities that you will encounter throughout the game and unless avoided they can pose a significant threat. Eventually you be able to fight these enemies with manufactured weapons or you can use stealth mechanics to avoid them altogether. For added help, you have BBs or Bridge Babies which are premature pod children that can sense the BTs and help you detect where they are in the environment.

On the topic of accessibility, I have to say disabled gamers with fine motor skill impairments will not have an easy time playing Death Stranding. I have been a big fan of Hideo Kojima and his Metal Gear Solid series for many years, but I couldn’t help but notice the controls in those games were becoming more and more complicated and less and less accessible. Death Stranding is no exception when it comes to needlessly complicated controls. There are no customizable control options in the game, at least when it comes to individual button commands. This may not seem like much, but every single button on the controller must be pressed at least once in the game.

X is used for jumping and climbing, Circle crouches and cancels commands, Triangle loads cargo onto your back, and Square is the interact button. L2 and R2 control the main characters individual limbs, but they also must be pressed in tandem to keep his balance when traveling through rough terrain. R1 activates your scanner that surveys the area around you and L1 is your compass. Each button on the directional pad has an important function. Up opens your equipment menu, left is your items, right is your weapons, and down are the objects you collect. The touch pad is used occasionally for calling and even the dreaded R3/L3 are necessary for sprinting and adjusting the camera position. Those who follow me may remember that R3/L3 have been a pain in my side since the beginning of last generation of consoles. It also doesn’t help that many times you have to press 2 or 3 buttons at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong, I always had the option to remap the controls in the PlayStation option menu and I did. However, I often found myself having to pause the game and remap controls over again, just to do something as simple as equipping a climbing tool. It can be time consuming and tiring. I believe that Death Stranding’s gameplay could also benefit from having an automatic camera that orients itself to to the back of the main character. Instead you have to manually change the camera angles yourself. In a game that mostly consists of walking from place to place, having a better camera could have made things easier for disabled gamers with fine motor skill impairments.

It’s not all bad news when it comes to accessibility in Death Stranding. The creator of the game had spoken about overhauling the very easy mode in this game so that just about anyone could beat it. It is a very helpful mode for disabled gamers with fine motor skill impairments. Combat is fairly simple in this mode and the penalty for dropping cargo is nowhere near as severe as it is in more difficult modes.

There is also a variety of accessibility options in the control options menu. Aim assist is automatically enabled, but can be turned on and off for when you eventually fight enemies. The game has a “Keep Balance” sensitivity scale that you can increase and decrease which determines how the game treats holding down L2 and R2 when balancing the main character. I’m happy to see a Button Press option implemented in Death Stranding. This gives you the option to hold down buttons during quick-time events instead of tapping them repeatedly. I see more and more PlayStation exclusives having this option and I’m glad the trend reached Death Stranding as well. Left Stick and Right Stick Dead Zones are an option that lets you change the parameters of each analog stick. To calm your Bridge Baby the motion controls on your controller are used by default, but if you like you can change it to R2 in the options menu instead.

Lastly, I want to talk about the cooperative online play function that Death Stranding utilizes. If you’re familiar with the Dark Souls series you know that other online players can influence you campaign by leaving hints and messages for you without interacting directly. In Death Stranding it works the same way except that players can also leave you supplies and whole structures for you to use on your journey. You can also give some of your cargo to another player for them to deliver if you don’t feel up to making the trip yourself. I really loved this concept and it was great lightening the load for times when I needed some extra help. Creating structures like ladders and bridges can require pressing multiple buttons at once and for me it was a struggle sometimes. I can think of several instances where other players had left me a bridge to cross a river and it made my playthrough ten times easier.

Visually speaking Death Stranding is very bright. Lush green mountains and bright skies all around, but the game can get dark during BT attacks. Fortunately, there is a brightness slider that disabled gamers with visual impairments can change in the options menu. For colorblind players I didn’t notice many color distinguishing objects, except certain minerals you can pick up sometimes blend in with the ground. It’s not required to pick them up in order to progress further in the game, but I thought it was worth mentioning. The HUD menu is available for gamers with visual impairments. For instance, you can choose whether to turn on visual markers, command prompt, or object icons. You can also choose to have the aiming reticle appear on screen or remove it entirely if you like. Deaf players have subtitles available to them in the options menu, but no captions. Subtitles are fairly consistent except that song lyrics are not shown unfortunately. The music helps build ambience, but it’s not something that will stop the player from advancing if they don’t have the the ability to hear it. Also, if the Bridge Baby’s cries are too distracting you can change the audio output to the TV instead of the controller.

Death Stranding has interesting sci-fi concepts, an intriguing story, and awesome acting. Death and rebirth seem to be running themes that are fun to pick apart and debate. The gameplay can be a bit tedious, but I’ve genuinely never seen some of these gameplay mechanics in any other game before. The lack of customizable controls is a shame because disabled gamers with fine motor skill impairments may struggle during certain parts of the game. Still, the online cooperative function help give players a welcome reprieve from the constant delivery service. The HUD menu will give most gamers with visual impairments options to customize how much clutter they see on screen and subtitles are available for deaf players. Kojima has definitely improved upon the accessibility options from his last series, but I do think there are many more ways Death Stranding could be accessible to disabled gamers. Hopefully, he will continue to perfect his craft.

This article has been transferred from DAGERSystem (now AbilityPoints). Scores, formatting, and writing style may differ from original CIPT content.

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