Death Stranding makes a very unusual first impression, its first two hours passing by at a snail’s crawl as characters talk at you about a multitude of things you can’t possibly understand with so little background detail given. What’s even harder to understand than than that, though, is how Monster Energy and an AMC show survive in the post-apocalypse.
Having played a few hours of Death Stranding already, I’ve heard about DOOMS, BTs, BBs, repatriation, strands, and many more terms that I will need an index to refer to. Before all that, though, the first thing I noticed was a can of Monster in my inventory. In the first five minutes of gameplay, I was already being advertised to.
Monster gives you a stamina boost in Death Stranding, a game all about exploration and daunting hikes. I’ve not really found a particular need to pound down the sugary water just yet, though I expect it to come into play the longer and more arduous treks you have to take on. I chugged the starting can and saw my stamina bar fill back up, though I was never in any danger of collapsing at such an early point in the game. If you do run out of stamina, however, Monster effectively saves your life.
A little later, I found myself in Sam’s private room: a place for some downtime in-between deliveries where he sits on a bed and looks around. If you look to his right, you will see a small army of Monster Energy cans, so many that they are quite often in your peripheral vision. If you want some of that enamel-eroding goodness, you get treated to an extended cutscene of Sam drinking a can with the same amount of self-awareness as Kendall Jenner.
In what can only be a major oversight by Kojima and co considering the connotations of it, if you decide to take a poop (which you should in any game when you get the chance) in this private room’s toilet, an advert for Norman Reedus’s Ride show on AMC appears on the obscuring glass. You are watching said actor take a post-apocalyptic poo while the show he fronts is advertises within smelling distance. Capitalism is weird.
Video game product placement isn’t quite as bonkers as it once was, it must be said. Whereas Barack Obama used to advertise his presidential campaign in Burnout, most product placements in modern games can be found in sports title, themselves just adverts where you occasionally kick or throw a ball. Death Stranding is a return to the way things used to be.
Product placement in Kojima games is nothing new, either; it’d almost be weird if Death Stranding didn’t have some kind of in-game advertisements. We’ve seen CalorieMate in Snake Eater, Doritos and Mountain Dew in Peace Walker, and even Puma boots in The Phantom Pain. There are plenty of other ads across the Metal Gear series as well.
Death Stranding’s product placement feels far too brash and in your face by comparison, and even worse than that, it makes no logical sense. How is Monster seemingly the only carbonated drink left after the end of the world? How is the Ride show still on TV, is it the last show in existence? If you must have product placements, why not include some that are actually relevant? Surely The North Face and Jeep would be two of the advertisers you should be looking at for a game about exploring the outdoors.
Death Stranding is a game with two of the least inviting opening hours I’ve experienced in a while, not helped by the heavy-handed product placement. It’s not quite Brad Pitt savouring a Pepsi (a case of product placement so blatant that it’s amazing they didn’t rename it World War PepZ), but the fact that a full price AAA game is advertising to me before it’s even really started has left me feeling mighty uncomfortable.
Death Stranding is out now for PS4. A PC version will release next year. Coverage based on retail purchase of the game.