By now, many have realized that Death Stranding has gotten away with something that few AAA games are given a pass for in today's market - blatant product placement that edges on the extreme, especially when it comes to the Monster energy drinks that are a key element of gameplay and a healing salve for Norman Reedus' Sam Bridges. Death Stranding is Hideo Kojima's first game since leaving Konami and, given the amount of hype it had over the years of its development, it makes sense that major companies would want to have their logos placed within the title since it's going to be seen by millions of people.
For most games, however, brazen product placement is usually all it takes for consumers to outright shun them. EA, Activision, or Ubisoft would be torn apart for leaning into product placement advertisements as game mechanics in a smaller capacity than the ones present in Death Stranding. A more prescient example might be 2K's latest NBA 2K20 controversy, which saw the publisher lambasted by consumers for introducing advertisement videos into breaks in gameplay that couldn't be skipped. While Death Stranding's product placement is less egregious than that decision - Monster energy is nearly everywhere, but it rarely needs to be interacted with in a way that can't be skipped - it's still something that feels as though most games would be ignored over.
Part of the reason Death Stranding product placement might be more well-received is because of the amount of good will that Kojima has generated for himself and his studio after years of producing games that people love. The Metal Gear Solid series is one of the most popular, genre-defining franchises of its time, and people already know that Kojima has a pretty quirky design personality, including plenty of head-scratching but memorable moments in his titles. Monster energy drinks seem pretty tame in the world of Death Stranding and might even function as a way of grounding the game in a universe that's a little more familiar, even if it's blatant advertising all the same.
There's also the fact that Monster energy drinks replenishing Sam's energy - and the much more confusing ability to gather water in a canteen that transforms it into Monster energy as though this is a natural process - isn't really explained. It just is, almost like the game is making fun of its own advertising. It comes across a little more charming and a little less obtuse, even though the practice is still one that is a frustrating experience for gamers. It's not that it's appropriate in the sense that it's what fans want, but given that product placement makes studios and publishers more flush with cash - and if that cash is used for more development opportunities - then Death Stranding's product placement doesn't seem like it's the worst option out of the ways companies have attempted to implement it before.
Of course, in a perfect world, Death Stranding product placement would be non-existent. As video games become increasingly attractive to companies as a means of advertising, however, that simply doesn't seem possible. As developers explore what this means in their own game design philosophies, Hideo Kojima's take on product placement in Death Stranding manages to come across as pretty inoffensive and sometimes even pretty funny - not a bad place to start, all things considered.
Death Stranding is available now on PlayStation 4. A PC release is planned for summer 2020.