After auteur video game developer Hideo Kojima left Konami in 2015, many wondered what his next move would be. Go small and develop an indie game? Get out of the industry entirely? In the end, it seems Kojima may be making his biggest game yet. Kojima debuted his next project, Death Stranding, at E3 2016. The odd title was revealed in an equally bizarre trailer.
Since that announcement, Kojima and his team have teased various details about the upcoming game, and released additional bizarre trailers, but it remains largely an enigma. Here is what we know so far about Death Stranding, and where the game might be heading, starting with the most extended look we’ve seen yet.
What’s ‘Death Stranding’ about?
Kojima is notorious for the baroque, philosophical, thematically complex, and deeply strange plots of his long-running Metal Gear Solid series. Freed from the constraints of working under the umbrella of a major publisher, he seems to be leaning into those tendencies even further with Death Stranding. True to form, he’s been very vague so far about the game’s plot, which appears to have a sci-fi angle and looks utterly insane. So far, most of what we know about the game comes from three trailers, which Kojima and company have showed at various gaming industry events in the past two years.
The latest trailer, shown above, debuted at The Game Awards in December 2017. Rain pours down on a dark and barren landscape. Three men in worker jumpsuits are in distress after an apparent car wreck. One man’s suit has an attached capsule with a floating, live baby inside, along with a mechanical claw that seems to have some form of A.I. A shadowy figure with his own mechanical claw emerges. The first man detaches his baby capsule from his suit, then proceeds to get flipped upside down from a vine below the water, before stabbing himself (likely under the control of the shadowy figure).
Another man — the game’s presumed protagonist, played by The Walking Dead actor Norman Reedus — picks up the capsule then looks at the sky at a giant monster with vines coming out of its hands and toward the ground. The screen turns white, and Reedus awakens deep underwater. Bodies and vehicles float above him. The scene snaps back to Reedus in his suit on the ground. The camera view funnels down his throat to reveal the baby, which is alive.
The trailer ends with Reedus looking out at a giant crater. The narrator says, “Once there was an explosion, a bang which gave rise to life as we know it. And then came the next explosion.”
Prior to this, the most substantial Death Stranding video was shown at the 2016 Game Awards: Kojima accepted the show’s Industry Icon Award, and celebrated by unveiling a trailer for Death Stranding. The cinematic trailer showed no gameplay, but offered a striking look at the overall state of the world, which features a city overrun with skeleton soldiers.
The original trailer for Death Stranding debuted during E3 2016. The trailer contains no dialogue or exposition of any kind, but shows some surreal imagery, including snippets of William Blake, and offers a first look at the character played by Norman Reedus.
Kojima noted during an interview with PlayStation 4 system architect Mark Cerny at PlayStation Experience 2017 that the theme of Death Stranding is “connections.” He has, on multiple occasions, cited Japanese author Kobo Abe’s novella Rope as a major influence. In the story, Abe said the first tools mankind learned to use were sticks and ropes; sticks could be used to keep threats at a distance, while ropes could secure the things people cherish. While its historical accuracy may be dubious, it is a lovely fable, and the concept seems to be a huge influence on Death Stranding. Kojima said that most games arm players with sticks, allowing them to fight enemies and other players, but that he wants his new game to revolve around the “ropes” that bring players together. He added that the game will still arm players with “sticks,” suggesting there will still be violent conflict. In these abstract terms, players will have to consider when to use a stick to push people away, and when to use a rope to connect them.
Part 7 of 9. On sticks and ropes. pic.twitter.com/RxgkNXOYRG
— Kojima Productions (@KojiPro2015_EN) June 16, 2016
Ok, but what kind of game is it?
In an interview with the official PlayStation Blog in February, Kojima shed some light on Death Stranding’s moment-to-moment gameplay. He confirmed rumors that it would be an open-world game, saying “I can’t really speak on that right now, but in a word, it’s an action game — an open-world game, with a lot of freedom.”
When asked about his repeated references to “strands,” Kojima elaborated, saying that they will be an important and distinguishing part of the game. “In action games, generally, the player has a gun and plays against enemies in a single player environment — or they take it online and play against other players in a competitive environment,” he said. “They join in together with guns — it’s almost always with guns — to take down a stronger opponent. In this game, you can do that but I wanted to go a little deeper beyond that with something that doesn’t focus on a weapon like a gun, and that’s what has a connection to the strand concept.”
In a recent interview with IGN, Kojima elaborated on the role of death in the game, and how its thematic and mechanical significance has been largely taken for granted in the gaming industry. “Games started over 40 years ago with arcades. When the player dies, it’s game over. You continue, and time goes back to before you die. You can die as many times as you want, but you always go back to a little bit before you die. That was a mechanic made specifically for putting in coins, and it hasn’t changed since then.”
Apparently, dying will not lead to a conventional reset to where you left off, but will transport you to a sort of purgatory that you are free to explore before returning to your body. Unlike conventional games wherein your many lives are essentially retconned away, death and reincarnation will be thematically and mechanically built into Death Stranding from the ground up. The system sounds like it may share some ideas with the Dark Souls series, where dying players initially return in a weakened “dead” state.
In 2016, Kojima Production clarified that, while the game will allow for cooperative play, it will be playable solo and you can complete it entirely without help if you wish.
Straight from the event: Death Stranding will feature a new form of co-op play but will of course be fully playable in single player.
— Kojima Productions (@KojiPro2015_EN) September 18, 2016
So far, no gameplay footage has been shown, so all we have to go on is what Kojima and his studio have announced.