Everything We Know About the Very Mysterious Video Game 'Death Stranding'
Hideo Kojima's new game sounds absolutely insane.
Death Stranding is an enigma. Even though we're about six trailers in (and counting), it's borderline impossible to summarize Hideo Kojima's latest game-in-progress using a single sentence; there's time lords, Lovecraftian kaiju, alien Gerber babies, and Mads Mikkelsen is there. Kojima promises it'll be unlike any game that's come before it, and the hype only grows as more time without Death Stranding in the world goes by. Whether you're a Metal Gear head or not, everything we've seen suggests that it's going to seriously shake things up for the medium, based on Kojima's word and otherwise. As we get antsier waiting for Death Stranding to drop, we've gone down the rabbit hole to drum up anything we could confirm about Kojima's new project. Here's what we've got so far.
What the hell is Death Stranding?
Death Stranding is an action game set in an open world environment from Hideo Kojima, a singular mind in gaming. It's been in development through his studio, Kojima Productions, since about 2015 and is being published by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the PS4. Being his first title since the nightmare with Konami -- pour one out for Silent Hills -- that effectively gutted his resources, it's also Kojima's official debut as an independent developer. It uses Guerilla Games' Decima engine (see: Horizon Zero Dawn), features contributions from supporters such as artist Yoji Shinkawa (Metal Gear Solid, Zone Of The Enders) and composer Ludvig Forssell (Metal Gear Solid V), and it remains one of Sony Worldwide Studios' core first-party titles leading into 2020.
When is Death Stranding coming out?
Nearly three years ago, Kojima promised: "It will be out before the [Tokyo 2020] Olympics." And even with Death Stranding being "very slightly" behind schedule, a release date has finally been confirmed with a trailer released in late May: November 8, 2019.
The trailer is super-cryptic
Death Stranding is advertised as a "brand new action game" that focuses on a mission to rescue a broken nation from annihilation and extinction while utilizing a "Social Strand System," which involves asynchronous online gameplay. The sixth trailer, released in May 2019, doesn't underline exactly what that system might be, but it does spend nine minutes tying together a few loose ends while linking characters together by where they fit in Kojima's "Strand Game."
Then there's the weird shit. Even though the release date reveal trailer provides some insight into Stranding's action sequences and its use of the Decima engine, it's a snippet of Kojima's ingenuity. Norman Reedus blues himself. The President of the United Cities of America is on the brink of death in the Oval Office. There's a futuristic Batpod made by "Endurance." There's a militant separatist group and band of extremists known as Homo Demons who manually engineer "voidouts" and rewrite the rules of natural selection. There's another faction who go by "Ceramic" and cosplay as the Child Detection Agency from Monsters Inc. And as a nod to Metal Gear, there are key characters who go by Mama (Margaret Qualley), a woman whose child was born on the "other side," and Die-Hardman (Tommie Earl Jenkins), the commander of Bridges.
It also takes a second to clarify that the chiral beings are BTs ("Beached Things"), while the baby podlings are known as BBs ("Bridge Babies") used as a recovery system. It still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but with the new trailer being a shrine to Mads Mikkelsen, there are some theories. Death Stranding's concept of connection could be tied to a scientific figurehead (Mikkelsen) who materializes a way to explore the world without the threat of death -- only to be trapped in a separate dimension or timeline while his device, a BB, finds its way back to reality as a BT which multiplies and plagues humanity. It's only a theory, of course, but with Mads being connected to supernatural organisms in an underworld full of ongoing conflict and disfigured replica BBs, it might not be that far off.
What is the story even about?
Honestly, no one really knows yet. On paper, Death Stranding is a narrative thriller that's about Sam Bridges (Norman Reedus) and his day-to-day experiences as a postman in a post-apocalyptic setting, skipping past stereotypical concepts of life, death, and mortality by throwing you into a purgatory world where you're free to explore and recover key items. In other words, there's no "Game Over" screen.
"Games started over 40 years ago with arcades," Kojima noted in an interview with IGN. "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… As you saw in the [TGA 2017] trailer, you saw the crater, and when you come back, it's still there. Most games would've taken you back to before the crater was made. So depending on the player, you might have a lot of craters all over the place – [it] depends on each player."
The culprit for said craters are "voidouts" -- instances in which a chiral being eats a human and triggers an explosion that drags all matter into another world/dimension (thus leaving a crater). They're attached to an integral mechanic that's simply known as "timefall," or a phenomenon in which a medium like rain can manipulate time and accelerate the age and progress of all the biotic life that comes in contact with it. It's loosely tied to the chiral beings and their presence -- not to mention clone babies, mechanical arms, and "courier services" like Fragile Express.
As Kojima underlined in a recent talk at the Tribeca Games Festival in New York, these subtle plot points are attached to a much larger anecdote about "connecting things." It's an unusual theme that pushes Death Stranding to be a "playground of possibilities," and despite its influx of violent elements, the key word is "connection" and how that correlates with his new ideas for gaming.
"It's an action game, an open-world action game, but it's really new," explained Kojima. "There's so many things happening in the real world… everything is actually connected by [the] internet, but we're not connected in the real world these days. I'm putting that in a metaphor in the game. So the player will have to reconnect the world in the game. You have a very alone and solitude feeling, but you're trying to connect.
"I want people to use that experience of how they felt playing my game and make use of it in their lives, be touched," said Kojima. "You play the game and you go into the game emotionally attached, so much you might cry, but you make a decision. It's a story about connecting things and the player will be connected to the world as well so you'll have a lot of emotion." So, uh, there's that!
By this point, though, we've gotten some more plot-heavy trailers that make everything a bit more clear. All of that vague language about connections became more concrete with a new trailer, titled "Briefing," that was released during the Tokyo Game Show in September. Amelie (Lindsay Wagner), presumably the next leader of the United States, brings Sam in to conference with both her and Die-Hardman. Amelie is taking over for her now-deceased mother, who died unable to fulfill her goal of reconnecting the country as the United Cities of America (UCA).
We learn that Amelie put together an expedition with a group of Bridges agents and traveled West, managing to evade and protect her forces from BTs along the way while recruiting communities to join the UCA. They made it all the way to to Edge Knot City, a Pacific Coast stronghold controlled by the Homo Demons, who capture Amelie, intending to use her as leverage to maintain Edge Knot City's independence from the UCA.
Now, Amelie and Die-Hardman want to recruit Sam to continue Amelie's work, bringing disconnected Chiral networks online across the nation and eventually rescuing Amelie so that she can reassume the presidency. In the trailer, Sam is too skeptical and jaded to accept and storms out of the room. However, he's is later seen in trailers with the key ring-like device (called a "Cupid") that Die-Hardman tries to pass on in the trailer. Therefore, it's pretty safe to assume that at some point, he does agree to take on Amelie's mission and sets off on a cross-country journey.
The final trailer for the game, released just over a week prior to its launch on the Playstation 4, is the most plot-heavy we've seen yet. Sam has indeed taken on Amelie's mission to reconnect cities via the chiral network, but it's not easy going. Amelie herself seems to be in more dire straits than she made her situation out to be in the previous trailer. It's clear that Sam isn't just working to connect cities across the nation. His mission is also to save Amelie from captivity.
This trailer also gives us a more concrete look at Guillermo del Toro's character in addition to glimpses of Léa Seydoux, Margaret Qualley, Nicolas Winding Refn, Tommie Earl Jenkins, and Troy Baker. Things kick off with Mads Mikkelsen, who was the star of a previous trailer, stealing a Bridge Baby and presumably singing it to sleep. Speaking of Bridge Babies -- we finally have a bit of insight into the relationship between Sam and the baby he has strapped to his chest for most of the game. Its name is Lou, which del Toro's characters suggests is because Sam intended to give his own child the name. Despite Sam attempting to protect the baby during the long journey, something is clearly wrong by the end of the trailer -- but then again, the baby was "never truly alive. Not in this world, at least."
What do we know about Death Stranding's gameplay?
At the Tokyo Game Show, Kojima Productions released 50 minutes of raw gameplay footage that showed off both the game's more action-heavy sequences as well as quieter moments where Sam stretches his legs, rests, and has the option to sleep or massage his shoulders. He also has the option to play a harmonica tune for the baby (which it seems love) and later takes a bath in a pool, which the baby is also totally into.
Additionally, the gameplay revealed that players will need to be careful with the way they balance cargo on Sam. While we don't know the specifics yet, it appears that the way that players arrange cargo on Sam -- it can be loaded onto his back and/or strapped to his arms -- will impact his movement and capabilities while out in the world. Sam can also transport cargo on a hover carrier that, when unloaded, can be used for personal transport as well.
Players may also encounter items that have been left behind by other players while roaming around. A post on the Playstation blog encourages players to leave others a "like for their troubles" when you use their abandoned equipment. We're not quite sure exactly what that does, but it's nice to be appreciated. In the gameplay footage, Sam also equips an "Active Skeleton" that augments his movement capabilities. He also steals a truck and a motorcycle down the line.
Finally, we got a bit of combat footage: Sam has a run-in with one of the "Beached Things." After his sensor alerts him to its presence, he can try to run or fight. Removing cargo can lighten Sam up for combat, where he'll need to move around in order to target the BT with grenades or his Anti-BT handgun.
Before the Tokyo Game Show, however, we also got around six minutes of gameplay at Gamescom. The biggest takeaway here is that you can -- wait for it -- pee in Death Stranding. In Kojima's words, if enough players pee in the same spot, "something good will happen." In the trailer, a mushroom grows out of the ground, presumably as a result of the pee. Nice!
The same trailer that heralded the pee function also gave us some other gameplay footage, showing Sam sleeping before waking up to navigate his way up a steep hill to a Luden outpost to make a delivery. Later, after falling off a hill, Sam comforts the Bridge Baby strapped to his chest. He connects a terminal in the outpost to the Chiral network using the Cupid device.
How hard is this game going to be, really?
The short answer: as hard as you want it to be. The game will feature a number of difficulty settings, ranging from "Hard" to "Easy" to "Very Easy." Kojima announced in a tweet that Death Stranding had included the last setting for movie fans "since we have real actors like Norman, Mads, Lea starred in [it]." The mode is reportedly for people who don't typically play games, while the Normal and Hard modes are for fans of action games.
Haven't I seen the main guy before?
Yes! That's Norman Reedus, who you probably recognize from The Walking Dead. Here, the actor plays Sam Bridges, "a man who delivers" tasked with carrying stranded remnants of the future in order to "reunite the shattered world one step at a time." He's a delivery man who retains unknowns called DOOMs and has a phobia of being touched, and is said to be a unique outlier when it comes to "timefall" and how others are aware of its existence.
Some theories classify Sam as a teleporter who can shift back and forth between the purgatory world and what he calls home while others label him as a "Returner," someone who can survive "annihilations" and the process in which a subatomic particle collides with its own antiparticle to produce more particles. There's still a million questions as to why he's carrying living, breathing humans across post-societal environments, or the fact he may be a prisoner of a pre-existing life and set of responsibilities, and we probably won't get answers for them until release. Kojima is determined to make Sam Bridges feel like a real person rather than a lifeless avatar, and as he noted at the Tribeca talk, he's doing whatever he can to "put every aspect" of Reedus in there.
"You will see Norman as Sam in the game and you'll see his acting, and you'll enjoy that," said Kojima. "You have to become Norman when you play. And Norman says a lot of things that you'll probably feel, playing as Norman. So he's Norman and Sam at the same time."
Who else stars in Death Stranding?
Boy, where do we start? The 2016 Game Awards presented a new trailer that included Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, The Shape Of Water, etc.) and Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal,Casino Royale, the cold weather combo Polar and Arctic, etc.). A since-deleted Instagram post confirmed famed voice actors Emily O'Brien (League Of Legends) and Troy Baker (The Last Of Us, BioShock Infinite). A cameo at E3 2018 revealed actresses Léa Seydoux (Inglourious Basterds, Midnight In Paris) and Lindsay Wagner (The Bionic Woman). At the Tokyo Game Show in September 2018, Kojima and co. verified the involvement of Tommie Lee Jenkins and Japanese voice actors and Metal Gear mainstays Akio Otsuka, Kikuko Inoue, Nana Mizuki, Satoshi Mikami, and Kenjiro Tsuda. And the latest trailer from May 29th confirmed Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers) and Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive).
It's an ambitious cast and one that's probably grown tenfold. Why? Two words: Emma Stone. In March 2017, a blurry message board "leak" suggested the actress was scheduled to make her return to video games (see: Sleeping Dogs). It was later debunked as an elaborate fake from the YouTube-famous makeup team Glam And Gore, but given Kojima's passion for La La Land, Hollywood films, and being as meta as possible, it wouldn't be out of the question to see her or any other major star make the final cut. His own Instagram and Twitter accounts are full of nods to Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Pattinson, and Elle Fanning, and he has even taken selfies at HQ with musicians like Glasgow poppers CHVRCHES.
What are other creators saying about it?
Most are bound to secrecy due to Sony Interactive and the politics of Publishing 101, but the feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive. Following the start of Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding tour in January 2019, Guerilla Games noted their demo left them "speechless," with Horizon Zero Dawn's lead combat designer Dennis Zopfi describing it as "intriguing, beautiful, touching, mysterious, amazing, artistic, thrilling, engaging, inspiring, [and] masterful."
Finland's Remedy Entertainment -- who are currently working on the Lynchian action-adventure epic Control (coming out August 27) -- claimed they were "more excited than ever" as even director Sam Lake stated "Death Stranding dares to push the boundaries." The Division 2's creative director Julian Gerighty echoed a similar sentiment in March, extending a thank you to Kojima for his hospitality before concluding with: "Trust me, #DeathStranding will be timeless."
The compliments might sound a little fabricated -- especially when creatives are tossing around adjectives like a film critic who cheats on their subconscious with Jameson and a hefty thesaurus -- but a lot of it genuinely stems from pure admiration. A large number of post-NES kids grew up fetishizing the 8-bit and 16-bit eras to the point where they would use their core values and principles to create their own masterworks with what's available now. Kojima's infatuation with the abnormal gutted societal boundaries, norms, and any notion that art had to be confined for one's own sanity, and it's why we're a complete sucker for the hypothetical.
Are there any interesting fan theories?
Two of the biggest (and most plausible) game plot theories belong to forum heads. Reddit user tadg11 believes that Death Stranding is a perpetual collision of two completely different dimensions that allowed two entities to spill over into the human world: the Homo Ludens and the Chirals. Their analysis categorizes the event known as "timefall" as a catalyst for the colliding worlds as well as the utter decimation of buildings, infrastructure, and anything man-made. To prevent "full on extinction" as humans aged and died in the presence of "timefall," America reinvented itself as the United Cities of America -- territories made out of small camps that gradually rebuilt homes, tools, and belongings out of plastic due to the rapid degradation of wood, concrete, and metal.
That's where Homo Ludens and Chirals come in. Ludens are humanoid creatures whose entire existence, culture, and development is powered by a pursuit of fun and play. As an extension of Dutch historian Johan Huizinga and his 1938 book Homo Ludens, they have been forced to live alongside humanity -- sharing the same space with Chirals, "lost souls" and "predators" who are natives of the "death world," and humans who can die and navigate that and come back to the material verse with varying DOOMs (Death Obtained Organic Mutations). They exist in the form of video game protagonists (i.e. Léa Seydoux, Troy Baker) and even the freaky babies in artificial wombs who are theorized to be the byproduct of two Ludens who have cheated death.
"The Ludens are evolved beyond humanity," tadg11 explains in their Reddit post. "They are their own race, and they possess reality-bending powers to allow them to carve their own epic stories so they can play as they please. Now, since Death Stranding has forced their worlds to collide, they have to share their home with humans and these humans have become but NPCs in their great adventures, whether either party likes it or not."
Reddit's Grr22oz, on the other hand, believes Death Stranding is influenced by different periods of Egyptian mythology and Ancient Egyptian customs and culture. Their theory categorizes the two different dimensions as the "living world" and the Duat -- the realm of the dead in which the deceased had to navigate past unpleasant spirits in order to be judged by the god Anubis. The Duat is layered with the "living world," but hints of it cross over into that other dimension in the form of "timefall" and souls of the dead who didn't make the journey for their final judgement.
In their mind, Sam Bridges isn't just "a man who delivers" as much as he's a porter who helps embalmed corpses reach their final judgement. He is subsequently attacked by apparitions as he's not supposed to be mingling with the dead, and when Sam dies from a "voidout," he is instantly transported to the Duat and not the mirrored chiral world. There his soul splits into two: "his ka (the body in which his soul presides) and his ba (his soul)." When he comes back to life, his ka and ba combine to form an Akh and transform him into a transfigured being who can die repeatedly. Sam and Léa Seydoux are the only confirmed Akhs (so far) while the five floating figures from the trailers are the Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses Ra (sun), Shu (dry air), Tefnut (rain/moisture), Geb (earth), and Nut (sky and heavens), who is at the center of it all.
Is it connected to Metal Gear Solid?
The short answer: anything is possible. Whereas tadg11 and Grr22oz backed their hypotheticals with substantial evidence, there are a lot of sheer coincidences that pin the characters of Death Stranding to the Metal Gear Solid series as a whole. Mads Mikkelsen's character is reminiscent of The Sorrow from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater thanks to their mutual affinity for the dead and the similar markings under the right eye. Léa Seydoux took classes at the French drama school Les Enfants Terribles, which is also the name of the government project that was developed in the early 1970s to produce clones of Big Boss. And Hideo Kojima's depiction of the Homo Ludens bears some similarities to The Boss, the founder of the Cobra Unit and the biological mother of Ocelot who was once sent on data mission in space before falling victim to a six-month coma.
We won't spoil the endgame of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but there's also Kojima's recent tweet about New Order's "Elegia," a track that was used during the promotional phase of the Game Of The Year nominee. Could it be a coincidence? Is anything a coincidence? That's up to you to decide.