What is Death Stranding about? Despite being in development for years, most of the chatter around Hideo Kojima's upcoming PS4 game – the first from his new studio Kojima Productions, after a much-publicized departure from Konami – is still about how hard the game is to define.
We saw an in-depth showcase at E3 2018, showing a game that was broadly sci-fi, but featuring elements of trippy horror, melding the techno-future trappings of the Metal Gear series with Kojima's own mind-bending Silent Hill series. A recent panel discussion at Tribeca Film Festival also gives more hints as to the kind of gameplay we can expect.
At this point, though, it's almost all entirely conjecture. Sony and Kojima are playing up to the mysterious nature of the game, allowing very few details to be revealed. As the first game from Kojima Studios, there's a lot riding on its success, and the PR campaign to drum up interest is already creating a fever-pitch of anticipation.
While fans the world over try to piece together the bread crumb trail to find out what exactly we're all waiting for, let this article guide you through everything there is to know about Death Stranding so far.
[Update: It looks like Hideo Kojima could be teasing some Death Stranding news. Read on to find out more.]
Cut to the chase
- What is it? Honestly, who really knows. It’s the debut title from Hideo Kojima’s new studio Kojima Studios.
- When can I play it? Sometime in the next 2 years.
- What will it cost? Likely to be around $60/£45/AU$59
- What can I play it on? Sony PS4
Death Stranding trailers and screenshots
The Tokyo Game Show 2018 trailer revealed voice-acting veteran Troy Baker has joined the cast as the mysterious villain The Man in the Golden Mask.
#TGS2018 Troy Baker's character introduced! pic.twitter.com/IT74ZU7dY3September 23, 2018
E3 2018 brought Death Stranding gameplay to our eyes and left our minds somewhat confused.
Before E3 2018, Death Stranding featured at the Game Awards 2017. Coming in at nearly eight minutes long, this isn't a quick watch and unfortunately it doesn't answer many of the questions we have about the game (actually we think we have more). Watch it for yourself below:
The reveal trailer that was shown at E3 in 2016 may have been more than 3 minutes long, but it didn’t reveal much about the game at all other than that it would star The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus.
A second even longer and 4K trailer was shown at The Game Awards at the end of 2016. This trailer starred Hannibal’s Mads Mikkelsen and Guillermo Del Toro and although it didn’t give us any more of an idea of what the game will actually even be about (in fact leaving us more confused than we were before) it did send expectations soaring.
From what we can guess, the events of the second trailer take place before the events of the first, since the baby being transported in the incubator (in the second) is almost certainly Norman Reedus (as seen in the first trailer). They have the same handcuff and stomach scars.
As for what this means we have absolutely no idea. Bear in mind Kojima has, in the past, been a fan of including footage in trailers that never made it into the final game. Anyone remember the 'Grand Theft Auto' exchange from the first MGS3 trailer?
Death Stranding release date
There’s no definite release date just yet, despite Kojima having told fans during the 2016 Tokyo Game Show that Death Stranding would be out before 2019.
In an interview with Dengeki PlayStation (via Wccftech) at the end of 2017, Kojima said that development of the game was going well: “Development on Death Stranding is going well enough that [Sony Interactive Entertainment] told us, ‘We have never before seen a game being created at such a fast pace.’ We are planning an announcement that will further surprise everyone in 2018.”
A preemptive listing on Amazon UK put the release date as March 29, which came and went. A 2019 release still seems possible, though we've had no official confirmation of when to expect it.
In addition, Kojima revealed that the voice actor strikes in 2018 held up development as he was unable to record with Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen during that period – delaying recording for the game.
What do we know so far about Death Stranding?
Hideo Kojima is teasing an update
Given Sony has said it won’t be attending E3 2019, it’s somewhat hard to predict when we’ll see news relating to its exclusive titles. However, Hideo Kojima has been hinting that we’ll see something from his exclusive, Death Stranding, soon.
Kojima has posted a Tweet with a photo of himself in front of a pair of monitors, one showing the Death Stranding title while the other has what appears to be some video editing software in action. This suggests that a trailer is highly likely to be incoming.
👍🌈🦀🐟🎉🐋☔️🔥 pic.twitter.com/68QqUPx1IsMay 13, 2019
This isn’t the first time Kojima has posted such a photo—in April he posted something similar, just without himself in it. If these posts are pointing to a trailer release, they don’t offer any kind of date or even an idea of what will be shown (we're not entirely sure how to interpret the emoji). It’s likely fans will be keeping a close eye on Kojima’s social media activity for the next tease, or maybe even a trailer drop.
Death Stranding is in a 'critical phase', according to Kojima
Thanks to a tweet by Kojima, we now know the game has reached an important phase of development and is even capable of running on the PlayStation 4.
The following tweet by Kojima (roughly translated by MSPoweruser), explains that while Death Stranding is fairly far along in development, there's a lot of polishing to still be done.
"Death Stranding is not yet in the debugging stage, but is currently having all the game elements and tools from different development systems combined into the game," Kojima writes. "It’s a process that involves connecting the parts, adding feeling, looking over the production, the specifications, looking out for trouble, taking things out and adding things in.
"I’m playing the game on PlayStation 4 every day. It’s a critical phase."
DSはまだ難度調整やデバック段階ではなく、ツールや開発機上で出来たバラバラのパーツをひとつのゲームに組み上げていっているところ。PS4の実機で毎日、実際に僕がゲームを直接プレイしながら、パーツを繋げ、操作感や演出、仕様、不具合を修正、肉付けと削ぎ落としをしている過程。重要なフェーズ🌈 pic.twitter.com/h30KIec9q0March 24, 2019
Tribeca Film Festival
We learnt a few new tidbits at the Tribeca Film Festival, which hosted a panel discussion with Hideo Kojima and Norman Reedus. Much of it was about how immersed Reedus was with development, with his entire face and body (tattoos and all) having been scanned into the game.
“In Death Stranding I’m trying to put every aspect [of Norman] in there,” Kojima said through his interpreter, “and you will see his … everything, in the game,” he finished, suggestively, cracking up the crowd. By the end of the game, he says, you’ll “love Norman”.
Kojima also stated there would be some painful choices to make in the game, though followed up by saying the player wouldn't really be able to influence the story through their decisions. Sounds like some different cutscenes or dialogue options, though not much in the way of affecting plot.
One of the biggest teases at Tribeca was the recurring mention of online features, though Kojima avoided talking directly about what this would look like in the game: "You're connecting the game, and everyone is playing it together, and you'll be connected, everyone will be connected together as well." Maybe a way to communicate or leave notes for other players, in the vein of Dark Souls?
Troy Baker is a villain
Veteran voice-actor Troy Baker (who voices Joel in The Last of Us series) stars in Death Stranding as the enigmatic antagonist The Man in the Golden Mask. Baker was introduced in a teaser trailer shown during Tokyo Game Show, with his skull-masked character summoning a black tar-like demon to take on Norman Reedus' character.
E3 brought a brand new trailer, few answers and even more questions. The trailer for the game had the most revealing description we've seen yet, stating the game is about Sam ‘Porter’ Bridges, a delivery man who must journey across a vast world so that he can “reunite the shattered world one step at a time.”
We also got look at two more famous faces who will make an appearance in the game – Léa Seydoux and Lindsay Wagner.
Something edgy Back in 2015 Kojima starting giving hints around the game's tone and star-studded voice cast in an interview with IGN. According to Kojima his first title with Sony is going to be “slightly more edgy”, as while he wants “to create something that’s what people expect” he also wants to bring “something new that people haven’t seen before.”
We do know that Kojima is planning to do something different with the game’s mechanics, most notably around the concept of dying and involving the baby that has appeared in every trailer. Kojima said in the interview that the mechanics of Death Stranding were inspired by a Japanese short story.
In the story it’s stated that the first tool mankind creates is a stick for protection, but that the second tool mankind created was a rope to keep things close and secure. “Most of your tools in action games are sticks,” Kojima explained, “You punch or you shoot or you kick. The communication is always through these 'sticks.' In [Death Stranding], I want people to be connected not through sticks, but through what would be the equivalent of ropes… But of course you will be able to use the sticks too.”
Unfortunately we haven’t seen any gameplay that would give us a better insight into how this rope approach will actually work.
A mystery to its own devs
At a Q and A session at the E3 Coliseum in 2017, Kojima himself said that his own team didn't understand the game: "I started explaining a year ago to the team what I wanted to make. No one got it!"
Before this, the game's star Mads Mikkelsen admitted he "got lost" when Kojima tried to explain the game's plot to him.
Though Kojima has been coy, he’s given some nice teases into what we can expect from Death Stranding in terms of tone and gameplay modes.
We know the game will run on the Decima engine which was created by Horizon: Zero Dawn developers, Guerilla Games. Kojima praised this engine during PSX 2016 as being an excellent engine for creating open world games, something that Horizon: Zero Dawn’s reception suggests has an element of truth to it.
Though its unsettling trailers suggest otherwise, Kojima has said that Death Stranding won’t be as dark as some fans are expecting. It’s certainly not a horror game, he told Glixel, and it would have comedic moments which isn’t entirely surprising considering the overarching tone of the Metal Gear series.
An impressive cast
We already knew Death Stranding had some big names attached to it including Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen . But now we know they'll be joined by writer and actress Emily O'Brien and the voice of video games, Troy Baker.
O'Brien recently posted a picture to Instagram which showed her alongside Baker and Reedus, with a caption stating "Honored to be working alongside these two fine lads on [Hideo Kojima's] new project Death Stranding."
While Baker is well known for his starring roles in video games such as The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite, O'Brien has had roles on both TV and in games, featuring in Telltale's Guardian's of the Galaxy and Batman: The Enemy Within as well as Rock in a Hard Place.
Players won't die
In a recent interview with IGN, Hideo Kojima was slightly more open with details than he usually is. The strange underwater sequence from the 2017 Game Awards trailer for example? That's apparently a kind of purgatory where players will go and freely explore when they die in the game, though Kojima notes that "death will never pull you out of the game."
The game apparently explores the themes of life and death and it's for this reason that Kojima would like to explore the traditional death mechanic in games and let players know that in-game death isn't the end for them when it happens.
In this underwater area, he explains, “you're not dead or alive. It's the equivalent of that screen that says 'Continue?' and a counter ticking down towards zero.” When players decide they're ready to leave and return to the game world, they won't be returned to a point before their death. Instead the game acknowledges their defeat and coming back to life is more of a reincarnation than a respawn.
There's a weird time rain
During the trailer shown at the 2017 Game Awards, fans noticed there's a strange kind of rain that has an effect on time. In makes plants grow and wilt and makes human bodies age and degenerate when it touches them. The rain is apparently called Timefall and it has a big role to play in the game's story.
What's the deal with the babies?
There's been some seriously strange recurring baby imagery in the footage we've seen for Death Stranding that's included Norman Reedus cradling a baby while standing nude on a beach as well as having one living inside his throat. According to Kojima in an interview with IGN, the baby is apparently the same baby and it's a part of the game mechanics as well as the overarching plot. We assume it's related to the idea of not ever finitely dying but Kojima didn't confirm this.
There will be online elements
We already knew there would be online co-op elements in the game after Kojima confirmed it at the Tokyo Game Show, but in a recent IGN interview he acknowledged that he's been keeping up with recent players reactions to things like microtransactions.
“I think there are a lot of people out there who still enjoy single-player games, aside from some microtransactions." This suggests that while the game will have online co-op elements, they won't make up the entirety of the game.
What could it all mean?
Though the game’s trailers don’t tell us much about how we’ll eventually play Death Stranding, they do reveal some important thematic elements.
Quotes from William Blake, the repeated appearance of ruined dolls, and the inclusion of what looks like oil (but could very well be ink) and dead sea creatures suggests Kojima will be exploring the fractious relationship between man and the natural world and the impact it has on us and future generations.
The littering of dead crabs on beaches and tanks with definitely living tentacles coming out of them suggests to us a post-apocalyptic world over-run with robotic sea creatures which would certainly be interesting. After all, Kojima is working closely with Guerilla Games whose Horizon: Zero Dawn game focused on robotic dinosaurs.
There’s also a curious mix of futuristic technology and elements of the past in the game’s various trailers.
In the second game trailer though Mads Mikkelsen is wearing a modern army uniform and appears to be using some kind of cable, the undead soldiers around him are wearing WW2 era uniforms and the game world outside of the tunnel he’s in is almost certainly from the second world war time period.
Whether this mix of past and future will manifest itself as time travelling or simply alternate universe science fiction isn’t clear.
Safe to say, as a Kojima title, there’s a lot of mystery and symbolism at play here and fans online are tearing through what little materials there are to try and find out more information about the game.
We’ll keep updating as more solid information becomes available.
All image credits: Kojima Productions