Death Stranding seems less like a video game every day
When the newly-independent Kojima productions announced Death Stranding at E3 2016, the mind boggled.
Illustrious video game designer Hideo Kojima (the Japanese spectacles behind the acclaimed Metal Gear series) introduced an ambiguous trailer which saw a naked Norman Reedus cradle an invisible baby on a beach of stranded whales. Three years and five more trailers later – while we’re pretty much none the wiser as to what the game is about – Death Stranding looks to be a Kojima passion project that might’ve been better suited to TV.
The title refers, rather morbidly, to the phenomenon of cetacean stranding – when whales and dolphins strand themselves on land and proceed to die of dehydration. Kojima himself has described the game as “a completely new type of action game, where the goal of the player is to reconnect isolated cities and a fragmented society.” One of the key aspects of the playing experience, he says, is “the connection between life and death”. Heavy stuff.
An eight-minute gameplay trailer revealed Sam, the protagonist and primary subject of players’ control, scouring a craggy landscape – in a beautifully-rendered game world, it must be said – performing what appear to be important delivery tasks with his trusty ladder and FedEx-inspired parcel carrier.
YouTube commenters were quick to ridicule: “Norman Reedus is an Amazon employee in 2077” and “What is he, the world's greatest pizza delivery guy?” were the most liked responses.
Kojima and co. are, of course, deliberately shrouding the project in secrecy and intending to keep audiences guessing until the game’s release, but gamers are an unforgiving bunch. Little mercy is shown towards studios who disappoint eager fans, irrespective of their success with previous titles – look at EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II– and Death Stranding’s lofty ambitions risk staining its appeal to those looking for a consistently-engaging and playable experience.
The stratospheric success of last year’s Red Dead Redemption 2 proves a case study in striking the right balance between depth and playability. Rockstar’s immersive journey into the last days of the Wild West offered a television-quality narrative whilst recognising the player’s desire to ride around on horses and occasionally shoot up a saloon.
It allowed you to opt into its mature themes when you wanted and opt out when you preferred to run riot. While there’s no issue with offering gamers a deeper playing experience, Death Stranding hasn’t thus far shown us that it’ll be any fun.
The latest trailer reveals the involvement of another motion-captured filmmaker, Nicolas Winding Refn (who joins Guillermo del Toro amongst the cast, along with actors Mads Mikkelsen and Léa Seydoux), as an AED-dependent character whose heart stops every 21 minutes.
It’s clear that the game will feature an abundance of complex individuals and concepts, but one can’t help but feel as though its grandiose ideas might be more conducive to a well-made television series. The game has reportedly been in production for four years, it’s release has been delayed multiple times and the blockbuster talent involved will likely make it one of the costliest projects in video game production history.
Death Stranding promises to be a “genre-defining experience”, and there’s no doubt that it will prove a career-defining venture for Kojima himself. The fabled designer has a history of breaking ground in the industry – his 1987 Metal Gear brainchild essentially created the stealth genre – so he is perhaps best placed to make such ambitious claims for his latest project. It’s going to be a monumental achievement or a very, very expensive disaster.
Death Stranding is set to be released on 8 November, 2019.