Last night, Hideo Kojima presented the latest trailer for his first game since parting ways with Konami, Death Stranding.
The legendary Japanese developer triumphantly took to the stage at The Game Awards 2016 to unveil the teaser and accept the prestigious Industry Icon award from host and long-time friend Geoff Keighley, one year on from being barred from attending the ceremony by his former employer.
While last night may have celebrated the achievements of Kojima-san’s past, his newly found relationship with Sony Interactive Entertainment and the buzz surrounding the PS4-exclusive Death Stranding suggest he’s as relevant as ever.
As we’ve come to expect from Kojima, the game’s latest trailer is cinematically stunning, while providing perhaps more questions than answers as to what exactly Death Stranding is all about. With that in mind, I’ve spent several hours watching and re-watching the trailer to offer some of my theories on what it all means for Kojima Productions’ latest title.
The trailer starts out with a shot panning upward, revealing a similar environment to that featured in the first teaser trailer: dark, muddy ground, with corpses of sea-dwelling creatures littering the area. This suggests a world with either dwindling water, or possibly an entity that has full control of the supply of it. Either way, it looks as though civilisation has been effected by the rise and fall of the water levels (my reasoning behind that thought will come momentarily). As the scene continues, we see the form of a baby doll come into view; it looks water-worn and dirty. Further up, there is a scene of a war-torn city, with rubble and sandbags littering the surrounding area. We also see a man (Guillermo del Toro, no less) walking hurriedly but pointedly in order to not disturb the indiscernible object he is cradling in his arms.
The camera pans up and shows planes flying over this man’s head, and we can start to put together a scene of a World War II-like landscape. As the planes go overhead, the man turns towards the camera, and the camera zooms in. He seems to be physically altered somehow, as implied by the scar running across his forehead. Upon his chest rests a pin of a semicircle with a map of the United States covered in what looks to be a network of some kind, similar to a spider’s web. Under that, there are the words “United Cities of America”: this isn’t the same reality that you or I live in, that is for sure. Some sort of war is obviously going on, and this man seems important in it, or at least whatever it is that he’s carrying is.
The man sees something, and reacts with a terrified look upon his face, and proceeds to get to cover as fast as possible while still taking care to keep the item in his arms safe. The planes fly back around the opposite direction; it can be assumed that they are what he saw. He gets to the underside of a bridge, and stops to catch his breath. It was a short distance, so either his age, or the changes to his body, has put him at a weak state (that, or he is just morbidly out of shape). The walls around him begin to displace, knocking dirt loose; there’s something, or someone, moving above him. He steps foot from under the bridge, and witnesses a morbid sight.
A tank in a condition that could only be described as a gory mess of metal drives across the bridge, accompanied by fully equipped soldiers. We aren’t dealing with any ordinary military force here – this has to be something more; something that has put the human race on the brink of extinction (I will also get to that later). The team passes over the bridge, leaving behind an organic trail of roots – or rather veins – and leaving the American man unnoticed. He relaxes for a bit, before realizing that the water is rising up to his ankles. Normally, I would just assume that the wet environment would be due to heavy rainfall, but this behavior of water is completely abnormal. Ergo, the opposing force in this game must have some sort of control over the environment. This could also symbolize amniotic fluid if we go along with the theme that this series of events is hinting at. The man finally shows us the object he has been handling with such caution. Upon activating it, the dark part of the device becomes transparent, revealing what is inside.
A fetus of some kind moves around inside the incubator-like device, almost seeming aware of its own surroundings with a level of intelligence that one would expect from a normal human being; this can’t be a normal fetus, if that wasn’t clear already. Based on this trailer and the previous one, the game so far seems to have a common theme of babies and parenthood. In the rising water, we can see the damaged baby doll float to the man’s ankles, and continue into the tunnel; the doll almost seems to be pulled along by something. This could be used as a symbolism for the dangers babies face in this world. What Kojima plans on doing with this trend is yet to be seen, but it’s bound to be elaborate given his past record in the Metal Gear Solid series.
The camera then pans upward, back towards the man’s face; this time being wide enough out to show the baby within the device. It moves its head into the shot, and opens its eyes; again, implying some kind of heightened intelligence. The scene slows down as if to impose a sense of urgency on the situation. This is, indeed, not a safe world for babies, whether they be unborn or not. After a moment, the scene speeds back up, cuts to a wide shot, and the man moves back under the bridge, and into the tunnel’s aperture.
He stands there for a moment, with the camera zooming in closer to him, then cutting to beside his left leg. The focus then switches to a tracking shot of the baby doll floating down this tunnel. The doll begins to slowly flash a red hue over and over again as it continues its momentum. When it get closers to the end of the tunnel, a a slow red flash begins to emanate from this dark place.
The camera floats up and pans, centering the tunnel’s dark space into the shot, and slowly zooms in closer as the red flashing begins to subside. Into the light comes a squad of four soldiers, taking up a defensive position at the intersection of the tunnel; the men are not alive, but instead seem to be skeletons. A fifth one slowly comes into view, much more alive and animated than the others. This one can be assumed to be their leader. If we look closely, we can see that the four soldiers are connected to the fifth with what seems to be heavy duty electrical cable. It seems like they are reliant on him for a source of energy.
The shot cuts to a close up of the leader’s face, his eyes covered by a pair of night vision goggles. He is seen looking around, before looking straight ahead, presumably making visual contact with the other man. He smirks, and lifts the night vision goggles out from in front of his eyes. They disappear in a beautiful orange particle effect, revealing the face of a man (Mads Mikkelsen) who looks touched by the same black organic mater that covered the sides of the bridge. His finger is in front of his mouth, signing to keep quiet. The scene cuts to a view of the right side of the new man’s face, then to a wide shot of the squad. The commander motions the other four to move on the target in front of them. The other four duly oblige, moving forward down the tunnel and severing the connection with the fifth.
The cables shine a fiery orange as they retract into the leader of the squad’s belt. As they move into the pouches around his waist, the leader’s head falls back, and looks almost in expectancy due to what has transpired. The camera pans down to the leader’s ankles, and the doll comes into view, knocking against his leg. The doll then has one eye shoot open and a sharp screech can be heard momentarily. This could very well imply that the leader of this group, or at least what ever he is a part of, is responsible for what is going on in this world.
The camera cuts to a close up of the leader looking down at the doll with a smile. His face looks much more human now, as if to imply he may not have always been like this. The man directs his gaze up towards the camera, and stares. The scene finally cuts to simply the text, “Death Stranding”.
There is so much to take in and analyze in this teaser by itself, but even with that mentality in mind, it was still an absolutely incredible sight to behold. The tone of a dark environment and storyline has definitely been set, and Kojima Productions have done it beautifully with this piece.
The music throughout was suspenseful and unnerving, which may imply this could be some sort of survival horror game. It’s interesting to wonder what route exactly Kojima-san will take with Death Stranding. Will it be similar to Metal Gear Solid in some way? Will it stray from that path and play like a typical shooter? That would be a first, considering the style Kojima Productions has always followed by going against the grain.
It’s going to be exciting to see what comes of Death Stranding and where Kojima Productions will go from it. Leaving Konami wasn’t the end for Hideo Kojima, and this is where he just proved it.