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Before presenting his new game, Death Stranding, at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, this year, legendary Japanese designer Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid) claimed it would “unlike any game you’ve seen before — a whole new genre.”
Kojima didn’t disappoint.
Amid the hundreds of first-person shooters, role-playing adventures and hack-and-slash dungeon titles packing the corridors of Gamescom 2019, Death Stranding stands out as both startlingly original and, frankly, bizarre. The open world action-adventure game blends a sci-fi dystopia story with alternative dimensions, apparent time travel and some head-scratching mythology that will like take years to properly parse through.
Despite the hype surrounding the title, and even after Kojima unveiled the first gameplay scenes at Gamescom earlier this week, exactly what Death Stranding is remains a mystery.
That’s probably by design. Kojima is famously secretive about his games and has mastered the art of the non-reveal reveal. At Gamescom, he presented new characters in Death Stranding — alongside protagonist Sam Porter Bridges, played by Norman Reedus, and villain Cliff (Mads Mikkelsen). We got our first good looks at Margaret Qualley as Mama, Tommie Earl Jenkins as Die-Hardman and Lindsay Wagner as Amelie — but those extra pieces of the puzzle failed to add up to a complete picture.
So, The Hollywood Reporter sat down with Kojima to try and tease out a few the ideas behind the game, which is set to bow Nov. 8 on PlayStation 4.
The master was in a playful spirit, upbeat but casual in jeans, thin leather jacket and a blue T-shirt bearing the logo of his studio, Kojima Productions. (Death Stranding is his first project under his indie banner, which he set up after splitting from partner Konami in 2015.)
“This is a totally new kind of game, I can’t really explain it. You really need to play it to understand it,” said Kojima, smiling. But he promised to give it a try.
What is known is that in Death Stranding, you play Reedus’ Sam, a rebellious character who bears more than a passing resemblance to the actor’s iconic role of Daryl Dixon on AMC’s The Walking Dead. “He is a badass but, in person, Norman is also quite sweet, and I wanted to capture that with the Sam character as well,” Kojima says.
The game is set in a future, post-apocalyptic version of the U.S. in which society has been torn apart. It has something to do with “BTs” — invisible monsters that come from “the other side” but wreak havoc in this world. Sam can sense BTs but can’t see them. That is until he is given a “Bridge Baby” — an infant baby kept in a translucent glass container that Sam carries with him at all times (as mentioned before, it is very weird). The Bridge Baby, or “BB,” was born to a “Stillmother” — a brain-dead mom kept on life-support. By plugging into the BB, the player forms a connection the other side and can see the BTs. In the game, this means he can detect monsters in what otherwise looks like an empty forest or field.
What remains of the U.S. government calls on Sam to help re-establish civilization by traveling from the East to the West Coast, reconnecting isolated communities to the “United Cities of America,” or UCA. Ultimately, he must reach Edge Knot City on the West Coast, where the future U.S. president ,Amelie (Wagner), is being held prisoner by “terrorist separatists” known as the Homo Demens, who are determined to keep Edge Knot City independent.
“If we Americans don’t come together again, humanity won’t survive,” says Wagner’s Amelie to Sam, via video link, in a key cut scene from the game.
“The goal of the game is to connect the world,” says Kojima.
Using a metaphor he has mentioned before in connection to the project, Kojima says while most action games are “stick” games — “You use your stick, or your gun, to fight off evil”— Death Stranding is designed as a “rope” game — “You use your rope to bring what is good closer to you.”
Translated into gameplay, what this means is that players will criss-cross the United States of Death Stranding, forming connections with the other characters, and societies they meet along the way.
With his Metal Gear series, Kojima is credited with having helped to invent the stealth game genre, where avoiding encounters with the enemies is emphasized over direct combat. In Death Stranding, he appears to be taking a similar tack, favoring cooperation over conflict.
“I don’t have anything against violent games. I enjoy them and enjoy playing them,” Kojima says. “But with Death Stranding, I wanted to create something that only I could create.” His goal with the game, Kojima says, is to “get people — in a world where everywhere, in the U.S., in Europe, people are building walls, separating from each other — to think about what connection means.”
Global connection will be a key component in gameplay as well. While he declined to give specifics — Kojima said he will do a major reveal of that aspect of Death Stranding at the Tokyo Game Show next month — the final version will include a multiplayer aspect in which players from around the world can chose to “connect” to one another, presumably helping each other by providing resources or other aid.
Huge swaths of Death Stranding remain shrouded in mystery. Kojima wouldn’t discuss Mikkelsen’s character, Cliff, apparently the baddie in the game, or the “other side” that, in trailers for the game, appears to be an alternative world where versions of the World War I and World War II are still being played out.
But if the glimpses provided at Gamescom are any indication, Kojima’s latest could be the rare video game that lives up to, or even exceeds, its pre-launch hype.
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