We were recently treated to another blockbuster Death Stranding trailer from the gang at Kojima Productions, which revealed the release date for the game and offered up some more cryptic gameplay footage, teasing more details about how the game is going to play out when it lands in our disc trays come early November. In this article we're going to dive into some of the tidbits in the trailer that you might have missed in an attempt to understand how the systems and mechanics of Death Stranding will fit together upon launch.
Can you... urinate on command?
As we learned from the gruesome E3 2018 trailer where Sam ripped his toenail off, players are going to have to take care of our protagonist and monitor certain elements of his bodily functions. Yesterday's trailer gave us two points to think about in this regard. First off, this blink and you'll miss it moment where you can see an icon of a child urinating in Sam's radial wheel. This can mean one of two things - it either causes Norman to take a leak, or it's a means of draining the fluid from the BB Pod for some reason. Whatever it is, it looks fairly important and points towards light survival elements in the game.
Does the baby need charging or refuelling?
There's also a shot of Sam connecting his BB Pod to a wall, specifically a machine known as a Bridge Baby Recovery System which has a charge - perhaps there is a limited amount of time you can use the baby to detect the BTs. So far, we've only seen Del Toro, Sam and Higgs with a BB Pod - and perhaps Del Toro delivered that baby to Sam, meaning there are only two in the world for the protagonist and antagonist. There is emphasis on how vital they are, you clearly need to take care of the BB in order to succeed.
Looks like you can damage, and lose, cargo
In a clip exclusive to the Japanese Trailer snippet there's a boss battle (we'll get onto this later) where Sam is hit and his cargo starts flashing red. Is this a damage system, perhaps? Does losing your cargo or damaging your BB Pod equal death, or is that reserved for the BTs (not the k-pop band) the Beached Things that drag you into Hades (what Kojima is calling the upside-down hellscape Sam floats in in between lives.)
One key part of Death Stranding that we can now understand a little bit more is the landscape traversal. In the trailer we saw a variety of tools being used to cross unassailable obstacles, from giant ladders (a staple in every Kojima game, it seems) to a new tool called a Climbing Anchor. From the description "A pole that is driven into the ground to create an anchor point for a rope." It affords Sam the ability to get up and down steep slopes and cliff, with a maximum length of 30 metres. Pretty hefty! This is clearly an important part of the game, especially when you consider the supportive copy on the game's websitewhich reads "Unpassable obstacles block your path and force you to find different routes, while supernatural elements alter the physical state of your surroundings."
Perhaps this will be made more difficult when Sam has extra cargo, we've seen that he can eventually have autonomous machines that carry his luggage for him. In getting from A to B as an apocalyptic Deliveroo driver, your cargo is going to vary each time, and you're not going to be following a map or riding down main roads - it looks like the game is going to give you many mountains to summit and canyons to surpass. The Nordic landscape looks unruly but gorgeous - even if it is supposed to be America after an extinction event - but honestly that's anyone's guess!
There are safe houses and vehicles
One big reveal isn't that obvious, but from a few clips strewn across the trailer we can see that there is a safe house and garage style system available to Sam - the most telling shot being the one pictured above. This is confirmed by some more copy on the official PlayStation site, which notes that you can "share safe houses" with fellow couriers - part of the asynchronous multiplayer system we'll get onto later.
This appears to be the location from many of the previous trailers where Sam is found taking a shower or walking around naked out of his clothes - perhaps its where you go to take on cargo missions and recuperate. Looks like you can change your suit there too. It might be where the Bridge Baby Recovery System is housed too! It seems to be connected to this BRIDGES moniker, which could be the courier corporation Sam works for or a more environmentalist movement - either way its owned by the black-masked Die-Hardman and has something to do with the United Cities of America in the aftermath of whatever happened to the USA.
This appears to be where Sam can store his cyber-motorbike too, with the safe houses featuring an underground elevator system where he can store and retrieve the vehicle for use in traversal.
Stick your tin foil hats on for this one - we think this might be our first glimpse of the game's asynchronous multiplayer system. In the trailer Sam is sneaking through the brush when a phantom cargo pack walks past him and pings the ground. Kind of like Dark Souls' phantoms, are these cargo packs other players showing each other where to go in-game to avoid Homo Demen bandits? Here's the copy from the official site for some more detail "Help other travellers without ever crossing paths... Send supplies, share safe houses and walk in the footsteps of fellow couriers to reunite civilisation."
Later in the trailer, there's a scene where Sam is trying to escape Beached Things whilst holding his breath. Notice how he's leaving tracks and you can see other footprints - is this how other players can affect the game via multiplayer, by showing the way around to safety?
There is also the idea of The Stick and The Rope, a concept from a Kobo Abe short story titled 'The Rope' that deeply influenced Death Stranding's multiplayer components and strand connection system. In the story (which I translated in a rudimentary fashion from Spanish for the sake of this article) this passage appears right at the end, which Kojima has referenced previously in interviews.
"The "rope", together with the "stick", is one of the oldest instruments of man. They were friends invented by human beings, the "stick" to scare away negative spaces and the "rope" to attract positive spaces. Both the one and the other were wherever there were humans. To this day, they invade and inhabit all homes, as if they were members of the family."
Kojima took from this that players only use sticks in modern multiplayer games - guns and weapons to shoot each other with. He instead wants players to use ropes to tie each other together through gameplay and help make the experience connected - which is perhaps what we're seeing with the idea of shared safe houses, cargo and footprints.
Homo Demens and Melee combat
Despite looking like a last resort, there is melee combat in Death Stranding, and it looks fairly haptic. Sam can punch the lights out of the bandits if they catch up to him, with a variety of skilled moves including leaping punches and briefcase batterings. The bandits will also make you lose your cargo in battle if they hit you - they are certainly non-lethal and appear to chase Sam with stun poles, trying to tackle and capture him and his precious BB cargo. It's unclear whether these bandits are a splinter of the Homo Demens led by Troy Baker's Higgs (the president-kidnapping, face licking lunatic) though you can see they're using makeshift BB Pods, drawing the energy to power their detector machines from a slim cargo case with unknown materials inside.
We've seen in previous trailers that Sam can pull out a transforming assault rifle, though this may be bait. In choosing to show us a melee struggle, it feels like this is Kojima telling us this is the right way to play, instead of going in guns blazing. This is probably due to the fact that death has been made very integral to the world - there doesn't need to be any more of it.
Death and rebirth
The latest trailer offers up another instance of a voidout (where Sam is dragged to Hades by the Beached Things) supposedly leaving behind a crater in the real world. From the official site we learn a bit more about this "There is no traditional 'game over' state in Death Stranding. Lose your life during combat and you'll find yourself in an upside-down realm, searching for a way back to the living." If you fail to use stealth properly, you'll be caught by the oily black monsters who appear on the ground in orange hand-prints when chasing you. It seems that when they touch Sam they leave a black pool of sludge on the floor around him which is hard to move through (perhaps this is the crater?) and pull him into the nether - but not before dragging him along the surface for a while?
There appear to be two post-death worlds in Death Stranding - there's the aether we've seen before where Sam is floating naked with the dream catcher and the hand prints, and then there's the realm of Hades, Cliff's domain which appears to be full of his tortured memories of war. I can only imagine this will be some kind of gauntlet the player has to surpass to get to the rebirth state and start playing once more. Again from the official site, the copy tells us to choose combat methods "carefully, as killing your foe is almost never the solution" within the so-called upside-down realm, and that "every death carries a consequence," whether that's Sam or the enemies trying to take him down. Cliff's realm is clearly where the effects of the fast-forwarding temporally dangerous rain, Timefall, have been felt heavily.
It seems like his shift from a well-to-do scientist with all his faculties to the lord of hell will be integral to this gauntlet and a result of too much Timefall exposure- the baby dolls he's surrounded by are perhaps Cliff trying to atone for whatever happened with the first BB he engineered. He's tortured by his past then, or even more vague, the horrors of the past in a general human sense, given that there are World War 1 trenches and tanks as well as Vietnam soldiers roaming around at his command. This trailer also reveals that he has the same c-section scar as Sam on his tummy, which looks to be the power source that allows them both to live and dwell between worlds, potentially connected to the BBs that Higgs and Sam own - what if Higgs stole his from Cliff and that's why he's turned demonic and vengeful?
As can be seen from the screenshot above (ripped from the Japanese boss battle trailer) it looks like weapons in the game will have levels, even if we are deterred from using them. Whether this is a static system with different weapon ranks or a progression system is still unknown, but it's interesting to see that guns have some depth to them in Death Stranding when they are seen as antithetical to the social strand system. It looks like there will be ammo types too, perhaps some that are more effective against BTs or bandits to add variety.
Perhaps this weapon levelling system is tied to the function of Heartman with his technological background and detachable arms - perhaps Winding-Refn is playing a tinkerer who Sam goes to to upgrade his cargo capabilities and weapons. He is wearing a Bridges badge after all but seems disconnected from Del Toro and Die-Hardman. His key art and environment paint him as this game's Otacon, if Kojima fancies being on the nose about something for once.
Satanic Function U.I
Something of an addendum to the section at the start of this list about traversal items - Death Stranding appears to feature portal delivery technology, where Sam can summon items to his person by putting in orders in a radial menu - a quantum Amazon Prime Now, essentially. In the U.I notices have been spotted that read "ORDER CONFIRMED" and "BRIDGES FIREARMS CONTROL MAKEUP WIZARD" - perhaps the latter are the menu items within the radial menu or the obtuse name of the system, which appears to emanate from Sam's handcuffs.
Satanic Function is also seen at the bottom of a few screens in the menu, suggesting that this may well be the name of the U.I system being used. If we look at it from a religious perspective, Satan is well known for seducing humans into sin - perhaps it's a tongue-in-cheek nod to that, and how overuse of this seemingly limitless quantum delivery system has destroyed the environment. Think about it - if we figured out time-travel, wormholes and quantum delivery of materials, it'd be great for takeaway pizza and construction costs, but what about the fabric of space and time? Maybe it's some kind of Kojima commentary on the matter.
There's also the theorem necklace, which when plugged into a machine in an easily missed section of the trailer activates some kind of radial display. Perhaps this is Sam unlocking the safe house and the Satanic Function system after ripping the necklace off at the start of the game, when he rocks up on a shore in some kind of waking nightmare. That was all he had on his person in that trailer, so it would make some sense - there's certainly a chronology to be determined across the trailer's we've seen so far.
As of the latest trailer we can see that the game has proper boss battles with giant Beached Things - often taking the form of sea life like dolphins and whales, but we've seen Troy Baker's character Higgs use his mask to summon a possessed version which takes the shape of a Lion, so it could be the entire animal kingdom, especially when imbued with the power of a gold death mask...
Whilst it has been drilled into our head that murder has consequences, it looks like Sam has no choice but to kill these beasts with actual stick-like weapons - he wields a handgun in the new trailer to battle the dolphin beasts. The point of these boss battles isn't clear - is it a potential way back once you've been caught by the BTs? A means to get special resources? (perhaps a bit too gamey for Kojima's liking,) or simply a means to deter you into stealth? Either way, it's something to look out for, they don't look like pushovers, that's for sure. The deck is stacked against Sam.