As we start to figure out what Death Stranding is, I already miss the days when it was an expensive-looking enigma.Just a few months remain before Death Stranding comes out and I should be getting more and more excited. I enjoy Kojima Productions games as much as any other red-blooded fan of intricate action and long cutscenes, but I've recently come to realize that I will never enjoy Death Stranding more than I already have in the years leading up to its arrival. I want to live in this world of pre-release hype, of style with no expectations of substance, forever.
Watching the first trailer for Death Stranding felt like listening to a breakup song. After Hideo Kojima's messy split from Konami, his longtime employer, every scene of a dead sea creature scored to an indie rock ballad seemed like he was saying "I'm better off without you". Every lingering shot on Norman Reedus' nude form seemed to say, "Cancel Silent Hills all you want, I'm still going to make a game with Norman Reedus in it and now it will be even weirder". Death Stranding's first trailer said nothing and implied everything, and it left room for infinite possibilities.
I worried that feeling would be fleeting, as it has been for so many other projects with impressive, enigmatic first trailers. But as Kojima Productions rolled out trailer after trailer, the world of Death Stranding became no more closed in by details. I started looking forward to the confusion that came with every new glimpse into this world of mist and oily tendrils.
Now it has Mads Mikkelsen as a sexy skeleton squad leader. Now it has invisible giants and rain that makes you get really old. Nothing comes together in a way that could resemble a coherent statement for all but the most conspiratorial Death Stranding theories. It goes on. Most trailers try to sell you on a concept, some kind of core idea that will hook you on playing the game yourself. Death Stranding's trailers just want us to stare slack-jawed. I happily oblige.
Coming out the other side
Whether or not you believe Hideo Kojima lives up to his legacy as one of the foremost creative minds of the video game industry, you must admit that he is an unparalleled auteur of the pre-release hype cycle. This is the man who architected the last-minute Solid Snake/Raiden deception of Metal Gear Solid 2, an unprecedented switcheroo that would never make it in today's leak-and-spoiler infused internet culture. This is the man who crafted a false identity and game studio to promote Metal Gear Solid 5 without people knowing he was promoting Metal Gear Solid 5. This is Kojima at his best.
I think Kojima and his team are good at making video games, too (Metal Gear Solid 3 remains one of my all-time favorites). From a purely practical perspective, though, there's no way he could be as good at making games as he is at befuddling and enchanting me about them. Nobody's that good. Unfortunately, once I realized that, I also realized I was no longer nearly as excited for the day that Death Stranding will finally arrive.
Some of the mystery will remain weeks, and perhaps even months, after Death Stranding comes out. To use another example from Kojima's previous work, I'm still enchanted by the idea of that Metal Gear Solid 5 cutscene that will only legitimately play once every player dismantles their nuclear weapons (read: never). But the infinite cosmos of strange possibilities that Death Stranding could be, judged solely by inexplicable trailers and the cryptic messages Kojima shares in interviews and on social media, will collapse down into something definite.
I would give up ever being able to play Death Stranding if I could just keep getting more inscrutable trailers for it on a roughly annual basis. Gladly. Actually, I'd even rewind to a few weeks before now, so I wasn't even aware of that briefing video that explains some of what you actually do. Even if I somehow filter out every Tweet and article and video about the game in the weeks and months after it arrives, the jig will still be up - if more trailers come, they'll be made for people who have played Death Stranding, not to confuse and enchant people who have no idea what it's about. The project will enter its next stage of life.
So I'll get Death Stranding, and I'll play it, and if my experience with most Kojima Productions games is any indication, I'll probably have a great time with it. But I'll always fondly remember those years where I had no idea what the hell was going on about Death Stranding and – unlike all the other confusing parts of life as a human being in 2019 – I had no need nor particular desire to understand it.