Death Stranding: everything you need to know about Hideo Kojima's mysterious game

Death Stranding trailer 3

Death Stranding's E3 2018 video sprung a few surprises, finally showing gameplay, confirming the much-rumored female character… and partially confirming some of the more outlandish plot theories. What we weren't expecting was two female characters (most notably former Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner) and the emphasis on, well, climbing hills and carrying things. Hideo Kojima, speaking on twitter, said this was the 'silent' trailer with no guns or explosions, implying that the game will also offer the reverse. Before we speculate further, take a look at the new 8-minute video below, and then we'll try to unpack what we've seen in light of the previous trailers, smartest theories and known facts.

Fast Facts

  • Death Stranding release date: Before 2019
  • Developer: Kojima Productions
  • Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • Platforms: PS4 and PC

Death Stranding E3 2018 gameplay

Death Stranding's E3 2018 gameplay is our first look at what you'll actually be doing when you're playing the game. "The first half and the last sequence in particular are most representative of the actual gameplay", Kojima wrote on the PlayStation Blog. Norman Reedus plays a character called Sam, describing himself as a delivery man. Its still unclear what's happened to the world, which appears in post-apocalyptic ruins but - during a sequence when Sam tried to escape some shadow figures connected to the sky by strands - it's mentioned that while he will come back, the surrounding area will be a crater. There's also some discussion between characters about abilities and it's unclear whether that's character traits in the story or maybe actual character powers in the game. One higher level plot theory is that Death Stranding's characters are quite literally characters in a video-game and aware of this fact (to an extent), and conscious of the way we, as players, directly impact on their existence. That will take some explaining, which we'll get to later.

What is Death Stranding?

Hideo Kojima described Death Stranding's core concept of 'sticks and ropes' at TGS 2016 using these cute drawings.

Hideo Kojima described Death Stranding's core concept of 'sticks and ropes' at TGS 2016 using these cute drawings.

Death Stranding is the debut game from Kojima Productions, a new studio staffed by key members of the former Metal Gear Solid development team. It stars The Walking Dead's Norman Reedus, former Bond-villain Mads Mikkelsen and Oscar-winning director Guillermo Del Toro. The genre is stealth / action, with Kojima telling Japanese gaming publication Famitsu in May 2016: "While not to say that it’s open-world, users who enjoy today’s AAA games (The Division and Uncharted, etc.) will be able to easily enjoy it. When it is announced, you might think ‘that’s not that outstanding’, but you’ll understand when you see it and play it”.

Hideo Kojima has gone further, describing the core concept to IGN in June 2016 as 'sticks and ropes' where sticks represent traditional video-game interactions e.g. punching and shooting while ropes are about connections between players – more on that later. Speaking at the Tokyo Game Show in September 2016, he hinted that Death Stranding would be an open world game with online elements and 'something from another world'. This is where things get much less clear.

Death Stranding plot – where (and when) is it set?

Norman Reedus plays protagonist Sam who appears to work for an organisation called BRIDGES.

Norman Reedus plays protagonist Sam who appears to work for an organisation called BRIDGES.

The plot involves Sam (Norman Reedus), who works for Corpse Disposal Team 6 as part of BRIDGES and the United Cities of America. Sam and his crew are retrieving dead bodies in a (presumably near future) world where animal life appears extinct and the environment is in ruin – see the oily beach of the first trailer. Things get weirder when Reedus and his team are stalked by invisible foes who leave a trail of oily handprints and seem to detect people using sound. These enemies might be linked to the five spectral figures that Reedus glimpses at the end of the first Death Stranding trailer – but more of that later.

If this sounds confusing, don't worry, since Kojima admits that his team didn't understand the plot of Death Stranding when he first explained it. Lindsay Wagner said Hideo Kojima took three hours to explain the game and sell her on the role, during an E3 2018 interview with Geoff Keighley. If you're trying to piece together the game's chronology based on each trailer, Kojima claimed that trailer 3 is the earliest and set after the game's prologue. This might explain why Reedus is still clothed and doesn't have the C-section scar from the debut trailer.

Death Stranding's release date

Kojima has spoken about the release date in the most Kojima way possible: via a tweet that referenced a movie. We're crossing our fingers for a confirmed date at E3 2018, but think we're more likely to get a 'release window' which might run from Easter 2019 to early 2020.

Death Stranding gameplay – the concept of 'timefall', stealth and carrying objects

On the back of the third Death Stranding trailer shown at The Game Awards in December 2017, Hideo Kojima spoke to IGN to expand on gameplay concepts including 'Timefall' and what happens to your character when you die. He spoke about how traditional arcade games let you insert a coin to continue by taking you back in time to before the point of death. In Death Stranding however, death doesn't take you back in time but into a transitional state (or purgatory) that players experience in the first-person. “At that point, you’re not dead or alive. It’s the equivalent of that screen that says ‘Continue?’ and a counter ticking down towards zero”, Kojima explains.

Confused? We've captured the key gameplay ideas from the third Death Stranding trailer under a few headlines below:

Ageing via Timefall

If you’re wondering why all the plants are dying and one of the men starts rapidly ageing, it’s because of a thing called Timefall - aka rain from another world. 

“Most people in the game are aware of the rain - and well, Norman [Reedus’ character, Sam] is quite unique in this regard.”

Death and first-person purgatory

At the moment when the big monster emits a flash of bright light, you might be wondering if that’s the point at which you die. Well, Kojima’s new game has quite a fluid way of looking at death:

“At that point, you’re not dead or alive. It’s the equivalent of that screen that says ‘Continue?’ and a counter ticking down towards zero,” said Kojima. “So as you saw in the trailer, you saw the crater, and when you come back, it’s still there. Most games would’ve taken you back to before the crater was made. So depending on the player, you might have a lot of craters all over the place - it depends on each player.”

It seems like Death Standing’s version of death is a bit like Dark Souls. “Death will never pull you out of the game,” added Kojima. 

The role of the baby

The baby appears in Norman Reedus' throat giving the thumbs up – note the tiny handprints on the esophagus wall.

The baby appears in Norman Reedus' throat giving the thumbs up – note the tiny handprints on the esophagus wall.

Kojima confirmed to IGN that the baby Norman Reedus cuddles in the first trailer is the same as the baby in the container held by Del Toro (in trailer 2) and the baby who appears in Reedus' esophagus doing a thumbs up sign (!) during trailer 3. " “The baby relates to game mechanics as well as the story as a whole.”, Kojima said. The baby has a name, but he won't share it yet. 

"It seems plausible that Death Stranding will be concerned with time, parallel realities and relativity"

Sam and his Corpse Disposal team have shoulder-mounted spinning arms that rotate when that person comes into possession of the baby. There's a lot of speculation about the role of the baby, from suggestions it is Sam's child (or a metaphor for his real life baby), and / or a form of transference device, allowing its holder to travel across parallel universes or altering the perception of time. Further theories get really wild, but it seems plausible that Death Stranding will be concerned with time, parallel realities and relativity.

Sounds ludicrous? This excellent video from RagnarRox does a great job of examining Death Stranding's potential themes - such as Einstein's concept of relativity and its link to the Schwarzschild radius and Dirac equations found on Sam's necklace - with the focus on evidence rather than wishful thinking.

Death Stranding cast – which actors are confirmed so far plus confirmation of two female characters

Early design sketches revealed a female character and this outfit appears similar to that worn by Léa Seydoux

Early design sketches revealed a female character and this outfit appears similar to that worn by Léa Seydoux

Norman Reedus plays protagonist Sam, Guillermo Del Toro appears to be a government agent for BRIDGES working for the United Cities of America (many speculate that BRIDGES is a government department with links to the game's theme of 'ropes', with ties to the connections between players, or even time and dimensions) and Hannibal star Mads Mikkelsen is a mysterious soldier decked in what appears to be WWII garb who controls a skeleton army with puppet-style strands, who are in pursuit of Del Toro's (worried looking) character.

Looks might be deceptive, since Mads' character isn't the game's primary antagonist, at least not according to what he told a crowd at a Saudi Arabia Comic Con. “No, I’m not a villain. I am a character in there that you can kind of decide what he is, but he’s not a villain", Mikkelsen explained. In a more recent interview with French site premiere, Mads explained that his background in dance made motion capture work on Death Stranding easier.

The E3 2018 gameplay reveals a new character played by Léa Seydoux, who appears to be helping Norman Reedus – albeit with a different set of abilities. The characters talk about being on different 'levels', which aligns with the theory that have classes much like a video-game character. Seydoux's character looks similar to the 'female Ludens' design sketch, once rumored to have been played by Emma Stone, and later Diane Kruger.

Kojima Productions' Happy Holidays 2015 card featured Yoji Shinkawa artwork of a 'mysterious female character' (these are the words Kojima used in his tweet).

Kojima Productions' Happy Holidays 2015 card featured Yoji Shinkawa artwork of a 'mysterious female character' (these are the words Kojima used in his tweet).

During TGS 2016, Kojima Productions' Twitter account made reference to casting a heroine to star in Death Stranding. Back in 2015, Kojima Productions shared a Happy Holidays card with a 'mystery female character', drawn by his long-time collaborator artist Yoji Shinkawa. In 2018, Kojima Productions shared a New Year card with a female character wearing the Kojima Productions Ludens outfit. You can listen to a more detailed analysis of the mystery character in this video from respected MGS YouTuber YongYea - there's a compelling case that both pieces of artwork are of the same person, based on the hair, eyes, arm sleeve, and right leg.

Kojima Productions Happy New Year 2018 card.

Kojima Productions Happy New Year 2018 card.

Fan speculation initially suggested the character might be played by La La Land's Emma Stone, based on the physical resemblance and a slightly implausible link to a Lionsgate (the company that owns Summit Entertainment who produced La La Land) beanie hat in a motion-capture picture that Kojima shared. Mads Mikkelsen seemed to enjoy the Emma Stone rumour, when quizzed at the Saudi Arabia comic-con. “I can’t talk about that, but I really like that rumor. That’s a lovely rumor”, he said.

"There are other cast members who we have yet to be revealed", Kojima wrote on the PlayStation Blog. Previous rumors have linked Idris Elba, Ryan Gosling and Benedict Cumberbatch to Death Stranding roles, although Kojima was alleged to have cooled on the Sherlock star. As fanciful as these names sound, it would be a surprise if Death Stranding didn't continue to add celebrity talent. Kojima wrote about the process of recruiting the cast so on the PS Blog: "Across countries, time and generations, we have come together to realize this vision. Coincidentally, this theme is strongly connected with that of the game, and is a theme I strive to realize as a game creator."

In more concrete news, voice actor Troy Baker (Ocelot in MGS5) and actress / writer Emily O'Brien (Camille in League of Legends) have joined the Death Stranding cast although their roles are unknown.

Former Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner has a key role in Death Stranding

Lindsay Wagner, the 68 year-old actor and former Bionic Woman, made a surprise appearance in Death Stranding's E3 2018 demo. Well, surprise might not be the right word for people who've followed all the leaks and theories so far… but we'll get to that. Wagner appears a little younger in the game than she does in real-life (and she looks fantastic in real-life), and seems to appear on the oily beach seen in the first Death Stranding trailer. "You're too late. You still don't know who I am, do you?", Wagner tells Reedus' character, Sam, before turning to face the camera.

Before we get into the really wild theories, it's worth noting that Wagner's character appears in E3 2018 key art with an upside down light corona (similar to the upside down rainbow in the second Death Stranding trailer with Del Toro), and her necklace is curiously prominent. Could it represent a waveform? A DNA sequence? Or – as some Reddit posters speculate – the ancient Incan form of communication Quipo that Kojima has previously tweeted about? Before you laugh that off, consider that Reedus' character Sam wears necklace pendants containing the Dirac equation and Schwarzschild Radius. 

Guillermo del Toro considers himself “a puppet” in Death Stranding

Guillermo del Toro is one of the famous faces behind the characters of Death Stranding, but that doesn’t mean he knows what Kojima is up to. 

“In Death Stranding I’m just a puppet,” he said in an interview with IGN. “I don’t know what [Hideo Kojima’s] going to make me do. He’s supposedly going to show me the gameplay at some point in the next couple of weeks.”

This was just before the major gameplay trailer reveal at The Game Awards too, which was basically a mini teaser movie that confused more than explained.

In a Reddit AMA, del Toro reinforced that idea too. 

“[Kojima] scanned my body and face for the model over an entire day in Toronto,” he explained. “He needed it for a digital avatar (and for blackmail, perhaps) and then he sent me the teaser you all saw. That’s it. He sends me toys and gifts every few weeks but no clues. I am dying to know.”

Click 'next page' to read about the key themes of each trailer as we piece together the clues about Death Stranding's big picture.