This Is Death Stranding
Super Jump Magazine was in attendance at Gamescom 2019 to check out a selection of games, including a preview of Death Stranding via a briefing trailer which was shown behind-closed-doors at the PlayStation Booth. This trailer — unlike others shown so far — revealed the core plot of the game and felt like the opening cutscene, laying out the rules of the universe of Death Stranding and explaining the gameplay loop. Here’s where we are with it after pages of notes and weeks of rumination.
If you’ve ever browsed /R/DeathStranding or /R/NeverBeGameOver you’ve most likely ventured into the obsessive side of Hideo Kojima fandom. The so-called ‘Wild Ride’ of longing to understand his work and unravel the untold mysteries behind many of the complex concepts he layers into his fascinating games.
Now that he’s been yanked from his darling franchise Metal Gear Solid, things have only gotten more obtuse. Death Stranding is by far and away Kojima’s most impenetrable project yet, and despite hours of trailers, the litany of posters and a deluge of cryptic tweets Kojima has issued throughout its development, we’re no closer to understanding what the crux of the game is.
So, imagine if you will my emotions after sitting through the overlong Gamescom Opening Night Live presentation, cautiously sipping my overpriced Kolsch and waiting to see Kojima in-person presenting a new trailer for his game — only for it to involve a man pissing on a mushroom and Geoff Keighley’s likeness being grafted into the game as a Ludens-obsessed shopkeeper voiced by Matthew Mercer. Fantastic. As much as I was smiling and giggling after the fact, I was still no closer to the truth of Death Stranding, mere months away from its release.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who needs to understand every facet of media that is presented to me. I adore ambiguity in cinema and games. From Twin Peaks to Kingdom Hearts and True Detective, I lap up the untold and the mysterious and love anything surreal and absurd. I think it’s important that a creator doesn’t play all of their cards before release, as the element of surprise is absolutely lost on us in the era of the infinite content machine.
By the time a big-budget movie or game releases, we know everything about it, as that is what will make us buy it, says marketing. Kojima ignores this distinction and provides the opposite, which is so refreshing. It’s what we don’t know about Death Stranding that will make those interested buy it. It’s the inner workings of his inspired mind that we want, provided in disc format.
Fast-forward to the day after Opening Night Live, and I’m wandering the halls waiting for my first appointment. To my surprise, I see a Death Stranding booth in one of Gamescom’s halls, so I grab a Fastpass from my Sony rep and block out some time to head in. At worst, it could be a repeat of the trailers I saw the night before…at best, another pulse of the blender, sending bits of pithy, pulpy Death Stranding content out into the wild for my brain to parse.
On an uncomfortable chair in front of a giant projector screen, I watched a new Death Stranding trailer (titled ‘Briefing’), which was unlike anything I’d seen before. It was not at all disconnected! It played out like the opening cutscene of the game, a long-winded back and forth between the main characters that untied a number of knots. This trailer, to my surprise, staged the entire game and set up the core gameplay loop. What follows is a breakdown of the trailer that should help set up the story and gameplay of Death Stranding for those of us still in the dark.
Editor’s Note: By the time we publish this piece, the Briefing trailer will have been shown to the public for the first time at TGS 2019. Fortunately, though, we’ve now had several weeks to pour over the footage — and our notes — and consider the implications. Here goes.
The Oval Office
After a replay of the Mama and Die-Hard Man trailers saw at Gamescom, the screen shifted to black and we were introduced to the Briefing trailer, which features Amelie and Die-Hardman, the president-elect of the United Cities of America and her right-hand-man, so it seems.
They’re in the Oval Office and Sam is on the defensive as they chat about their roles in this hostile universe. Die-Hard Man introduces Amelie as the hope for a New America. Sam talks to her about how he hasn’t seen her in 10 years but she hasn’t aged a day, and she retorts that Sam gets the privilege to grow older.
This is a strange comment until we are told that in this trailer Amelie is merely a hologram, as her “body is still on the beach” and she’s also been captured by the Homo Demens, so her physical body is actually elsewhere, for reasons we’ll get into in a moment. Amelie is the daughter of Bridget, who we’ve seen in previous trailers (played by Lindsay Wagner), the previous president of the United Cities who succumbed to illness.
The crux of this part of the trailer is that the plan is to replace the now-dead Bridget with Amelie and reconnect America, which is currently a work-in-progress, as Amelie is in captivity. Die-Har Man calls her Samantha America Strand, which may or may not be important.
Amelie’s Failed Plan
America is divided and needs to be reconnected so it can once more become the United Cities of America, and they need Sam’s help to do this. This is the main goal of Death Stranding, and the reason Norman Reedus is puttering about in the wilderness. Sam isn’t easily convinced, however, and says that he “said goodbye to everyone when he said goodbye to Bridget.” Clearly, her death hurt him so much that he feels he no longer has the will to work with Amelie and Die-Hard Man. The picture of Sam with Bridget and a pregnant woman from another trailer is the key to this unresolved trauma, one part which is still unexplained. Perhaps the death of his wife or his child is connected to the death of Bridget, or Sam is related to Bridget in some way. Alas, we must move on.
Why do they need Sam’s help, you ask? Well, Amelie went out on an expedition herself, titled ‘The Best of Bridges One’ and it failed.
An augmented reality map of America now appears in the Oval Office as Amelie phases through it, and they explain what happened. Amelie headed west from Capital Knot City (Washington D.C.) across America using trucks and cars, past craters and BT (Beached Things) territory.
Beached Things and Bridge Babies
BTs are the horrible floating beasts that eat humans and trigger voidouts which create craters. We don’t know a lot about them beyond that they can bleed between worlds and are seemingly nefarious.
They are the monsters Sam has to use the Bridge Baby to detect. As we learned from the Mama trailer, the way they work is that they’re special kids taken from the womb of a Stillmother, a brain dead woman between life and death kept alive by machines in a special hospital in Capital Knot City to facilitate a ‘bridge’ between Hades (the land of the dead) and the baby. This is so that the user (Sam) can establish what is known as a Trance Connection with the child (who is situated in a pod that simulates the stillmother’s womb) so he can sense beings like the BTs which come from Hades. It’s Kojima’s “I see dead people”, so to speak.
Mama herself seems important to the plot and is some kind of inverted Stillmother. Her baby was born in Hades, and therefore exists as a BT, which she is connected to via an invisible umbilical cord. Mama cannot leave her post in a Bridges compound as her baby is trapped there, which mirrors the stillmother’s who are kept in the ICU compound in Capital Knot City but their bridge babies are out in the world.
Amelie’s trip managed to skirt the BTs, and it took her to various cities across the continent. They managed to convince multiple communities to join the UCA and left operatives there to help them. This took over three years and ended when they arrived at Edge Knot City, which is in the Pacific Northwest of America, on the West Coast. This expedition was part of spreading Bridget’s message of hope to the fragmented post-apocalyptic society.
Before they could establish the UCA, Amelie and her crew were attacked by Homo Demens, the current militant separatist rulers of Edge Knot who are now holding her against her will. She’s allowed to use the facilities there and talk to Sam whenever she wants, but she cannot leave Edge Knot City. This is to safeguard the cities independence, as per the Homo Demens. They simply want the UCA to leave them be, and she’s the ransom. We’ve seen Troy Baker’s character Higgs kidnapping Amelie before in trailers, which suggests that he is the leader of the Homo Demens and the main antagonist who orchestrated this deed. He uses a modified Bridge Baby which appears to give him special powers, but unfortunately,we don’t know much more than that about him, besides the fact that he’s a smug git.
Sam describes the Homo Demens as “terrorists who go around towns killing people,” suggesting that they’re a lawless group of aggressive bandits. Die-Hard Man points out that they aren’t above triggering Voidouts and creating craters themselves. Sam wonders if they were behind a “recent suicide that took out Central Knot” suggesting that the Oval Office that they’re stood in could be a hologram in itself and that Washington D.C was destroyed by the extremists. It’s also interesting to note that it was a suicide, rather than someone being taken by the BTs naturally.
The Homo Demens are led by ideology and have no proper ruling organization. Due to this, they’re decentralized and able to disrupt life across America and cause chaos with random terror plots.
The New Plan
After establishing our antagonist, Amelie then talks about why the plan failed. She says she was carrying her mother’s message to the people, but not everyone was willing to accept it. They’d rather go it alone and keep to themselves within their own communities. They’re ambivalent, and don’t want to help eachother, just live within their means. Die-Hard Man alleges that Sam himself shares this ideology and that these people who do not support the UCA believe that “America can only be rebuilt by force. By men who tell them what to do and put them in shackles.”
At this point, Sam raises his hands to showcase the shackles we’ve been seeing in every trailer since the first. Sam alleges that the UCA is no better than the Homo Demens, another cult with an ideology, but Amelie says that the shackles they put on him “symbolize our bonds” and that connectivity is what we need right now so that they can stand together, to “form chiral knots and reconnect.”
They want Sam to embark upon the same expedition in which Amelie failed and reconnect America, activating these networks and spreading the message of hope over force. Once he makes it to Edge Knot City, he also needs to bring Amelie home, rescuing her from the Homo Demens so that she can finally become President and properly save the country. This is the plot of Death Stranding! Finally!
Die-Hard Man then explains that the people Amelie convinced to join the UCA have set up Chiral Network Terminals, but they need to be activated, which is where the Q-pid comes in, the necklace Sam has around his neck in most trailers. The Q-pid contains protocols that will allow Sam to integrate the terminals into the Chiral Web, which will establish the connections between the cities and create the United Cities of America once more. We’ve seen this clearly in the Geoff Keighley trailer, where Sam uses his Q-pid to wake the shopkeeper and access the terminal. This appears to be what you’ll be doing, travelling from place to place, activating terminals and reconnecting America, spreading the message of hope.
After Amelie begs him to help, Sam says that he is “Sam Porter Bridges now, not a strand” and that he’s “not getting involved with anyone ever again.” He walks through Amelie and leaves the office. The trailer ends. Clearly, he changes his mind…
That covers most of the important facets of Death Stranding — particularly the impetus of the story and the gameplay you’ll come to terms with when you slot the disc into your PS4 in November. It’s going to be an open-world game where you reconnect America using your necklace, battling a terrorist cell along the way.
However, that isn’t all Death Stranding is about. There’s more to the game that we’re still totally in the dark about. Here’s a quick run-through of the parts of the game we still don’t understand.
- The nature behind the Death (Cetacean) Stranding and the Extinction Events that led to this dystopian environment
- Mads Mikkelsen’s involvement and the war-torn realm he rules full of skeleton soldiers and tanks
- The age-accelerating rain, Timefall, which is mitigated by consuming tardigrades
- Fragile and the Fragile Express courier system
- How we will build ‘Strands’ with other players via multiplayer
The Chirality buzzword you often hear is by far the most difficult topic Kojima is trying to introduce and you may want to just ignore it — but it is basically the mathematic principle of looking at your hands and seeing that you could not superimpose one onto the other. If you put your hands on top of eachother, it’s different. They aren’t a mirror image of eachother. That’s a whole rabbit hole you can go down if you wish, but it seems to be underpinning a lot of the thought about connectivity in Death Stranding.
In any case, we hope this helps, and it should be the perfect primer given that Kojima is set to release a 49-minute cut of the game at Tokyo Games Show to slice through the fog. Perhaps then we’ll learn even more about the world of Death Stranding, and the fascinating concepts that layer it. It’s up to you whether you want to go dark on all Death Stranding content before release, but if you’re reading this…it’s probably too late.