What is Death Stranding actually about?

This week we got another glimpse of Death Stranding (opens in new tab) thanks to new footage from Gamescom 2019 (opens in new tab), and honestly it raised more questions than it answered. Not least about why Norman Reedus’ character can grow mushrooms with his winky. Determined to figure out the strange riddle that Hideo Kojima has posed, we set the GamesRadar team on interpreting the most anticipated game of 2019. 

This is the latest in a series of big questions we’ll be interrogating our writers with, so share your answers and suggestions for topics with us on Twitter. (opens in new tab)  

Hideo Kojima is messing with us all

(Image credit: Sony)

Think what you like of what you’ve seen / heard about Death Stranding so far, because I’m convinced Kojima is messing with us. In what could be the greatest illusion of all time, I have a feeling that what we think Death Stranding is couldn’t actually be further from the truth. Pack away your thoughts and feelings on DHL The GameTM, and prepared yourself for the most Kojima game of all time. After all, Kojima has – and always will be – a master trickster. Remember when all the trailers and gameplay footage for Metal Gear Solid 2 featured Snake, and then the main game actually had you playing 99% of the game as Raiden? He’s done it before, pulled the heavy wool over our eyes, and he could do it again. Sam Loveridge

We’ve only seen a tiny part of Death Stranding and it might not be the actual game

(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

This is the first time Kojima’s been allowed to do exactly what he wants since probably the first Metal Gear on MSX, and he is going to go ‘radio frequencies on the back of the box’ levels of mad. This is a man who loves forth wall breaking, ‘I’m sorry what?’, fake outs and tricks, and with full creative freedom from Sony he’s likely to draw on a lifetime of things he’s probably never been allowed to do before. I still think that we may have only seen a small part of what Death Stranding is and, like the ‘you’re playing as Raiden’ surprise from MGS 2, I think there’s a whole element to the game that’s yet to be revealed – there’s chunks of gameplay that don’t currently entirely connect, for example. A ton of weird PT links, from before Death Stranding existed (opens in new tab), further point to some element we don’t fully understand, and even Low Roar, a band featured heavily in the initial gameplay reveals, made a music video linked to Death Stranding where people in the real world entered the game via a sinister machine a motel bathroom. I think it’s going to be impossible to really know what’s going on until we see what the game actually is. Leon Hurley

“The most elaborate walking/sitting simulator hybrid you’ll ever experience”

(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

From what I’ve seen of Death Stranding so far, I’ve come to believe it’s actually the most elaborate walking/sitting simulator hybrid you’ll ever experience. From all the shots Kojima has posted in the last few months, Norman Reedus is either sitting or standing in various landscapes, and the control command to “get up” is frequently on show. Maybe it’s like a round of musical chairs, except instead of music there’s a baby making noises and the sound of urination… Okay, perhaps not, but the only thing I’m willing to bet on at this point is that you will walk, and stand and sit a lot. Maybe there doesn’t even really need to be a purpose to it. Just as that saying goes, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Heather Wald

“The bleakest game ever made”

(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

Take a deep breath and close your eyes. You’re in bed. It’s Saturday morning. Someone’s cooking breakfast downstairs. It smells good. You have no commitments, no social engagements, no work, no school. You are content. There’s never been a better moment to absorb yourself in another world – to play a video game and become a warrior/soldier/tomb raider/Italian plumber. You sit down and turn on your PlayStation. The words “Death Stranding” appear on the screen, and your heart fills with dread. 

Death Stranding will no doubt be the bleakest game ever made: a baby growing simulator where all color has drained from the world and normal people have been replaced by Hollywood actors and directors. You don’t play Death Stranding for fun – you play because you have to learn that Global Warming is bad and that Kojima’s vision is good. And after 42 hours of aimlessly walking Norman Reedus around this hellish, bleak landscape, you’ll realize the ultimate truth: that you just wasted your entire weekend and life is actually shit and that smell from downstairs wasn’t your mum’s cooking but actually Kojima frying a magical mushroom that he grew from his own piss. I can’t wait. Jack Shepherd

Citizen Kane and dick

(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

Death Stranding is the Citizen Kane of video games that let you try to look at Norman Reedus’ dick. Connor Sheridan

“A deep dive into the existential questions that plague Kojima’s elaborate psyche”

(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

Death Stranding is a deep dive into the problems and existential questions that plague Hideo Kojima’s elaborate psyche. The only way he knows how to make sense of these problems and free himself from the shackles of confusion are to fold them into a super-hyped video game. After ordering a Mads Mikkelsen photo collage T-shirt from Redbubble, Kojima became obsessed with tracking the package. Its path was a confusing one – it bounced around FedEx SmartPost locations across the United States, moving only infinitesimally over the span of day. Why in the name of Naked Snake did it go from Bloomington, CA to Chino, CA to Los Angeles in the span of a week? Were they punting this priceless package from facility to facility, careless to the needs of one of the foremost game thinkers of a generation? How does FedEx even work?

In the throes of Mads Mikkelson swag-less sadness, Kojima imagined a slightly stoic, doggedly dedicated delivery man who would carry unimaginably heavy loads on his back, scaling cliff faces with the help of a portable ladder. Surely this man, who vaguely resembles Norman Reedus, would be able to get him his T-shirt in time. Surely this man would posses both the unrivaled strength required to carry his body weight in gear on his back and the tenderness to treat a package with as much love as a child in utero. Death Stranding is about a man who can perform a thoroughly average job with the kind of gusto that would satisfy Hideo Kojima, and get him his damn shirt. He wants to wear it to watch Mads smoke cigarettes at a dingy cafe.

It’s also about where babies come from because Kojima is still on the fence about how all that stuff happens, but breastfeeding is definitely involved. Alyssa Mercante

“You play a postman”

(Image credit: Sony)

The yet-to-be-publicly-released-for-some-reason Gamescom show floor demo actually goes quite a long way to answering what Death Stranding is about. But I haven’t seen it yet so here’s what I’ve picked up from numerous conversations about it. You play a postman who’s shouldering more responsibility than Santa at Christmas by accepting to deliver the message that ‘conflict is bad’ across the united states. Which would be simple enough expect you have to walk from state to state and look after a baby at the same time. Yeah, walk. This game is going to be loooooong, and taking a baby along for the ride doesn’t sound very peace inducing to me either. But what if it’s all a trick and it’s actually a tale of one person’s mission to digitally recreate seemingly everyone they’ve ever met and immortalize them in a piece of digital entertainment? Okay, it’s probably a bit of both.  James Jarvis

“Death Stranding is about the credits”

Heartman from Death Stranding

(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

Hideo Kojima is a film director trapped in a game director’s body, and I suspect Death Stranding is little more than an elaborate scheme for him to connect with all the big-name actors and film makers he’s always wanted to work with. Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Lea Seydoux, Margaret Qualley, Guillermo del Toro, Troy Baker, Lindsey Wagner – the list goes on. In terms of mainstream and movie celebrities, Death Stranding has one of the most stacked credits lists of any game in recent memory, and Kojima Productions is unabashedly proud of that. Outside of the game’s Hollywood-studded trailers, Kojima has stopped just short of erecting shrines to Mads Mikkelsen. Death Stranding is either the ultimate bout of stunt casting, the most elaborate Oscar ploy ever conceived, or an inimitable instant classic born from the strange mind of one of gaming’s standout auteurs. In any case, there’s a good chance Kojima tries to wring a movie out of it, or at least several movie-length cutscenes that would embarrass even Xenosaga. Austin Wood

“Death Stranding is going to be about the friends we made along the way”

(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

I have been actively avoiding most of the Death Stranding coverage – so that might make me paradoxically understand the game more than people who have been bombarded by WTF-filled trailers, teasers, and cryptic Hideo Kojima tweets. I’m sure there are theories out there somehow tying together the disparate threads involving Geoff Keighley, pissing, and breastfeeding. I’m not even going to try and make sense of it all

Instead, let’s keep things simple. Death Stranding is going to be about the friends we made along the way. Sure, the end destination might be some MacGuffin delivery service revolving about saving the world or seeing a semi-naked Mads Mikkelsen (that’s your Good Ending sorted), but Kojima has been banging this ‘connection’ drum for a while now. That’s the throughline. I think it’s going to end up holding up a mirror to every player about how we should be treating each other. Play like a dickhead, and you’ll get treated like one: The Game, essentially.

Koj has been lifted up by a wave of famous faces, new BFFs, and people he just really, really wanted to meet during development. He wants to pass on that warm, fuzzy feeling to us – and confuse us all to hell while he’s at it. Bradley Russell

Death Stranding is a developmental prototype in triple-A clothing

(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

In light of what happened with No Man’s Sky in 2016, it’s been worrying to see many expecting Death Stranding to be on the same size & scale as any other blockbuster PlayStation exclusive. Look at the facts: Kojima set up his new studio just over three years ago, spent most of year one on a road trip and far too much of years two and three playing host to a red carpet’s worth of celebrity fans, all while under 100 staff members were working on the game proper, getting to grips with a completely new game engine on loan from Guerrilla. Either Death Stranding is going to be a woefully short proof of concept for Kojima Productions finding its feet as a new studio, or a bland and buggy mess that has all the looks of a big budget title, and none of the substance. In short, all we’ll be doing in Death Stranding is wandering an empty sandbox as Norman Reedus with the odd cutscene thrown in for context, and the fallout to the game is going be the best thing about it. Alex Avard

Death Stranding is actually a Postman-come-Tradesman Simulator

(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

Now, bear with me. Norman Reedus is clearly a hybrid postman-come-handyman: a skilled and dogged deliverer of goods, capable of scaling any landscape to reach his destination, supported by a workbag filled with ladders and tools. Bold premise. The postman element is the driving force of the game as Sam looks to deliver Literally Some Things and Stuff to Geoff Keighley holograms, by reconnecting and rediscovering lost ley lines and postal routes of a recently devastated America. The supporting element is the tradesman part, illustrated by Sam’s heavy reliance on, and expert adeptness with, ladders: reminiscent of skilled tradesmen who know their way around awkward angles and houses. Elsewhere the modular-looking backpack is clearly a deliberately-designed work bag, allowing for intense toolbox management, keeping a fleet of wrenches, hammers and umbrella scanners in line. Plus if you’ve ever experienced tradesmen of, let’s say, lesser repute than most, you’ll know that they’ll happily relieve themselves in the corner of the garden or in the shed or something. So, that explains the piss mushrooms. I do not know how the babies, weird monsters, Mads Mikkelsen or Troy Baker fit into this but I’m looking forward to finding out. Any questions? Rob Dwiar

“Death Stranding has been engineered as a global guessing game since announcement”

(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

Hands up who’s played Death Stranding? That’s right: no one. In fact, those who have seen Death Stranding up close, like Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, proclaimed it as ‘next level immaculate’ and compared it to being ‘blown away’ by Mad Max: Fury Road. Sure, that’s the director of the Metal Gear movie, and Kojima has surrounded himself with celebrity acolytes, but let’s cut the inventor of the stealth genre, creator of the impeccable Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (opens in new tab), master of the pre-and-post-release hype cycle, breaker of fourth walls (opens in new tab), unprecedented master of meta and visionary who only predicted the perils of our digital society 15 years before anyone else (opens in new tab) – including pervasive tech giants, systems of control and digital privacy – some slack. Not even Game of Thrones’ Dragon Queen Daenerys Targaryen deserves such a rap card. Oh, and let’s not forget that Kojima made the scariest horror game of all time, PT (opens in new tab), on his first go. Call me the type of person who holds R2 to urinate, but I’m giving that guy the benefit of the doubt. 

What is Death Stranding about? More fool anyone who thinks Kojima has any interest in giving up that information pre-release. Death Stranding has been engineered as a global guessing game since announcement – perhaps linked to its themes of strands and connections – which won’t reveal its secrets until days, weeks, or month after release (like MGS5’s hidden global disarmament multiplayer game, which was only solved by PC data miners). This is the guy who duped the world into believing you’d played Metal Gear Solid 2 as Solid Snake… only to make you play for 90% of the game as fop-haired nobody Raiden, just to make a point about video-game sequels and the video-game industry hype cycle. In so many words, MGS5 told its fans to get over the series and get a life… while still delivering the deepest, most emergent, stealth game in history. Sure, Kojima is pretentious as all hell, but his body of work supports a legacy of artistic intent; a claim that might not perhaps belong to Gears of Duty 17, or Game As A Service: Season 10. 

In time, we’ll see if the emperor really does have no clothes… and whether committed Kojima fans like myself, who have sunk thousands of glorious hours poring over his work and connecting with like-minded souls, will be compelled to argue that he meant to appear naked all along. Watching armchair pundits write off Death Stranding months before release, makes me feel like I’m sat with cavemen mocking the outsider with a torch. That said, if Kojima really does deliver a game where you trudge around an empty mountain delivering parcels for no reason in an unfinished game which garners atrocious reviews – after three years visiting celebrities’ at Sony’s expense – then that might just be his greatest magic trick yet. My bet? Death Stranding’s wider context – and gameplay – is being deliberately withheld, in order to surprise an audience who demand everything yesterday, only to complain when it feels so rushed. And, hell, if – even, when – I’m wrong, you can find me soothing my baby on a distant moonscape. Dan Dawkins

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