Cover art, featuring the protagonist Sam
Death Stranding[c] is an action game developed by Kojima Productions. It is the first game from director Hideo Kojima and Kojima Productions after their disbandment from Konami in 2015. It was released by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the PlayStation 4 in November 2019 and is scheduled for release by 505 Games on Microsoft Windows in mid-2020.
The game is set in the United States during the aftermath of the eponymous Death Stranding, which caused destructive creatures from a realm between life and death to begin roaming the Earth. Players control Sam Bridges (Norman Reedus), a courier tasked with delivering supplies to the fractured and isolated colonies that remain and reconnecting them via a wireless communications network.
Alongside Reedus, the game features actors Mads Mikkelsen, Léa Seydoux, Margaret Qualley, Troy Baker, Tommie Earl Jenkins, and Lindsay Wagner, in addition to the likenesses of film directors Guillermo del Toro and Nicolas Winding Refn as supporting characters. Death Stranding received generally favorable reviews from critics, who saw it as a unique experience and praised its voice acting, soundtrack, and graphics, although many were polarized over its gameplay and story.
Death Stranding is an action game set in an open world, and also includes asynchronous online functions. Kojima compared the genre to how his earlier game Metal Gear – now considered to be a stealth game – was called an action game during its release because the stealth genre was not considered to exist at the time.
The player controls Sam Bridges, a porter for a company known as Bridges. The player is tasked with delivering supply cargo to various isolated cities known as KNOTs, while also connecting them to a communications system known as the Chiral Network. The player is evaluated by the company and recipients based on their performance (including via "likes" similar to social networks), including whether the cargo was delivered, and if it is intact among other factors. These merits are, in turn, used to level up the player's statistics (such as stability and weight capacity) and increase their standing with individual locations and characters (which can improve rewards). How cargo is packed by the player, and the overall weight being carried, can affect Sam's ability to navigate through the environments.
The player's main enemies include otherworldly creatures known as "beached things" (BTs), as well as MULE—a cult of rogue, bandit-like porters influenced by an obsession with cargo, who attempt to steal deliveries so they can deliver it themselves. BTs are surrounded by a rain known as "timefall", which damages the player's armor and cargo by speeding up their deterioration. BTs are normally invisible, but Sam's suit is equipped with a robotic sensor that points towards BTs he is in close proximity to, and the player can then scan the area to reveal them.
As Sam is a "Repatriate", he is taken to an underwater world known as the "Seam" if he is killed, where he can "swim" back to his body to revive himself. However, being killed and consumed by a BT also results in a destructive explosion known as a "voidout", which permanently damages the location of the death with an untraversable crater.
As players expand the coverage of the Chiral Network, they can access maps of areas, and use blueprints to produce consumable items and structures with the Portable Chiral Constructor (PCC, a device similar to a 3D printer), including ropes, bridges, and power generators used for charging battery-powered equipment. The Network is also used as the basis for the game's online functionality, where players can leave supplies, structures, and messages that can be viewed and used by other players, although structures will eventually be destroyed by Timefall after a period of time. The player can also recover cargo lost by other players to complete their delivery. The player does not directly encounter other players in the world.
The game is set in an apocalyptic United States, where a cataclysmic event known as the "Death Stranding" caused "Beached Things" ("BTs") — invisible creatures originating from the "Beach", a land said to be the link to the afterlife — to begin roaming the Earth. BTs cause explosions known as "voidouts" when they consume the dead by necrosis, and produce rain known as "Timefall" that rapidly ages and deteriorates whatever it hits. These events damaged the country's infrastructure, leading its remaining population to confine themselves to remote colonies known as "KNOTs", which form the remaining "United Cities of America".
These colonies have since relied on the services of a company known as Bridges, whose porters brave the BTs, bandits, and terrorists to deliver supplies to the cities. Bridges also performs various governmental functions on behalf of the UCA. If they achieve a mental connection to a "Bridge Baby" (a "BB") — a premature child reflecting a state between life and death — it is possible for a person to sense the presence of a BT. Porters carry a BB with them , which is stored in a pod simulating a mother's womb. A condition known as "DOOMS", depending on its severity, also allows a person to naturally sense, see, or even control a BT. There are also individuals known as "repatriates" who can travel back from "the Seam" – a place between the world of the living and the Beach – upon death. As such, these individuals can effectively return from death, though their deaths will still cause voidouts.
Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus) is transporting cargo when his progress is interrupted by Timefall, and receives assistance from Fragile (Léa Seydoux) in evading a BT. When she leaves, Sam continues his delivery. He arrives at his destination Central Knot City, only to be warned that one of the citizens has committed suicide and their corpse is on the verge of necrosis. Due to being both a repatriate and having DOOMS, Sam is assigned to transport the corpse to an incinerator to safely dispose of it, but an encounter with BTs hinders his progress and the corpse causes a voidout, destroying Central Knot City. He awakens in Capital Knot City and meets Deadman (Guillermo del Toro/Jesse Corti),[N 1] a doctor from Bridges. Sam is then tasked to deliver morphine for the dying president of the UCA, his mother Bridget Strand (Lindsay Wagner/Emily O'Brien).[N 2] He also meets Die-Hardman (Tommie Earl Jenkins), the director of Bridges and Sam's former boss before he left the organization. Bridget pleads with Sam to rejoin Bridges and help rebuild America before succumbing to her illness. Sam transports Bridget's body to be incinerated, but refuses to incinerate BB-28, a Bridge Baby that has been marked for retirement. With BB-28's assistance, Sam is able to evade a horde of BTs and return to Capital Knot City. Sam decides to take BB-28 as his own Bridge Baby, eventually nicknaming him Lou.
Upon his return, Sam is reunited with his sister Amelie Strand (also Wagner/O'Brien).[N 2] She tells him that over the past three years, she has led an expedition across what is left of the continental United States, making contact with the remaining cities and survivor settlements and setting up terminals that would allow them to connect to the Chiral Network, a system that facilitates instantaneous communication across vast distances. However, upon reaching the last city on the West Coast, Edge Knot City, Amelie was captured and is being held hostage by an anti-UCA terrorist group called the Homo Demens to guarantee Edge Knot City's independence. Even though she is a hostage, she is still allowed to freely communicate with Bridges via the Network. She tells Sam that he must follow the path of her expedition and use a device called a Q-pid to connect the terminals she left behind to the Chiral Network. Then he must rescue Amelie and bring her back so she can take Bridget's place as the President of the UCA. Sam reluctantly accepts the mission since it is his only opportunity to find and rescue Amelie.
Sam then embarks on his mission to connect all of the remaining cities to the Network. Along the way, he delivers valuable cargo, assists other Bridges staff like Mama (Margaret Qualley), Heartman (Nicolas Winding Refn/Darren Jacobs),[N 1] and Mama's twin sister Lockne (also Qualley) in researching the Death Stranding, and thwarts plots by the Homo Demens and their leader, Higgs Monaghan (Troy Baker). He also views Lou's memories, which show Lou's apparent father, Clifford Unger (Mads Mikkelsen). Clifford, himself now a spectral entity, occasionally attacks Sam in an effort to recover Lou, transporting Sam to Beaches that take the appearance of historical theaters of war.
Sam's journey culminates in a direct confrontation against Higgs in Amelie's Beach. Higgs reveals that Amelie is actually an Extinction Entity, a godlike being that can use the Death Stranding to trigger mass extinction events. However, Higgs seeks to trigger not just a mass extinction, but a Last Stranding, an event which would cause the complete annihilation of all life on Earth. Sam defeats Higgs, who commits suicide to avoid being trapped on the Beach. Sam is forcefully ejected from the Beach by Amelie. He later discovers that as the Extinction Entity, Amelie and Bridget were both the same being, with Bridget existing in the world of the living while Amelie could only manifest on the Beach. In addition, Amelie was the true leader of the Homo Demens, seeking to trigger the Last Stranding to end the cycle of extinction. Sam confronts Amelie one final time and convinces her to stop, though the only way for her to avert the Last Stranding and delay humanity's extinction is to permanently separate herself and her Beach from the world of the living.
In the aftermath, Die-Hardman takes Amelie's place as the President of the UCA, with the rest of the Bridges staff dedicated to keeping the UCA safe. Fragile resolves to rebuild her trading company. Sam is told that Lou has died, and is assigned to transport the corpse to the incinerator. He connects with Lou one last time, and discovers the memories he has been viewing aren't Lou's, but his own, making him Clifford's son. Clifford died trying to smuggle the infant Sam out of a Bridges lab. Sam was also killed in the incident, but was revived by Amelie, establishing their connection and turning him into a repatriate. Since Sam was no longer suitable to be a Bridge Baby, Bridget instead decided to adopt him and raise him as her own son. Back in the present, Sam decides not to incinerate Lou and manages to resuscitate them.
In the final scene, Sam refers to Lou as "Louise", revealing that she is in fact a girl.
After a lengthy corporate conflict with Konami as a restricted subsidiary, Kojima Productions closed in July 2015 and reformed as an independent video game developer and studio in December. The same month, Hideo Kojima announced his partnership with Sony Interactive Entertainment, at the time led by Andrew House, to make a new PlayStation game.
Kojima revealed the game at Sony's conference during E3 2016 with the trailer. It was made possible with the technology of photogrammetry and motion capture. It featured Norman Reedus, who served as the basis for the protagonist. The game is the second collaboration between Kojima and Reedus, following the cancelled Silent Hills. Kojima and Mark Cerny, lead system architect of the PlayStation 4, spent two weeks in January 2016 looking for a game engine on which to develop the game. One of the two remaining candidates had been used to create the teaser trailer. Guerrilla Games would later be announced as a collaborator on the development of the game, as it was providing their proprietary game engine, Decima. Kojima Productions' meeting room was recreated in the engine as a reference of accuracy, and for the purpose of testing physically-based lighting.
According to Kojima, one of the key aspects of the announcement trailer was the idea of a connection between life and death. He explained one of the main themes through a short story by Kōbō Abe; the first tool created by humans was a stick, meant as protection by putting a distance between oneself and "bad things", and that the second was a rope, used to secure things one finds important. Kojima compared the main "tools" in action games – punching, shooting and kicking – to sticks, and that in Death Stranding, he wants people to communicate through the game equivalent of ropes. While the title refers to the phenomenon of cetacean stranding, "strand" is an alternative term for shore and also stands for strings and connections.
A second teaser revealed that Mads Mikkelsen had been cast as the antagonist. It also featured a character bearing the likeness of Guillermo del Toro, who had previously collaborated with Kojima and Reedus on Silent Hills. During this period, a female protagonist was said planned to be revealed and that Ludvig Forssell, who previously worked with Kojima on Metal Gear Solid V, was writing the music. An alternate cut of the second teaser included a song from the band Low Roar. Kojima Productions and American media publisher Mondo partnered to release a 12-inch vinyl single of the song under the Death Stranding brand, which was released in February 2017. The official soundtrack of the game, Death Stranding: Timefall, was released through RCA Records and Sony Interactive Entertainment on November 7, 2019, and features artists such as Chvrches, The Neighbourhood, Major Lazer, and Bring Me the Horizon.
The game entered full development in 2017. A few days before E3 2017, Kojima announced that the game would not appear during the usual Sony conference. In June, information came from Shawn Layden, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment America, affirming that Death Stranding was in fact in a playable alpha version, but he had not been able to categorize the game in a specific genre.
A third teaser was presented during The Game Awards 2017 in December, where Kojima, Reedus and del Toro made appearances. The next day, the same trailer was shown again at PlayStation Experience, in which also Kojima made an appearance on stage during the event. Mark Cerny commented on the trailer, saying that the game would have gained sense after 4–5 hours of playing and confirmed that the video was captured on PlayStation 4 Pro. The same month, more info from Kojima about the gameplay was revealed. At the same time, Kojima admitted that he was aware of the common belief that would see him proceeding too slowly in the development, but reiterated that this was not the case. Kojima also revealed that the team was unable to do any performance capture or voice over for the third trailer in time for E3 2017 due to the 2016–17 video game voice actor strike, so it was delayed until the Game Awards.
In February 2018, Emily O'Brien and Troy Baker joined the cast for the game. In May, Sony Worldwide Studios' Shawn Layden, revealed that Death Stranding would be part of four games – along with Ghost of Tsushima, Spider-Man and The Last of Us Part II – on which the company would deeply focus during E3 2018. At the event, a new trailer was shown, showing gameplay for the first time. It also revealed that actresses Léa Seydoux and Lindsay Wagner were to be a part of the cast. On September 18, it was announced at Tokyo Game Show 2018 that Tommie Earl Jenkins would portray a key character in the game, and that Akio Ōtsuka, Kikuko Inoue, Nana Mizuki and Satoshi Mikami, veterans of the Metal Gear series, along with Kenjiro Tsuda, had joined the game's Japanese voice cast.
In March 2019, Hideo Kojima said that Death Stranding was slightly behind its release date schedule, and that he himself was testing and adjusting the gameplay, day by day, defining that phase of development as "critical".
A trailer released in May 2019 introduced Margaret Qualley as Mama and Nicolas Winding Refn as Heartman. Several character names were also revealed: Cliff (Mikkelsen), Fragile (Seydoux), Deadman (Del Toro), Die-Hardman (Jenkins), Higgs (Baker) and Amelie (Wagner). O'Brien, Jesse Corti and Darren Jacobs are credited for voice-over work in the trailer. Del Toro and Winding Refn both received a "Special Appearance" credit, with Kojima later explaining that their likenesses were only used and their voice and motion capture are performed by other actors. The same trailer also revealed the release date of November 8, 2019. In an accompanying blog post, Kojima explained that the game's core theme was "the true importance of forging connections with others", referring to the player's goal of "reconnecting" an isolated and fractured society, to bridge its divides, and to "create new bonds or 'Strands' with other players around the globe."
In July 2019, after having it shown in preview to the San Diego Comic-Con audiences, Kojima worldwide revealed a trailer dedicated to the character of Heartman, whose face is 3D modeled after Nicolas Winding Refn, who was himself present on the SDCC stage. The following month, Kojima announced that production on the game's Japanese voice overs had finished.
During Gamescom that year, two more trailers were shown: the first shown one of the key elements of the video game, a BB (Bridge Baby), with the participation of the character "Deadman", played by Guillermo del Toro, the second introduces the character "Mama", played by Margaret Qualley. Furthermore, a 6-minutes gameplay trailer was shown, which introduces in detail various game mechanics, such as the possibility of urinating and delivering packages to isolated delivery stations. This video also features the participation of Geoff Keighley, Canadian journalist and video critic, as a hologram that interacts with the main character Sam in the delivery station.
In September 2019, at the Tokyo Game Show, a new trailer was released, called "Briefing Trailer" and previously shown behind closed doors during Gamescom, which revealed the protagonist's mission and general setting of the game; at the same time, a new promotional artwork of the title was made public. During the Tokyo Game Show conference, Kojima showed and commented live a 83-minute video dedicated entirely to the general features of the gameplay of the game. There Kojima proclaimed that he was open to developing a sequel to further solidify the "strand game" genre. On September 26, 2019, Kojima Productions announced that the game had gone gold, meaning that development on it had finished. In October 2019, it was announced that the game would be released on Microsoft Windows in mid-2020 by 505 Games, confirming rumors about a PC version that had existed as early as 2015. This version is to launch simultaneously on the Steam and Epic Games Store storefronts.
The game's announcement during E3 2016 was met with positive reception and discussion: from the entrance of Hideo Kojima, introduced by Andrew House on the Sony stage, welcomed with great enthusiasm after his "Hello, hello everyone. I'm back!" exclamation, to the teaser trailer itself, especially for Reedus' appearance and interpretation, triggering several reaction videos from the public which were widespread on YouTube. Kojima's arrival and the trailer were chosen by several publications to be one the most discussed moments at the event.
In the period after the shown trailers and basic game information, fans speculated their theories about the game, its gameplay and its plot, organizing themselves in communities on discussion forums. In 2017, Death Stranding was nominated by Golden Joystick Awards in the category "Most Wanted Game", but lost to The Last of Us Part II. In June 2018, during the days following the E3 press conferences, Death Stranding reached the top ten in the most watched video game trailers on YouTube, with more than 4.5 million views.
Death Stranding received "generally favorable" reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic. Some publications noted a range of reactions from reviewers across the board, with the game being praised for its unique concepts, appeal, graphics, voice acting, and soundtrack, but also being considered to be bloated, frustrating, and slow-paced. Russ Frushtick of Polygon described Death Stranding as "the most advanced walking simulator the world has ever seen", and as being "composed entirely of fetch quests", but that it was "shockingly" fun "once it gets out of its own way". Frushtick argued that the game "felt like two games in one", consisting of "a wholly unique open-world adventure with asynchronous cooperative multiplayer that allows me to feel like I’m part of a community, building a world from scratch" and "a long, confusing, deeply strange movie." Conversely, while acknowledging there would be those who enjoyed these types of games, journalist Jim Sterling called Death Stranding "Hideo Kojima at peak indulgence" and said it's "annoying, and when it's not annoying it's boring", criticizing the game's intricate systems and details that he felt didn't enhance the level of enjoyment but instead were implemented for the sake of realism or for the game to "show off". Despite this, he praised the online social features, as well as certain segments that coupled with the soundtrack "[build] a nice little atmosphere".
In its debut week, Death Stranding was the best-selling physical game in Japan, with Famitsu reporting that the game had sold 185,909 copies. This made it the most successful debut for a new intellectual property in Japan for the current generation of consoles, overtaking previous record holder Judgment.
In the UK, the title debuted at number two on the physical sales chart, outsold by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Its sales made it the second biggest PlayStation exclusive debut of the year, behind Days Gone.
According to Media Create, Death Stranding also debuted at number one in the physical sales chart for both Taiwan and South Korea.
- Del Toro and Refn are the physical models of Deadman and Heartman, who are voiced by Corti and Jacobs.
- Wagner provided the likeness for Bridget and Amelie and voiced the older Bridget; O'Brien voiced the young Bridget and Amelie.
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