He’s finally done it. After years of talking about Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima finally showed off a full mission’s worth of gameplay during a live stage presentation at Tokyo Game Show this week. It’s as offbeat, meticulously detailed, and intriguing as you’d expect from Kojima, if not more so.
To be released November 8 for PlayStation 4, Death Stranding follows Sam Bridges (Norman Reedus) as he makes a coast-to-coast trek across the ruined United Cities of America, creating new “strands” that link divided human beings back together. With him is BB, or “Bridge Baby,” a little foetus in an artificial womb that, among other things, allows him to see BTs, or “Beached Things,” supernatural monsters from other dimensions that are rampaging in the UCA.
There’s a lot more to it than that, much of it likely involving Geoff Keighley, but that’s the backstory you need to know to get the most out of the presentation, which was over 45 minutes of live gameplay. Sam is given a simple mission: deliver four aid packages from Knot City to Port Knot City. The aid packages contain four supplies that are considered crucial in this world: food, medicine, anti-BT weapons, and “sperm and eggs.”
Before heading out on any mission, you’ll pick out your loadout. This will include all the required aid packages that you’re delivering, plus anything else you want to bring with you on the journey: extra shoes, ropes, weapons, etc. The difference between Sam Bridges and most video game heroes is that while everybody else just disappears all of their possessions into a magical pocket, Sam is visibly loaded up with his burdens. Everything he carries is visibly attached to his character, affecting his weight and mobility.
You can actually choose where on Sam’s body to put all this stuff. You can load it all up onto his back like a pack mule, but you can also put items in pouches hanging off the backpack, strap them to his arms and legs, or have him hand-carry certain pieces.
This will affect his speed, yes, but also his balance. Sam’s centre of gravity will be shown in a yellow circle underneath him as you shift things around. As you run through the world, if you make hard left or right turns, he’ll go off-kilter if he’s overburdened, and you’ll need to press the L2 and R2 buttons to shift his weight back so he stays upright.
You’re not stuck awkwardly carrying all this stuff at every moment, though. If you’re about to, say, head into a battle, you can put your belongings down temporarily. You might also be able to acquire a Floating Carrier, a cross between an airport luggage cart and a hoverboard that will follow behind you with your big ol’ pile of crap. (If needs be, you can even hop on and ride it yourself.)
All this futuristic technology all around us but the only way that they can transport a small container of food two miles down the road is to have Norman Reedus hand-carry it there. Onward to Port Knot City! First, Sam charts his journey: The game will calculate the direct route to his destination and show him all the topography, and the player can then plot a custom route from waypoint to waypoint to try to avoid the major hazards.
The first obstacle Sam reaches in the video presentation is a river. Again, the HUD is here to give important information, showing the strength of the current in different spots. Blue is easily crossable, yellow is walkable with effort, and red will sweep you off your feet and send you down the river. Kojima walks into it for demonstration purposes, and shows how Sam is blown off course but also loses a package or two, which he has to pick up again.
Leaving the river, Sam pauses to catch his breath (with the Circle button), and also checks in on his Bridge Baby to make sure he’s still doing ok (and soothing him if not). He then pounds a canteen of Monster™ brand energy drink, and hits the old dusty trail again.
It’s not long before Sam comes across another package to add to his burden, a lost piece of musical equipment belonging to a character called the Musician. Fortunately for us, the Musician’s house is just down a cliff and across a small ravine. Sam sticks a climbing anchor into the ground, then rappels down the cliff. He crosses the ravine with his helpful extendable ladder.
Later in the demo, Kojima points out that thanks to the game’s asynchronous multiplayer aspects, you might not even have to use your own ladder for this, since other players can leave their equipment in the world for others to use. He shows how there’s now a climbing rope and a ladder left by other players. You can “Like” these items. Social-media “Likes” seem to be the currency of this world, just as they are in ours.
Sometimes other players will also drop helpful items that you can find in the world and pick up. By pressing the “communication button” while in the game, Sam will shout out something like “Is anybody there?” If items dropped by other players are in the vicinity, they’ll flash to alert you to them. But apparently you can’t just go around picking up every single thing dropped by others. The containers will be damaged when you find them, and you have to use a consumable called “container repair spray” to fix them before you can harvest their resources.
There will also be lots of lockers scattered about the world, some left by other players, some controlled by enemies. These might have extra goodies for you, and you can also use them to stash your own stuff privately if needs be.
As a reward for bringing back the Musician’s hi-fi equipment, you’ll add a new “strand” to the network and further link the world together. More importantly, he gives you a harmonica, which you can play to soothe the BB whilst you sit in the grass on a break. Death Stranding definitely wants you to take that downtime. There are even natural hot springs in the world where you and the Bottled Babbo can recharge your batteries. (Literally — it’s called a “battery hot springs.”)
It’s not all just about slowly walking while holding a bunch of FedEx boxes full of sperm and singing to a baby. When Sam encounters a group of enemies, things become very Metal Gear Solid all of a sudden. Briefly abandoning his precious cargo, Sam goes into stealth mode, sneaking around an enemy camp.
He can use an item, which is also called a Strand, to “bind human enemies from behind and parry attacks at close quarters.” This, the description says, is a “non-lethal anti-personnel weapon.” In fact, all the weapons we see in the demo are specifically called out as being non-lethal.
Sam sneaks up on and incapacitates one enemy before Kojima allows him to be caught, thus turning the enemy camp into a full-on battle scene. Now he switches to the Bola Gun, which shoots out a Strand tied to two balls to tie up enemies from a distance.
The sight shows you the horizontal line that the bola will follow, so you can aim with precision. Charging the gun up will extend the length of the strand and the range of the shot. You can also punch and kick enemies, or even throw your luggage at them.
After hacking into an enemy locker and finding an exoskeleton suit that lets Sam move faster and jump higher, he ditches the battle, using the suit to jump over a ravine that he would ordinarily have had to cross using a ladder as before.
As Sam nears Port Knot City, the sky goes dark and it begins to rain. Yep, it’s a BT, a big scary gross monster. Now we’re in a boss battle. Sam can fire the Bola Gun at the BT, but Kojima quickly opts for the Hematic Grenade. If you know your Latin, you’re probably imagining what’s in this grenade, and you’re right — it’s blood. If you don’t have a “blood bag” in your arsenal, it’ll use Sam’s blood.
Why does human blood kill the BTs? Who knows, although Death Stranding will surely explain all of this in a 23-minute cutscene two months from now. If you run out of equipment during the battle, you can call for help from other online players, who can respond by giving you more weaponry. Winning the battle causes Sam to receive 100 “Likes” from the BB. Of course.
Well, we finally have an idea of how Death Stranding plays. It looks good! Almost like a Breath of the Wild style reworking of Kojima’s signature concepts. I’m sure it’ll make us all ashamed of our words and deeds this November.