Death Stranding E3 2018 Gameplay Trailer Ultimate Analysis
Unpopular opinion: back in the days of The Game Awards 2017, I suggested that Death Stranding would've required a new full trailer before unveiling its gameplay, and at E3 2018 I was kind of satisfied. I know it's weird to hear that, as I see a lot of controversy and harsh comments about the lack of true gameplay in the latest trailer, but I think we needed a bit more background and notions about what the title actually is, both in terms of stories and core systems, before we could really understand the game and the vision behind it.
So, as Kojima would say, we have received the "Volume 4" of Death Stranding pre-release reveal, one that I think is expanding the concepts we've met in the third volume and is offered from a previous stage in the story in regards of Vol. 1, that at a certain point – as we'll see later – seemingly intertwines with the newest clip, and Vol. 2, which presumably are the points where the game kicks off and starts developing. So, to be clear, the order for you to watch the trailers is 3-4, which are apparently from the same timeline but taken from different missions, and then 1-2 (we have posted the videos in this same order below).
The latest is a gameplay trailer both in the sense that we see HUD-less gameplay from the proper title (even with some slight dips in the frame rate) and we're explained about several elements we'll meet in the final game. As for Vol. 3, it showcases Death Stranding is in a much better shape now that the team is fully taking advantage of the power of the Decima Engine; in particular, if you go have a look at it, the first clip is now much less impressive and in one word, almost, outdated.
The E3 2018 gameplay trailer comes split into four pieces, each of them is anticipated by titles – "Give me your hand in life," "Give me your hand in death," "Give me your hand in death," "Give me your hand in flesh" – and focusing on different aspects of the game. In some there is a glimpse at the story, in others there is a look at the gameplay; that's a solution Hideo Kojima had to adopt in order to provide the first gameplay about Death Stranding, coherently to the diktat of unleashing all about gameplay at the PlayStation Showcase (as Spider-Man, The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima did).
Let's talk about the gameplay first, then. The new location is based on Iceland, a place where Kojima has spent some time and occasionally learned about I'll Keep Coming and Easy Way Out's Low Roar, and features several interesting things to observe. It has multiple sceneries like rocks, green, red, water, and abandoned structures such as a train station, which confirms that at least this demo is located in modern times. The game features climbing, as seen in one of the sequences, both with bare hands and grappling hooks.
In this adventure, we – as Sam Porter, whose name is mentioned for the first time in a trailer – will be tasked with delivering unknown goods and corpses for a company called Bridges. The purpose of our deliveries is, together with the meaning of the "connecting the world" claim from Kojima, one of the very few and very relevant mysteries left about the story. As seen in the 8-minute long video, we'll see Sam change haircuts, based on the moment in the story, but also, perhaps most importantly, lose pieces of his deliveries and use weapons similar to the hyper-technological sniper rifle at around the minute 3:00.
Another of the tidbits we're probably given in the trailer is the presence of quiet moments where Sam takes some rest and recovers from the fatigue and the damage he takes during his deliveries. Looking at the fact he's taking a shower at a certain point in the trailer, and seeing how the Japanese game designer developed that aspect in The Phantom Pain, I instantly thought of a home base, a sort of hub where we'd be able to change loadouts, take missions, check information and more; it's definitely not confirmed it'll be in the game, but it's something I believe it's rather possible going to be there.
Talking about tidbits, radio communication is back. We'll be solitary heroes, but still, we'll have a contact with the HQ at Bridges, which will give us coordinates in terms of time and space to complete our tasks. It's a recurrent topic in Kojima's narrative, as we've seen in the Metal Gear saga, even though we're told Sam is an everyday hero and not one in the likes of Snake. It's something I definitely don't believe, because of the hints all along the trailer we'll see now in terms of story, but at least this is what the game director wants us to believe.
Finally, the baby. We're finally told what the baby is all about now, as he gets activated like a sort of checkpoint in dangerous situations, before embarking in difficult moments of the missions. When he is activated he blinks his eye, which means he has "saved" all of Sam's memories, and in Vol. 1 – the most advanced point in the story thus far, together with Vol. 2 which is probably on the same timeline, remember - the reason why he is so desperate is that he lost the connection with the baby and lost all of his information; basically, he doesn't know who he is anymore.
The baby shows up at the beginning of the volume, and this means this is a new "life," a new mission for Sam. I recall Geoff Keighley reporting that the game has separate rooms, likely standing for missions, so what we're watching are multiple missions with different targets and one common meaning. The game itself is not a continuous flow or a completely open world but has a similar structure to Metal Gear Solid V: sandbox, plus chapters.
Curiously, as I mentioned, the game is reportedly all about the connections, the "strands" from the title, and this is something Kojima is currently telling anyone, anywhere, although not properly showing why. The master connection for the player is the one with the baby, so, but there are also other types of connections such as the one between the creatures we're constantly running away from and the huge, Metal Gear-like one seen in the third trailer. We know these are villainous creatures, even though we're not told about the nature of their connection with that hub and how it can influence our story.
Wrapping up on the gameplay, it is worth noting that, before the story based teaser, the trailer ends with an explanation of those worms we've already met in a couple Death Stranding videos. Those are actually Cryptobiotes and eating them helps fighting back the radiations of the Timefall, the rain that fast forwards time and that characters need to repair from with special suits and dedicated umbrellas. Timefall has been discussed in interviews after The Game Awards trailer, but this is the first time the proper game talks about it officially and takes some time to focus on it.
We had already seen Cryptobiotes being puked by Sam in Vol. 3 and these references possibly hint at the fact they are true gameplay mechanics like if we'd have a contamination bar to handle and eating them would allow us not to reach a critical point. This is pure speculation at this stage but it's clear they are going to be relevant at least in terms of story, and when the bigger picture gets complete it would be disappointing to see they are just shockers. Considering that there will be a lot of walking and sneaking around, in the effort not to be detected by the enemy creatures with prompts to put our hands on our mouths so they can't hear us breathing (which is all they need to find us), that could be a factor to watch out during the gameplay.
Ok, now let's dive deeper into the story elements that we've been provided at E3. The trailer confirms that the protagonist is Sam Porter, "the man who delivers," and that he suffers a form of allergy named "Chiral Allergy", which is the reason of his tears in the previous showcases. He has a sign on his hand that is probably a remnant from the past, maybe it was painted by the little girl in the pic, and as such could be crazily important in the end.
He has "dooms," like sorts of powers that allow him to detect the invisible (to the player, at least and for the moment) creatures that leave footprints all around the place and on his own body in Vol. 1. These "dooms" are apparently categorized on a scale, as Sam has reached the "Extinction Factor" and sense them, without seeing the creatures themselves; the character he meets in the trailer even sees them, so she's on a higher level. Chiralium density increases when the creatures are in the whereabouts, and it is what makes them cry all the time.
As the good old Wikipedia reports, "chirality is a geometric property of some molecules and ions. A chiral molecule/ion is non-superimposable on its mirror image. The presence of an asymmetric carbon center is one of several structural features that induce chirality in organic and inorganic molecules." The best example of it are our hands: you can't superimpose them as they are, simply because one is left and one is right.
So, this is kind of a hint to the condition caused by Timefall, which falling down is fundamentally moving time forward while not moving the space and creating multiple dimensions that because of their nature can't be overlapped. They have one dimension in common, which is space, but do exist on their own in time. My speculation is that the creatures leading the so-called chiral allergy are un-chiral, meaning that they can overlap themselves perfectly in all the different dimensions, and therefore have a persistent presence not depending from time and space. They are anomalies, and the fact they exist in these conditions and are nearby is what leads chiral allergy in humans - who are chiral and can be in only one dimension where time and space match, can't overlap themselves on multiple plans - like Sam.
The new character is played by Lea Seydoux and still hasn't a name. She has the allergy, too, but apparently has no signs left on her skin, unlike Sam, we don't know whether it's because of her suit or of her higher rank. Also, we don't know whether she knows Sam or his story, but she asks her to join her company since he works alone and it's tough out there for lone wolves. Interestingly, he refuses for some reasons and the way he does it, together with the wording, hints at an unwilled bond with Bridges.
She works for Fragile – Handled With Love, another delivery company like Bridges, even though it looks much more equipped and trained for the purpose. She's like a heroine, while Sam seems to be there just to pay or repay for something, some kind of ransom he's been asked for in order to free someone he loves from somewhere. He's not a specialist and is not willing to build a career in the business, he doesn't really care about deliveries themselves, but he simply wants to complete his tasks so he can receive a higher reward he desires. The new character, as suggested by the titles of the clips where she's revealed, will give us a concrete hand in "life" and "death."
After their meeting with the creatures, which pop up in the sky in a similar fashion to what we've seen in the previous trailers, she notices Sam is watching a photo of him together with a woman and a girl. She understands, or perhaps knows, that the photo is depicting something from a previous life and says that "the past just won't let go." When she leaves, she reveals Sam is headed into town, which is most likely the town we've seen in Vol. 2 with Mads Mikkelsen and Guillermo del Toro's characters.
There's a nice theory around that claims that woman in the photo is the President of the United States (or Cities, depending on whether she was in charge before the beginning of the story or not) and Sam's wife, as the background seems to be reflecting the Oval Office at the White House, and, while it might look a bit bold, it does appear believable, also judging from her suit. Anyway, she pops up in the final part of the trailer and the fact she does there, in the portion of the "Spirit," is likely a claim that she'll appear mostly in the form of a memory from the past or a thought from the future (flashbacks or flashforwards).
Note that the location is the same as the Vol. 1, the most advanced point in the game again, and she says "You still don't know who I am, do you?" hinting at 1) she's his wife or at least a very important person in Sam's life he should know all about; 2) by the time the two meet, which is slightly after the first trailer, Sam has lost his connection to the baby because it got broken and so doesn't remember anything. Given that this is the most advanced point in the game, the game itself could be a journey of researching and finding the pieces of Sam's life and rebuilding his memory, on top of getting reunited with the girl (her daughter?) and the woman from the photo.
As you can see, the E3 2018 trailer has added more interesting matter to discuss, mostly because of the two new characters and their roles, but also provided us with a lot of solid information about what Death Stranding's gameplay really is. So, while the mystery of the story is still something ongoing and that won't be solved before the launch of the title (and probably won't do even when that happens), for what matters the gameplay we have a much more complete picture and one that is truly fascinating. We really look forward to learning more in the future.