Well, that recent tech demo of Death Stranding‘s engine in motion was certainly underwhelming. The centrepiece being a setting we’d already seen in an earlier trailer featuring Guillermo Del Toro, the twenty-ish-second video showed some clouds rolling by, and a bit of fairly nice lighting. I should stress that I don’t have a bad word to say about the engine: it’s the same framework that Guerilla used to make the gorgeous Horizon: Zero Dawn come alive, after all. Regardless of its power, though, this particular showing was far from anything to write home about. Even so, it got me thinking about Kojima Productions’ enigmatic new IP and, more specifically, just how little we really know about it.
Gameplay, for me, is always the most important thing of all (that is, unless you’re making something unconventional but brilliant in a different way, like the impeccable Journey.) Kojima has proven himself a master of stealth mechanics with Metal Gear, and also demonstrated his aptitude for action games with the well-liked Zone of the Enders series. Given his track record, then, we have every reason to believe that he could happily develop a mechanically strong game in any genre he wanted to if he tried hard enough. He’s like the King Midas of gaming. Despite his credentials, however, I am still concerned about the so far entirely technology-focused showings and complete lack of emphasis on how the game will play.
Storytelling has always been Kojima’s true passion. He’s spoken many times about how he always wanted to be a film director growing up, and it shows in his games. While Metal Gear is infamous for the length of its cutscenes – hitting an unprecedented level in MGS4, with one reaching a ridiculous 27 minutes in length – most players, myself included, are able to put up with them, simply because the gameplay is always so excellent. In the case of Death Stranding, though, nobody really knows what the game even is. To be honest, I don’t think even Kojima himself knows yet. We’re already seeing a potential conflict in tone, as indicated by Kojima’s claim that the game supposedly ‘won’t shy away from comedy’, despite the nature of the trailers shown thus far. I’m not sure that a naked Norman Reedus on all fours on a beach, holding a small baby in his arms as he weeps uncontrollably, constitutes the makings of absolute comedy gold, but who am I to judge? Maybe it’s a form of comedy that I’m not acquainted with.
Part of the problem is that the game was simply announced far too early, at least in the manner that it was. While I understand what must have been a strong desire to stick it to Konami after everything they put Kojima through, I don’t believe it was the best long-term strategy overall. We received confirmation that he and his newly-formed studio were working on something new, exclusively for PS4, along with a trailer more obscure than a Picasso piece viewed through a straw. This is a continuing issue, as every time Hideo and his team manage to do something unremarkable like make clouds work in the game, the whole world seemingly has to be notified. The game is so early in development that not even the details of the engine have been finalised yet, so why are all of these tiny updates necessary? All the devs will succeed in doing is building up astronomical levels of hype which, as we all know from such letdowns as No Man’s Sky, rarely ends well. Although obviously excited, I am getting rather sick of hearing such minor and often vague details when the game is still a long way away from release.
Honestly, we didn’t need to know any more about Death Stranding at this point other than its existence, and maybe the fact that Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen would feature, with very little else. Just like with Nintendo’s E3 announcement of a mainline Pokemon game for the Switch, verbal confirmation was all we really needed at such an early stage in order to get us excited. Instead, we’ve already received two trailers, both of which were so incredibly vague that nobody can truthfully say they had a clue what was going on in them, alongside fairly frequent tidbits of info which have all amounted to very little (so we’re constantly reminded of the game’s existence, as well as how long we have left to wait for it.) We still have more than likely years of minuscule, insignificant updates to come, too – since, let’s face it, a pre-2019 release is looking less and less feasible as time goes by – as we all slowly age, and come to grow tired of Kojima’s self-indulgence.