The new Death Stranding trailer may have left you more confused than you were before about the upcoming game from Kojima Productions, but there are actually a lot of interesting details to dig into. Some shed more light on the state of the world Hideo Kojima has created, while others may hint at possible gameplay elements. Let’s dive in.
The first thing we see is a patch of vegetation rapidly growing and dying, as Norman Reedus’ character — who we later learn is named Sam — explains the course of the world. He mentions an explosion which gave birth to time, space, and life as we know it, an obvious reference to the scientific Big Bang theory. Later in the trailer, he mentions the “next explosion,” an “explosion that will be our last.”
This feels like a reference to nuclear war, a subject that is not out of place in Kojima’s work, but it also brings to mind Neon Genesis Evangelion and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Both works share a lot in common with what we know about Death Stranding so far: especially the focus on worlds existing in the wake of some global cataclysm and environmental disaster.
Angels in the Evangelion universe and the atomic God Warriors from Nausicaä are also extremely reminiscent of the massive humanoid entity revealed in this Death Stranding trailer: massive entities capable of great destruction. Along with kaiju, these beings are often interpreted as stand-ins for the terror of nuclear war or other disaster. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves now.
Sam and two unnamed men awaken from an accident, injured and bloodied. Sam’s jumpsuit reads Porter, which may be the name of an organization or the name of his role, perhaps as a transporter of some kind. The armbands on these two guys read CORPSE DISPOSAL TEAM 6, which may explain what they’re doing with the yellow skull-faced corpse. We know from the previous Death Stranding trailer (where Mads Mikkelsen’s character commands a team of World War II-era U.S. paratroopers) that someone or something is capable of reanimating corpses and that humans have borrowed this technology, but for what purpose is still unclear. (By the way, Kojima totally played this scene out with a Yellow Submarine LEGO set earlier this year.)
As one of the Corpse Disposal agents struggles to get his partner out from underneath the overturned vehicle, three things happen that give us a few indications of what we can expect from gameplay: the robot on his back alerts them to a hostile presence, the guy under the truck starts to age rapidly for an unknown reason (whatever this is can affect vegetation too, clearly), and we get a good look at these devices on their wrists, which appear to act as health meters.
We get pretty good confirmation of this once one of the Corpse Disposal agents attempts to stab himself to death later, and his meter goes from blue to yellow to red. Will we see the DualShock 4 light bar come into play somehow? It’s hard to tell, but this may also be similar to the handcuff device we see on Guillermo del Toro and Norman Reedus’ characters in previous trailers.
The robot is clearly capable of detecting and alerting its user to the oil creatures we’ve seen before, which could hint at possible stealth elements. But what’s interesting about this is when we realize it isn’t the robot that’s sensing nearby enemies: it’s the baby. We see the robot deactivate once this character abandons the baby in the incubator, and Sam’s powers up once he’s in possession of the child. We saw some level of clairvoyance from the baby in the last trailer with del Toro. The nature of what is actually being detected is a bigger mystery. The idea of an invisible creature is probably too simple: the entity or entities leaving handprints here, and in the first teaser, seem to be reaching through from a parallel dimension, with the oil-like substance allowing them to actually break through. We see it when the baby in the first teaser seems to disappear, and we see it in this trailer when the puddle of oil — seemingly controlled by one of these floating figures — attempts to steal the injured character. Whatever these creatures want, they want people alive: they immediately abandon him once his partner shoots him in the head.
At this point, a mysterious hooded figure shows up. The shushing and pointing gesture they do is nearly identical to what Mads Mikkelsen’s character does in the last trailer, which leads me to believe they’re the same person. His outfit looks very similar to Chico’s unused concept art from The Phantom Pain, and he seems to have a more advanced version of that robot detector as well as his own incubator.
Once the oil creatures come for the remaining Corpse Disposal agent, we see him pass the baby on to Sam and tell him to run before trying to kill himself. What’s curious about this scene is the way everything except Sam begins to float away. At the climax of the trailer, Sam comes face-to-face with a massive hand-headed creature that may or may not be the same as the floating figures we’ve seen before. From its hands we see these huge marionette-like wires and from its torso, a huge umbilical cord. Whatever it does to the Corpse Disposal worker causes a massive explosion that seems to push Sam out of that reality and into another. The idea of nuclear war or some other catastrophe causing a tear in our reality is one seen in a lot of popular fiction — see Twin Peaks: The Return for a recent example. Sam floating naked in a body of water also calls to mind womb imagery, and as we’ve seen, Death Stranding is pretty heavy on the birthing symbolism.
Underwater, we see Sam has a tattoo on his right arm. It appears to be a devil tattoo that Norman Reedus apparently has in real life. A mark briefly appears on his chest and disappears. Around him, everything is inverted: things float slowly to the surface, some huge monstrous creature appears to swim above the water, and all the fish swim upside down. Here we get another good look at that BRIDGES: United Cities of America logo — again, it’s a map of the US with an ominous gap around Washington D.C. and a web-like pattern branching out from it. The dreamcatcher we saw on Sam’s back earlier floats by too, as well as little aquatic bugs that resemble large tardigrades. Inside what is apparently a second Sam at the bottom of the ocean, we see not only a baby, but handprints too. The C-section scars from the first teaser imply that what we’re seeing here takes place before the child is eventually removed from him.
One popular theory so far suggests the babies are clones of their owners, which could suggest mechanics involving constant death and rebirth through clones of yourself. Earlier this year, Redditor boogiewo pointed out that Cess Ivory’s 21 Days, a story from a Yukinobu Hoshino’s Stardust Memories anthology, whose work Kojima has tweeted about before, follows the story of a biologist who finds herself stranded on a planet that rapidly ages its inhabitants. She decides to raise a clone of herself until help arrives.
“The player as Reedus, helplessly stranded on what could be a ruined Earth or another planet/dimension and the only way to complete the mission is by replicating yourself,” boogiewo explains. “The concept of a rope as a tool for keeping things close — you are tethered to your infant clone by cable and have to protect them until they are old enough to continue your mission and the Reedus you previously played as dies.”
This, as boogiewo speculates, would contextualize Low Roar’s “I’ll Keep Coming” lyric featured prominently in the debut teaser. Literally, the player may keep coming back. Could the USB sticks worn as a necklace around Sam’s neck in its debut teaser (which we know from a recent Kojima tweet features the Schwarzschild radius) contain the knowledge of all his previous clones, to be uploaded into the next?
At Tokyo Comic Con this year, Mikkelsen spoke to IGN Japan and revealed that the characters will be as “dualistic” as they are in other Kojima games.
“You’ll have to encounter these characters in different ways throughout the game,” Mikkelsen said, which may hint at encountering new clones of each character across generations and time periods.
After the underwater sequence, Sam wakes up on the surface and coughs up those tardigrades we saw earlier — proof that it wasn’t just a dream. He still has the incubator from earlier too. Hanging from it, we see what looks like a little keychain of Kojima Productions mascot Ludens. Sam sheds a single tear and, just like in the first teaser, we get a wide shot of those five floating figures from earlier. This scene is especially reminiscent of Nausicaä’s atomic God Warriors, specifically from the catastrophic Seven Days of Fire, pictured above.
Despite Sam talking about explosions here again, the massive crater in the middle doesn’t look like it was created by a blast. Those lines of sedimentary rock and erosion make it seem more like a drained lake. Whatever hostile force has taken hold of Earth is clearly doing irreparable damage to the planet’s aquatic life, bringing us back to the very first thing we saw in its debut: dead sea creatures.
It will probably be a long time before we get a look at Death Stranding’s gameplay, but the themes explored in each of its teasers — war, environmental disaster, parenthood — and some of the clear homages to other popular works of fiction give us plenty to think about until the next big reveal.
Chloi Rad is an Associate Editor for IGN. Follow her on Twitter at @_chloi.