If nothing else, Hideo Kojima's newly unveiled Death Stranding was the most baffling thing at E3 this week, its short teaser packing in a whole world of enigma as it introduced the PlayStation 4 project from the director's new studio.
As is often the way with Kojima's work, there's a purpose to the enigma - and the Metal Gear Solid creator is in no rush to clear up any of the mystery. What we do know is that Death Stranding will be an action game, with the player controlling Norman Reddus' character. As to how it'll play, Kojima's made reference to Japanese author Kōbō Abe - a writer whose nightmarish surrealism earned him comparisons to Franz Kafka - and his missive about ropes and sticks.
"The first tool mankind made was a stick. It was made toto keep away bad things. It's a weapon," Kojima explained to Digital Spy. "The next tool created by mankind was rope. The rope is not to keep away bad things. On the contrary, it's a tool used to keep good things close to you, to tie good things close to you. Sticks and ropes are some of the tools most used by mankind even these days.
"In most games you see that are online multiplayer or co-op - or even single player - the communication is through sticks. In this game you will be able to use what will be the equivalent of sticks. But I also want people to use what will be the equivalent of ropes."
Got that? It's not the most revealing of insights, but it's probably as much as we'll get for a while from Kojima. That's where the real fun starts, though, as fans rush in to fill in the gaps with increasingly wild theories.
The Death Stranding trailer is a tangle of symbology, but there are some effective anchors amidst all the madness. The first four lines of romantic poet William Blake's Auguries of Innocence precede the trailer, establishing themes of irreproachability contrasted with a world of corruption - the pair of clean hands so quickly sullied by jet-black oil. Even on a surface level, the words are a neat piece of framing for footage that's designed to be pored over by obsessives - 'To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.'
Elsewhere, on Reedus' dogtags two equations can be spotted - pertaining to the Schwarzschild radius and the Dirac equation - both of which pertain to quantum mechanics. All of which suggests that Kojima is going hard sci-fi with Death Stranding - a world of warped time and black holes.
Then there's the strong environmental theme as suggested by Death Stranding's riff on the phenomenon of cetacean stranding, with all those carcasses littering the beach and the recurring oil motif throughout the trailer. There's a pretty good video from Modern Gamer TV that goes into more depth about the phenomenon and how it might pertain to Death Stranding.
As to what's actually going on, it's all a matter of interpretation. The disappearing baby, it's widely believed, is Reedus' own, the scars on Reedus' abdomen suggesting it might even have been pulled from him. And what are the odds that Reedus' character is stranded himself, some intergalactic traveller washed up on the shores of a strange land like a sci-fi Ben Gunn? It's all a matter of your own interpretation.
As for the rest, well here's where it gets a little more outlandish, and a lot more entertaining. Following the scuffed ending to Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, some players were holding out hope that Kojima's next project might be the clearly absent Act 3 of that game, while others have been making at times strained connections between Death Stranding and Metal Gear Solid.
Maybe we should look to the whales - Moby Dick cast a shadow over The Phantom Pain, while Death Stranding sees dozens of them lying dead on the beach. Are those corpses Kojima's way of saying the Metal Gear series is dead to him? Maybe - and these are some of my favourite theories - the whole trailer is one extended comment on Kojima's strained relationship with his former employer. The baby that disappears is his Silent Hills project, the five figures that appear ominously in the sky the five senior figures on Konami's board. Now that makes sense.
Perhaps the most compelling point of comparison, though, is that our generous look at Reedus' glutes suggests Kojima's infatuation with fine butts hasn't been diminished in recent years. Everything else, it seems, is still up in the air, but isn't that so often the way with Kojima's games? He's not really been away too long from the front-line of games development, but still, what a pleasure it is to have him back.
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