Hideo Kojima is about to be unleashed on the video game world for the first time since 2015, and it’s going to be glorious. The man behind Metal Gear Solid and the oft-underappreciated Zone of the Enders is set to launch his first game in four years. It will also be the first for Kojima Productions as an independent studio, so expectations and stakes are high.
Luckily, Death Stranding is ticking all of the right boxes in trailers we’ve seen. It looks like the perfect blend of Kojima-brand madness and dizzying innovation. As one of the last major exclusives of 2019, Death Stranding will likely set the tone for what’s expected to be the final holiday season hurrah of the current console generation. With that in mind, here’s what Death Stranding can do to thrive when it releases this November.
Characters on par with Metal Gear
Metal Gear Solid is about secret government super soldiers attempting to bring about the end of the world, and they sure look good doing so. A striking element of the MGS franchise is how memorable the main characters can be. Psycho Mantis is unforgettable, Revolver Ocelot gun-flipping is legendary and the Metal Gears themselves are involved in numerous epic boss battles. It’s no secret that a stylish game can work wonders for a game’s reception: just ask Persona 5.
Death Stranding should embrace the same level of style and off-the-wall character design that Kojima has become known for. So far, a lot of the characters are gorgeously rendered and have some pretty intriguing elements to them. That being said, the game would certainly benefit from more characters that take creepy, unsettling cues from Mads Mikkelsen’s “Cliff” role.
Just as long as Hideo Kojima doesn’t send six strong Japanese men after him if he lets another Death Stranding secret slip, of course. Fortunately, Mads was joking about that.
Massive scale like Zone of the Enders
Zone of the Enders is one of Kojima’s hidden gems. As a game that flew under the radar when it released back in 2001 thanks to a lengthy delay, it’s not often associated with Kojima’s works. While not in the same universe, Zone of the Enders ramps up the awe-inspiring Metal Gear mech concept into something more poetic. It’s amazing how small the world makes you feel, even while piloting a powerful flying mech.
Death Stranding would be wise to add elements of this scale with larger-than-life interactions. Whatever the invisible monsters are, they seem huge and frightening to comprehend. Death Stranding would greatly benefit from using Kojima‘s ability to make you feel small but captivated. Imagine being able to look up and admire the detail of an unknowable behemoth—before realizing, of course, you need to get away—and fast.
Kojima is many things, but direct is not one of them. He’s described Death Stranding as a new genre, though his efforts to express what exactly that means have left many confused, myself included. I’m still puzzled what a “stranding” game is, but we do know it will forgo the stealth that made Metal Gear Solid so juicy.
Still, Kojima is innovative, and Death Stranding is a beast unlike any other we’ve seen before. Instead of creating its own genre, what if it completely revolutionizes one we already know? I’m thinking of open-world exploration like we saw during the demo, but done on a horizontal and vertical scale in a way that completely breaks open the depth of environmental design.
That giant ladder Sam carries around with him? It could be a stairway to heaven by the time Death Stranding is done building its world. Innovating the action and exploration genre with groundbreaking freedom of movement would help Death Stranding thrive.
Embrace the weird
Death Stranding is going to be a complicated game. I can see it now—a world where the boss battle guides are dwarfed by ones attempting to explain what a character meant in a five-second speech. A lot is going on in Death Stranding, so let’s run down a list of some of the elements we already know about: parallel universes, undead soldiers, baby-fueled survival gear, a large-scale apocalypse, black sludge demons and, oh yeah, a plot that somehow involves the United States government.
Yeah. This one’s going to get weird.
That’s the thing, though—weird is wonderful. Weird keeps games being discussed well past their release date. Would Undertale have been the success it was without leaning hard into its creators’ quirks? Death Stranding is a AAA game, but Kojima should treat it more like an indie. Let it be strange, and let it be everything Kojima wants it to be. That’s the way to ensure its success.
Give fans what they want
This one might be tough since Death Stranding is so ambitious there isn’t just one thing fans are clamouring for. Kojima has already said that while the theme of the game will be “connection”, there won’t be traditional MMO or multiplayer elements. Likewise, it doesn’t appear the game will incorporate Metal Gear Solid stealth mechanics with the gameplay being more action focused.
So, what do fans want? They want a Kojima game. Something that messes with established genres while pushing them forward. A game that isn’t afraid to take risks, and more often than not they pay off. Death Stranding will fail if it plays anything too safe—and it could fail if it gets too ambitious, as well. I think fans will be far more forgiving of the latter, however, so Death Stranding should aim for the moon.
Anything is possible with Kojima. Let a man dream, am I right?