~ a fun list of Death Stranding’s precious details and their meaning to me.
Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding is a weird, fun, meaningful game. You control Sam Porter Bridges’ traversal over a ruined American landscape, with no trees left, giant lakes of black tar harboring beached whales, and skin-melting rain. There are also “Extinction Entities” and ghosts that can split your soul like an atom. Norman Reedus is your cosmic mailman with weapons training that freelances for Bridges, a post-apocalyptic company seeking to reconnect the world.
Like every Metal Gear game before it, Death Stranding is filled with incredible attention to detail. From gameplay mechanics and mocap performances, to the “strands” between players and Egyptian philosophies of soul death – this is a true next-generation title replete with lovable details. Memes about technological power, human extinction, and the meaning of true connection are relayed through Sam’s cinematic journey over a complex world. As you embark, remember: “People. Ideas. Connections. All so fragile.”
Right and Left Triggers Become Sam’s Arms
Death Stranding instantly makes you feel in touch with your player character Sam by providing a responsive control scheme. When running with a backpack full of packages, you threaten to unbalance yourself. The right and left triggers on the controller can be used to secure your pack’s shoulder straps and alternate how you shift your weight, at the cost of slowing you down for a bit.
You can see each hand respond in real-time. Picking up packages, placing constructs, and aiming your weapons all correspond to your presses of R and L in the same way. Simple but ingenious, precise controls pairing with the character’s animation is just one factor that makes Death Stranding an immersive experience.
Fellow Porters Make Deliveries And MULEs Live To Steal
There are other freelancers and mercenaries out there in the ruined world Bridges intends to rebuild. Fellow porters can be seen walking the landscape – and they will eventually make their deliveries. They cannot carry as much as you but struggle over the same terrain, even booking it double-time when the time-accelerating Timefall rain starts to come down.
The villainous MULEs, however, make remote camps and ambush traveling porters to steal their cargo. These are humans addicted to material accumulation, who use violence instead of connection to make their way in the world. However, encounter a group of MULEs without any cargo on your person and they will leave you alone!
Kojima’s Favorite Music Playlists The Action
One of Kojima’s drives on every project is to collaborate with fellow artists that he admires. Death Stranding is the game most jam-packed with the lead designer’s friends (mostly from Hollywood). However, the game’s soundtrack also features hand-picked modern musicians. Silent Poets, Low Roar, Apocalyptica, and Chvrches mark some of the highlights.
The songs are gorgeously built into the gaming experience. Death Stranding is an open world, but crossing the threshold into certain regions means fitting music will begin to playlist your journey with a cinematic weight. While resting in your bunker room with BB, you can also listen to Kojima’s favorite songs on command.
Sam travels with a live baby strapped to his chest, named Lou. A BB (Bridge Baby), these unborn fetuses are nevertheless awake and aware – and able to detect BTs (Beached Things), your foremost enemy in Death Stranding. And you will find baby Lou has quite a vivacious personality!
During downtime in your bunker, you can visit with Lou, playing and bonding as you do. When you fall in the wilderness, or get swept away by a rushing river, your BB will cry out. With increased stress levels comes fatigue, and a lessening of the superpowered Bridge Baby’s effectiveness on the battlefield. Adorably, Sam can play harmonica and sing to Lou to calm him down.
The Effects Of Timefall
Timefall is one of the game’s constant environmental threats. This supernatural rain borne of the effect of the titular “Death Stranding” event, accelerates the age of anything it touches. This means your cargo and items will degrade the longer you travel under the rain. Fragile recommends eating a daily cryptobiote to keep the accelerated aging at bay (the new “apple” for this ruined world).
Always check your bike’s chassis, or the generators you’ve built or ladders set. The rust will continue to degrade it until you’ve completed repairs and replacements. In spooky BT (“Beached Thing”) zones, Timefall rain falls upward with reversed gravity. Most saliently, the threat of this acid rain makes seeing a Timefall shelter over the horizon a welcome boost of dopamine.
Lost Cargo Headcanons
Over your trek through the landscape, Sam will encounter cargo left behind by other players. Headcanons naturally arise: Did they slip and fall? Or just become overencumbered and had to make a tough choice of what to leave behind? An asynchronous multiplayer feature (ala the messages and apparitions of other players in FromSoftware’s Souls series), you can pick up these packages and finish the delivery yourself.
Such indirect connections build out a world where you are not alone. Sam will even be rewarded with a stamina boost for every piece of lost cargo picked up. Consider it a morale boost for helping someone you may never meet.
Chilling Terrors Of A BT Encounter
The BT encounter in Death Stranding is intense and terrifying. These invisible, “stranded” creatures are the lost souls of human beings who’ve been transformed by the mystic apocalypse. Chilling clues reveal their presence, giving you time to plan an escape or confrontation. Daemonic, bright orange footsteps will approach, drawn to the sound of your breathing now made visible via a temperature drop. Their own otherworldly roars and shapeshifting shades will eventually beckon you.
Sam must move slow and hold his breath like in a horror movie to avoid detection. Made of anti-matter resembling ghostly oil spills, these monsters can only be defeated with special weaponry derived from your own bodily fluids.
Grenades Made Of Blood, Sweat, And Tears
Hematic grenades are one of the most important items in Death Stranding. They are derived from Sam’s DOOMs-laden blood, which gives them the power to defeat BTs. Sam is a “repatriate,” meaning his soul is immune to the hungers of BTs.
Additionally, every time you hit the showers within your bunker, new experimental “EX grenades” will be automatically created from Sam’s condensed bodily fluids. Yup, ALL the kinds. These special grenades explode on impact and can be used to manipulate the behavior of BTs on the battlefield.
Egyptian Philosophies On Life And Death
Past Kojima themes such as the threat of a sentient A.I. are passed in place of more paranormal perils and metaphors for climate apocalypse. The nuclear question, or that of humanity’s own self-annihilation, firmly remains. Spiritual questions of mind-body dualism and the emergence of consciousness after death also arise.
One way Death Stranding explores its themes is through long-form interviews of some of the game’s main characters. Through short memos, you can learn of the Egyptian view of life and death, of Ha and Ka. Or delve the symbolic powers of the mask, art, and even language itself and how they showcase a desperate reaction against mortality. Games like Death Stranding are borne of the need for Mankind to leave a legacy.
Ancient “Magazines” And Old World Lore
Throughout the game, Sam receives heartfelt messages from the people he’s delivered packages to, connecting your journey to theirs. In them, characters develop and real-world references are made. For example, from The Collector – whom you deliver old PlayStation consoles and Gundam figurines to – you are given old world lore about “magazines.”
This kind of literary world-building is only there for readers. But it provides a compelling perspective on this apocalyptic world relative to ours, raising timely questions about the endurance of everything we now think to be everlasting.
Memory Chip Models
Dancing Mads Mikkelsen
Legendary Danish actor and Kojima muse Mads Mikkelsen plays a prominent role in Death Stranding as Cliff. He’s fantastic! And in one cutscene, players will get to experience the fruits of this renaissance man’s early career labors as a professional gymnast and dancer.
After all, Hannibal Lecter is both savage and graceful. Inside the memories of Clifford Unger’s past, his vital story and character are revealed, through the burdens of fatherhood and the power of dance. For more of Mads’ dancing check out the film Another Round (2020), an incredibly inspiring picture for anyone caught up in life’s tedium.
Kojima’s Glorifications And Critiques Of America
Death Stranding wields extinction-level stakes and world-shaking philosophical inquiry into the human condition. Naturally, it all takes place in United States of America. Frankly, it’s hard to argue against the fact that Kojima is an unabashed “Ameriboo” (i.e. obsessed with America from afar).
Though all his Metal Gear games and now in Death Stranding, Kojima crafts critiques and glorifications of America, as a symbol to its people and to the world. Democracy, Hollywood, imperial might, and the charismatic power of the President — it’s all here. However, the quipu and dreamcatcher are other significant symbols in Death Stranding, spiritual totems from Native American lore that are cherished by Sam.
Heartman’s Theory of Evolution
Heartman (face of Drive (2011) director Nicolas Winding Refn, voice of Darren Jacobs) believes that the Death Stranding has warped humanity to the point of ending evolution altogether. Through his thought-provoking “Theory of Evolution” interview, the game’s principal smart guy gives you the lowdown on what all this supernatural phenomena may be doing to the progression of consciousness within our species.
In effect, the Death Stranding warps consciousness by introducing not only dystopian disconnections and nuclear kaiju, but also the prospect of realizing our ancient myth about an afterlife. How would the confirmation of life after death alter your perspective?
Sam’s Character Moments
Sam Porter Bridges is the person you see the most of in Death Stranding. But his lone wolf character is only revealed in tidbits over time. Like many protagonists, he’s meant as a cipher for the player, open-ended and action-oriented.
But just as the Strand system connects you to the collective of other Death Stranding players, other characters like Fragile, Deadman, Heartman, Amelie, and Cliff change Sam too. A sufferer of “aphenphosmphobia” – a fear of intimacy, of being touched – Sam does eventually open up and accept the touch of other souls into his life. It’s beautiful to bear witness to.
Spider Web Across America
A variation of the Bridges’ logo comes as a black map of the new United Cities of America (UCA), but with a spiraling spider web originating in New York and covering the whole contiguous landmass. It should definitely strike you as eerie, given the mythic meaning of the spider and its poisonous danger to us.
Hideo Kojima is an auteur with singular vision and everything in his games means something. Perhaps this logo is meant as a warning – and could provide the best evidence for where the sequel will head. In the Death Stranding 2 trailer, the ominous words appear: “SHOULD WE HAVE CONNECTED?”
~ Thank you for reading! ~