Trailer Anatomy is a series in which I analyze video game trailers. To see other entries in the series please click here.
If patience truly is a virtue, then gamers aren’t a very virtuous bunch. As a collective, we aren’t ashamed to have nigh unreal expectations of those who supply us with our fix. We ask for sequels and prequels, and then, as if on a dime, shame developers for continually pumping out the “same old, same old”. We scream from the rooftops that we want new and original worlds to explore, and then we berate companies for taking too long to bring their ideas to life. We love to fuel the hype train, but many of us are likely to light a match and set the train ablaze before it reaches its final destination. Announcing a title without its release window in clear view is a risky proposition for any developer, even a titan like Square-Enix. I’m sure we can all agree that when Final Fantasy Versus XIII was initially announced, no one on the game’s development team thought it would end up being a ten year project. We can sit here now, in a post-Final Fantasy XV world, and say it was all worth it, since the game has been both reviewing and selling well, but the fact remains that during its decade long development cycle many fans turned their back on the series and its creators. Announcing a game that’s just over horizon is fine, but over-exposure can doom a project before it ever see’s the light of day; FFXV dodged the bullet, hopefully The Last Guardian can too, but many games aren’t lucky enough to withstand the weight of our expectations (just ask Sean Murray). It is because of this that I am worried for both Hideo Kojima and Death Stranding.
No, I don’t expect Kojima to take ten years to get his next title out the door, but let’s be realistic here, the odds of Death Stranding coming out in 2017 are 0%, I’d give it a solid 5% for 2018, and around 50% for 2019. We are, at minimum, three years away from getting our hands on this game, and that’s being optimistic. Yet here we are, not even six months after its official announcement, and we already have two trailers for the game! Hype is at a near fever pitch, and for all we know development could barely be off the ground. Whether the game comes out in 2019 or 2026, I know that I’ll be getting it day one, but I’m sure that by the time trailer #6 rolls around in 2018, the masses will already be at their wits’ end.
Will Death Stranding eventually buckle beneath the force its own potential? Hopefully not, but if it does, perhaps we’ll look back at 2016’s Game Awards, and see this phenomenal trailer as the moment that set our expectations oh-so high:
The trailer begins with a ground level shot, revealing muddy terrain riddled with the corpses of dead crustaceans. The camera treks forward, eventually revealing a doll with a missing a limb. A man walks into the scene from behind the camera’s location and eventually becomes the center piece of the shot; several planes fly overhead, grabbing the man’s attention and prompting him to turn around as he tracks the path of the aircrafts. While looking at the planes his face is revealed to the audience, and it becomes clear that this character is molded after Guillermo del Toro. As he’s gazing in the direction the planes flew his facial expression changes to one of concern, the planes are circling back, which causes him to quickly turn around and head towards a dark tunnel a few feet away.
It’s clear del Toro is holding an object, which at this time is unidentifiable, but the way he’s grasping onto it signifies great importance. He makes it to the tunnel, but some noise above prompts him to back out and peer upwards. The camera pans up to reveal a tank crossing on the path above, with what looks like skeletal soldiers following in tow. After the tank passes the camera shifts back down to del Toro, who’s breathing heavily, making it clear that he’s hiding from the military forces patrolling the area. Some black liquid resembling oil is seen seeping down the wall behind del Toro, and as he looks downward it’s revealed that this same liquid is rising around his feet. Seeming like he’s been in this situation before, he grabs a tube and connects it to the object he’s holding, which causes it to illuminate, revealing that it’s some sort of canister containing an infant. Del Toro looks down for a moment to see the doll with a missing limb is now drifting into the tunnel thanks to the rising liquid. The camera shifts back to del Toro’s face as he has what seems like a brief moment of clarity, signifying that connecting with the child has somehow invoked a chemical reaction within his system. Looking refreshed, del Toro quickly turns back towards the tunnel.
As del Toro stands at the entrance to the tunnel, the camera shifts its focus to the doll floating in the liquid. There seems to be minimal current in the makeshift river, but the doll is traveling quickly downstream, as if being magnetically attracted to something within the tunnel. A red light begins to emit from the doll, and the camera changes its focus to the darkness at the end of the tunnel. Several red lights, identical in hue to the one emanating from the doll, can be seen coming out of the darkness, towards del Toro. The camera moves towards the lights as four skeletal soldiers and one seemingly normal individual emerge from the shadows. The camera focuses in on the normal looking character, as he lifts his night vision goggles (in an obvious, and appreciated nod to Big Boss) to reveal the face of Mads Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen gives the command to move forward, and the soldiers disconnect from their tethers and move towards del Toro. The camera zooms in on Mikkelsen’s face, which has streaks of the black liquid on it, as he closes his eyes and tilts his head downwards. The camera pans down to reveal that the doll has drifted all the way to Mikkelsen, and after it bumps into his leg one of the doll’s eyes open. The camera cuts back to Mikkelsen’s face, which is now perfectly clean, and he looks into the camera and gives a smirk as we cut away to the title cards.
If you’re anything like me, after Death Stranding’s initial reveal, you probably searched the net to find some meaning behind the game’s title. As it turns out, the term “stranding” refers to when marine mammals beach themselves, usually as a result of an injury or illness that’s causing them great distress. The meaning behind the term certainly sheds some light on all the dead sea creatures we see in both trailers, but it also makes something else pretty obvious: the world is ill, poisoned, and suffering.
In the opening seconds of the trailer we see a reflection of a rainbow within a puddle on the ground. Often rainbows are seen as symbols of beauty and hope, but some forms of Buddhism believe that rainbows appear at the time of death. The rainbow is seen again later when we get a view of the sky, but it appears to be upside down, further emphasizing its oddity in this situation.
The entire world seems lost within time, perhaps seamlessly shifting through existences at the will of some character we have yet to see. The fatigues of the skeletal soldiers, plus their weaponry, and even the tank and planes all seem like they come from the 1940’s, but del Toro and Mikkelsen’s characters are both carrying heavily futuristic technology. During the first trailer Reedus is holding a baby which suddenly disappears, and in this trailer we see Mikkelsen’s face go from being covered in streaks of black liquid to suddenly being clean, possibly pointing to some temporal shift. As Mikkelsen is closing his eyes before his face changes we see the compass on his vest going crazy, which points to the lack of a magnetic center, further giving credence to some sort of timewarp-like event.
As soon as we see del Toro’s character enter the frame we can see a blue handcuff dangling from his wrist, identical to the one Norman Reedus is wearing in the first trailer. When del Toro turns to face that camera we see two very interesting things: firstly, his pin says “United Cities of America”, hinting that the game takes place in an alternate reality or very distant future, and secondly he has a very pronounced scar on his forehead, suggesting that he may be the victim of some sort of testing, or perhaps he may of had a lobotomy. Speaking of scars, the doll that’s present throughout the entire trailer has the same scar on its stomach that Reedus has in the first trailer, which again heavily points towards these characters being test subjects, or maybe they’ve undergone these procedures to inoculate themselves against some sort of parasite or virus.
Tentacles, both organic and mechanical, are very prominent throughout the trailer. The tank which passes by del Toro seems to be covered in living, fleshy tentacle-like organisms; the planes flying over head have some sort of tentacles trailing behind them, and the skeletal soldiers on the bridge are tethered to the tank via some sort of connection, while the soldiers in the tunnel are hooked up to Mikkelsen via what seems to machine-like tentacles. The river of black liquid in the tunnel also seems to be filled with these tentacles. Are the organic tentacles some sort of alien life form, perhaps from an alternate dimension, brought into our world as a result of temporal shifts?
I love how del Toro’s proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” is red, typically a sign of danger, conceivably hinting at his untimely demise.
We now have two trailers for the game, which when put together add up to roughly 8 minutes of footage, yet we haven’t heard a character speak a single word. And despite this lack of verbal communication, Kojima is able to convey more emotion, suspense, and intrigue than most other studious can compile with their entire marketing budget.
Truthfully, at this point, we know virtually nothing about Death Stranding. We don’t know the setting, the playable character, or even the genre, yet Kojima has me more invested than I am for any other upcoming title. I just hope that he’s able to hunker down, and get to work. Expectations are mounting.