"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour."
The fact that our first tangible connection of any sort to Hideo Kojima's new game was lines from a William Blake poem suggests that the father of Metal Gear Solid hadn't lost his penchant for mystery and whimsy during his very public divorce from Konami.
Presented on a black screen at the start of last year's enigmatic E3 trailer, it set the tone for a marketing campaign that immediately confused the hell out of everyone. We had lots to go on; it just didn't make much sense. We saw Norman Reedus - apparently portraying the game's protagonist - wake up on a beach under a grey sky, surrounded by dead sealife engaged in some sort of mass stranding event.
Having crept up on him as oily black handprints appeared in the sand, we observed a flashing handcuff at his wrist, then saw how he was connected to a baby by some sort of black umbilicus. Then after cradling the baby in his arms and weeping, it disappeared, leaving him to watch baby-hand oil prints appear on his flesh, before he turned to the sky, revealing masses of dogtags at his neck bearing quantum symbols, and saw outlines of figures, furrowing his brow in response. Then we got a logo. William Blake's poem, Auguries of Innocence, was apparently about paradoxes of innocence, evil and corruption.
Your guess is as good as ours.
Strand and deliver
We got another five minutes of Death Stranding at The Game Awards, run by Kojima's long-time friend and sometime marketing collaborator Geoff Keighley.
This trailer continued many of the themes of the first, although it still left us with endless questions. It began with more sealife stranded, this time in thick mud, and a discarded doll, as a person played by Guillermo del Toro - another Kojima pal - appeared looking nervous, cradling some sort of device. As sirens blared in the distance and planes zoomed overhead, del Toro suddenly turned to the camera to follow them, revealing a badge at his lapel, which possibly said "Bridges" and then "United States of America".
More allusions to time travel, quantum mechanics, relativity and that sort of thing, perhaps? He too had a flashing blue handcuff at one wrist. He ducked into an archway leading to a tunnel, then paused as a tank rumbled overhead, covered in what looked like eels, with soldiers in close pursuit. The oily black liquid we saw in the first trailer crept down the cracks in the masonry behind him, and the water level began to rise at his ankles.
Del Toro's character then plugged something into his device, revealing that it is some sort of portable gestation unit, with an unborn infant child inside it, and the thing he plugged in appeared to be another umbilicus that disappeared beneath his shirt.
Within the tunnel under the arch, the discarded doll from earlier floated into the inky dark, illuminated somehow by red light, towards emerging figures at the other end of the tunnel - more soldiers, themselves glowing with the same eerie red light. Their faces were fleshless skulls under helmets, and we saw how they were connected by tethers to another person - Mads Mikkelsen, reputedly the game's antagonist - before he directed them forward and the tethers retracted to his stomach. The doll floated to his feet and opened one eye. Del Toro's character embraced his "child", whose eyes opened.
And that was that.
What does it meeeean?
Anyone who has spent any time following Hideo Kojima's work will know that he lives for this part of game development as much as any other. A huge cinephile, he loves creating elaborate trailers that hint at all sorts of different themes and concepts. Gameplay does eventually become clear, but initially it's all pageantry. Over the years his Metal Gear Solid trailers became ever more cryptic, stylish and fascinating, and while we always viewed a new MGS trailer through the prism of the rest of the series, we have very little to go on with Death Stranding other than Kojima's reputation and his gnomic comments to the press.
For instance, he has confirmed that it is an action game, but in the same breath he says that it has new elements to it that mean "action game" may be as inappropriate a label for it as it once was for the original Metal Gear, which arrived back when "stealth" wasn't really a genre as anyone understood it. He has also said that one of the game's main themes is the idea that most games are about man's first tool, the stick (punching, shooting, kicking), and that he wants Death Stranding to communicate through the game equivalent of man's second tool, ropes (for securing things we find important).
So for now, we simply have no idea what the game is about. All we know is that it's due out sometime in the next few years (apparently Kojima would like to see it arrive before 2019, the year Akira was set), and that it uses a modified version of Guerrilla Games' Decima engine, thanks to Kojima Productions' alliance with Sony Computer Entertainment.
A new beginning
In the meantime, the guessing game will continue. Expect more trailers that make very little sense, and even when things do start to become more clear, expect additional feints and surprises when the game itself arrives.
Perhaps Kojima is unlikely to pull the same trick he did with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, which everyone thought was about Solid Snake, only for it to be about Raiden, but then anyone who finished Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain will understand why we still expect subterfuge. One thing's for sure: it's going to be a fascinating ride.