Do you remember E3 2013? Do you remember the red band reveal trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (I’m discounting that cryptic tease under the guise of Moby Dick Studios that seemed to suggest it was part of the Metal Gear mythos)? Do you remember how well that trailer balanced the audacious energy of modern-day AAA marketing with the crucial mechanical detail of non-AAA entities? How it managed to demonstrate Metal Gear’s new sense of scope, ambition and scale? How cinematic cutscenes sat alongside purposeful gameplay? The concept, the new features, the great use of editing (to this day I still love the use of fast-forwarding the action on-screen), the music, the confident lack of ending things with some unforeseen clash or similarly cliched cut-off. Do you remember all that; even when its proceeding yearly E3 showings resorted more to the game’s story/tone, you still at least had a firm idea of the framework its gameplay was trying to set?
That year, 2013, my interest in Metal Gear Solid V — like any great trailer — increased significantly. I don’t get lost in cinematic facades or deliveries that, at the end of the day, offer next-to-no concrete, factual information on the gameplay. At the very least, I couldn’t care less who (modeled on real-life actors or not) shows up or what exactly takes place in videos that could stretch for any length of time. So forgive me if I appear to be falling into the minority camp here, but Death Stranding’s E3 2018 attempt of a trailer was so confusing and so utterly pointless, it has the coveted honor of being the first game whose latest trailer, having piqued my curiosity previous, has in fact decreased my overall interest to the point where I just don’t care anymore. Maybe it’s the Citalopram talking, but seriously, Kojima Productions what on Earth are you doing?
Let me make it absolutely crystal clear: I like Hideo Kojima’s past approach to games. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is still an utterly fantastic title and one I can go back to time and time again, never losing any of the love I had on first play-through and in much the same vain, Metal Gear Solid’s overall charming ridiculousness yet surprisingly in-depth mechanics, is one I would suggest a lot more developers should take pages from — not necessarily for all genres of course, but at least on the basis that video games should be exactly that first and foremost: games. Games you play, you involve yourself with, you come to appreciate. I know Hideo does dabble in alternate means of presentation, but regardless of how lengthy or otherwise plodding its cutscenes, dialogue or delivery could be, much like The Phantom Pain’s E3 2013 trailer…these always tend to sit besides gameplay…rather than attempting to muscle it out of contention — fearful, perhaps, viewers may not appreciate the artistic strides taken.
Now, was Death Stranding’s E3 2018 trailer objectively bad? No of course not, the visuals and graphics looked nice, the detail was something to behold and I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a sense of wanted need to hike that plot of distant environment we got brief glimpses of here and there. But aside from the brief moments of your player-character seemingly taking on the role of a near-future Amazon Prime delivery man, trustee ground drones and all, as well as a brief suggestion of stealth mechanics — what did we get? What manner of identifiable, contextual information helped us understand what Death Stranding was? Forget the story, the plot, the off-the-wall and surreal intentions here, did we get any suggestion of a “here’s a thing, there’s a thing; you have X/Y/Z, this is how it could play out…”.
Even if this were left to close-booths, even if this were something shown off to games journalists and press, keep in mind that this is three years (and four trailers) since its announcement back at E3 2016 and only now are we, kinda/sorta/maybe, getting inklings of what the in-game action might look like. But that’s precisely it; all we got was a vague suggestion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having my head messed with; part of my admiration for Bloodborne was in how additionally messed up the scenarios got the further you progressed. How a once-Gothic tale of unruly locals and werewolves soon turned into a frantic clash with Lovecraftian abominations and celestial forces.
The confusion and bewilderment is present in Death Stranding and I want desperately (outside the confines of this rant particularly) to work out what’s going on. Some on the web may gleefully look forward to the next published screenshot or cryptic in-game message out of hype, out of boredom, out of Stockholm Syndrome, but rather than it pulling me in, Kojima is only frustrating me with this nonsense. Frustrating me with his insistent focus on the actors he’s hired for this gig (was that end bit meant to be a shock reveal of some kind?) and the notion that ambiguity for the sake of ambiguity, is somehow artistic in of itself. It’s really not – the litter of contemporary “art pieces” around the globe are a fine example of that.
Like any game that tends to flaunt celebrity cameos/inclusions, their presence is often nothing more than a smoke-screen. An attempt to deter those who would press for clearer answers and those who actually take into consideration what may (or may not) be taking place behind the scenes at the studios pumping out these audio-visual vertical slices, regardless of their content. I and many others can see right through it and regardless of whose responsible, bias and personal history shouldn’t distract you from questioning the merits of what you’ve just witnessed. It neither interests me nor warrants me to appoint this latest trailer from Kojima and co as a positive for Death Stranding and in the end, I’m staring at a series of, albeit well-rendered, trailers with some pathetically-sprinkled shots of gameplay in amongst it all. As if someone at Kojima Productions, right at the last second, thought: “oh wait, this is a video game, we should probably feature some…y’know…actual gameplay. Quick, throw something together!”
If you came away from this latest trailer with your appetite fulfilled and your excitement evermore greater, well good for you and I sincerely, genuinely, hope that the final product matches (maybe even succeeds) your now-lofty expectations. For me however, I can only come away from E3 with something of a damp and rather deflated state of mind. Not just because it looks like this game is years away from releasing — if the brief and monotonous offer of gameplay was any indication — but because it seems like Kojima may be going the way of a particular number of AAA developers/studios whose artistic vision and self-gratifying longing for a given message, narrative or agenda, overtakes the logical and reasonable need for unhinged substance. I rarely come away from E3 feeling genuinely less excited for a game, but congratulations Death Stranding, you’ve done just that.