Even if you’re not playing the game, you’re probably curious about Death Stranding. Hideo Kojima’s lavish walking sim is a strange beast, with lots of narrative and gameplay oddities as well as left-field cultural allusions. Here’s an A-to-Z of the game’s biggest weirdnesses.
If you are playing Death Stranding, this article includes major spoilers.
Amelie’s Inappropriate Footwear
Amelie resides on a rocky, volcanic beach, where the sand is very fine. She can occasionally be seen jogging in the surf. Naturally, her choice of footwear is a pair of shiny-shiny party time high-heel shoes. What she badly needs is a comfy pair of flip-flops. At other times, she wears a white dress to the black-sand beach. Again, this seems ill-advised.
BBs are unborn babies kept in portable fluid-filled capsules. They are capable of detecting the dangerous ghosts, and so act like useful minesweepers for anyone ranging into the wild. The BBs are cute, but unfortunately they have a shelf-life. When it’s time for retirement, they are euthanized and their bodies burned. So far as we can tell, this is the only video game ever in which burning dead babies is a thing.
Director Hideo Kojima has packed his games with a bunch of pals, including Hirokazu Hamamura, the long-time exec at Japanese games magazine Famitsu; awards host Geoff Keighley; musician Daichi Miura; PlayStation executive Hermen Hulst and TV talk-show host Conan O’Brien (more on him later.)
Dead Body Taxi Service
If cadavers are allowed to fester in Death Stranding, they can cause all sorts of problems, such as increasing the population of ghosts. So it’s important to get them to a crematorium. Sam wraps them up and packs them on his back. They’re actually kinda heavy and it’s potentially socially awkward to be wandering around with a corpse on your back. Still, killing people and then having to dispose of their bodies is a pain, making this one of those rare games in which violence has consequences for the players.
Death Stranding’s story ultimately rests on Amelie’s status as the agent of extinction. It’s her cosmic duty to trigger the end of the human race. But she has some leeway about exactly when she destroys everyone. On the whole, she’s inclined to get it over and done with, unless maybe Sam can convince her to hold back for a bit so people can live on for a few thousand years.
Fragile’s Creepy Naked Walk
Fragile’s nemesis is a nasty piece of work called Higgs, who wears a gold skull mask and has magical powers. In one scene, Higgs humiliates Fragile (played by Léa Seydoux) by effectively forcing her to strip down to her underwear and walk through Timefall Rain, so that her youthful body ages rapidly. He allows her to cover her face. The whole scene is extremely creepy (and not in a good way), with weird under-the-gusset camera angles.
Ghost-Scissors and the Grateful Dead
Although Sam has access to guns and grenades, his best piece of hardware is a bracelet with a pair of scissors attached. He uses it to sneak up on ghosts and snip the tethers that keep them bound to the physical realm. These ghosts, called BTs, then die, screaming into the void. Later though, the doubly-dead ghosts have a change of heart about demi-mortality. They send Sam a social media “like,” from the other side, evidently grateful that their souls have finally been released.
Heartman is so-called because he spends much of his time stopping his own heart, so he can visit the afterlife and search for his dead family. His heart stops every 21 minutes, and is then revived a few minutes later using a chest-mounted defibrillator. He’s spent about ten years of his life in the afterlife and is a bit of an oddball. Heartman is an avid collector of DVDs. I’m guessing he doesn’t receive many party invitations.
I am a Deadman
So says major quest-giver Deadman by way of a lengthy exposition on why he’s called Deadman. It’s because he’s dead, or at least, he’s built of the parts of other dead people. In case you miss the literary reference, he comes fully fitted with a scar across his forehead, and just in case you’re still not quite there, Deadman says he’s “Frankenstein’s monster.”
To be honest, Death Stranding is not big on laughs. But there’s one scene in which otter-mad settler, played by Conan O’Brien, decided to do a little stand-up routine, based entirely on otters. Sam turns out to be a tough audience. But at least he comes away with an otter hat.
The Odradek is a shoulder-mounted scanning device that Sam and BB use to decloak ghosts. It’s named after a short story by Franz Kafka, in which a man tries to identify a mysterious creature, called an odradek. The story, called “The Cares of a Family Man,” describes the creature as looking like a spool, for “thread,” which is a constant theme in Death Stranding. Kafka references are very much on brand for Hideo Kojima.
Sam is a Repatriate, which means he can die and come back to life. When he does so, there’s usually a little animation that includes the presence of a baby ... deep within his throat. The baby sometimes shows a thumbs-up sign, and at other times presents a cheeky bottom. It’s cute, though I imagine, quite uncomfortable for Sam.
This is a theme that gets much traction in Death Stranding, and it’s rarely a happy tale. From BB’s dead mom, to Mama’s dead kid, to Sam’s complicated relationship with his mother (who suffered from womb cancer), to Deadman’s lack of a mother, the general gist is that motherhood is a gateway to tragedy. None of the moms in this game manage to avoid tragedy, including Heartman’s wife, who also dies.
Sam is often required to travel into deep crevasses, in which poisonous gasses await. Called Vog, the gas is a big problem for settlers (called Preppers). It’s also, almost always, where some lost item, useful to Preppers, is waiting to be collected. Sam is the man for the job. It’s a lot easier with an oxygen mask, otherwise he risks losing consciousness. Vog also seems to be attractive to BTs, so basically, it’s a sign of an unusually tricky fetch quest.
Oval Office Hologram
Early in the game, Sam gets his marching orders from the President of the United Cities of America, which is a post-apocalyptic nation, of sorts. They meet in a bland warehouse room which is transformed into the Oval Office using some sort of holographic technology, which also connects them to Amelie, who has been captured by bad guys but is allowed to use holograms to communicate with her would-be rescuer.
Poop and pee
Sam’s safe space is a small room where he can recuperate, have a shower and take a nice shite. Death Stranding encourages players to poop and pee, as this creates a rudimentary type of grenade that can be used against BTs (because Sam’s DNA is so badass, even his waste is explosive). Later, pooping and peeing become less useful as Sam’s blood is automatically drawn during recuperation sessions, and turned into even more powerful weapons.
Q-Pid is the name given to a necklace that Sam uses to connect the various cities of America to one another, via an advanced internet-like network that can also be used to print useful 3D items. Each item on the necklace carries scientific formulae, including Higgs Mechanism. The word “cupidity” refers to greed for money. Yes, you can buy a replica of the necklace, though it’ll cost you $325.
In one mission, Sam spends a bunch of time reuniting two lovers. Which is nice. The two lovers then spend the rest of the game peppering Sam with whiny emails complaining about one another’s annoyances, and generally moaning about the inconvenience of romantic ties.
Everyone and every place in Death Stranding has a ridiculous name. Bridgett is the president who literally wants to build bridges. Cliff is called Cliff because he’s gone off the deep end, and cliffs are the end of things, or something. Amelie is a tortured pun on America. Places have names like Capital Knot City, Port Knot City, and Distribution Center West of Capital Knot City which, while descriptive, also manage to be confusing.
Sam is aphenphosmphobic, meaning he cannot abide being touched by other humans. This turns out to be a problem when he’s dealing with touchy-feely people like Deadman. It’s also referenced by hand marks on Sam’s body from his tangles with BTs and their associated monsters. It’s often caused by early life trauma, which is detailed (and I mean really, really detailed) later in the game when Sam’s origins are explained.
Mama is heavily pregnant when she’s involved in a catastrophic disaster, called a Voidout. Humans who die during Voidouts, and whose bodies are not cremated, become evil ghosts (BTs). Mama is buried under a ton of rubble. She survives and is rescued but her baby dies. The baby turns into a ghost, with an umbilical cord that is still attached to Mama, who refuses to let the baby go. Mercifully, Sam intervenes.
In Death Stranding, you can earn a bunch of vehicles, most of which are pretty much useless, at least until you, or someone else, builds a road. They require a high level of driving skill in order to negotiate natural obstacles. Their batteries run out very quickly. It’s almost impossible to right a vehicle once it’s overturned or stuck on a rock. However, they are good at mowing down robbers (aka Mules) and for loading up loot from Mule camps.
Whales and Dead Fish
Sea creatures abound in Death Stranding. They can sometimes by boss enemies, but usually they are dead and on a beach. This is a reference to a natural phenomena called Cetacean Stranding, in which whales and dolphins strand themselves on land, often fatally. One of the many themes of Death Stranding is extinction. Dead fish are also a mark of a recent events involving BTs.
X marks the ad spot
X is a common cross-promotion shorthand. (e.g. Death Stranding X JF Rey) There’s a ton of product placement in Death Stranding, but none is as weird or grating as Monster Energy drinks, which have somehow become the only consumer-product consumable to survive a general apocalypse.
There’s not much in the way of culinary delights in Death Stranding. Aside from the occasional pizza delivery, food seems to come in the form of plump maggots, called Crypobiotes, that are found out in the wilds. They replenish life and, if Fragile is to be believed, they help to counter the time-acceleration effects of Timefall Rain. Fragile loves to eat these Tardigrade-like critters. Macho hero Sam initially finds them disgusting, but eventually discovers they’re delicious.
Much of Death Stranding’s geographical area is covered by snowy mountains, which are difficult to traverse and absolutely crawling with BTs. And since you have to cross the mountains at least twice during the campaign — including plenty of intra-mountain missions — shortcuts are a boon. Sam is able to clamber to the top of a mountain and build a trans-peak zipline. Easy-peasy. After that, crossing the mountains becomes more like a ride at the funfair.
You can find out more about Death Stranding via Polygon’s coverage.
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