Hideo Kojima was all smiles as he took center stage at Sony’s elaborate E3 presentation in L.A. on Monday night, greeted with cheers and his name chanted from the nosebleeds. It’s been a year since Kojima, the force behind the best-selling Metal Gear Solid franchise, was booted from publisher Konami, his home for nearly two decades. But now the 52-year-old leads his own independent studio Kojima Productions, and at E3 unveiled its first project: The gothic, surrealist Death Stranding starring Norman Reedus.
In the game’s announcement trailer, The Walking Dead star wakes up naked on a cloudy beach. He clutches a baby fetus that turns to oil and he looks up at five bodies floating ominously in the sky.
It’s … certainly something. The eerie teaser left the E3 audience excited, but also perplexed. Without Kojima on stage to immediately follow up (he did much later on Gameslice), Death Stranding left the internet to make up wild interpretations and theories about the game’s story and metaphors. Regardless of what Death Stranding will be about, the most important is whether or not it will be good. Death Stranding will solidify Hideo Kojima’s auteur rep or make him a kooky creative whose name overshadows his talent.
While Kojima has been involved in various games, the vast majority that bear his name has been Metal Gear Solid, the epic sci-fi espionage series about an ex-Green Beret named Solid Snake who fights colossal bipedal mechs in an alternate 20th and 21st century. Most, if not all Metal Gear have been well-received for its mechanics, cinematic style, and ambitious vision, but they’ve also garnered its fair share of criticisms.
It’s a common joke that you don’t “play” Metal Gear but “watch” Metal Gear. Kojima’s passion for cinema — he’s cited the likes of George Romero, David Lynch, and Dario Argento as influences — bleed into his design, where lengthy cutscenes occur more often than gameplay. Prior to the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, fans advised newbies to catch up by watching — not playing, watching — the games like movies, because you actually can. A YouTuber named KefkaProduction edited every Metal Gear Solid title into “movies,” and their lengths are staggering. 1998’s Metal Gear Solid for the PlayStation runs for four hours (that’s a few minutes longer than Gone with the Wind) while 2008’s Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is an epic ordeal at 7 hours and 40 minutes.
Metal Gear Solid also doesn’t make that much sense, even to fans. While there is a definitive timeline and plot, there’s a consensus that Kojima’s epic is overblown and nonsensical. A Redditor named AudioRejectz posted succinct summaries of each game’s story and themes, but even reading that can be tiresome. There’s no question that Kojima crafted an epic in Metal Gear, but is it actually coherent?
There’s still so much to learn about Death Stranding and what it’s all about. There’s not even a known genre that Kojima is willing to classify it with. It’ll certainly be a hell of an experience, if Kojima’s last collaboration with Norman Reedus in P.T. (with Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro) influenced anything in Death Stranding. But the game thus far forebodes Kojima’s best and worst habits, and that it’s Kojima’s own work without a publisher like Konami to wrangle him may be more harmful than helpful to the prospective experience.
While I personally admire huge ambition over easy-to-understand accessibility (i.e. I admire and adore the work by the Wachowskis more than Michael Bay), nobody wants a George Lucas situation – a radical voice given radical freedom makes up Jar-Jar Binks and midi-chlorians. Kojima loves film, so he should know the value of an editor.