I'll never forget the time Peter Parker—the handsome Andrew Garfield version—used Bing. Nobody uses Bing. And yet, Peter Parker, apparently, uses Bing to search for things. It was product placement at its worst, and really, just the latest in a long line of painful, obvious product placement. Video games have never escaped it either.
Final Fantasy 15 has a side quest dedicated to Cup Noodles. In Alan Wake, you can see ads for Verizon Wireless on TV. In Everquest 2, you were once able to literally order Pizza Hut in-game. (But why would you do such a thing?) Mario Kart 8 had baffling Mercedes-Benz DLC. Sports games are packed with flashy in-game ads. The Sims 2 had IKEA and H&M DLC packs, which each got hilarious reviews.
Hideo Kojima has long been especially notorious for blatant product placement. From Walkmans to iPods, Kojima has never had any qualms about dropping advertising into his games. In fact, product placement is so prevalent in Metal Gear Solid that it has its own wiki page.
Kojima may be liberated from Metal Gear Solid now, but that hasn't stopped him from shilling for consumer goods every chance he gets. In Death Stranding, protagonist Sam Porter Bridges' (do not get me started on the names in this game) is able to knock back not just one Monster energy drink, but five. This has the effect of boosting his stamina for tripping over rocks and carrying mountains of cargo on his back. In this animation, we see a magnificently rendered Norman Reedus tilt back as he chugs the perfectly replicated can in one fell swoop. It is hilarious, and I watch it every time with glee.
When you're on the go and find yourself in dire thirst, you can even chug Monster on the road. If you find yourself in water while crossing a creek or something, your canteen refills with... Monster. I don't understand how this works in a post-apocalyptic America where there are only a handful of cities and dusty ghosts haunting meadows, but I'll accept it.
That's not the only product placement in Death Stranding. When Reedus goes to take a shit and allows his "fecal matter" to be condensed into useless grenades—c'mon, the blood grenades are way more useful—an even stranger advertisement appears on the shower door that closes. It's an ad for Reedus' AMC travel show Ride, a show where Reedus pretends he's a biker in Easy Rider. (This is what I gather based on a one minute Wikipedia skim.) It's a weird ad, one that's puzzled players far and wide. Kotaku questioned why it's pasted on the outside of the shower door, where no one can presumably see it. Others I've seen on social media wonder why there's an ad for it at all—while the show was recently renewed for a fourth season, in a few years, the ad might barely register.
As much as we loathe these product placements, there's no denying that they work. Here we are on social media, making jokes about it. Here I am, writing an article about it. Monster Energy's stock prices even jumped up thanks to the game's release. And Kojima Productions really went the extra mile in implementing how Monster energy works in-game. It's an essential part of Death Stranding's loop.
Maybe that's what makes it particularly devilish, even if it is undeniably hilarious. Monster is in your face, constantly. While you're resting up and thinking over how you want to balance your cargo, a pile of Monster energy cans sit nearby, begging to be shotgunned. When you've whittled down your health from holding your breath while walking past BTs, Monster is available to chug at a moment's notice. You cannot escape Monster energy, no matter how much you want to.
Product placement is easy to roll your eyes at, but if anything, I'm surprised we haven't seen far more of it in modern games. Or maybe it is there, but it's just disguised in a more clever fashion. Video game development today is the most expensive it's ever been, and product placement is basically a chance to get more funding—and crystallize a silly product forever and ever. We may hate it, but it's not going away anytime soon. Hell, Death Stranding got me to buy Monster energy, even if it was for a joke. Maybe the real connection Kojima's telling us that America needs to maintain is capitalism. God help us all.
Major Game Releases: November 11 to November 15
Here are the major releases for the week of November 11 to November 15. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.
- Romancing Saga 3 [November 11 for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, PS Vita, Android, and iOS]: Before today, it was hard to track down Romancing Saga 3, which originally released back in 1995. In Japan, it was released via Nintendo's Virtual Console for the Wii and Wii U, but aside from that, it never made its way west. Until today, that is. The remaster was originally announced back in 2017 for just mobile and Vita, but later was confirmed for basically every platform out there. Now, you can play the cult RPG anywhere you wish. Yes, even on Vita.
- Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition [November 14 for PC]: Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition is a full-blown remaster in honor of the RTS' 20th anniversary. It brings with it 4K resolution, a new single-player campaign, and more. For fans of the original, you can even toggle between the new and improved AI and the old AI, if you want to go the cheating route. Play your way, we won't judge.
- Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order [November 15 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC]: The hottest Star Wars event of the season that isn't The Mandalorian or The Last Skywalker is out later this week. Starring that one guy from Shameless, it's the second big game from Respawn Entertainment this year, and our impressions from earlier preview events for the adventure have been largely positive. Stay tuned for our full review later this week.
- Pokemon Sword and Shield [November 15 for Switch]: There's a new Pokemon game out this week, in case you haven't heard. A. New. Pokemon. Game. It's a big one too; the first to take advantage of being on a shiny, TV-capable console. Nadia's reviewing it for us, and will have more to report later this week.
This Week's News and Notes
- Last week, Need For Speed Heat came out. Mike reviewed it, and liked it well enough. It still has big problems, but at least it's better than Payback.
- On the Need For Speed Heat beat, our newest member of the USG team, guides writer Joel Franey, recreated tons of iconic vehicles with the game's robust customization system. From the Jurassic Park Jeep to the Bluesmobile, the gang's all here.
- This week, I continue to beat my "play Disco Elysium" drum, this time with a feature talking to lead designer and writer Robert Kurvitz about how ZA/UM Studio employed the hosts of Chapo Trap House to do voicework for the RPG.
- It's been all Death Stranding, all the time over here at team USG. As of Friday, I think just about everyone on staff is finally playing it. I'm really into it personally. I find the delivery loop really satisfying, and the clumsiness of controlling Sam reminds me of Red Dead Redemption 2, in a good way. It's also hilarious; both in all the ways I've tripped and watched my cargo fly and in the too-earnest dialogue. (I couldn't take this game seriously once a main character's middle name was revealed to literally be America.)
- ICYMI: Last week, Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan voiced his support for Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai's pro-Hong Kong statements, which got the player banned from competitive Hearthstone for six months. Kaplan calls on his employer Blizzard to reduce or eliminate the ban.
- To get you hyped for Pokemon Sword and Shield later this week, listen to this snippet of Undertale creator Toby Fox's own track for its soundtrack. It already sounds like a banger.
- It's off season for baseball now, so Redditors are turning to a unique solace to entertain them until summer: getting really into Mario Super Sluggers. Eric has a report on the community enthusiasm for the Mario baseball-sim here.
- Keita Takahashi and Funomena's Wattam finally has a release date: December 17! I've played about a dozen demos over it over the years at miscellaneous events, so I'm looking forward to seeing how the friendship-pooping simulator turns out. As a bonus, the music in the release date teaser sounds like something straight out of Katamari.
- Axe of the Blood God: Kat takes a break from the RPG beat to talk about one of the biggest games of the year: Death Stranding! She's joined by Eric Van Allen and Hirun Cryer to discuss Bridge Babies, deconstructing America, and clocking bandits over the head with cargo. This one is full of spoilers so beware! Plus: Why it's time for Mass Effect to be remastered. Subscribe and listen here!