Thank You, Death Stranding, for Finally Doing Something Different With Zombies

The undead are so done as a plot device. But the undead plus magic backpack-babies? Now we're getting somewhere.

If you have a YouTube channel dedicated to dissecting previews of anticipated games, my heart goes out to you today. Another trailer for Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding landed this morning, and oh boy, there's a lot to sift through. Babies in bags. Rebel factions with silly names. Norman Reedus' armpits. It's easy to roll our eyes and joke about how Kojima has well and truly disappeared up his own rear end, but Death Stranding's unapologetic determination to bring new, strange life to well-worn game plot devices has me eyeing that November 8 release date with interest.

We know Death Stranding is coming to the PlayStation 4 in November. We know Norman Reedus is delivering a baby to somewhere, and said baby is contained in a mechanical womb. But we also know this is a Kojima game, and even a story device like a biological baby backpack isn't too unusual in Kojima's works. That's why Death Stranding's "Bridge Babies" also function as link to "the other side," and are vital in letting Norman Reedus' character, [Uncle] Sam, detect entities called "B.T.'s." There. Now we're in Kojima country.

Please keep in mind I know as much about Death Stranding as you do, which mostly amounts to "What?". But I think I have a rough gist of what we're getting into. A post-apocalyptic event has shattered the world, that much is certain. The President enlists Sam's help to re-unite the United States and the human race, which involves hefting a baby cross-country for reasons not yet fully explained. Agents of chaos called "Homodemons" [cough] aim to rip apart what little of society remains. Everyone, including the demons, fear an oily black rain that seemingly turns living things into undead creatures. These creatures, the aforementioned B.T.'s, occupy a realm living creatures can't see or touch unless they're hooked into a Bridge Baby like the one Reedus totes around.

B.T.'s are almost certainly Death Stranding's take on zombies. The "Other Side" they occupy might be connected to the ropey puddles of black goo that are prevalent in Death Stranding's imagery. Given the heavy military presence in the new trailer, my best guess is the black goo was born of an army experiment that went all Arrowhead Project and broke the world. Now storms bring literal death; there's a scene where birds drop out of the sky and turn to dust as storm clouds race towards them. For all we know, earth's entire water supply has been replaced with this weird tarry stuff that turns people undead. But for whatever reason, the zombies exist on a plane people can't see unless—again, for whatever reason—they're hooked up to a Bridge Baby like Sam's, or they have some other way of connecting to The Other Side.

Death Stranding's plot is already a mess, and I'm honestly down for it. I never got invested in the larger story for the Metal Gear Solid series, which is essentially a convoluted description of the world's longest game of Keep-Away with a dead man's frozen body. But Death Stranding offers me a chance to start over again with a fresh Kojima narrative, and I'm rarely able to resist a good post-apocalyptic story.

"Raindrops keep falling on my head." | Kojima Productions

Moreover, I know Death Stranding probably won't make much sense at times, but I do know it'll be different. There's already something compelling about Kojima's ruined, cloudy world. It's not the bombed-out Fallout universe, but neither is it the nature-reclaimed Hyrule of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It doesn't even follow the over-bright standard set by Far Cry 5's neon wasteland. It's Kojima's own playground—a world where burned-out soldiers brave death rain to deliver babies on-foot, like employees of the most specialized courier service to ever exist.

I'm especially glad to see Kojima has something very different in mind for his take on zombies. I don't know about the rest of the universe, but I'm done with zombies. Doesn't matter if a game, show, or movie tries to make them fast or call them by any other name: If they're mindless, if they hunt relentlessly for flesh, and they're born of a virus or some other kind of contagion, they bore me to tears. Death Stranding is still pulling the "A zombie by any other name" trick by calling its undead B.T.'s, but I dig the idea of them occupying a reality that's separated from our own by only the thinnest of veils. I like the idea of deadly storms making monsters instead of bites or viruses. Finally, I just like the wackadoo idea of people like Sam hooking themselves up to babies in artificial wombs because—for some reason or another—it's the only way they can see these B.T.'s and presumably remain safe from their assault. It's all off the wall, (vitally) in a way that makes me nod my head and say "OK, yeah, I can see why that'd work in a Kojima universe."

Even if Death Stranding's story is nothing like how I expect it to be, and even if I wind up hating everything about it, I guarantee it'll still have my admiration. The holiday season is typically when publishers release safe, triple-A sequels or reboots guaranteed to sell millions, but Sony is going to take a chance on a Norman Reedus Mpreg game. That's great.

Tagged with Action Adventure, Hideo Kojima, Norman Reedus, Opinions, PlayStation 4.

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