Paige FTW: Does Hollywood Star Power Translate?

Hideo Kojima dropped a massive trailer for Death Stranding last week, with something even more valuable to go with the 8 solid minutes of gameplay — a release date.

The game looks bonkers, and it’s been getting decent mainstream press because of its star-studded cast, which includes Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Lea Seydoux and Lindsay Wagner, among many others.

Certainly, if this were a movie, that cast would be a compelling enough reason to watch. But does this same logic apply to games? Does star power sell titles?

I don’t mean, of course, those stars that lend their voices to games. Mark Hamill voicing Joker in the Arkham games is not the same as “literally Norman Reedus with a fetus attached to him.”

I’m thinking more of Ellen Page in Beyond: Two Souls, probably the most prominent previous example of Hollywood “casting” in a video game.

The idea, I’m sure, was to generate greater empathy for protagonist Jodie through the talents of Page, a proven actress. And Jodie sure needs empathy as she careens from one horrible situation to another, from an attempted sexual assault to homelessness to spiritual possession.

It was a good performance in an unfortunately flawed package because, yikes, that game was a mess that was unable to string its moments of emotional potency into any kind of sustained coherence. It turned me off Quantic Dream games for good, if we’re being honest. The big bucks spent securing her would have been better spent hiring decent writers.

Another thing that held Page’s performance back was the technology. Uncanny valley is less of a problem when you’re not being asked to constantly evoke a flesh-and-blood ideal in your head as you play. Characters who are either more stylized (a la Final Fantasy) or simply less well-known can sidestep that comparison and allow for greater immersion.

Death Stranding is facing an uphill battle, I think. It has the pieces of a masterful work, but it faces the same problems Beyond did — the story seems bonkers so far (Kojima isn’t exactly known for coherence) and the uncanny valley vibes are strong.

But it’s just crazy enough to pull it off, too. We find out in November.