The Metal Gear Diaries #16: Boss Fights, Boss Fights, Get Your Lovely Lovely Boss Fights

The setup for these posts is simple: I've never played a Metal Gear Solid game before, and I want to change that. I'm going to be writing my on-going reactions to the games as I go, and sharing them with the world. The Metal Gear Diaries are somewhere between a full critical essay and twitter gut responses, and will form an honest document of my shock, frustration and surprise at the events of, say it with me now, "Metal Gear?!" They will be packed with spoilers for all Metal Gear games!

Last time, we ran into EVA, and contemplated the nature of Loyalty, whilst every person in the western hemisphere got their chance to dunk on Ocelot. Now, we swim.

A Familiar Rhythm

Here we go. Now that EVA has given us our directions, and we have a shape of the mission ahead of us, Snake Eater has quietened down a bit, and let the game begin to move along at its own pace. I’ve sneaked my way through multiple large areas without interruption from Codec or Cutscene, and Snake Eater settles into that rhythm better than any other Metal Gear game. The atmosphere is just too good.

You better believe I damn near shat myself when I stood on a claymore, though. Jesus Christ. Now I’m never going to take these Claymores off.

Revolver

A Boss fight! Is that the first Boss fight of the game? They sure held off on this for a good long while. To be fair, so did Sons of Liberty, the first half of that game was sneaking rooms and the second half a Boss Gauntlet, but it did have that excellent Olga fight at the top of the game.

The fight with Ocelot isn’t quite as good as that Olga fight, it doesn’t play with perspective in anywhere near the same way, but it is a great twist on the concept of a shoot-out. For how often the primary engagement of so many games is just “shoot that guy,” they very rarely give thought to the pacing and spatial awareness in the way that these one on one duels do in Metal Gear.

I love the placement of the canyon in between Snake and Ocelot. It draws a physical line in the space where one usually only exists due to the relationship between the two warring bodies. It’s less a battle of firepower, but a battle of territory, as you find the cover best suitable for avoiding Ocelot’s blast, whilst finding the spots that give you greater perspective into his territory. You emerge victorious by having greater awareness of your own, and your opponents, space.

Two more tiny things:

  1. Shooting down the beehives, I remembered that I had played this Boss Fight before. All I know about Snake Eater comes from an evening I spent at my friend Charlie’s house, where he showed me a few scenes, played The End boss fight, and I had a little mess around with the game. Apparently I made it all the way to this boss fight! I must have been skipping cutscenes.
  2. Laughing forever at Ocelot fighting off a swarm of bees by twirling his pistols. Goddamn.

Cave Story

This cave is really, really scary, but nothing scary has happened. It’s super bold of Snake Eater to just stop its combat or exploration rhythms for a good twenty minutes in order to have this silent sequence where you can’t see a damn thing.

Incredibly affecting, too. Snake Eater’s environmental variety transformers the journey through the campaign as one of a journey, rather than one of greater power and influence over a single space (which is how I’d define the progression in Big Shell especially). It ties into the story arc of Snake Eater, a long walk towards a single inevitable moment, Snake’s confrontation with The Boss.

It’s actually remarkable how effectively every other relationship and piece of game design in Snake Eater is focused on building to that goal above everything else.

The Pain

I killed The Pain, and I have pretty much nothing to say on it. It was a Metal Gear boss fight, not one of the best, not one of the worst, though definitely underwhelming. Bloody bee armour, hurry up and fuck right off, I wanna beat this guy.

What is strange, to me, is when a Boss in Metal Gear isn’t given a motivation. Vamp had lots of introduction, but he never had the requisite motivational monologue that defined Twin Snakes and for the most part lived on in Sons of Liberty. I don’t know what The Pain’s deal is, apart from the fact that the emotion he carries into battle is pain, which could mean any of a thousand things, without any elaboration.

By removing this element, the story gains greater focus – Snake Eater is all about Naked Snake’s relationship with The Boss – but it reduces the individual humanisation of the encounters that you find yourself in. Twin Snakes took the time to humanise Psycho Mantis, and it gave that game a real sense of heart.

I hope the rest of Cobra Squad gets to share more of their personality and motivations with the audience, and feel less like a series of props who surround the true main characters.

Swamp Snake

One of the most beautiful moments in this game has been leaving the cave and arriving into a beautiful sunset in a Russian Swamp. God, the journey through the landscape element of this game is phenomenal, nothing less. It eschews combat except for when it is directly necessary, and places the tense survival-spy simulation right up against the beauty of nature.

As you hide in the natural world, crawl through its bushes and wade through its swamps, Snake Eater imparts a greater appreciation for these natural and beautiful things.

Warehouse Blues

What must it be like to be a mid-tier Boss in a Metal Gear game? You’ve been dispatched to kill the guy, yet the plans of your employers specifically revolve around your death and failure. It must inspire a crisis of confidence, probably a full on depressive episode. It would in me, at least.

That hilarious genre conceit aside, the little peak you get into the goings-on of The Boss et al at the warehouse is an excellent moment. It doesn’t really add anything thematically, being neither reveal nor setup, but it’s nice to see the dynamics of the villains further cemented. Metal Gear has done a great job of letting you into the villain dynamics, for a group that you usually only see one at a time, to kill in order.

I Am A Scientist

One of the best areas in the game so far was the walk between the warehouse and the lab, an otherwise empty area of woodland, filled to the brim with traps. It emphasised being on my guard and aware of my environment in a way that brings out of all the best qualities in Snake Eater’s design. It is a game that works best when it enforces a paradoxically calm tension, a deliberate isolation.

But then I took about half an hour to find my way inside the laboratory itself, turns out there was a vent hidden in the grass! Oh! How comical! Whoopsie-daisie me. I’m glad they’re bringing back the in-disguise segment from Sons of Liberty, because it allows for this moment where your relationship with the space and the people in it is completely twisted on its head. To see these enemies no longer as obstacles but as peers, sharing the space with you, is an important moment to have in a game that dictates all other human beings be either avoided or destroyed.

As a moment of humanisation for the bodies that exist alongside you, it is crucial, and I wish more games which revolve around violence allowed for this kind of interaction too. It’s one of the key reasons why the party in Dishonored is far and away the most interesting level in the game.

Dishonored reminds me a lot of Metal Gear, it’s the western stealth game I most think of during Metal Gear’s stealth sections. Not because it has much mechanical similarity at all, but it nails the feeling of an ever expanding power set that allows you to progress invisibly throughout the space. I wasn’t a massive fan, but man, Dishonored’s a cool game. If you’re enjoying these write ups and you like Metal Gear, go play it! (then go listen to our podcast on it, ooooooh, secret plug zone working its way in).

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We’re making good progress, now. Snake Eater has settled into its moment to moment pacing, and is holding most of the cards tight against its chest, presumably to reveal them all as you crash into the trademarked Metal Gear Final Act™.

Next: we’re going to find Sokolov in this laboratory. What wonders will we find down there? Only time can tell!