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 infiltrated Groznyj Grad, and got captured in a way I can kindly describe as questionably homophobic. Now, we see what awaits us in the rest of Groznyj Grad...
An Eye For An Eye
And I thought I was through the worst of the violence in this game, oof. Snake’s torture scene is uncomfortable to watch, not just to the level of violence, but because of how much they spend playing with expectation. Snake Eater knows its heading into its final act, and it knows that you know it too, and it enjoys toying with you. Is The Boss going to cut out Snake’s eye? No, but damn they’re going to hold on that shot for a long, long time.
In the end, Naked Snake loses his eye protecting EVA from Ocelot, gaining what will become his core visual identity as Big Boss not through a tragic moment in the game’s central relationship, but an act of heroism and humanity. Which surprised me, knowing what we do about Big Boss’ actions in the future, and how much of this game has revolved around his relationship with The Boss.
The big reveal in this scene, however, was that of The Philosopher’s Legacy: billions of dollars of gold, stored inside this very facility. The Philosopher’s Legacy was setup by the allied powers after World War 2, and it allows Volgin free reign to persue whatever weapons development he desires, for money is now no longer an issue. I think my exact reaction was just: “huh,” because it’s a strangely undersold reveal. For some reason I just expected more than “a fuckton of money,” but the more I think about it the more I appreciate it.
Sons of Liberty was explicitly about capitalism as a system that limits the agency of those within it, so free from the constraints of capitalism, Volgin is able to devote limitless resources into his nefarious ends, and the weapons become more and more powerful.
Perhaps we shall see a greater elaboration on what The Philosophers were later in this game, or in Guns of the Patriots, because I feel so much of the explanation around that has been really vague? I don’t mind, though, the game’s expositional lightness (by Metal Gear standards), serves to increase the singular focus on the sad relationship of Naked Snake and Big Boss.
The requisite “no equipment” section of Snake Eater is an excellent climax to the game’s thematic and systemic arc. So far, you’ve been consistently building in power, using your resources in order to sneak past enemies, not truly having to rely on principles of line of sight. And in Snake’s moment of desperation, his eye lost, mission success slipping from his grasp, he is stripped of these powers, and reduced to the core of his being.
If we see this game as the transition from Naked Snake to Big Boss (which I do, I don’t know the ending exactly, but it’s clear that’s the man that’s going to be walking away from this situation), this moment of breaking Snake down is crucial before he can build back up into his new persona. And forcing the player to play without their gadgets and equipment reinforces the power of this moment.
And when you reach the end of the path, Snake falls from the sewers, eye shut and arms spread, finally calm. Ready to be reborn.
A River Of Sorrow
Wow, okay, I didn’t realise just how literal my interpretation of the last segment was about to become. Snake is literally born again in the river, as he confronts the souls of all those he has killed along the way. It’s a sobering and powerful ‘boss fight,’ bringing Snake Eater’s melancholic tone to the surface, and focusing – aptly – on the sorrow of the events of the day.
Metal Gear has tried a moment like this before – Liquid’s callback to the tower sequence at the end of Twin Snakes – but never has it been as explicitly sad as this. Here we have an entire level, dictated to the tragedy that is the loss of any life, as the emotional climax of a shooter and a stealth game.
The only way to win, is to make it to the end, where the game forcibly kills you, and use your own revival pill on the game over screen to bring yourself back to life. It’s a cheeky moment of playing with the game’s artifice and assumptions, but it’s also a key point in the arc of Snake Eater – to be reborn you first have to die, to become Big Boss we have to stop being Naked Snake.
We awake on the riverbed disorientated, our goal incomplete, the status of the mission unknown. What happens now? We shall find out soon enough. But one thing is certain: no one walks out of this the same as they came in.
The Snake Is My Penis
Before, you saw Snake and EVA fuck by talking about the specifications of their weaponry. Now, you get to see Snake and EVA fuck by performing impromptu surgery and shadow-dancing. It’s weird – but pretty great. Way more fun than a standard sex scene might be.
EVA’s monologue about how much she needs her bike is probably my favourite moment so far with her character. It gives credence to the read of her as someone trapped by her performative femininity, someone who is always pretending to be themselves. I’m glad this is coming up more, because it frames her interactions with Snake as deliberately playing a role to manipulate him, rather than as a heteronormative fantasy for the presumed-male player.
Hopefully there’s a big double cross coming, but I know the game ends with them totally doing it James Bond style, so I doubt it. But I’d love there to be more to her character than I think there is! It’d make me very happy.
Now You C3, Now You Don’t
The tone of this final (I assume) sneaking section is excellent, being able to walk around the Shagohod undetected and in disguise is perfect for the James Bond pastiche and also for the climax of a Metal Gear game. You feel the enormity of this weapon, the relationship between it and the people that surround it, you get a sense of how it exists in this space and how, like everything would, it becomes just another piece of metal.
I set the final charge, and everything goes to shit…
Wait, I thought they’d already explained The Philosopher’s Legacy? It’s money put away by the three allied powers – China, America and Russia – in order to give them control over the future. But it is super important, so it gets a proper reveal with live action footage and a two minute monologue, because if there’s one series that doesn’t do a single thing by half, it’s Metal Gear Solid.
The Legacy is money, but it may as well be magic – it is a MacGuffin of power. Whoever gains access to the legacy has the power to shape the world as they see fit, and the microfilm is the key to that power. How The Patriots will play into this yet, I don’t quite know, the only reference to them has been that one throwaway line with Snake and Major Zero, and that totally could have been a joke or a red herring.
Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe communism is.
I’m sorry. I, let’s move on –
(I want to talk about The Legacy more, but it feels like we’re being left out of crucial information that I’ll be able to use to fill in the blanks, I’m so close to the ending so I’ll talk about it more in the final post)
Bye Bye Groznyj Grad
The weird thing about Snake Eater’s final act is how sparse it feels in terms of actual content. It’s a thrill ride at the moment, a ridiculous and amazing one, with at least three separate car chases and two boss fights! It’s a fantastic and propulsive sequence that captures the cascading and exhausting feel of an action movie’s final act.
There’s no more reveals of motivation, just a series of feints and near-misses that build up to the final defeat of the bad guy. And what a defeat – the boss fight with both Volgin within Groznyj Grad is dull and lifeless, so I’m glad we got that final Shagohod battle. I took him out with a sniper shot to the head, and it drained the remaining half of his life bar that he had standing. It was one heck of a satisfying end.
Though, Snake saying “Fried by a bolt of lightning… a fitting end” was hilarious. C’mon Snake, you’ve seen like twenty thematically on the nose deaths in a row.
And with Volgin defeated, I’m done putting in my comments until the game is fully finished! We’re so close to the end, to the reveals and the context that I need to really talk about what’s happening in the ending, so as with last time, we’ll return for the final post which will not be written as a moment-by-moment series of reactions, it will be a slightly more traditional critical read of the game’s ending, and the whole experience.
There’s only time for one more ride.
Next: we wake from this dream, Snake Eater…