The Metal Gear Diaries #20: What A Mess We Made

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 escaped the fortress of Groznyj Grad, and watched Volgin get fried by a bolt of lightning after a full hour or so of chases, fights and explosions. And now, I sit before my keyboard having completed the game, having seen the final cutscene play, and knowing it is time to write down my impressions.

I’m no longer in a dream, I’m now standing on the edge. It’s time to dive into the ending of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Gut Reactions

Fuck.

I spent so long defining the theme of Sons of Liberty as: you do not matter. And Snake Eater had been treading on such different ground, it hadn’t stepped into the same areas of individualism vs collectivism, or pulled back to the sheer scope of ideology that Sons of Liberty had. And by the end, it still hadn’t, it was laser focused on three (well, two) characters, but it all built to this one singular moment, one perfect and heartbreaking gut punch to show how much that theme remained true: you do not matter.

Sons of Liberty ends in such a more hopeful and defiant place that it will always speak to me the most, but there’s something singular about the tragedy of Naked Snake, now truly Big Boss, walking out of the White House in silence as a broken, empty man, that may make that moment the defining moment in the entire series. Because ultimately, that’s what Metal Gear is, it’s the story of men who realise their place, of soldiers who realise their role, of people coming face to face with the enormity of the status quo and the irrelevance of their own individuality.

What’s remarkable to me is how Metal Gear continues to dive into those themes without becoming a conservative fantasy. The idea that it’s even possible to write a story where The Soldier is good and The State is evil fused with this optimistic and anti-capitalist narrative about collective action is amazing. On paper, Metal Gear should be this awful militaristic fantasy and it ends up being the complete opposite – yet abstracted enough that I the anti-american and anti-war sentiments get lost on an alarming number of people. I chalk this up to Metal Gear being a Japanese work, a work from a country that explicitly isn’t America and has an incredibly different relationship to ideas of war, of individualism etc. It’s the kind of critique that can only come from the outside looking in.

What I’m saying is I loved the ending of Snake Eater in a very different way to Sons of Liberty, I knew it was the origin story of the series antagonist (protagonist? With the concept of The Patriots, Metal Gear completely eschews traditional ideas of villainy), but knowing that V is on the horizon and is supposedly the full downfall of Big Boss, I didn’t expect the ending to be quite such concentrated devastation.

I was so, so wrong.

The Patriots

It’s remarkable how long Snake Eater waits to slot all the piece in together. It doles out the reveals earlier, and then only gives you the true context with a scroll of text on the screen at the end. The Philosophers and The Patriots are one and the same – at least in American terms. The Philosophers’ legacy, for all intents and purposes, is The Patriots’ legacy, and you’ve spent the entire game filling in the mysteries that 2 laid out.

What’s remarkable about the answers is how much of a hole they puncture in the state of the world that Sons of Liberty sells. The Patriots present themselves as omnipotent, as if they have always been that way, but they haven’t. The fight for The Philosophers’ Legacy was a messy one, and The Patriots are merely one side of that struggle. Maybe in the 50 years they go on to win the fight, and with the end of the Cold War the world does become made whole again under them, but their fight was one as conflicted and human as any other, driven by selfish needs and conflicts of interests.

And in the end, as ever, it all came down to money.

But The Philosophers and The Patriots roles in their respective games are identical, to drive home to the player character that they are merely a tool for their own ends. And I have so much more to say about that, but there’s other things to tick off the list first.

Revolver, Revolver

Let’s talk about Ocelot. Let’s talk about how he just jumps into a Plane because he’s flying on some alien powered drone in 1964 because who cares, he’s Revolver Ocelot and who are you to say no?

I’d completely misread Ocelot’s character for the entire game, but to be fair they do save the reveal of his true identity until the final second. All this time, I’d been operating on the assumption that he was, at least for now, a loyal member of the Soviet Union. He states in Sons of Liberty that he became disillusioned with Russia during the cold war, and abandoned such a struggle for something far more important, to serve The Patriots.

And so, I naturally assumed that we were witnessing his growing disillusionment, his rejection of Volgin’s ways, his witnessing of the violence and short-sighted stupidity of Volgins Nationalism and rejecting it out of hand. Because Ocelot’s smart, but he’s not a mastermind. He’s a character that susses out what’s going on and knows how to best position himself, but at the end of the day he’s never going to hold all the cards, and you get a sense that he knows it. He’s got a strong sense of survival by knowing his place as a soldier, by knowing what’s expected of him, and doesn’t allow ambition to be his downfall.

And whilst that was definitely there, I don’t consider my reaction to be an ignorant reading of the text, the reveal that he was in fact ADAM and had already defected from the Soviet Union changes everything. It makes his respect for and interest in Naked Snake click into place, and how his repeated failed attempts at murdering the man were never that at all, they were sly little tests as he attempts to suss out someone who will one day be his ally in the Patriots. (Or, such is the plan).

Snake Eater made Ocelot cool. Ocelot was always cool, in a detached villain way, but he was always a villain and due to his nature as a Patriot lackey he never had the weird tragic non-villain relationship that the player had with Fortune or Solidus, for example. But now we’ve got to see young Ocelot, we see him raw, we see him fuck up and we see him care. It’s an important humanisation to his character, showing him as shrewd and selfish but also with a sense of consistency and respect that Volgin never has.

I wonder how any of this will play into Guns of the Patriots Ocelot, or if we’ll even see him. Has Liquid Snake taken over completely? WHO KNOWS? ONLY TIME WILL TELL.

(I bet he gets a monologue. I bet fucking everybody gets a monologue)

A Welcome Betrayal

EVA did have something going on after all! Hooray! Her betrayal of, and ultimate victory over Snake is what finally sold me on actually liking her character. The introduction of the Chinese into the equation was really interesting too, because they’re a country so often forgotten in Cold War politics, despite being an important and crucial world power in the dynamic of that history.

EVA – or whatever her true name is, whether anyone knows it at all – was always pretending. Her mission was to play all sides and get away with the truth, alone, because there is power in keeping the truth hidden. In fact, that is the core of The Philosophers (and later The Patriots) power, so much so that in 50 years they will build an arsenal to keep it that way. But for those affected, for the individuals used as tools, there is power in sharing the truth. There is a shared bond that EVA, Snake and The Boss share, as soldiers who know the truth, as people who have no power and yet at the same time, all of it.

I don’t have too much to say about EVA however, because in the end her function is what it always was, to provide more light into the central relationship of the game, into the one thing that Snake Eater is and always was about: Snake and The Boss.

She provides you with The Boss’ truth, a truth that will change the world, forever.

The Boss

<3

Where to even begin? Now that I’m here, at the most important part of the game, ready to talk about... everything, I don’t know what to say. The Boss’ is truth is the heartbreak at the core of Snake Eater, it is the inciting incident of everything that happens afterwards. It is the fuse that lights the fire that is still burning, and the ashes of which will be seen in the next game. (Just stopping for a high five on that tortured metaphor! Yeah!)

The Boss wants to make the world whole again, The Philosophers must be reunited for order to be returned to the earth. The international squabbling that this once great organisation has been reduced to is the causing an arms race like which has never been seen before, and it has to end. When the world is made whole, the world will be great once more.

It’s the same philosophy that The Patriots’ AI espouses at the end of Sons of Liberty, the need to fight the separation of ideas by creating the context for a singular line of progress, for the betterment and advancement of mankind. And The Boss believes in this idea, this so clearly flawed idea, so much that she is willing to die for it. She sacrifices herself to her own pupil, in the expectation that he will take her place.

But he doesn’t. And we don’t, as the audience, want him to. The Boss’ story is tragic, and her character can be seen as nothing other than a hero, but when looking at the bigger picture, it’s impossible not to see this all as a waste. She sacrifices herself for people who don’t care about her, to further the power of those who already rule, and Snake walks into their arms a hollow man and accepts his new title. He is now Big Boss, a hero who killed a hero, a child who killed his parent, a man who fought a fight that wasn’t his.

So when he walks out, and we see him take the steps towards his destruction, we take them with him. This system is fucked, it takes the lives of good people, chews them up and spits them out, then pits them against each other just for kicks. In that moment, it doesn’t matter how much pain it’s going to cause, how Outer Heaven is just the start of a cycle that can never truly end, he’s making the only human decision that anyone could.

All this time, I had expected The Boss to be a character who despised this system, someone who knew the truth of The Patriots and said no more. And Snake would stop her, learn the truth himself, and then go on to say the same thing. Metal Gear’s ridiculous naming conventions, as well as its repeated focus on similar themes and events reoccurring led me to believe that this relationship would be far more cyclical. But the truth was far harder.

The Boss truly believed in The Philosophers’ ideals, so much so that she played her part as a pawn, and Big Boss, well, seeing someone he loved submit themselves to something so abhorrent, it broke him. As it breaks us. The Boss’ truth is Metal Gear’s melodrama writ large, heightened and overwrought, operatic and earnest, it is the thematic ideas of the series refined and placed into a single moment.

I salute you too, Boss. You won’t be forgotten.

*

We’ve done it! We’ve finished Snake Eater, and we’re sitting ready to begin Guns of the Patriots. I couldn’t be more excited, I need to know, I need to know all the truths. I need to know how much of what I know is true and how much is just complete and total bullshit based on false assumptions and misheard bullshit.

Next: we shall find out just how much War Has Changed…