Metal Gear Solid V Messed With Me In A Way Only Videogames Can
Spoilers for the Metal Gear series ahead.
Index for Clarity (because it’s a Metal Gear game, it’s never that simple)—
- Naked Snake - Real Big Boss.
- The Medic - Member of Big Boss’ army. Later becomes Venom Snake and takes on the face and personality of Big Boss.
- Venom Snake - Brainwashed, Altered with Plastic Surgery Big Boss
- Ishmael - Naked Snake in disguise.
- Liquid Snake - Eli, a child who was created from the DNA of Naked Snake and hence he is Naked’s son.
- Solid Snake - Another child who was created from Naked Snake’s DNA and is also Naked’s son.
As I put my controller down after 86 hours of living through the eyes of Big Boss - or so I thought - I laid down and gazed at the ceiling for a lot of time before I realized I needed to write my thoughts down because I don’t want to forget this feeling. This feeling of accomplishment and at the same time, betrayal that occurred at the end of the campaign in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Fair warning, I haven’t played any previous Metal Gear games except for the first two top-down games Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. However I read up on the story leading up to the events of Phantom Pain and watched a few videos online to get an idea about the whole Snake Eater Operation and the Peace Walker Incident etc., and even played the Ground Zeroes prequel before embarking on Big Boss’ journey. Nothing prepared me for the end, though.
“We are Big Boss”
The Metal Gear series probably has the most convoluted plot in video-game history. This article might not even make sense to you at some point if you haven’t played the game. Of course, spoilers follow from this point onward.
We now know that there was never one Big Boss, but two. The original Naked Snake, and the medic who was brainwashed to become Venom Snake — made to carry on the name of Big Boss after the attack on Mother Base through plastic surgery and psychological conditioning while Naked Snake went into hiding. For the majority of the game, I thought that Venom Snake was hallucinating throughout the game as a result of brain damage occurred during the Mother Base attack and the after-effects of waking up from a 9 year long coma. I mean — trying to escape a hospital as a man literally on fire chases you on a flaming horse while there’s a telekinetic kid flying around did fuel my theory. But never for a moment until the very last mission did it cross my mind that I was not playing as Naked Snake but a duplicate instead. Maybe a core Metal Gear fan who had played all the games might have noticed the subtle foreshadowing. But boy, Kojima was surely smoking some strong stuff when he cooked the series up.
Maybe that is why we got to play the PROLOGUE: AWAKENING twice, once at the start of the game and then again at the end of Chapter 2 with a different name. Because there are a lot of “aha” moments we can clearly notice on our second playthrough. Notice how the same mission this time is called “The Man Who Sold The World” with the prefix “Truth:”. This is such a giveaway when I look back at it now. Even though the game hadn’t revealed Venom’s identity yet by that point, this is where I started to make sense of the things that have been going on in the game. I had been played LIKE A DAMN FIDDLE!
The first song you hear when you awaken from a 9 year long coma is a cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World”. A song specifically about dual personalities and doppelgangers. Not to mention what you’re hearing is not the original song but the cover by Midge Ure, another hint that the character you’re playing as is not the real Snake, but a cover. A replica. I only realized these little things long after the game was over.
If you haven’t been paying close attention (seriously, it’s a Hideo Kojima game. Pay close attention), on your second playthrough of the prologue you’ll also realize that the assassin sent to kill you was none other than Quiet, your sniper buddy that you choose to recruit into your organization later on in the game after your encounter with her in Afghanistan. She of course failed to kill you in the hospital and was hell-bent on revenge. But remember that bandaged dude who saved you from her. Turns out he’s the real MVP.
“Who are you?”
When Ishmael, the bandaged dude is asked this question by your character he replies “Who am I? You’re talking to yourself”. In the prologue, I didn’t pay much heed to this quote and passed it off as part of my hallucination theory that Snake was seeing this guardian like figure (who’s also an extremely skilled fighter) to lead him out of the hospital. Much like the Reznov and Mason thing in Call of Duty Black Ops. But when you play the same mission at the end of the game, that is when it hits you.
The voice of Ishmael is one you’ve been hearing throughout the game. Because of the 86 hours I had invested in this game, I could recognize this voice at once and that’s when I figured out the fact that Big Boss is Ishmael. This is Kiefer Sutherland’s voice that I had been hearing from time to time during the campaign. So that means the man in the bandages was the real Big Boss, so who was I controlling the entire game?
You get all your answers at the end of the mission.
Mirror Mirror on the Wall …
Kojima loves seeing your jaw drop in shock. As the revelation plays out, it becomes clear that Venom Snake is the medic who was on-board the chopper that exploded mid-air which sent Naked Snake and the Medic to coma. Naked (waking up from his coma earlier than the Medic), Ocelot and Zero devised a plan to transform Venom into Naked and Naked into Venom with plastic surgery. Remember that screen at the hospital when you were asked to create your avatar at the start of the game? You weren’t creating a new face for Venom, but actually for Naked. You took Naked’s identity and Naked took yours, the player’s. Assuming you entered your real details and made your character as similar to you as possible, Big Boss becomes you and you become Big Boss. It’s nicely referenced at the end of the game where Ocelot informed Naked Snake that his new name was now “Abhik” according to his forged passport. I felt so proud.
The entire game is played as the Medic, now taking on the role of Big Boss - unaware of his past. He has fully accepted and transitioned into Big Boss, and no one knows about this decoy Big Boss other than Ocelot, Zero and Naked Snake a.k.a the real Big Boss. (I know it might get a little too confusing, but that is what Metal Gear is. It’s not my fault)
The final cutscene of the game shows Venom’s memories slowly coming back to him, as he - and us gamers - realize that he isn’t the real Big Boss and never was. He receives a cassette tape from the real Big Boss as he expresses his gratitude to Venom. He watches himself in the mirror, his different forms - the medic, the devil, the real Big Boss - all of them flash before him.
“I’m Big Boss… and you are too” says Naked on the tape, as we learn that Venom has now accepted this identity and is going to fulfill his role as the Big Boss for as long as he lives. In a way now, Naked is talking to the gamers directly.
“ Where we are today? We built it. This story — this “legend” — it’s ours.” the Metal Gear saga that started in 1987, the players that stayed with Metal Gear for nearly 30 years - this is for them. The final few minutes of the Metal Gear series seems like Naked is thanking all the players over the years. There will be no Metal Gear game after this (Metal Gear Survive doesn’t count), and this is Hideo Kojima’s way of thanking all those who played a 2D Shooter on an MSX in 1987 and made it a cultural phenomenon spanning nearly 30 years. Metal Gear as we know will cease to exist because of the Kojima-Konami split.
Once the tape ends and some badass music starts playing, Naked sees the name on the tape, called “The Man Who Sold The World”. An apt name. Big Boss really had sold the world a lie, and Venom Snake was the one who had to pay the price for it. As Venom flips the tape, there is a time jump of 10 years into the future. The tape now reads “Operation Intrude N313”.
Note — Those who played the very first game in the series, Metal Gear, would know that Operation Intrude N313 is the operation in which Solid Snake kills Big Boss at Outer Heaven. Since Metal Gear Solid V is a prequel to the original Metal Gear of 1987, the Big Boss that Solid Snake kills in that game is now revealed to be Venom Snake and not the original Big Boss aka Naked Snake.
The final scene in the Metal Gear Series shows Venom smashing the mirror he was just looking into, as Solid Snake has arrived at Outer Heaven and is causing destruction outside. Venom looks into the mirror one last time, as he ventures into smoke ready to battle against Solid Snake. As every person who has played Metal Gear knows, this is the last we ever see of Venom Snake chronologically as Solid Snake kills him just after this and blows up the Outer Heaven base. It’s sad, really. Watching a character I had just played as for nearly 90 hours walk to his impending doom as I sit helplessly, knowing what's about to come.
And that is where Metal Gear Solid V concludes. It comes full circle. The final scene of the first game connects with the final scene of the final Metal Gear game and this is how one of the most beautifully crafted stories in video-games was told by Hideo Kojima.
However, all this was just the Naked and Venom Snake arc. After Venom Snake’s death, the story continues with Solid Snake and some recurring characters and concludes chronologically on a very warm note. But that’s a story for another time. I do wish I had played the games earlier, but now it is one of my goals in life to gather all the games at one place and finish this saga. The series is truly a f**ked up, well-crafted, mind-bending masterpiece that only a genius like Hideo Kojima’s brain can conjure.