By Etienne Vlok
When Metal Gear was released in 1987, the world was very much in love with Hollywood-style action movies, which mainly meant lame plots to set up completely over-the-top action. This carried over into the games of the day, which usually only challenged the gamer to be the last man standing by the end. When Hideo Kojima envisioned a game where the player could succeed without constantly engaging in a frontal assault, it was clear that he needed a new kind of hero, as well. Enter Solid Snake.
Since the beginning of the Metal Gear series, its main protagonist has always been a product of the times. While always conceived as somewhat of the anti-hero – a character trait that would become more pronounced as the series evolved – the initial design for Solid Snake didn’t so much reference 1980’s action movies as it completely ripped them off.
The box art for Metal Gear show Solid Snake in a pose identical to that of a publicity shot of Michael Biehn’s character Kyle Reese from The Terminator. In Metal Gear 2, the character is based on the Lethal Weapon look of Mel Gibson. With the release of Metal Gear Solid, the look for Snake changed yet again to reference a Kurt Russell’s character from one Kojima’s favourite films, Escape from New York. To further cement the reference, Russell’s character was named Snake Plissken in the film. In Sons of Liberty, Snake masquerades as a Special Forces soldier with the unlikely nom de guerre of Iroquois Plissken. For Guns of the Patriots, Snake has shed his skin one final time, looking very much like the late Lee van Cleef, noted actor in Western films (he co-starred with Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, for one.)
As for the character, Snake was always portrayed as an extremely skilled and competent soldier. In the first game, he is very much a rookie in the FOXHOUND Special Forces Group. In fact, this is the reason he gets sent to Outer Heaven in the first place. Being the shadowy leader of Outer Heaven, Big Boss figured that sending an unproven newcomer on the mission to intrude the mercenary nation would lead to guaranteed failure. In this way, he could be seen as still obeying his political masters in Washington, while continuing his development of the Metal Gear unabated. Snake proved more than up to the task, and defeated Big Boss, completely destroying the military capability of the rogue state.
The reason for his amazing soldiering abilities would only be revealed much later, in Metal Gear Solid, but it bears worth mentioning here: Solid Snake is related to Big Boss by blood. In 1972, the US government launched a project called Les Enfants Terrible. Deciding that Big Boss was as close to the genetically perfect â€˜supersoldier’ as was likely to occur in nature, the project aimed to create clones of him via a process of in-vitro fertilization. Snake was one of triplets born from this project.
Snake encounters Big Boss again in Metal Gear 2, this time killing him by the end of the game. The plot of the second game largely mirrors the first: a â€˜mercenary nation’ called Zanzibar Land emerges in eastern Europe, and they are apparently building the dreaded Metal Gear WMD. Again, Snake must infiltrate and neutralize the threat. After doing so, he resigns from FOXHOUND and retreats into the Alaskan wilderness.
It is from here that Roy Campbell, the retired commander of FOXHOUND, comes to kidnap Snake at the beginning of Metal Gear Solid. Campbell took over the unit after the Outer Heaven debacle, but left it sometime before the events of Metal Gear Solid. Essentially, the unit has gone rogue under the leadership of it’s new commanding officer, Liquid Snake. Not surprisingly, Liquid is another result of the Les Enfants Terrible project.
Taking control of the base where a new type of Metal Gear was in the final stages of testing, he holds Washington at ransom for a large amount of cash, as well as the body of Big Boss, which was recovered after the events of Metal Gear 2.
The US government studied the remains of Big Boss and identified several genetic traits that were prominent. Seeing at the Les Enfants Terrible programme had a low yield – a mere three clones – the next attempt was to use this genetic information to enhance an entire company of soldiers. These â€˜genome soldiers’ aided Liquid in his insurrection, since the treatment proved effective, but ultimately degenerative, killing the recipient of the treatment. By demanding the body of Big Boss, they hoped to find a cure for the condition.
Injecting Snake with a serum designed to give him similar genetic benefits, over and above his natural abilities as a clone of Big Boss, Snake ventures into the base alone. After defeating Liquid and destroying the Metal Gear, Snake again heads off into the wilderness, but rededicates himself to the prevention of Metal Gear proliferation around the world. However, he does so on borrowed time: the injection he received at the beginning of the game also contained a genetic virus called FOXDIE. Engineered to specifically target the main members of the FOXHOUND unit, it is the virus that ultimately claims Liquid. Being infected with the same virus, he knows it will claim his life sooner or later, provided he doesn’t get killed in combat first.
It is in the new role of activist which we encounter him at the start of MGS2: Sons of Liberty. Infiltrating a ship crewed by US Marines, he confirms the existence of a new Metal Gear, but to be used by the military. Successful in his attempt to gain photographic evidence of the weapon, the ship is sunk, with Snake still onboard, in the New York harbour when the prototype is stolen by the Patriots. Snake is assumed dead.
However, he turns up again a few years later when a terrorist group called the Sons of Liberty take over the Big Shell, the floating oil rig erected in New York harbour to clean up the environmental damage caused by the sinking of the Marine transport ship. Among the hostages the terrorists have, one is none other than the President of the United States himself. Under the guise of SEAL team operator Iroquois Pliskin, he comes aboard the Big Shell to neutralize the threat and rescue the president. The Patriots again prove to have a hand in the events, however, as Big Shell is revealed to be a front for Arsenal Gear, a new Metal Gear production facility.
Assisting a new FOXHOUND operative called Raiden, Arsenal Gear is rendered useless when it crashes into Manhattan. Again, Snake appears to retire from the life of soldier.
Which brings us to Guns of the Patriots. Old Snake, as he is now known, is suffering from rapid aging, bought on either by the FOXDIE virus, or inherent flaws in the process of in-vitro fertilization from his birth. He is contacted by his former commanding officer, Roy Campbell, to help fight the Patriots one last time. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether he actually survives the events of the final Metal Gear game.
Always portrayed as a walking weapons platform, it was only with Snake Eater and Portable Ops that the origin of the weapon was explored. In chronological order, the versions are as follows:
In Snake Eater, it is revealed that the Shagohod is the first precursor to the Metal Gear, although it’s not part of the same design family. Originally, both the Metal Gear and Shagohod concepts were considered by the Soviets, but ultimately only Shagohod was developed. A treaded tank as opposed to a bipedal one, it could launch ICBMs.
Chronologically, it is the first true Metal Gear prototype ever built, having been developed by the U.S. government in 1970 based on plans stolen from the Soviets in Snake Eater. The head has a strong resemblance with the one from Metal Gear REX, the model from Metal Gear Solid. It has four legs (a step towards bipedalism, which was an impossibility with the technology available at the time). Its nuclear function is to act as a mobile launching device for MIRVs. However, it must be physically transported to
a point within range of the target(s) first. This is accomplished by having the Metal Gear unit itself attached to the top of a rocket, launching it, detaching the unit at 3000 ft above the intended landing point, and having it parachute back down to the ground, launching its nuclear payload afterwards.
The first Metal Gear, the TX-55 (another Terminator reference there) was never seen in action, as Snake defeated it before it could be activated.
The Metal Gear D appeared in MG2, armed with a missile pod and a Gatling gun.
The first nuclear equipped version of the Metal Gear, codenamed REX, was the model introduced in Metal Gear Solid. The Metal Gear REX has near-impenetrable compound armor, a pair of vulcan cannons, anti-tank missiles, and a free-electron laser, to protect itself from conventional forces. Its primary weapon, however, is a magnetic railgun capable of delivering an untraceable nuclear warhead anywhere in the world, without the propellant trail or launch flare that gives away the launch position of a traditional ballistic missile. Because of its sealed, one-man cockpit and thick armor, its sensors are concentrated in a radome on the left side of its body; this radome is very vulnerable to attack, and destroying it effectively blinds the REX, forcing the cockpit to open.
In Sons of Liberty, the Metal Gear RAY is introduced. RAY differs from previous Metal Gears in that it is not a nuclear launch platform, but instead a weapon of conventional warfare, originally designed to hunt down and destroy the many derivatives of Metal Gear REX that became common after the leak of the REX plans following the events of Shadow Moses. It is designed to be even more manoeuvrable and flexible in deployment than the REX, and can operate both on land and in the water. While RAY has a pair of machine guns and six missile tubes to defend itself from more conventional battlefield threats, its primary weapon is a powerful water jet cutter, which can cut through heavily-armored foes, such as Metal Gear REX derivatives.
The Metal Gear RAY is more organic than previous models, both in appearance and in function. It’s streamlined shape helps to deflect enemy fire and allows for greater maneuverability both on land and in water. Its interior workings are also somewhat organic, as it has artificial fibers that contract when electricity is applied, much like natural muscle, instead of typical hydraulics; this pseudo-muscle tissue makes it very maneuverable. It also has a nervous-system-like network of conductive nanotubes, which connect the widely dispersed sensor systems and relay commands from the cockpit to the various parts of RAY’s body, automatically bypassing damaged systems and rerouting to auxiliary systems when needed. Another feature is its blood-like armor-repair nanopaste, which is secreted from valves and coagulates wherever the exterior surface is damaged.
At this point, little is known about the version seen in the preview footage of Guns of the Patriots, other than the fact that they appear organic to an extent, and are supremely agile.
The above section (on the Metal Gear models) largely sourced and credited to Wikipedia users.
Next week, we take a longer look at the plot of the series. For those interested, GameTrailers is currently doing their own Metal Gear retrospective. While they are large files, they are worth watching if you’re a fan of the series: http://www.gametrailers.com/game/6748.html
Last Updated: May 21, 2008