By Etienne VlokÂ
If bi-pedal, autonomous nuclear launch platforms are your thing, you’ve probably played a Metal Gear game sometime in the past decade. With the imminent release of the final instalment of a series spanning 21 years, 15 games (including spin-offs) and 5 platforms (7, if you count the PC and Xbox ports), we plan to take a look back at the daddy of sneak-â€˜em-ups over the next few weeks from many different perspectives. Among other topics, we’ll delve into how the gameplay evolved, the main characters and their inspirations, and the (admittedly convoluted) plot.
Since the days of Metal Gear (released for the MSX2 home computer in 1987,) the series has always been set in a parallel version of 20th century history, the main point of divergence being around World War 2 with the creation of the Cobra unit. With the exception of MGS3 and MGS: Portable Ops, most of the action has been taken place from 1995 up to 2015 (the events of the upcoming Guns of the Patriots.) What very few people know, however, is that South Africa actually played a significant part of the plot in the very first Metal Gear game. The official plot description of the first game:
200km north of Galzburg, South Africa, lay the fortress of Outer Heaven, a fortified state that had been founded by a legendary mercenary in the late 1980s. In 1995, the western world had received intelligence that warned of a weapon of mass destruction that was supposedly being constructed deep within the fortress of Outer Heaven. The government called in the high-tech Special Forces unit FOXHOUND, commanded by the legendary soldier Big Boss, to infiltrate the fortress, and ordered them to send in an agent to assess the situation and neutralize whatever threat the weapon posed to the western world. In a mission known as “Operation: Intrude N312,” FOXHOUND operative Gray Fox infiltrated the Outer Heaven stronghold. However, days later, contact with Gray Fox was lost, his final transmission consisted only of two words: “METAL GEAR…”
Outer Heaven, the world’s first fortress nation of mercenaries, happened to be somewhere within our fair borders. Given the state of the world and the prevailing opinion towards South Africa in the late 1980’s, I find it interesting to see that we were perceived as being pariahs to the extent that a game could place a rogue nation of mercenaries here.
On a related note, I’ve always thought that the idea of a nation of mercenaries is an inherently doomed one. I mean, if your primary export is war, the question remains on how you would conduct and manage the society that exports it? Who does the sanitation, or provides telecommunications or electricity? If you assume that the â€˜regular’ populace would do this, allowing the mercenaries to go to war in some sort of quasi-Spartan arrangement, you basically had a regular nation with a very aggressive foreign policy. Still, in a reality where you can give an elite military operative the codename Big Boss with a straight face, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief up to a point. (We’ll pass that point several times later on, but for now, enjoy the ride.)
Before we delve into the truly labyrinthine plot of the series (next week), let’s examine the three characters critical to understanding the Metal Gear universe.
Jack/Naked Snake/Big Boss
Chronologically, the first game of the series is MGS3: Snake Eater, which features Jack (at this point code named Naked Snake) as the protagonist.
MGS3 largely tells the story of what made Naked Snake into the â€˜legendary soldier’ he is referred to constantly in later entries in the series, and what sets him on the path to become the Big Boss, whose main concern is the welfare of people who make war for a living.
At the start of MGS3, he’s a skilled, if naÃ¯ve, soldier sent to extract a Russian weapons specialist developing a nuclear-equipped tank called the Shagohod (the precursor to the Metal Gear design) from beyond the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War. Naturally, the whole thing goes pear-shaped, and his trek through the jungles of the Soviet Union disillusions him about the true nature of war, and how people like himself are used merely as pawns to jockey for power. Notably, his utter disgust with the military and political authority in the US is born when he realizes that The Boss faked her defection to the USSR on orders, and his final task – to kill her for the sake of political expediency – means that soldiers will always be used as cannon fodder for the powerful. However, this â€˜heroic’ action is what earns him the title of Big Boss.
In MGS: Portable Ops, Naked Snake again has to defend the Western world from nuclear assault, but learns that the leader of the enemy forces was planning found a nation he called â€˜Army’s Heaven’ upon nuking America and eliminating the real sources of power behind the scene, The Patriots. An Illuminati-like group that was responsible for much of the events of Snake Eater as well, the Patriots can ultimately be seen as the real villains in the series.
At any rate, after the events of MGS: PO, Big Boss amassed his funds and founded Outer Heaven in South Africa, although he kept his involvement with the nation secret. Big Boss was ultimately killed by Solid Snake at the end of Metal Gear 2, being immolated in the final confrontation of the game. At this point, it was not known to Solid Snake that Big Boss was his father.
Interestingly, the inspiration for the older Big Boss (his first incarnation in the series) was Sean Connery.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a brief look at the two other main characters in the game, Solid Snake and the Metal Gear itself.
Last Updated: May 20, 2008