Now for a break from your regularly scheduled podcasts to bring you this extra-special blog post: a relatively comprehensive explanation of Konami’s Metal Gear Solid series by way of an instant messaging conversation, because my good friend Eric had the shortsightedness to start the series with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Please enjoy… and if I got something wrong, or didn’t go into enough detail on some other thing, oops in advance!
Eric Neigher: So, since I don’t play any Metal Gear games
Eric Neigher: I have no idea what the fuck the story is in MGR
Eric Neigher: But I like the game
Eric Neigher: What the fuck is Shadow Moses
Ryan Scott: oh god
Ryan Scott: Eric I’ll be here all day explaining this
Eric Neigher: Hahah
Eric Neigher: Okay
Ryan Scott: let’s see
Ryan Scott: Shadow Moses is the name of a U.S. nuclear waste disposal facility off the shore of Alaska, in the Fox Archipelago
Eric Neigher: Ah
Ryan Scott: and if it sounds like I am quoting the intro to MGS1 verbatim, that’s because I’ve played it like 20 times
Eric Neigher: Okay… so… is that distinct from the Shadow Moses “incident”?
Ryan Scott: the Shadow Moses incident refers to the hostile takeover of Shadow Moses by rogue members of the elite FOXHOUND unit (led by Liquid Snake), who held the facility hostage along with DARPA chief Donald Anderson and ArmsTech president Kenneth Baker (ArmsTech being a huge arms dealer), with ransom demands that included the U.S. government turning over the remains of Big Boss, a legendary agent who co-founded what would later become FOXHOUND.
Ryan Scott: so, the government sent in best-of-the-best stealth assassin Solid Snake to deal with the crisis
Ryan Scott: Solid Snake and Liquid Snake are twin brothers, genetic clones born from Big Boss’ DNA
Eric Neigher: Ahhhh
Eric Neigher: Whoa
Eric Neigher: Damn dude, you really do know this shit
Ryan Scott: yes, yes I do
Eric Neigher: Okay, I am hopelessly nooby, I guess with these questions
Eric Neigher: But who are the Patriots?
Eric Neigher: I assume not the New England Patriots
Ryan Scott: the underlying conspiracy at Shadow Moses is that it’s actually the housing facility for the creation of Metal Gear REX, a bipedal tank outfitted with a nuclear rail gun
Eric Neigher: They refer to Raiden being augmented by “the Patriots” a lot
Ryan Scott: god I don’t even know where to start with the Patriots
Eric Neigher: Haha
Eric Neigher: Okay
Ryan Scott: hmmm
Eric Neigher: Are the Patriots related to Shadow Moses at all?
Ryan Scott: yes, they’re related to everything that occurs in the series
Eric Neigher: And what about Gray Fox?
Eric Neigher: Oic
Eric Neigher: So basically, I’m better off remaining in my current state of blissful ignorance
Ryan Scott: Gray Fox is another former FOXHOUND agent who defected to Big Boss’ PMC years before MGS1 occurred. he was operated on and basically turned into a ninja Wolverine, and Solid Snake presumably killed him. then he turned up in MGS1 and died for real.
Ryan Scott: Raiden’s whole ninja tech is derived from the process that made Gray Fox what he is
Ryan Scott: so, let me try to explain the Patriots
Ryan Scott: this is really convoluted
Ryan Scott: I can’t really do this without explaining the whole plot of the series really
Ryan Scott: starting with MGS2
Ryan Scott: now, fair warning, this is going to make no sense because it is not designed to
Ryan Scott: MGS2 literally makes no sense
Ryan Scott: because it was designed as a fuck you to fans, it’s a deconstruction of video game power fantasies
Eric Neigher: Haha okay
Ryan Scott: it’s masterful
Ryan Scott: I love it
Eric Neigher: I know it involves the President being an alien and shit
Ryan Scott: not an alien, but he might as well be
Ryan Scott: so I pretty much explained MGS1, it’s relatively straightforward
Ryan Scott: there is a very important character, one of Liquid Snake’s FOXHOUND unit, named Revolver Ocelot.
Eric Neigher: Yeah, I remember playing MGS1 a long time ago and sort of understanding that
Eric Neigher: I remember Ocelot
Ryan Scott: ok
Ryan Scott: so Ocelot is the most important villain in the series
Ryan Scott: MGS2’s prologue takes place some years later
Ryan Scott: Solid Snake and his hacker buddy Otacon have basically become Wikileaks, and have been doing everything they can to reveal proof of government-backed Metal Gear projects, and they’re largely seen as terrorists
Ryan Scott: (Metal Gear and its derivatives are huge nuclear threats)
Ryan Scott: so Snake (I will refer to Solid Snake as “Snake” from here on) boards this oil tanker on the Hudson River, with a mission to gather photographic evidence of Metal Gear RAY, which his intel says is aboard this tanker
Ryan Scott: he does so, but Ocelot shows up, steals it, and sinks the tanker with Snake in it. he is presumed dead.
Eric Neigher: Metal Gears are mechs, right?
Ryan Scott: it’s important to note that at this point, Liquid Snake’s severed hand has been grafted onto Ocelot, as his was severed by Gray Fox in MGS1.
Ryan Scott: and at one point during this prologue, Liquid’s spirit literally fucking possesses Ocelot and taunts Snake
Ryan Scott: and yes, Metal Gears are — generally speaking — bipedal, long-range nuclear tanks
Ryan Scott: they look like mechs and are piloted by people yes
Ryan Scott: so anyway, flash-forward another couple years later
Ryan Scott: a rookie agent codenamed Raiden is infiltrating the Big Shell cleanup facility, which was constructed to clean up the oil spillage that the tanker disaster caused
Ryan Scott: a terrorist group called Dead Cell has taken over the facility, and is holding the U.S. President and his staff hostage, and demanding billions in ransom.
Ryan Scott: does this sound familiar?
Ryan Scott: anyway, Raiden runs into a thinly disguised Snake, who is alive and has also stowed aboard
Ryan Scott: bear in mind that throughout this entire game, Raiden talks about all his VR training, and is constantly belittled by everyone
Eric Neigher: Yeah, I remember this
Eric Neigher: I remember that one of the girls you communicate with is hot
Eric Neigher: Meryl
Ryan Scott: essentially, the entire mission in the Big Shell is meant to reference, parody, and subtly corrupt/deconstruct what was going on in MGS1.
Ryan Scott: I should also mention that Raiden’s CO is Colonel Campbell, who was Snake’s CO from MGS1. in both games, contact is maintained via codec.
Ryan Scott: so, you fight all these bosses and do all this shit that is just a BIT too familiar, the whole game, while everyone spends the whole time calling Raiden a rookie for this and that
Ryan Scott: the former President of the U.S. is the leader of the terrorists this time, and he turns out to be a third Big Boss clone, codenamed Solidus Snake
Eric Neigher: Hahaha
Ryan Scott: so, at the end of all this shit, it’s revealed that your CO, Colonel Campbell — who Raiden has somehow never met — is an A.I. construct, and this entire scenario has been concocted as an elaborate simulation to test the constraints of societal control, to see if they can manufacture a super-soldier in the vein of Solid Snake.
Eric Neigher: Ahhh
Ryan Scott: this is the most sane explanation anyone will ever provide you of that game
Eric Neigher: So it’s all VR training
Ryan Scott: yes, sort of. it’s definitely correlated with VR training several times
Eric Neigher: So was the part where Snake is on the freighter the only “real” part of it?
Ryan Scott: it’s all real, and people actually die and shit
Eric Neigher: Oh…
Ryan Scott: there’s a lot of fan theories about whether Solid Snake himself is even real within the context of the Big Shell portion.
Ryan Scott: because your CO keeps saying he isn’t part of the mission
Ryan Scott: because he’s like RAIDEN, DON’T TRUST HIM
Ryan Scott: and there parts where he like, appears out of fucking nowhere, and literally points to his bandana and says he has infinite ammo
Eric Neigher: So all this shit in the current game I’m playing, about PMCs running the world, and the world being super peaceful and stuff
Eric Neigher: And soldiers being made slowly obsolete.
Eric Neigher: Does that fit in anywhere?
Ryan Scott: there’s also this bisexual vampire guy named Vamp, who runs up walls and comes back from the dead
Eric Neigher: Hahah
Ryan Scott: now, through a series of increasingly baffling codec conversations with your haywire CO, it’s revealed that all this shit is being manipulated by a shadow government called the Patriots
Eric Neigher: There’s weird shit in my game, too, like this AI wolf robot thing that is both in charge of everyone but also a sidekick.
Ryan Scott: who or what the Patriots are is a huge question mark in this game
Eric Neigher: Ahhhh
Ryan Scott: because in the post-credits scene at the end of MGS2, Otacon informs Snake that he’s tracked down a list of the Patriots’ names, and they have all been dead for 100 years
Ryan Scott: you really need to play MGS1 and MGS2, because the things I am describing do no justice to just how fucking mental MGS2 gets
Ryan Scott: ok so anyway
Ryan Scott: MGS3 is a prequel, it takes place in the ’60s. the main character is an agent codenamed Naked Snake, AKA the soldier who will one day become Big Boss
Ryan Scott: for reference, there are now four characters in the series with the codename “Snake” — and five if you count Raiden, because they call him that at the beginning of MGS2
Eric Neigher: What the fuck man
Ryan Scott: so, Naked Snake (henceforth “Snake”) gets sent out to the Soviet Union by his CO, Major Zero. his mission is to rescue this nuclear scientist who wants to defect.
Ryan Scott: so he rescues Sokolov, the scientist, and on his way out he gets ambushed by a group of elite soldiers called the COBRA Unit
Eric Neigher: How does any of this relate to the events of the original Metal Gear games for NES, or are those just ignored/non-canon?
Ryan Scott: who are being led by his mentor, a super-soldier that they call The Boss. she is painted as a consummate, fucking unkillable combat badass. and she and her unit have decided to defect to the Soviet Union.
Ryan Scott: those are very much in-canon
Ryan Scott: well
Ryan Scott: the MSX games are in-canon
Ryan Scott: MG1 on NES was a really shitty edited port, and MG2 on NES is non-canon
Ryan Scott: MG1 and MG2 for MSX are canon
Eric Neigher: Okay
Ryan Scott: SO THE BOSS
Ryan Scott: the faction she’s defecting to is led by this dude named Colonel Volgin, who shoots electricity, and is dead-set on overthrowing the current Soviet regime.
Ryan Scott: she delivers two American nuclear warheads to him as a gift to her new hosts
Eric Neigher: Why the fuck would you want to defect to the Soviet Union, but okay…
Eric Neigher: Do you just not like hamburgers and cars and shit?
Ryan Scott: as The Boss, Volgin, and everyone else make their getaway via helicopter, Volgin fires one of the nuclear warheads at the research facility that you rescued Sokolov from.
Ryan Scott: to answer your question, that last bit is very important. I’ll get to it.
Ryan Scott: oh, also in league with Volgin is a young Major Ocelot
Ryan Scott: so Snake gets evac’d, cuz he’s had his ass kicked six ways from Sunday by the Boss
Ryan Scott: couple weeks later, he’s reinserted with orders to assassinate the Boss and hopefully kill Volgin, because Soviet leadership is PISSED OFF at the U.S. for the nuclear strike, and are threatening all-out war unless the U.S. does something to prove they aren’t culpable
Ryan Scott: so, assassinating the Boss is effectively a show of good faith, and to prevent nuclear war.
Ryan Scott: there’s some complex politics at play in this game
Eric Neigher: This is actually kinda awesome
Ryan Scott: the story in MGS3 is REALLY good
Eric Neigher: I never heard it broken down this clearly
Eric Neigher: I always thought it was just a morass of Japanese tangled b.s.
Ryan Scott: so, Snake is aided by a woman code-named Eva, who is one of a pair of alleged NSA codebreakers that have been inserted into Volgin’s ranks as spies
Ryan Scott: she’s a total Bond girl
Ryan Scott: (Adam and Eva are the codebreakers’ names, for reference)
Ryan Scott: anyway so you eventually cut your way through the COBRA Unit
Ryan Scott: and kill Volgin, atop what is effectively a prototype Metal Gear
Ryan Scott: and have your showdown with the Boss, where you overpower and kill her, much to Snake’s bitter regret.
Ryan Scott: now, this part is complicated, so I’m going to try to explain it right
Ryan Scott: what was REALLY going on, in the beginning when the Boss defected, is that she had been sent undercover to infiltrate Volgin’s ranks on behalf of the U.S.
Ryan Scott: BUT, because Volgin detonated a U.S. nuclear weapon on Soviet soil, she essentially had to become a sacrificial lamb to avert catastrophe
Ryan Scott: she knew this the entire time, and played her role anyway, died for her country, and was branded a traitor
Ryan Scott: oh, and the part that I’m forgetting is that Volgin was the steward of a piece of a vast fortune called the Philosopher’s Legacy, which was amassed by a pre-Patriots shadow group called the Philosophers, and split between the U.S., the Soviet Union, and China. this is what the Boss was after when she first “defected.”
Ryan Scott: and it is the MacGuffin of this game.
Eric Neigher: Holy crap
Eric Neigher: That’s super Japanese, man
Ryan Scott: at the very end of it, when all is said and done, Eva (the Bond girl) turns out to be a fucking triple-agent working for China, and steals the Philosopher’s Legacy from Snake.
Ryan Scott: and Major Ocelot is revealed to be Eva’s partner Adam, who is also a double-agent that reports to the U.S. president.
Ryan Scott: now, I should talk about Snake’s support team in MGS3
Ryan Scott: there’s Major Zero, his CO. Para-Medic, his medical specialist and the person who saves his game. and there’s Sigint, who is his weapon and item specialist.
Ryan Scott: (Sigint is later revealed to be Donald Anderson, the DARPA chief that dies in MGS1)
Ryan Scott: now, sometime after the events of this shit, Major Zero, Para-Medic, Sigint, Ocelot, and Eva form a group called… the Patriots
Ryan Scott: and become this shadow government. they wanted the Philosophers’ Legacy to fund their activities
Ryan Scott: patriotism is a very strong recurring theme in MGS3
Ryan Scott: are you doing things for your country, or because you believe in them?
Ryan Scott: is my enemy today, going to be my friend tomorrow, or vice versa?
Ryan Scott: there’s a recurring message about our struggles, and our beliefs, changing with the times
Ryan Scott: so anyway at some point Major Zero goes mad with power, and has Para-Medic killed, and sets up Sigint to be one of the casualties during Shadow Moses
Eric Neigher: Yeah, a lot of that shit occurs in MGR, too.
Eric Neigher: There’s a big deal about the nature of PMCs
Eric Neigher: And do countries even have meaning anymore
Eric Neigher: Like: this stuff is just a job
Eric Neigher: These people are fighting, but they’re also just trying to feed their families.
Eric Neigher: Pretty neat
Ryan Scott: PMCs play a huge huge philosophical role in MGS4
Eric Neigher: One thing I like about the game is that it definitely pays no respect to governments whatsoever
Ryan Scott: yeah, that rolls right off the theme of MGS4
Eric Neigher: Like, one segment so far is you versus the Denver PD
Eric Neigher: It’s just cool that a game would even consider that as something to discuss.
Ryan Scott: so Ocelot and Eva go into hiding, Major Zero is in control of the Patriots, and then it all leads up to the events of MG1 and later
Ryan Scott: in the meantime, Naked Snake (now called Big Boss) decides he’s had it with all these backstabbing government assholes, and starts his own nation-agnostic PMC.
Ryan Scott: this leads to the events of MGS: Peace Walker and MGS5, but that’s less important to the Patriots and the convoluted matter at hand.
Ryan Scott: eventually he basically becomes the overlord of a military nation called Outer Heaven, and MG1-2 (for the MSX) are about taking him down.
Ryan Scott: this is important to understand: Solid Snake kills Big Boss at the end of MG1.
Ryan Scott: and by the way, every game is a meta-commentary on Hideo Kojima’s feelings about the series
Ryan Scott: MGS1 is a cool fun stealth action game with a strong anti-nuke message.
Ryan Scott: MGS2 is a deconstruction of video game power fantasies, and a deliberate manipulation to mock all the players who invested heavily in the cool action without thinking about the underlying message.
Ryan Scott: MGS3 is about a man who was torn between being true to his own ideals and the wishes of his benefactors (the U.S. government in Snake’s case, and the annoying fans in Kojima’s case)
Ryan Scott: MGS4 is about a bunch of old decrepit guys who just don’t give a shit anymore.
Ryan Scott: and MGS: Peace Walker is about a good idea that spiraled way, way out of control.
Ryan Scott: so in MGS4, it’s been a total of 10 years since MGS1 took place
Ryan Scott: Snake, being a biological clone of Big Boss, is suffering from the effects of advanced aging. he was created by the government as a human weapon, and they essentially built a kill-switch into him.
Ryan Scott: he looks like a 70-year-old man
Eric Neigher: Like Werner’s Syndrome
Ryan Scott: yes, Otacon actually name-checks that at one point
Ryan Scott: in the world of MGS4, PMCs have taken over fucking everything
Ryan Scott: it’s referred to as the “war economy”
Ryan Scott: proxy wars between PMCs being fought for basically no reason
Ryan Scott: wars just happen
Ryan Scott: to feed this giant self-perpetuating machine
Ryan Scott: the biggest PMC is Outer Heaven, which is run by Ocelot
Ryan Scott: who now calls himself Liquid Ocelot, as the Liquid Snake persona has consumed him entirely
Ryan Scott: in this world, guns are ID-tagged to their owners, so only they can use the guns
Ryan Scott: this all turns out, in turn, to be controlled by the Patriots
Ryan Scott: and Ocelot figures out how to hijack the system and basically make himself the lord of everything
Ryan Scott: Snake gets sent in to kill Ocelot
Ryan Scott: and he’s got to stay out of the way of the local warring PMCs, who he doesn’t really give a shit about because they’re just fighting over whatever for no reason
Ryan Scott: (aka MGS fans!)
Ryan Scott: there’s a long, drawn-out pursuit of Ocelot, shit-tons of dangling plot threads get explained away with “nanomachines did it,” it turns out that the Patriots are a self-perpetuating A.I. that have basically grown sentient, and Snake eventually has to fight has way aboard Ocelot’s mobile fortress to finally kill him, upload a virus, and destroy the entire system
Ryan Scott: oh, and Liquid Snake having taken over Ocelot turns out to be a double-reverse-gambit to fool the Patriots. he was trying to take them down the entire time.
Ryan Scott: in the post-credits scene, Big Boss shows up alive (owed to a series of events that even I barely understand), spends like 45 minutes describing the entire backstory of the series to Snake, wheels a near-vegetative Major Zero out and pulls his life support, then dies in Snake’s arms
Ryan Scott: and then Snake goes off to presumably live out his final months in peace, with Otacon looking after him, the end
Ryan Scott: the ending cut-scene is literally 72 minutes long because I timed it
Ryan Scott: oh and at some point between MGS2 and MGS4, Raiden became a cybernetic ninja
Ryan Scott: and now you’re playing him in MGR
Ryan Scott: video games