Those About to Die: The Bosses of the Metal Gear Series

[It’s time for another Monthly Musing — the monthly community blog theme that provides readers with a chance to get their articles and discussions printed on the frontpage. — CTZ]  
The Metal Gear Solid series has always been a favorite of mine. Metal Gear Solid was the first game I ever pre-ordered thanks to GamePro’s coverage hyping my 12-year-old brain into a frenzy. I was ravenous for the game, completely obsessed with the apparent ability to jump into the shoes of a super soldier like none other. A lone wolf (well, snake) infiltrating a heavily guarded fortress in Alaska, armed with only his wits and a sneaking suit. The emphasis on NOT killing is what attracted me; to try to sneak through the game. What a new experience.

I had played Tenchu: Stealth Assassins when my friend got it the month before, but still, this was modern day espionage so it wasn’t the same. When the game came out, my mother drove me to the EB in the mall and I snagged the game, almost literally throwing it into my PlayStation when I got home. At the insistence of GamePro, I had borrowed a friends Dual Shock controller, which had just been released. I had also turned off all the lights and blacked out my room. I turned up the sound and immersed myself in the beautiful opening theme of MGS.

Then I was off. Sneaking past the elevator, the helipad and finding the SOCOM. Calling my superiors and the people assisting me (including Natasha, every time I picked up ANYTHING that resembled a weapon). I played through the amazing heart attack sequence, immersed in the cinema (Rumble ftw), and then came to my first Boss. Revolver Ocelot was taken care of, but it wasn’t until years later at which I would sympathize with him, so he’s coming later. The Tank Battle and the strange hand-to-hand encounter with Grey Fox soon followed. However none of these shocked me as much as Psycho Mantis.

Mantis was the first boss battle that really ever shocked me. It was the first truly “next-gen” experience. Until then with most games, it had been mostly platforming and well timed jumps, or unload all your bullets and strafe.

Not Mantis. The man was diabolical. A truly awe inspiring encounter. He was merciless too. He would get Meryl to kill herself, and could read my previous save files. Hell, the guy made fun of me for saving so often. And then the fight. The only other boss battles that have ever really come close to matching the experience of this battle have come from the other Metal Gear games. But this stands out. You always remember your first great boss battle, right? After failing twice, I got a call from the Colonel. Unplug the controller and put it into slot 2.

Such a simple, but completely unexpected solution. I rapidly swapped out the controller as Psycho set my TV to the HIDEO channel. And thus, I defeated my enemy. But then I got something unexpected. A soliloquy. I should have hated this guy after what he did, holding a gun to Meryl’s head, forcing me to knock her out. I shouldn’t have cared. But I did. It was just a game, but I felt for this character, who had just tried to kill me, because his past was so messed up. I found out what turned him into this masked bondage nut. He was a sadist to be sure, joining FOXHOUND for the joy of killing, a reflection of his disgust brought on by his interactions with other people, and their disgust with him. But as he dies, he reflects on how it felt to help someone, as he helps Snake move on to the next area. I still to this day am amazed at how a bastard like Psycho Mantis can still be one of my favorite videogame characters, and whats more, at how much I understand his motives and feel for the guy.

But Hideo wasn’t done. I was saddened by the death of Sniper Wolf, despite the cheese of the “can love bloom on the battlefield” line. I was awestruck once again at the epic end of Vulcan Raven (devoured by Ravens, wow). Even Liquid was made into a tragic villain in his desire to prove himself as more then just (what he thought) the waste material from Big Boss. But enough about MGS, we have 3 more games!

While MGS 2 is definitely the weakest of the Metal Gear Solid games, I still love it. MGS 2 had its fair share of boss battles, but the character that really stood out for me was one that a lot of people don’t like, don’t care about or have just plane forgotten. Not Fat Man, but the female member of Dead Cell, Fortune.

The first time we glimpse Fortune is when she is obliterating a team of Navy Seals. Her power, while later revealed as a gimmick, is still pretty cool and makes for an okay boss “fight” in which you need to dodge her huge rail gun while waiting for an elevator. What made her so interesting though, was the raw emotion she displays. As a loyal soldier to the US, why does she go crazy and rebel? To kill Solid Snake due to a total misunderstanding. She got played, like so many other characters in the MGS universe, by Ocelot. But what hit me the hardest was in that huge ending, before the final boss, she is shown to not have supernatural abilities. Ocelot proves this by shooting her at near point blank range. But she doesn’t go down. No, instead she deflects a number of Metal Gear Ray’s Missiles with her mind. That did it for me. After being so thoroughly betrayed, once again, a former enemy dies while protecting me. An awesome way to redeem herself after shooting at me with a rail gun.

Metal Gear Solid 2 ended with a few awesome experiences, but no truly memorable boss fight, aside from the extremely surreal fight with a fat, bald guy on roller blades. It’s greatness came in it’s convoluted-but-fun story and it’s ingenuity (like when the game tricked me into going to sleep). But Metal Gear Solid 3 redeemed this, offering me two stunning boss fights, one tough one, an epic motorcycle chase and my favorite character design ever. However, MGS 3 also lost points. I loved hearing the bosses stories, and in this game, I got the cliff notes version for everyone. Even the Boss was not nearly as well developed as I would have hoped, though much was hinted at.

The cobra unit was an awesome collection of bosses, and were at the core of one of the greatest twists in my gaming experience. At this point in the series, we had seen two special forces units go completely rogue, so this was nothing new. But the Cobra Unit was different. They were all insane. The Pain is the only one that was never really a threat. Once the Pain is killed, we got the toughest boss fight in the game (save the last one), The Fear. The Fear was similar to Vamp, only more of a pain in the ass. He was the challenging one I mentioned earlier. But still The Fear was nothing compared to the epic fight that followed soon after. Snake soon enters the arena of my second favorite boss of all time. The father of modern sniping, The End.

The End is one of the most interesting boss fights I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. It was as much a puzzle as anything else. Though it got easy once you tranquilized his parrot (or killed it, if that’s your thing) and started using the infra red goggles. Still, to get his camo, and if you were trying to get his Mosin Nagant, to sneak up on him was still a hell of an experience. But what made it so interesting for me is that while I beat him my first time through, the entire battle took me close to 45 minutes. The realization that I had solved this great puzzle was quite a nice reward as a gamer. When I thought back to how I had played through it, I got a sense of satisfaction as I had tried to treat it like a real sniper battle, using camouflage and the directional mic to find my target and hit him before he could hit me.

The End was a great fight, and clever too. It was in a huge area, and required you to actually think, which is one of the reasons the Metal Gear Series is so enjoyable: they’re intuitive, while still requiring creativity in the way you choose to take on the bosses. You don’t just take cover and pump them full of lead. You solve their puzzles and use your own wits and stealthy abilities to take them on.

As a quick aside, The Fury, the next full boss battle you experience has one of my favorite character designs ever, and is at the heart of what bothers me about MGS 3. Hideo removed the bosses back story due to backlash from 2, but here, I wanted the stories of each and every one of the five Cobra members. All we know is that The Fury was a cosmonaut and has a jet pack.

But what makes MGS 3 into one of the most stunning games released last generation is the final boss battle. The field of flowers and the battle between mentor and student. It was beautiful and it was hard. The boss, especially at higher difficulties, loved to kick your ass. But I did it, I finally brought her down (tranquilizing her, no kills FTW).

Then, Kojima thawed my heart. He forced me to pull the Trigger. I stood over her broken body for what felt like an eternity before finally pulling the trigger. The boss, Big Boss’ mentor was dead, and it was my fault. Then, Kojima rubs salt into the wounds. The Boss was a true patriot. Her job, and the job of the entire Cobra Unit was to sacrifice themselves as patriots so America could be blameless. The Boss was killed as a traitor for politics. She was never really a bad guy, she was just doing what her country required. Heart breaking. I wont lie, I teared up. I had pulled the trigger on a fictional character, a fictional patriot, but I felt like I had done a great disservice in doing so. Kojima really knows what the hell he is doing.

Then, finally, it’s time for MGS 4 and we get the Beast and Beauty corps. What a way to end. A homage to the previous great bosses of the MGS series. We get a homage to Mantis, Wolf/Fortune/The End, Vulcan Raven/The Hind D battle, and even Decoy Octopus. Yet this time around, they all felt fresh again. The beauties were all excellent fights, but it’s what happens after each battle that gets me. Drebin calls me, and gives me exactly what I crave. He tells me the sad, sad stories of why each one of these beautiful women turns into a psychopathic and perfectly loyal soldier. While we never have the interactions with the characters like we do with the other bosses of the MGS series, we nonetheless get an insight into why these dangerous women are also so vulnerable. And we can only hope that we helped put their demons to rest.

But while the Beauty and Beast Corps are all rather amazing battles, it is the final fight with Liquid Ocelot that was the most memorable. The two old men fighting atop Outer Haven, just beating the tar out of each other. As the battle progresses we get the three generations of Ocelot, starting with his Liquid incarnation and ending with a battle brewing for over 40 years of in game time, between Ocelot and Snake. This battle capped off a 10 year (in real life time) battle between Snake, the Patriots, Ocelot and all the major players in the MGS world. We, as gamers got to experience the tragedies of Snake and his adventures, and we actually got to gain insight into what makes these villains villains.

MGS 4 is still the only game to ever make me truely tear up and cry. When Snake put a gun to his mouth, I was truely sad. I had played through his adventures for 10 years, and had stuck with him. I had played Portable Ops and Ac!d, and even the Game Boy Color game, but nothing really prepared me to see my favorite hero put his gun in his mouth at the end of the game and prepare to end it all, especially after those E3 trailers. Thankfully, Big Boss is awesome.

That is why, for those MGS Bosses throughout all 10 years of the series, I salute you.