Today marks a special anniversary: it is exactly 10 years ago that Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was released. The PlayStation 3 game launched worldwide on June 12th of 2008 to critical acclaim, and at the time was one of the biggest and most anticipated titles.
Most people will immediately remember the game’s intense and grand moments: Liquid-Ocelot’s theatrical capture of the system and subsequent massacre, Snake crawling through the microwave hallway, the final hand-to-hand battle between him and Liquid, Raiden’s spectacular and acrobatic fight scenes. But the game also has its quieter moments, moments of contemplation, of reflection, of tenderness and vulnerability. Seven of those will be highlighted in this article – one from each chapter, plus the prologue and epilogue. This way, we go through the game and focus on the quieter side of it, briefly reflecting on what makes it special and how it is portrayed visually and auditory.
“When the battlefield is under total control, war becomes routine.”
A dusty road littered with debris. Ravens picking away at corpses, lying next to their weapons. The buzzing of flies. A slow-paced, sorrowful song accompanies the death and destruction of the abandoned battlefield. The names of the various voice actors, written in white brush strokes come fading onto the screen. From the distance, a convoy of trucks approaches.
‘War has changed.’ Snake’s sombre words accompany the scene’s mood perfectly, and set the tone for what would be the most melancholic entry in the saga. ‘It’s no longer about nations, ideologies, or ethnicity. It’s an endless series of proxy battles fought by mercenaries and machines.’ Tucked away in the corner of one of the trucks, an old Snake silently sits alongside the rebel soldiers, each of them carrying their weapon in anticipation of the upcoming battle. Snake brings a crumpled cigarette to his mouth. ‘War – and its consumption of life – has become a well-oiled machine.’ As the trucks ride into a ravaged town, advanced warplanes fly overhead across the hazy sky. ‘War has changed. The age of deterrence has become the age of control…’ Snake knows that this is a new age, and he is just a fading shadow, a relic of a bygone era. This will be his final mission. ‘When the battlefield is under total control, war becomes routine’. As Snake jumps out of the truck, the sounds of war – gunfire, screams, explosions – swell, along with the music.
The tone is set.
“You can call me Drebin.”
With all guns tightly controlled by the Sons of the Patriots program, Snake is going to need some help during his mission. He meets up with a sketchy figure, a gun launderer who calls himself Drebin. At first, this Drebin appears to be nothing more than a sly businessman, an amoral arms dealer profiting from the war going on around him. But there’s something more to him. His laid back, carefree attitude seems to be obscuring the fact that he knows more than he lets on. From his flashy looks to his parlor tricks and his camouflaging vehicle, Drebin seems defined by secrecy and deception. But there are signs there is more to him – the large scar cutting through his bleached hair, the fact that he seems to be recognizing something of himself in Snake, and his inside knowledge of the system give him an air of mystery, hinting at something bigger, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. ‘I’m the same way,’ he tells Snake, with a light-hearted, almost amused tone in his voice. ’I grew up here too. I got no interest in the outside world.’ And then he’s off, but it won’t be the last time you meet him.
“War transforms us.”
Still in pursuit of Liquid, Snake is making his way across a rural area in South America, sneaking through a war zone between the PMC Pieuvre Armement and the rebels. Just when he’s taking a rest, he runs into Drebin again, who invites him back into his vehicle. Snake accepts, but not without suspicion. ‘You’ve been following me?’, he asks. ‘You seem like an interesting guy,’ Drebin explains. The two sit down. ‘A lot of legends out there about you in the intel community.’ Drebin tells him. Just then, they hear the sound of jet engines soaring over, and mechanical screams. ‘Figures.’ Drebin says. ‘The B&Bs are here.’ They look like war machines, but there are in fact human beings inside the beastlike suits, humans scarred by war. And this is where the similarity between these beasts and Snake himself become apparent. ’The only way they could cope with the reality of battle, is to become war machines themselves,’ Drebin says. ’The remnants of their human side are buried deep within. The beast, that’s what you see on the outside.’ He turns to Snake. ‘War transforms us, Snake.’ he concludes. ‘Into beasts.’ Snake stands up with a sigh, it’s clear that he knows what Drebin means all to well. ‘War transforms us.’ he repeats after Drebin, in agreement with these words. ’But deep within that shell, something human survives.’ Drebin continues. ‘A fragile, scarred heart.’ The camera focuses on Snake’s hand, hidden within the Octocamo Suit, a suit that not only provides him with protection and camouflage, but also serves to compensate for his receding strength. It’s as if Drebin is talking about him as well, at least for Snake it feels that way. Drebin gets up and turns to Snake. ‘And they’ve been convinced that by killing Snake, their minds will be cleansed. They think it’s going to free them from all the pain, and all the fury, and all the sorrow…’ It’s as if all the emotions of war are coming after Snake, embodied by monstrous machines. And Snake, worn and hardened from his own battles, will have no choice to face all of them sooner or later.
“Snake…. what you’re trying to do, it’s not a mission.”
Snake has infiltrated the eastern European city, which is under control by the PMC Raven Sword, wearing the face of his younger self. But although he may look like he’s in his prime, the reality remains that he is an old man, and Meryl, who is there to get him past the PMC checkpoints, knows this all to well. To her, seeing Snake hiding behind this illusion of his past self, is another sign of the former hero’s refusal to accept his reality. The fact that the soldier’s time is at an end, and the battlefield now belongs to a new generation, one fitted with nanomachines and equipped for this new time. The two sit down in the railway station’s cafeteria, en Meryl makes one last attempt to convince him to pass on the baton to her and her squad. She does this not out of contempt, but out of care and worry, for the last thing she wants is to see the man she looked up to die a pointless death. She briefly lowers her guard, and gently puts her hand on his arm. ’To me, you’re still a legend. A hero. I know all about the things you did when you were young. It’s what kept me going.’ she tells him in a moment of clear sincerity. But her pleas fall upon deaf ears. ‘I’m no hero. Never was, never will be,’ Snake grumbles. ‘I’m just an old killer, hired to do some wet work.’ Meryl looks defeated, and her disappointment turns to frustration. Her former companion is now her rival, an obstacle intent of getting in her way. ’I may have loved you once, but now you’re just too damn senile to see the truth.’ she says wryly. ‘Wake up, and face reality, Old Snake.’ As she walks away, she looks over her shoulder one more time, but Snake does not react. She halts at the door, but he still ignores her. Then she leaves. It cuts to Snake sitting alone at the table, surrounded by piles of equipment. The once young and agile hero is now old and at his end, but he doesn’t want to face this fact, and in the process, is completely oblivious to the worries he causes to those close to him. Snake gets up and walks outside.
“This is the room where we first met, huh.”
After nine years, Snake has returned to the facility on Shadow Moses island, which has been abandoned ever since and is now in a state of dilapidation. Having inserted the security code in Otacon’s old office, the computers and systems in the room boot up, as if the facility is coming back to life after a long slumber. The monitors power on, buzzing and beeping. The music builds, while the camera moves through the server room, showing the pieces of machinery as they switch on one by one. Otacon realizes that it is going to take a while to gain access to the system, so Snake decides to walk around the room a bit. Seeing the office again brings up some old memories in the two friends. ‘This is the room where we first met huh,’ Otacon recalls. ‘Yep,’ Snake replies, taking in the surroundings. His eye catches the locker Otacon hid inside during his encounter with Gray Fox. ‘I was being attacked by Frank Jaeger,’ Otacon says. Snake approaches the locker. ’Yeah, I remember.’ he replies, resting his hand on the metal surface. Otacon shudders to think what would have happened had Snake not shown up at the right time. ’Snake, you saved my life.’ he stresses. But Snake can’t see himself as the hero in this story. ‘Naomi hated them for what they did to Frank’s body.’ he says. ‘But it was me that crippled him in the first place. She must have hated me too.’ he sighs and walks away from the locker. Looking back on it all, Otacon can’t help but feel frustrated by his own naive actions in the past. ‘We shouldn’t have been so trusting,’ he says, with regret in his voice. ‘I blame myself too. I helped develop REX.’ After this, the conversation shifts to Naomi, and what her true intentions could be, and the two characters leave this brief moment of reflection behind to refocus on the present, on their current mission. But the memory of their past, and the consequences it had on the future, will remain with them. Like many of the characters in the game, they will have face their own responsibilities in search of redemption.
“I wonder if we did the right thing…”
Snake finally managed to beat Liquid, and exhausted, he is hunched down next to his rival’s body while Otacon comes to pick him up with the helicopter. With the world just freed from the grips of the Patriots’ system, there’s a tranquility to these moments. The sky is a deep orange color as it basks in the last light of the setting sun, the calm ocean carrying the defeated FROG soldiers from Outer Haven to the USS Missouri. There’s a sobering air to the scene. Separated from the system, the soldiers look dazed, lost, but also human again. One of them is comforting another. Otacon looks out the window of the helicopter, observing the whole thing from above. ‘The Patriots’ reign has crumbled away. And still, our civilization, a civilization that has thrived on war since the dawn of time, lives on.’ Soldiers drag the FROG units from the water into their lifeboats. ‘I wonder if we did the right thing.’ Otacon contemplates, as he turns his head to a worn-out Snake resting on the other seat. ‘Naomi… What did we lose? What did we save?’ He watches a seagull fly towards the open sea. The battle has been won, but Otacon realizes that this gives no guarantees for the future, as he knows the flaws of humanity all too well.
“This is good, isn’t it?”
And so, with the conclusion of the epilogue, after a cutscene running for over an hour, the story of Metal Gear Solid comes to an end. A story that spans more than a century, that involves some of the craziest characters ever conceived, that can be as silly and self-aware as it can be philosophical and moving. After the Patriots’ demise, after the reunion of Snake and his father and former arch-enemy, after the Cold War, the rise of the Information Age, and the Age of Control, after death and sacrifice, fulfilled dreams and shattered ambitions, after all of that, the game ends with the drop of a cigar. Snake and Big Boss, down at the Boss’ grave, share a moment of silence together as Big Boss smokes the final cigar he’ll ever enjoy. ‘This is good, isn’t it?’ Big Boss asks, as the final tones of the music (Father & Son) die off. Now, there’s just the rustling of the leaves in the wind, and the soft thud as the cigar hits the soil. The final shot shows Snake kneeled down at Big Boss’ side, seen from a distance, with the white Star-of-Bethlehem flowers gently waving in the wind on the foreground. The screen goes black. After all that has happened between Solid Snake and Big Boss, after making alliances, waging wars, choosing between life and death, it all ends with a brief moment of peace and quiet, before they go their separate ways for good: while Big Boss’s life is at en end, Snake will live on just a little while longer, to see this age off. ‘Not as a Snake, but as a man’. Because, as Big Boss realized in his final moments: ‘Perhaps the world would be better off without Snakes in it.’
A decade has passed since Metal Gear Solid 4 came out, but these moments – along with all the other scenes – are hard to forget. Even after 10 years, MGS4 has a strong appeal, a lure that makes you want to go back and relive this amazing ride that was the closing chapter of the saga. To this day it remains the only game in the series that is available on just one platform. Whether that will change some day remains to be seen, but for now it’s at least one reason to plug in your PlayStation 3 every once in a while. Here’s to you, MGS4!