History Lesson: Metal Gear
Few titles are founded on such a playful bedrock of action aspirations as Metal Gear
Hideo Kojima - Snake's creator, and a highly affable chap according to workmates who've met him - cites Western pop culture as his biggest influence.
Philosophy and topical debate play a part too, but not so much as the great thinkers: Willis, Russell and Van Damme (Kojima credits Snake's physical movement to the 'Muscles from Brussels').
But before Solid Snake there was Penta. A penguin. Kojima's first job for Konami was on Antarctic Adventure, a penguin-based action RPG. Showing early signs of his eye for the odd, he followed it up with a failed pitch for a platforming game about a female lucha libre wrestler.
Compared to this, the objective in his next game seemed positively mundane: infiltrate the military stronghold of Outer Heaven.
With a face torn from Michael Biehn (of Terminator fame) and a refreshing sneaking habit, Snake burst onto the MSX in 1987. Well, quietly shuffled in. Named after Kurt Russell's iconic anti-hero Snake Plissken (the eyepatched lead in John Carpenter's cult movie Escape From New York), he was a more endearing, if equally steely, figure - disarming Outer Heaven only to be betrayed by the leader of his own special-ops unit, FOXHOUND.
So began Metal Gear's epic narrative, a tale seemingly (but not quite) concluded 21 years later in Metal Gear Solid 4. With its acronymic oddity and characters hopping in and out of the grave, following Kojima's insane plot is a game unto itself.
The 1988 NES port of Metal Gear was made without Kojima's involvement, and although it sold a million copies, he badmouths it to this day. "Complete garbage" is the Kojima verdict. Sure, with redesigned maps it's not as tight as the original, but "garbage" is a little mean.
Maybe he's sore that the Metal Gear itself - the bipedal nuke tank that Snake spends all his games destroying - was removed from the game. You fight a pathetic super computer instead. But we can thank it in some ways - its success spawned a Kojima-free NES sequel, forcing him to counter-attack with the 'proper' canonical sequel on MSX.
Metal Gear: Snake's Revenge was the offending NES follow-up. A horrendous mishmash of a game that even dirtied the traditional top-down play with side-scrolling platform sections. Most laughable was the villain of the piece, Higharolla Kockamamie.
Thank the lords for Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, Kojima's proper sequel which revived grand villain Big Boss and provided the world's last glimpse of Snake for eight years.
Brought out of retirement for a hostage situation on Shadow Moses Island (Snake's stage in Super Smash Bros Brawl), Snake's bizarre battles with the freakish FOXHOUND squad in 1998's Metal Gear Solid defined PlayStation gaming for many people. It made a pretty sizeable impression on GameCube owners when Silicon Knights revamped it as The Twin Snakes, too.
Metal Gear Solid 4 - Regain Energy Drink Promo (Jap)
Kojima names action flick The Rock as an inspiration for Metal Gear Solid. Indeed, Kojima's regular music collaborator, Harry Gregson-Williams, worked as a music supervisor on the Alcatraz-storming actioner.
Kojima explains the name Solid Snake thusly: "This time Metal Gear is displayed in full polygonal form, and I used 'Solid' to describe the cubic structure. And, of course, Solid from Solid Snake." Makes sense. Sort of. Incidentally, Van Damme may have inspired the body, but the face belonged to Christopher Walken.
Although the Metal Gear Solid series was clearly Snake's natural home, there were occasional spin-offs over the years too, including Metal Gear Solid on the Game Boy Color. Released as Ghost Babel in Japan, this spin-off saw Snake return to Outer Heaven, now renamed Gindra, to face off against another gang of madly monikered hoodlums. Pyro Bison and Marionette Owl are particular faves. In our eyes it remains Snake's finest 2D outing.
The world of Snake - where grand ponderings on ethics in the nuclear age sit alongside poop gags - is too enticing not to return to time and time again. Here's hoping the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain continues the epic yet quirky saga in typical Kojima fashion.
A Snake in the grass
With a timeline spanning 54 years and a twelve main games released over the past 25 years, it's safe to say the Metal Gear series has one of the most complex stories in gaming history.
With that in mind, here's our attempt at a potted history of the Metal Gear storyline, in chronological order. If you're a little confused about which Snake is which, this should help you out.
1964 - METAL GEAR SOLID 3: SNAKE EATER
In the first game in the Metal Gear timeline, FOX special forces newcomer 'Jack', codenamed Naked Snake, is sent into Russia to kill his mentor, The Boss.
1970 - METAL GEAR SOLID: PORTABLE OPS
After disbanding from FOX, Naked Snake does battle with his old unit and forms his own mercenary unit as he attempts to escape the San Hieronymo Peninsula.
1974 - METAL GEAR SOLID: PEACE WALKER
Now the head of mercenary corporation MSF, Naked Snake now goes by the codename Big Boss. After finding out that nuclear warheads are being transported to Latin America, he decides to put a stop to them.
1975-1984 - METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN
Set a few weeks after the events of Peace Walker, this upcoming title sees MSF's mother base attacked by a mysterious splinter organization called XOF. Big Boss falls into a coma for nine years then forms a new elite unit of soldiers, the 'Diamond Dogs'.
1995 - METAL GEAR
Fast forward another decade into the future and we're now at the second generation of Metal Gear. A young solider codenamed Solid Snake is a rookie member of the FOXHOUND special operations unit, sent by Big Boss to a South African fortress called Outer Heaven to discover a new weapon called Metal Gear. It turns out Big Boss is actually the leader of Outer Heaven, which he created to let soldiers fight free of any government interference. Solid Snake seemingly kills Big Boss.
1999 - METAL GEAR 2: SOLID SNAKE
Solid Snake goes on a mission to rescue the kidnapped Czechoslovak biologist Dr. Kio Marv from the forces of Zanzibarland. At the end it's revealed that Big Boss didn't die after all, so Solid Snake finishes him off once and for all with a makeshift flamethrower.
2005 - METAL GEAR SOLID
FOXHOUND forces Solid Snake out of retirement and sends him to Shadow Moses Island, the site of a nuclear weapons disposal facility. The island has been seized by a group led by a mercenary known as Liquid Snake, so Solid Snake has to regain control of it. It eventually emerges that Solid Snake and Liquid Snake were both the results of a government-sponsored effort to clone Big Boss.
2007-2009 - METAL GEAR SOLID 2: SONS OF LIBERTY
A third Big Boss clone, Solidus Snake, takes control of the 'Big Shell' offshore facility to develop a mobile undersea fortress called Arsenal Gear. FOXHOUND soldier Raiden joins forces with Solid Snake to try and put and end to him. It emerges the whole thing was a carefully co-ordinated re-enactment of the Shadow Moses incident, led by Revolver Ocelot (who works for a secretive cabal known as the Patriots), to try and make Raiden a solider as skilled as Snake. Getting confused yet?
2014 - METAL GEAR SOLID 4: GUNS OF THE PATRIOTS
An ageing Solid Snake (now also known as Old Snake) continues his quest to find and kill Revolver Ocelot (now called Liquid Ocelot after becoming possessed by the spirit of Liquid Snake). Meanwhile, the Patriots have been installing artificial intelligence systems around the world to try and control it. After defeating both the Patriots and Liquid Ocelot, Snake decides to live the rest of his life in peace.
2018 - METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE
After being injured while failing to defend the president of an African country, Raiden is given a cyborg suit to track down and get vengeance (or rather revengeance) on the private military group who caused his failure.
By Matthew Castle, Associate Editor, Official Nintendo Magazine for CVG UK