“War. War has changed.”
Like most current fans of the franchise, I first became invested in Metal Gear back in 1998 with MGS1. For its time, the game was astonishing. Never before had I been so enthralled by a story, my mind blown by the depth of its characters, the revolutionary gameplay and the brilliantly complex narrative.
Since then, subsequent entries in the series have added more layers to the epic saga, albeit to the point where things can get a little hard to follow. So the article you’re reading now has been written for existing fans and MGS newcomers alike, as a comprehensive history of the marvellous, Metal Gear universe.
To truly make sense of this titanic story, we need to begin with the birth of The Philosophers…
Founded in 1918, The Philosophers were a group whose members were amongst the wealthiest and most powerful individuals in the US, Russia and China. They intended to use their incredible pool of resources and influence to steer the world away from its violent roots; but after the last of their original members died in the 1930s, this vision took a drastic turn for the worst and cracks began to form in the group’s armour.
To safeguard themselves during the second world war, the organisation created ‘The Philosophers Legacy’ – a secret fund of 100 billion dollars along with information on every group member. It would eventually be stolen by a high-ranking officer in Stalin’s army, one Boris Volgin. He would divide the funds amongst separate bank accounts around the world, keeping records of the transactions on a singular microfilm, which would be the only means of access.
As a result of Volgin’s theft, the group splintered and its members returned to their original countries, igniting a secret war between the three global superpowers. For years the war continued, each country trying to sabotage the other while simultaneously searching for the hidden Legacy. The Legacy would eventually be passed on to Boris Volgin’s son, Yevgeny Volgin. With seemingly limitless funds at his disposal, Yevgeny established the military forces of Groznyi Grad, and would ultimately be responsible for the construction of The Shagohod.
At this point (sometime around 1962) as part of their on-going secret war, the CIA formed a team known as Force Operation X (or FOX as it’s more commonly known) for their classified operations. In charge of this team was a man that would ultimately become the ‘villain’ of the MGS masterpiece, Major Zero.
Prior to leading FOX, Zero earned his stripes serving in the SAS and Rayforce, participating in various missions across the world. It was during this time that he met and worked alongside The Boss – an inspirational woman who performed incredible feats during her life. She was the leader of The Cobra Unit, co-formed the 22nd SAS Regiment with Zero in 1952, developed CQC and trained the man soon to be known as Naked Snake.
In 1964 the US sent The Boss to Russia in secret, to steal back the Legacy from Volgin. She would do this by gaining his trust, and when the time was right, escape with the Legacy back to US soil. That same year during operation ‘Virtuous Mission’, FOX sent Naked Snake into the USSR to find and recover one Nikolai Sokolov, a rocket scientist tasked with working on Volgin’s Shagohod.
During the operation, Snake encountered The Boss and to his horror, found she had seemingly defected over to the enemy. To help prove her loyalty to Volgin, The Boss retrieved Sokolov from the hands of Snake, defeating him in combat and leaving him for dead. As far as The Boss was concerned, everything was going according to plan. Until the unpredictable happened…
Volgin decided to ‘test out’ a Davy Crockett nuclear warhead by firing upon his own countrymen, blowing up the OKB-754 research facility where Sokolov was working. Ultimately, this was The Boss’ death sentence, who now had no choice but to carry on the ruse, and eventually die in order to prove the US’ innocence in the attack.
It would all come to a head a fortnight later during ‘Operation Snake Eater’, when Snake was sent back to Russia with two objectives: eliminate Colonel Volgin and The Boss.
This mission introduced us to two of the series’ most important players. Firstly, EVA – a triple agent whose loyalty ultimately lay with the Chinese Philosophers. And Ocelot- The Boss’ son and a triple agent whose loyalty lay with the American Philosophers.
During Operation Snake Eater, Naked Snake succeeded in killing Volgin and retrieving the Legacy with a view to returning it to the US. The last thing he did before leaving however, was fight his mentor one last time, to the death. Stood opposite each other amongst a field of Star of Bethlehem flowers, The Boss imparted her final words of wisdom to Snake, with a view to shaping his ideals for the coming future – a future where the world was united in peace, without Nations and free from endless conflict.
Only one of them could survive and the two fought a gruelling battle until Snake was ultimately triumphant. With a heavy heart, he stood over his mentor, mother and friend, and fulfilled her wish to die by his hand, bringing an end to her tragic tale.
Upon returning to the States, Snake was awarded the title of Big Boss and the recovered Legacy found its way into the hands of the American Philosophers via Ocelot. It’s here that The Boss’ ideals are carried on by Big Boss and Major Zero, but unbeknown to each other, each man would interpret her words very differently…
After a time, Ocelot would acquire both halves of the Legacy and together with Big Boss and Zero, form ‘Cipher.’ Tired of the constant bickering between the Philosophers, the new group sought bring The Boss’ vision to fruition under the name ‘The Patriots’ with Big Boss as the face of the organisation. Ocelot, EVA, Sigint and Para-Medic (two of Snake’s support team from Operation Snake Eater) were also recruited to join the secret organisation, each in some way, sharing the same ideals.
As time went on it was clear that Zero and Big Boss held two completely different versions of The Boss’ dream. Zero envisioned a single power, influencing and deciding every major decision ever made. Whereas Big Boss envisioned a world with no nations or government, a place where soldiers would always have meaning and none would be political tools. Fearing his friend would depart the organisation, Zero cloned Big Boss in secret (The ‘Les Enfants Terrible’ project) so that if Boss did ever leave, Zero would be able to continue the vision in the way he saw fit. Unfortunately for Zero, this would be the very event to drive Big Boss away. Angry that Zero had betrayed him and misinterpreted The Boss’ vision so badly, Big Boss departed from Cipher.
As a lone soldier, Boss travelled the world as a mercenary for hire. Sometime around 1972 while working with the Colombian Army, he ambushed a guerrilla unit led by Kazuhira Miller. The unit was wiped out, but Kaz survived and would become Big Boss’ second in command. Together the pair established ‘Militaires Sans Frontieres’ (MSF) with a goal to providing military force for anyone who needed it, regardless of nations and ideologies.
MSF was later approached by Paz Ortega Andrade and Ramon Galvez Mena from Costa Rica, to stop an unknown military force possibly in possession of nuclear warheads. During this mission, Boss would uncover an elaborate plot to spark a war using AI controlled ‘Metal Gears’. He would stop this only to find that Paz had been a sleeper agent working for Cipher all along, and wished Big Boss to re-join the group. Naturally, Boss refused and was able to stop Paz; continuing his work expanding MSF and establishing himself as a Leader and true Legend.
For the purposes of this piece we’re going to skip over the events of Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain. My reasoning will become apparent at the end.
Paranoid and defensive, Zero tasked Sigint with the creation of The Patriots AI System. Knowing his time was limited; this AI would serve as his successor in ruling the United States through the control he envisioned. Four AIs were developed to make up the system: AL, TR, TJ and GW with a fifth, JD overseeing them. It would take years, but the AIs would burrow their way into society, and lay the groundwork required to one day delete information and replace it with their own controlled data. Unfortunately, the AI would eventually deviate from Zero’s desires and try to eliminate every trace of The Boss’ will.
Meanwhile, Big Boss was busy building an army big enough to fight Zero and his Patriots. He would return to lead the Foxhound group while secretly establishing Outer Heaven – a place to offer soldiers a life outside The Patriots control. This double life didn’t last long, as Cipher would soon discover the existence of a new bi-pedal nuclear weapon being built in Outer Heaven.
The US Government ordered the destruction of this new threat and would use Foxhound to do so. With Big Boss secretly in charge, he would buy himself more time to finish the TX-55 Metal Gear, by sending in Solid Snake to Outer Heaven. Big Boss expected Solid Snake to fail and was shocked when he began to reach his goal so quickly. Eventually Boss would have to reveal himself to Snake, and the two fought to the death. Or so it seemed…
In spite of his apparent demise, two years later Big Boss established the military nation known as Zanzibar Land, inserting himself as its president. Come 1999, Solid Snake would once again be sent to confront Big Boss, this time finishing him off for good, but not before discovering that Boss was actually his father.
Following the fight, Big Boss’ body would be recovered by The Patriots. Even though he was near to death, he survived only to be placed in a nanomachine-induced coma, preserved as an icon for the organisation. Their plan was to use Big Boss’ genome to identify the so-called ‘soldier genes’ to be used on Next-Generation Special forces through gene therapy. This plan infuriated Ocelot and EVA and as a result, they both conspired to recover Big Boss’ body from The Patriots.
At this time, the secret third son of Big Boss, George Sears (AKA Solidus Snake); was given Presidency of the United States by The Patriots, as a way for them to exert control over the nation. President Sears achieved a lot during his tenure and wished nothing more than to go down in the history books as a truly great man. However Solidus over time began to loath The Patriots and sought a way to bring them down. In secret, he ordered Ocelot to persuade Foxhound’s new leader, Liquid Snake, to hijack Metal Gear REX and form a terrorist uprising. His intention was to steal the REX data and the experimental nuclear warhead it was armed with as leverage against The Patriots.
Liquid would go on to use Metal Gear REX to threaten a nuclear strike unless the U.S. Government handed over the remains of Big Boss and $1 billion dollars. The Patriots’ counter measure was to send in Solid Snake to thwart the terrorist threat. He was required to infiltrate Shadow Moses Island, rescue DARPA Chief Donald Anderson (Sigint), ArmsTech President Kenneth Baker, confirm the nuclear threat and stop the terrorists at all costs.
With Shadow Moses being a black-site containing the latest Metal Gear and a large force of Genome Soldiers, the Patriots couldn’t afford to take any chances. Snake was injected with FOXDIE, a nanomachine virus programmed to target specific genetic codes of individuals. Snake would unknowingly kill the very people he was sent to rescue, taking care of all the Patriots problems at once. Unknown to The Patriots however, the virus had been altered to kill Snake himself. This alteration was made by Dr Naomi Hunter, who bore a grudge against the legendary hero for crippling her adoptive brother, Frank Yeager several years before. Snake proceeded to stop Liquid and destroy REX, before resolving to establish Philanthropy (an Anti Metal Gear Group) with Hal Emmerich (Otacon) whom he rescued from Shadow Moses Island.
President Sears was ultimately removed from presidency by the Patriots following his deviation from their plans and dropped off the map, allying himself with a private army of Russian Mercenaries as well as Dead Cell – a fringe group he established during his presidency. In 2009 Solidus ordered an armed takeover of the Big Shell, an offshore clean-up facility where the new ‘Arsenal Gear’ was being developed.
Unknown to Solidus, this too was all part of the Patriots’ grand plan.
The S3 (Selection for Societal Sanity) plan, was created by the Patriots in order to manipulate world events and the decision of individuals. The idea was to replicate the ‘Shadow Moses incident’ four years prior as a basis for the ultimate testing ground. If the test were a success, then the Patriots would have proved they were capable of controlling world events by manipulating the information surrounding any incident.
During the events at Big Shell they used their ‘hero’ Raiden, to infiltrate the facility, stop Solidus and rescue the prisoners he had taken hostage (including current U.S. President James Johnson.) As Raiden proceeded through his mission, he encountered Solid Snake, a factor that was not part of the Patriots simulation. Snake informed Raiden that the Shell was just cover for an enormous Metal Gear containing an AI designed to control information. It then became their mission to corrupt that AI using a virus designed by Otacon’s sister, Emma Emmerich.
The worm cluster she created was originally ordered by the Patriots as a safeguard just in case the main AI ‘GW’ fell into the wrong hands. But as Raiden guided Emma through the Big Shell, she was fatally wounded by Vamp of Dead Cell, requiring Snake to carry her to where she would install the virus. Otacon and Emma would share one final moment before she fell victim to her wound. Emotionally battered but still determined, the heroes discovered that the virus had not completely uploaded and their only option was to infiltrate Arsenal Gear.
During the final stages of the incident, Ocelot (seemingly possessed by the spirit of Liquid Snake), stole one of the smaller Metal Gear Ray units, leaving Solidus to deal with Raiden. The two duelled, and Solidus was defeated.
Even though considerable damage was caused to the GW portion of the Patriots AI, it succeeded in obtaining the data it needed. Because of this success, it began preparations to control people on the civilian level. This system would come to be known as Sons of the Patriots. By 2014, all state armies and PMCs were known to have SOP implanted in them. Even law enforcement agencies were beginning to adopt it – their soldiers constantly monitored and their performance enhanced by nanomachines within their bodies.
Ocelot (now going by Liquid Ocelot) resurfaced to plan his final insurrection against the Patriots. Now the CEO of Outer Heaven, he controlled five of the largest PMCs in the world, along with the Haven Troopers, an elite, all-female mercenary group.
Ocelot obtained Solidus’ body (genetically identical to that of Big Boss’) and used its biometric data to fool the Patriots AI, gaining access to their network, taking over the SOP system and disabling every weapon in the world. With the Patriots now on the back foot, there was only one thing left to do; destroy the orbital core AI and replace it with GW, in turn taking total control of the Patriots.
Solid Snake, with the help of Naomi Hunter and Sunny (adopted daughter of Otacon), used the FOXALIVE virus to destroy the Patriot system, disabling the AIs and nanomachines controlling everything. With the system taken care of, Snake ascended to the top of Arsenal Gear to face Ocelot one last time. Ocelot revealed all along that it was his plan to use FOXALIVE to stop the Patriots and finally make Big Boss’ dream of Outer Heaven come to pass. Little did he know however that Sunny had modified the FOXALIVE virus so that the world wouldn’t be plunged into utter chaos. Instead, the energy and resource networks essential to modern society would be preserved, allowing the US to truly live free for the first time in many years.
With his mission over, Snake felt he had nothing left to live for and decided it was time to end his life on his own terms. He travelled to the grave of his father, Big Boss, only to find the very legend himself stood there waiting for him. When the Patriots’ system was deactivated so were the nanomachines that kept Big Boss in a coma all those years, and he’d returned to finish his final mission. Not only that, but with the system offline, Zero’s location was finally revealed.
Big Boss had brought along the wheelchair-bound Zero to the graveyard and explained everything to Snake, stating that the Patriots wouldn’t truly be destroyed until Zero himself was dead. With that, Big Boss sent Zero back to nothing, disconnecting his air supply and ending a mission spanning decades.
So, earlier I mentioned that I skipped over Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain. Here’s why.
Before these two titles came along, the Metal Gear saga was an intelligent, intense and comprehensive story, which had already given us so much; there wasn’t much left to give.
The series didn’t need anything more and was able to stand on its own as one the best narratives in all of gaming. That’s not to devalue GZ and TTP as they do have their purpose – they’re a farewell, and an attempt to make the best possible action game in the series before signing off. Under different circumstances, they could have been two of the best games in existence, but unfortunately their time was cut short and they left some fans wanting. I won’t spoil anything here as some are yet to play the games (and I encourage you to do so), but after 25 years The Phantom Pain answers an important question about this story that had previously left us all stumped.
Despite the fact that I have written a lot, this is still an abridged version of the epic Metal Gear Solid narrative. There are life lessons to be learned in all of these games, things to be taken away and used to inspire, and moments that’ll make you laugh, cry and really feel something powerful. My words cannot do it justice. It’s bonkers, crazy, and so farfetched it will oftentimes leave you perplexed. You cannot however, deny the sheer depth of MGS’ beautifully structured story.
The man responsible for it all is Hideo Kojima, an individual that I (and many others) consider to be the greatest writer in the entire gaming industry. It’s sad to say that with The Phantom Pain being the last MGS he’ll work on, no more will be added to the legend of the Snakes. But for what we do have, I will be eternally grateful.
Thank you, Kojima. Thank you for the memories.