Solid Snake: The Ultimate Video Game Action Hero
I wish Hideo Kojima and company had killed Solid Snake at the end of Metal Gear Solid 4, because it would have been the perfect end for a nearly-perfect character. Solid Snake is the super spy, a stealthy veteran hardened by combat, a master of weapons, and now, champion of GameDynamo's Video Game Character Showdown. With the coming of Metal Gear: Rising, an interquel showcasing Raiden as the hero, I’m getting flashbacks of MGS2. Not the brilliant prologue or the smooth gameplay, but the conflicted last two-thirds which saw Snake going from hero to ‘limited’ sidekick. At the end of MGS4, Snake deserved a dramatic death but instead got a pseudo-redemption; a way to end out his life in "peace". Can a character as guilt-torn as Solid Snake ever find peace? Would he want to?
I know Raiden really stepped it up in MGS4, delivering the poetic violence of his sword as the new cyborg ninja, slicing his way back into player’s graces. And just to make it clear, I think Rising will be a brilliant game, even if it shifts the tone from, “Tactical Espionage Action,” to, “Lightning Bolt Action.” But Solid Snake represents a hybrid of generations; old and new gamers alike appreciating his unique merging of game mechanics and philosophy. Metal Gear was and still is a thinking man’s action game with a riveting story and compelling characters. This article is a retrospective of Solid Snake, focusing on the original Metal Gear games on the NES and MGS on the PlayStation. Be warned, there’s a lot of spoilers!
Solid Snake was born in 1972 as David, along with his twin brother, Liquid Snake. They were part of a top-secret government project called, “Les Enfants Terribles,” an experiment intended to create the perfect soldier. Utilizing genes from ‘Big Boss’ (whose exploits in MGS3 were part of the reason he was considered the greatest warrior of the 20th century), Solid Snake had an extremely high IQ, was adept in learning new languages, and possessed many physical advantages - a result of his early genetic alterations. He joined the Green Berets at a young age and served during the Gulf War. Some of the basic requirements for entry into the US Special Forces are a combat operation score of 98 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a minimum of 240 points on the Army Physical Fitness Test, and completion of the United States Army Airborne School before Phase 2 of the Q-Course (Special Forces Assessment and Selection). Their official motto is, De oppresso liber (To Liberate the Oppressed) while their most important mission is, “Unconventional warfare.” Snake excelled even among the best and was promoted to the special forces unit, FOXHOUND. There, he received the second highest codename, “Snake” (the highest being, “Fox”). Special training came from Master Miller and Big Boss himself who taught Snake in the ways of CQC (close quarters combat).
I’ve always been curious what differentiated Solid from Liquid (and Solidus for that matter). Why did Solid choose the ‘good’ path as opposed to his brother's 'evil' track when they shared similar genes? In the end, Liquid’s motivations were much more complex; a plan to overcome the tyranny of the Patriots and free the world, so it’s hard to call him evil per se. But their paths diverged so drastically, so one can only speculate about why this was so. I’ll come back to this question again in my section about Metal Gear Solid.
In regards to appearances, the cover from the first title illustrated Snake as an almost identical copy of Michael Biehn in the Terminator. For Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, he resembled Mel Gibson. His namesake was Snake Plissken from the John Carpenter film, Escape from New York. Metal Gear Solid for the PS1 saw the final form of Solid Snake we’ve become accustomed to, designed by Yoji Shinakawa, which has since been retconned to the older titles. As Kojima described it, “I asked (Shinkawa) to make (Snake) nimble and muscular, with the body like a Van Damme… that kind of body movement… which gives you the impression of weightlessness in his movement.”
Metal Gear 1 and 2:
Solid Snake was first introduced to gamers in Metal Gear (1987 for the MSX) as a newly-minted member of FOXHOUND. Operation: Intrude N313 commenced with Big Boss in charge. Snake was tasked with saving Gray Fox and destroying Metal Gear. There was an interesting array of equipment at Snake’s disposal, including guided missiles, a rocket launcher, and a cardboard ‘box’ to hide under. It was an unlikely piece of equipment for a spy who had to save the world and destroy “Outer Heaven,” but it best symbolized the idea of encouraging players to avoid enemies and sneak around them. Coming at a time when games like Ikari Warriors and Contra (with their cannon-fodder enemies) were the standard for action games, Metal Gear differentiated itself from the crowd with its unexpected non-violence. It forced players to strategically utilize the terrain to surreptitiously infiltrate. As the manual in MGS reads: “Fighting alone does not make a game. Stealth is more important!”
Metal Gear was like Zelda with a Cold War setting. Action was combined with RPG elements (increasing health and stars with hostage rescues). Card keys opened access to new areas. Bosses had weak points players had to figure out. Arguably, Metal Gear could be the first title to successfully simulate ‘tactical espionage,’ or, put more simply, spying - part of the reason for its mass appeal and popularity. Snake eventually rescued Gray Fox and defeated Big Boss after discovering he was the mastermind behind Outer Heaven. Metal Gear (or the Super Computer for American audiences) was destroyed and Snake escaped victorious.
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He has been working in film and games for over a decade. On his off time, he likes to travel the world. His short story collection, Watering Heaven, was just published by Signal 8 Press.
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