The Metal Gear Solid series is one of the most distinctive in the history of gaming. Alongside a cast of engaging if somewhat bizarre characters and a game world that so perfectly blends real life with science fiction, there are a number of smaller elements that combine to produce something wholly unique. The lengthy cut-scenes, cardboard boxes and heart-wrenching lamentations of Colonel Campbell whenever Snake is killed in action, for instance, will be fondly remembered by veteran players.
But for me – someone who’s been following Snake on his adventures ever since the original Metal Gear Solid released on PlayStation in 1998 – one of the franchise’s most interesting and at times innovative features are the boss battles.
With dozens of encounters to choose from, identifying the 5 that best demonstrate the brilliance of the series wasn’t an easy task. Nevertheless, the quintet recorded here will, I believe, satisfy Metal Gear Solid fans of all tastes.
5. The Boss – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Set amidst a meadow of snow-white blossoms and absent of the rousing score that usually accompanies a Metal Gear Solid boss battle, the final confrontation of Snake Eater (my favourite game in the series, in case you were wondering) is one of the most profound not just in MGS3, but the entire series and, perhaps, gaming in general.
Notwithstanding her mentor/pupil relationship with Snake, the drama of their encounter is only heightened by the discovery that the aptly named ‘Boss’ isn’t the traitor she seems to be at the beginning of the game, rather, her defection to the Soviet Union (the enemy, obviously; the game is set in the 60’s after all) was actually part of a convoluted plan formulated by the US to allow them to reclaim ‘The Philosophers Legacy’; a sum of $100 billion collated by the eponymous ‘Philosophers’ to fund their illicit endeavours. Unfortunately, Colonel Volgin – Snake Eater’s real antagonist – launches a nuclear attack during the game’s first mission, blaming the incident on the US. As a result, The Boss is compelled to sacrifice herself to Snake; America feeling this is the only way to prove their innocence – it’s a complicated story.
The fight itself, meanwhile, is similar to those preceding it, in that players have the freedom to adopt a lethal or non-lethal approach to the battle and are compelled to rely on the game’s camouflage mechanic to overcome the highly-skilled ‘Boss’. So far, so normal. However, once Snake’s erstwhile friend is defeated and the standard post-skirmish discussion is completed, the action is suspended until the player and thus Snake chooses to finish the job with a final, echoing shot from The Bosses signature weapon, ‘The Patriot’. After this tragic denouement, creator Kojima ramps up the emotion yet further as the field of pristine white flowers suddenly erupts into a sea of crimson red, symbolising the violent end to their relationship.
4. Fatman – Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Changing tack altogether from the theatrical nature of the former, the Fatman boss fight from Metal Gear Solid 2 is a textbook example of the series’ wonderfully singular style. Before the actual battle begins, the suitably corpulent Fatman immediately sets himself apart from other boss battles with his large green bomb disposal jacket and the glass of red wine he readily downs during the usual pre-fight badinage. Oh, and he’s wearing roller skates: yes, it’s as preposterous as it sounds.
With the preamble’s out of the way, Raiden – the controversial replacement for Solid Snake – must start by disarming the handful of bombs secreted throughout the battlefield by the portly demolition expert whilst simultaneously dodging Fatman as he zips around the field taking pot shots at protagonist the player with his trusty SMG, guffawing manically all the while. Having disposed of the C4, the contest becomes pretty straight forward, the player simply alternating between taking cover behind one of the numerous storage containers dotted around the elevated platform and returning fire whenever the opportunity presents itself. And given the size of Raiden’s enemy, these openings are pretty frequent.
It’s certainly one of Sons of Liberty’s easier fights and therefore probably won’t give the average player much of a headache, but the character of Fatman – erring just on the right side of amusing rather than stupid – is undoubtedly memorable and provides some welcome light-hearted relief from the story’s more severe concepts.
3. Ray – Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Nostalgia and wish fulfilment unite to make this otherwise mediocre boss fight into one of the most enjoyable in the whole series. Set amidst the ruins of Shadow Moses – the location of Snake’s very first mission back in 1998 – the fight against Metal Gear Ray differs from past confrontations between man and machine. Instead of pitting his experience and skill against this imposing bi-pedal tank, the prematurely aged Snake (the cause of his expedited maturity having been explained earlier in the narrative) fights fire with fire as he himself pilots the iconic Metal Gear Rex from the original Metal Gear Solid.
Armed with the full suite of weaponry that anyone who finished the 1998 classic will well remember, the clash of these titans showcases the spectacle that is such a huge part of the series, thanks in no small part to the booming score that accompanies the fight and the gradual destruction of the battleground itself as the two colossal mechs launch barrage after barrage of high-powered ordinance at one another.
Again, it’s not a particularly challenging clash; a few well-placed salvos from the Rex’s missile launcher should be enough to bring down Ray within the space of 10 minutes. But it’s this relative simplicity that makes it such a pleasurable encounter, giving players the time to relish the experience of controlling Rex whilst drinking in the delightfully familiar surroundings many will remember from their childhood; rendered faithfully by the PS3 in clear and crisp high definition.
2. The End – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
I’m not ashamed to admit it, I must have spent a good hour slowly wearing The End down the first time I fought him back in 2004. For me, the indescribably tense game of cat and mouse between Naked Snake and this nonagenarian, technically deceased sniper was an incredibly protracted affair as I flitted between whatever cover the jungle afforded, my teenage self dreading the report of his sniper rifle any time I had to switch position or scour the underbrush for signs of my adversary; a sense of tension that was only increased by the sheer size and complexity of the battlefield, and the seemingly benevolent sounds of chirruping birds and groaning frogs that serve as the soundtrack to the skirmish.
Now obviously, that’s not typical of this confrontation; there are plenty of people on YouTube who’ve beaten him in 15 minutes without too much trouble. Still, thankfully for me and others of similar skill, developer Konami saw fit to provide the player with a couple of workarounds that essentially allow you to bypass the encounter entirely. Firstly, it’s possible to launch a pre-emptive strike at the climax of a cut-scene earlier in the narrative. As The End’s wheeled away from the aforementioned discussion, players with sufficiently quick reflexes have just enough time to take him out in a couple of shots; the only danger is the wheel that hurtles towards the player’s area of concealment once the underhanded deed is done. It’s my favourite method for defeating this difficult enemy and the one I’ve utilised on all subsequent playthroughs.
Alternatively, if you find such an action somewhat reprehensible (I don’t), you can wait for him to die of old age; seriously. By saving your game shortly after the standard battle begins and leaving your current file untouched for a week thereafter, upon your return, you’ll find The End has died of waiting his fate confirmed by a quick codec call from Snake’s supporting crew who award him the victory by default. It might be a bit long-winded, but it spares you the hassle of meeting the decrepit sniper mano-a-mano as well as displaying the brilliant sense of humour that permeates the entire series.
1. Psycho Mantis – Metal Gear Solid
For many fans, this is the pre-eminent battle in the entire series. Indeed, you’d be hard pushed to find a boss battle in any game that’s quite as innovative and unique as this fight from the first Metal Gear Solid.
Before you even have the opportunity to fire your first shot, Snake is treated to an exhibition of Psycho Mantis’ powers. The gas mask-wearing academic kicks things off by triggering the rumble pack inside the player’s controller, showcasing his telekinetic abilities specifically. After this novel introduction, he proceeds to ‘read your mind’ by naming some of the other PS1 titles stored on your memory card as well as the frequency with which you’ve saved your game hitherto. The cherry on the icing on the cake, however, emerges once the action commences and the player discovers the only way to actually damage Psycho Mantis is to plug their controller into the second port (unless you use the long-winded tracer shot method which I won’t go into here). When first released, players without an internet connection had to repeatedly badger Colonel Campbell via the codec until he mercifully decided to throw Snake a bone and reveal the key to success.
From this this point onwards, the fight is pretty straightforward, yet 20 years after the its release, this battle doesn’t fail to impress. It proves beyond a shadow of a doubt Hideo Kojima’s mastery of game design; his ability to use all the tools at his disposal to create ground-breaking features and mechanics in a way few others in the industry can replicate.
Regretfully, since Kojima’s well-publicised split from Konami, it’s possible we won’t see this level of craftsmanship ever again in the Metal Gear Solid series; in fact, if Metal Gear Survive is anything to go by, we’re in for a steady decline going forward. Still, at least we have the auteur’s first solo project – Death Stranding – to look forward to in the not too distant future.