Growing up as a kid, I always had a fascination with James Bond and the era of spies. So, in my early teens, when I heard there was an action stealth game set during the Cold War with a complex plot and great characters, I immediately bought a copy. The game in question is SNAKE EATER. The general plot is that you play as a CIA operative named Naked Snake who, in order to prevent a nuclear war between the US and the USSR, is sent to kill his former mentor, guilty of having defected the USSR in the first mission. As you sneak your way through the forests of Russia, you can recognise all the signs of a classic spy story: playing it for the first time, I realised betrayal was around every corner, and so were cool gadgets, wonderfully cartoonish villains, and revelations that brought tears to my eye. I had played some of the other Metal Gear titles before and yet, whilst all of them carry their own share of unique nostalgia, none pulled it off quite like SNAKE EATER.
The cinematic opening of the game, one of the most memorable in gaming history, is crucial to pull you into its Cold War setting. Smoking a cigar on board a military plane, you are ordered to carry out a covert ‘halo jump’ into the USSR; meanwhile, the background music swells as you literally launch yourself headfirst into playing. You immediately find yourself intrigued by all the characters: the player character, the ‘not so supportive’ support team, and your current target – a Russian rocket scientist. Over the course of the game, it is hard not to become attached to the hero. For a young teen like me, he was everything I wanted to see: idealistic, rough and tough, still naïve about the world, and not so bad with flirting too. However, the ideals he holds are questioned when his legendary mentor defects for reasons not yet known, leading us to one of the biggest questions of the game: where does the line between right and wrong get drawn?
One of the greatest things about SNAKE EATER, massively contributing to its use of nostalgia, is the fact it is a prequel. Throughout the Metal Gear saga, you meet a plethora of amazing characters, each with their own unique backstory and way of looking at the world. The two figures which stand out to me as most nostalgia-inducing are revolver Ocelot and Big Boss. A villain in both games preceding SNAKE EATER, Ocelot is a gunslinger extraordinaire, a tactical genius, and a double crosser to rival the likes of Starscream and Gollum. However, in our game, we find him in his youth working for the Soviets, his behaviour that of an arrogant, overconfident and boisterous brat who finds himself humiliated at every turn. Even better for me, he immediately starts admiring the player as an idol after you fight him, and he spends the rest of the game chasing after you, more as a fan of your work than an actual opponent. It is a true treat to see him grow throughout the game, humbling himself before you, becoming the character you know and love. However, he also plays into the questioning of heroes and villains that is pivotal to the plot, as it is slowly hinted that he was working for the US all along, a deceiver just like he should be in the setting of the Cold War.
On the other hand, we have Big Boss, a character that most players had only ever heard of through legend. His backstory is mysterious: all is known about him is that he was the greatest soldier to have ever lived and that he attempted to create a heaven for those like himself, failing to do so due to being defeated by the player character of the previous titles, his clone son. Interestingly, the player character of SNAKE EATER and the player character of the other games are strikingly similar in appearance. Throughout the game, you are made to question the loyalty soldiers have to nations and governments and the idea that right and wrong cannot be so black and white when you are a tool of systems, while also being led to think that there could perhaps be another way for soldiers to live more independently of control. By the end of the game, facing your mentor as they explain this latter ideal, you begin to ask yourself a pressing question: ‘am I playing as Big Boss?’ The nostalgia brought about from this is compelling, and expertly carried into the other games of the saga that continue the backstory of Big Boss. Again, that ever-prevalent question between right and wrong is brought to light: if Big Boss was the bad guy in the other games, have you just spent this entire game creating you own villain? An even more pertinent question I found was asking if Big Boss, and your defected mentor, even were villains after all.
Metal Gear Solid: SNAKE EATER, will always remain a favourite game of mine, one that I will always have to replay. The story grips you from the very beginning, and its use of nostalgia, deriving from the game being a prequel, gives it great character development. We get to watch fan-favourite characters become what we previously knew them to be, as well as being inspired to question everything we knew about them thus far. Through nostalgia, the game becomes a lesson in heroes and villains: can it be said any of the characters were truly evil, or were they just victims of circumstance? For Metal Gear Fans, one of the best things about the games is that question is ultimately left for you to answer.
[Mitchell C. Welsh – he/him]