“Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” is yet another masterful entry in this fantastic video game series. Like “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty”, “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater”, and – to a slightly lesser extent – “Metal Gear Solid”, series director Hideo Kojima pushes the medium of video games in fascinating creative ways, creating a game centred heavily around a literary theme, that explores it holistically. The ideas Kojima wrestles with through the game aren’t communicated just statically through non-interactive cutscenes, instead they’re embedded all throughout the gameplay and other facets of the game. The game has the most in common with the divisive “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty”, as it has a heavy metatextual focus, and leans much harder on the postmodern aspects than some of the other entries in the series, but here, the characterisation and story is strong and clear enough at a surface level that the story works fine without considering the more layered thematic material around sense, decay, ageing, and the nature of franchises. In that sense, it’s a lot more like “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater”. All these comparisons to other games in the series are fitting, as so much of the game is about merging, mutating, and synthesising elements of these past games together.
[Note: This review has a clearly marked-off section where spoilers begin. Most of the review is in that spoiler section, but the next few paragraphs from here are spoiler-free, and there’s a clear marked-off space where the spoiler section begins.]
“Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” is easily the most plot-focused entry of the series. Where “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” was a story that felt crafted entirely around its thematic message, “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater” felt like a character drama first and foremost, and “Metal Gear Solid” was a well-rounded espionage adventure, “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” goes all out with a long, complicated plot. Kojima and the rest of his team attempt to address and unify nearly every story thread from the preceding games, with many cutscenes dedicated to recontextualising earlier story elements to bring all the disparate threads of the separate games together into one unified, cohesive timeline.
Amazingly, it works. There are times where you can see the seams, but the way some things fit together so naturally is astonishing in retrospect (adapting characters from 2004’s “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater” to serve plot functions in this, 2008’s “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots”, completely recontextualises some story elements in 1987’s “Metal Gear” and 1990’s “Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake” in ways that makes some character’s stories much more impactful, for example). This feat is particularly notable because Kojima has never even been that interested in having the various entries in the series function cohesively together as some sort of franchise-wide story, with Solid Snake himself stating “listen, don’t obsess over words so much. Find the meaning behind the words, then decide” at the conclusion of “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty”, in an appeal that seems to fit well with taking each game on its own terms, as its own exploration of certain themes and ideas. It’s appropriate that this entry in the series be the one to explore what being contrary to that sentiment entails, by toying with the idea of franchise-wide stories and messages, as the way the game explores its central concern, sense, involves questioning what is it that truly constitutes a person, underneath the seemingly insurmountable influence of genetics, memetics, cultural context, and the combinations of history and relationships that forms personality.
The game’s far from all plot, however. The game is both famous and infamous (depending on who you talk to) for its extensive cutscenes. It actually made the Guinness World Records for the longest cutscenes in the history of video games (the final cutscene sequence of the game coming in at seventy-one minutes long). Rather than focus singularly on the protagonist, many characters have their own individual subplots, some almost reaching soap opera level in terms of melodrama and focus on relationships. Some cutscenes do not even have Snake in them, and are there purely to progress such subplots. Some of these subplots and character arcs are pure camp, others become quite affecting. This added detail ties into the nature of the game as an exploration of the franchise, in a similar way to how “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” was an exploration and deconstruction of the concept of a sequel. Bringing back so many characters and subplots from games set all over the timeline functioned both as a response to fan desires, and also as a way to explore the idea of franchises and series’, and enable Kojima to use such exploration as a way to address the chief theme of the game, sense.
Following the “one syllable English word ending in ‘e’” convention Kojima likes using for the main games in the series, “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” revolves around “sense” (an individual’s particular characteristics and worldview that cannot be passed on that are unique to them and them only, and are gone when they die), much as “Metal Gear Solid” explores “gene” (genetics), “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” explored meme (cultural memetics), and “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater” explored “scene” (cultural context). Gene, meme, scene, sense.
“Sense”, within the parameters of the game, refers to the unique characteristics of an individual that define their personality and worldview. It refers to specifically more vague and personal attributes than any of those under the umbrella of genetics (such as physical features) or memetics (such as cultural concepts and tropes like “protect women and children in combat zones). These qualities don’t have to be admirable or good – one of the most blatant such qualities of Snake is his smoking habit, which as many characters remind both him and by proxy the player, is a bad thing – but they have to be things too intangible to be passed down to others.
Such a thematic direction makes sense as an evolution from the earlier game’s themes. Genetics, memetics, and cultural context all involve concepts and characteristics that can indeed be passed down, and the preceding games explore whether they should be. Creating a fourth main series game about the aspects that cannot be passed on is a logical next step. In Kojima’s own words, “it hit me that maybe there are some things you can’t pass on. A person’s will, thoughts, and emotions aren’t encoded into their genes, and they aren’t a part of memes either. If you group together those remaining factors, you’re left with a person’s sense, and that’s the theme of the game this time around”. Kojima himself, around the genesis of the idea for the game, “began to wonder if my message of what we should pass on to future generations had truly gotten through, both to players and my team”, prompting what would become the direction of the game.
It’s notable that Kojima was “conscious of the fact that this really is going to be my final Metal Gear” (which of course turned out to be false, as he’d go on to create “Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker”, two games constituting “Metal Gear Solid V”, and not direct but still have involvement in the “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance” spin-off). This adds some context to how concerned the game is with decay, ageing, looming death/endings, both in terms of Solid Snake himself and in terms of the greater franchise (the idea of decay and rot being inherent to things as they age is shown both in Snake’s blatant ageing and deterioration, and in the way the game at time steeps to fanservice and endless regurgitation of the series’ earlier conventions and characteristics, much the way as franchises do when they’re past the prime, and much as the Patriots themselves do in their attempts to influence the world). Decay and “sense” are intrexicably linked in the game, as Kojima states “neither [idea] came first. These two ideas [were] born simultaneously but separately just fit together nicely, though perhaps in my mind the two had been connected from the start”.
In my readings, the thesis statement of “Metal Gear Solid” was “people don’t have to be defined by their physical genetics and characteristics, and can overcome the fate genetics and family set out for them”, the thesis statement for “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” was people should take every situation and relationship on its own terms and act accordingly, rather than just following the conventional behaviours cultural memes would suggest one follow in a certain context”, and the thesis statement for “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater” was “nearly every human interaction is based in transient constructs, interactions and relationships are shaped by transitive concepts that change with the according cultural contexts, and the only interactions that can perhaps transcend these culturally relativist constructs are moments of common humanity”.
My reading of the thesis statement for “Metal Gear Solid 4: Sons of the Patriots” is that “sense”, the unique individual qualities of an individual that cannot be passed on through genetics or memetics, is a vital part of an individual, worth preserving against attempts to subsume it into larger group identities, and in order to preserve one’s “sense”, they must occasionally “defragment” (to use some of the game’s terminology) themselves; take stock of what parts of them are truly unique characteristics, and what parts are instead heavily informed by genetics, memetics, cultural context, and so on. Another, simpler way to state it might be “people have unique qualities that make them who they are (’sense’), and it’s worth making preserving such individualities, especially when so much of what makes up a person doesn’t come uniquely from them (instead coming from family, genetics, memes, culture, context, etc.), and so much of society pushes to bury these unique individual characteristics”. I will develop on this thesis, and offer evidence as to why I think it’s the statement of the game, in the spoiler section of this review/analysis, but I will say here that as for ratings, I do end up giving the game five flashbacks, and a plate of fried eggs.
[Note: The majority of this review is in a clearly-marked off spoiler section. I’ll add a load of paragraph breaks here, to prevent accidentally seeing the spoiler section – you’ll have to intentionally scroll down a fair while to see it!]
[Beginning of the spoiler section of the review.]
As with “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater”, I think an element of the game’s theme and thesis statement is left intentionally unanswered. In “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater”, I took the thesis statement to be “nearly every human interaction is based in transient constructs, interactions and relationships are shaped by transitive concepts that change with the according cultural contexts”, but with the caveat that “there are some interactions that can perhaps transcend these culturally relativist constructs, such interactions being moments of common humanity that can reach above such transitive constructs”.
In “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots”, I take the game’s thesis statement as being to the effect of “the unique individual qualities and characteristics of an individual cannot be passed on through genetics, memetics, cultural context and so on, but are vital to retain if one is to be a fulfilled person, however much of society pushes individuals to subsume such characteristics, so it is important to take psychological stock of one’s self, “defragment” (as the game puts it) the aspects of one’s being, and remain self-aware and strong even in the face of difficult life experiences like ageing and looming death”. The corollary to that thesis statement would be that, perhaps “sense” can be passed down, just not through conventional means.
Kojima himself, upon in an interview being questioned whether it was truly impossible for “sense” to be passed on, answered “I think that even though you might not be able to describe something in words, it’s important to show it indirectly. No matter how often a parent tells their child they shouldn’t misbehave or that they should smarten up, the child usually doesn’t listen, do they? So I had Snake, who continues to fight despite his age, live by example instead of offering a direct message. It’s like a father going out and working hard every day to provide for his child rather than simply telling them he loves them. In the game Meryl and other characters tell Old Snake he doesn’t have to fight, that they’ll take over for him. But Snake continues to fight. That’s what he wants to pass on. Of course, they may not realize it while he’s still alive”.
I think the question of whether “sense” can actually be passed down misses the forest for the trees, in a sense. The point of “sense” is that it is the qualities that are the most personal and individual to someone, the unique worldview that only that person has. In reality there aren’t really magical aspects so utterly unique that they’re completely and utterly impossible to communicate and “pass down” to others – Snake’s smoking habit that is the partial constitution of his “sense”, for example, is perfectly possible to teach to others – but that isn’t the point. The point of the game isn’t that there are some mystical, insurmountably individualistic qualities each person has that are worth preserving, it’s that people do have unique, individual qualities that are worthwhile preserving for their own sakes. Not because they can’t be replicated, but because they form an individual’s identity in a way deeper than genetics, memetics, or context. Genes, memes, scene, they’re all transient concepts that can change (even genetics, albeit in a psychological sense, as the end of “Metal Gear Solid” shows characters overcoming what genetic restraints they thought themselves besieged by, and moving past family constraints) throughout a person’s life, but sense is the parts of someone that remain uniquely them. I don’t believe the corollary point that sense could theoretically be passed down is a worthwhile one to make when it comes to this analysis, as it doesn’t inform the main theme of the game in a particularly interesting or worthwhile way.
As the protagonist, Solid Snake’s “sense” is obviously paramount in the game. As Kojima stated, his insurmountable will is part of it, but the more obvious aspect of it in the game is his smoking habit, a trait carried over from even the main series game where he was perhaps least a character and mostly a player avatar, “Metal Gear Solid”. It’s other characters “senses” that are more easily understood as developments on the theme, however, since they’re being viewed externally – we know Solid Snake so well, that the concept of “unique characteristics and worldview that can’t be passed down or completely communicated to someone else” doesn’t connect so well with the player and him.
The “sense” of the Boss, from “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater”, is quite literally the underpinning of the plot of not just “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots”, but of the very series, as Major Zero and Big Boss’ work and conflict over how to achieve her will forms the underlying backstory for the timeline that runs across the whole series, retrospectively from 1987’s “Metal Gear” to 2015’s “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”. Neither Major Zero or Big Boss (until the final moments of the game, where he perhaps finally grasps it) truly understands the Boss’ exact worldview, motivations, and desires, and in their quasi-religious devotion to her, both embark on misguided attempts to enforce it across the world. If they’d taken greater handle of their own “sense”, and understood that it’s foolhardy to try and completely grasp the “sense” of another when they’re not even around to communicate with you, perhaps they would have avoided much conflict, and actually acted in a way more pleasing to her. After all, Big Boss comes to the conclusion at the end of the game that “it’s [the Boss’ will] not about changing the world, it’s about doing our best to leave the world the way it is. It’s about respecting the will of others, and believing in your own”.
Naomi Hunter is another strong example of the nature of “sense”, as her unique worldview and motivations remain elusive both to the player and the game’s characters, even after the game ends. Ocelot’s “sense” provides similar conclusion, although the game is eventually more conclusive about it. In fact, Ocelot’s “sense” is the vehicle through which the game makes its thesis statement, in the grand, cathartic final boss battle of the game.
That boss fight, between Solid Snake and Liquid Ocelot, is where the game finally delivers its big statement, of how “sense” exists when you strip away all else (genetics, memetics, cultural context, the weight of history and age, and so on), how attuning one’s self to their “sense” is beneficial and a worthwhile endeavour, and how “defragmentation” (intentionally reorganising and parsing the aspects that form one’s life and person, so they can recognise what is their “sense”, and what is just derived from genetics, memetics, cultural context, etc.) is the way to get in touch with your “sense”.
Just as it took Emma uploading a worm cluster virus into Arsenal Gear for “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” to start clearly articulating its theme thesis, it takes the uploading of Sunny and Naomi’s FOXALIVE virus into Outer Haven for the clearest articulation and demonstration of the theme and thesis of “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” to begin. Ocelot later theorises that the virus was “one big defragmentation”, and that’s certainly the form the boss fight takes, and the method through which the game suggests it’s necessary to identify the “sense” of one’s self. Defragmentation refers to when files on a computer are reorganised so that data stays in its most appropriate sections. The image below demonstrates it through the example of windows on a building, where they are reorganised to stay next to each other in the most appropriate sections, rather than sprawl out in a haphazard and confusing manner.
Defragmentation is where information is stored in a sequential manner that allows immediate identification of what section the data belongs to. In computer terms, this decreases load times, but in the terms the game suggests, it refers to “defragging” Solid Snake himself, by reorganising different aspects of himself into their relevant sections (parts of his life, genetics, memetics, cultural context, etc.), allowing identification of what remains – his “sense”.
The boss fight begins with a moment of common humanity, one of those rare moments that “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater” addressed as possible to transcend cultural context, the “scenes” that define so much of what a person is, and what a person does. It’s notable that Ocelot was the figure in the grand moment of common humanity in that game as well, which also occurred after a fight between Ocelot and a Snake (Naked Snake/Big Boss in that game), when Ocelot and Snake – or rather, Adamska and John – exchanged their true names. Here, Ocelot and Snake inject each other with the vital nanomachine suppressants that allow them to fight effectively. They rejuvenate and enliven each other in an act of humanity and selflessness, rather than selfishly try to gain more power for themselves. They clearly respect each other and the fight they are having.
The ensuing boss fight progresses through forms and conventions of the four main games of the franchise, through its four phases. In the first phase, evoking “Metal Gear Solid”, the UI switches accordingly, the soundtrack switches to a track from that game, and the camera positioning and fight mechanics also shift to recall that game. In the second phase, evoking “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty”, there are similar changes in terms of music, gameplay, and camera positioning, as are there for the third and fourth phases, where the game shifts to reflect “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater” and then itself, “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots”. How does the game reflect itself in the fourth phase? It exaggerates one of the more divisive aspects of the game, the enormous amount of frequently-triggered long cutscenes, by having nearly every punch trigger a short cutscene.
Ocelot’s changes are as notable as the changes the player experiences as Solid/Old Snake. Aspects of his “Liquid” identity (which players learn was something of a sham in the epilogue of the game, as it’s revealed he wasn’t truly posessed by Liquid Snake, but instead brainwashes himself to believe so, in an effort to further his own plans) shed away as the fight progresses, with the third phase featuring him using CQC techniques only Ocelot knew (that he learned from Naked Snake/Big Boss in “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater”). When the fight ends, Ocelot finally completely sheds the Liquid persona, embraces his “sense”, comes to terms with his own identity, and delivers his final words that deliberately call back to an interaction of his with Naked Snake many years ago, “you’re pretty good”. He sheds his role as a proxy and a doppelganger, and embraces his individuality.
Examining how to identify and embrace one’s “sense” isn’t the only way the game explores the concept. The backdrop of the game, the “war economy” in which trade is backed by constant “civilised” warfare between private military companies, features the SOP/”Sons of the Patriots” system where nanomachines bind the minds of soldiers so as to make them more effective in combat. The Patriots, the AI antagonists of the game, intend to extend the system to civilians as well. While it has its benefits, the system absolutely suppresses an individual’s “sense”, subsuming their unique characteristics so they make serve as a better, more standard part of a team. Gone are creativity and personality, all that remains is machine-like obedience and behavioural replication. The resistance of some soldiers to such a system is part of the way the protagonists of the game ultimately succeed, as when everyone is part of a system, the failures of that system become absolute and insurmountable.
The game also explores this idea of the suppression of “sense” through the form of the game itself. The game isn’t even really the fourth entry in the series, it’s arguably the seventh (in terms of canon), and fourteenth (in terms of overall entries). While “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” explored and deconstructed the idea of a sequel and the expectations that come along with that, “Metal Gear” is a verifiable franchise by the time of “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots”. The conventions of the series have progressed from being merely known to being famous and hard-set. Kojima did not originally even intend to make the game (or the preceding game, for that matter); he initially wanted to hand the series over to his team, and move on to other things. The game is full of techniques that pervade franchises continuing past their time, such as endless recombinations and regurgitations of aspects and characters from earlier games instead of creating anything new and original, and vast amounts of fanservice. Just as Snake intones in the opening of the game, “war has become routine”, so too would it seem, that “Metal Gear” has become routine.
The bosses of the game (barring Ocelot) are perhaps the most blatant example of this “franchise zombie” aspect. They combine aspects from bosses of the first three main series games in lieu of offering much original. Laughing Octopus is a mixture of Decoy Octopus from the first game, with the tentacles of Solidus Snake from the second game, and a singular emotional fixation like bosses had in the first game (joy/laughter in this particular example). Raging Raven combines Vulcan Raven, the bombs of Fatman, and the emotion of the Fury. Crying Wolf combines Sniper Wolf, the rail gun of Fortune, and the emotion of the Sorrow. Screaming Mantis combines Psycho Mantis (literally), the throwing knives of Vamp, and the emotional fixation of the Fear. They even follow the thematic focuses of those three games – their genes/biological natures matching the first games’ bosses, their cultural focuses given form in the weapons they wield from the second game, and their cultural contexts, the transient emotions that form their reasons for fighting, matching those from the third game. The “sense” of each of the bosses is only revealed after their boss fights, where all has been stripped away. The final boss fight of the game is where this stripping away of all barring sense is formalised and succeeds.
The myriad of “franchise zombie” aspects of this game (the flashback gameplay feature directly showcasing the many repetitions and regurgitations the game features, the returning of so many characters and subplots, callbacks like fights atop Metal Gear Rex, etc.) demonstrate how easily “sense” is subsumed, both in artistic endeavours like video games, and in people themselves. Like the three preceding main series games, a lot of the success of “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” comes from how holistically it embeds its theme and thesis all throughout the game; not just in form, not just in cutscenes, but in the entire endeavour.
The concepts of decay, looming death and endings, and ageing are also heavily prevalent in the game, and often dovetail with the exploration of “sense” and how it’s subsumed by repeated and regurgitated patterns. In the fourth act of the game, where Solid/Old Snake returns to the setting of the first, Shadow Moses, his decay and ageing is most noticeable, as he struggles and wheezes through gameplay once easy for him. What one could once do doesn’t define them; “sense” is not comprised of physical and mental feats one could perform in their peak years. Snake decays, but his “sense” (notably in his refusal to ever give up) endures. It’s worthwhile to take stock of, and hold onto, one’s “sense”, because it won’t abandon them like so much else can, it won’t decay, because it is you.
The more creative and original aspects of the game – perhaps the “sense” of the game, if you can extend that to objects and art instead of just individuals (I’m not doing so makes sense though) – are often subtler and more subversive than the big, obvious franchise regurgitation aspects. The game offers no new Metal Gear machine, as nearly all entries in the series do, even when it makes very little sense, as with “Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops”. A new feature is found in the “splitscreen” aspects of the game, where half the screen presents Solid Snake in the traditional way, allowing the player to control him, and the other half presents other characters in action. The player at this point of the franchise should be so attached to these characters as to be conflicted as where to look, and it strengthens some of the most emotional and climactic moments of the game, by offering so much content related to characters we care about at once.
Perhaps the most identifiable aspect of the game is the extremely frequent and lengthy cutscenes, a feat which got the game into the Guinness World Records, and which the game identifies as part of its own unique form in the Ocelot boss battle, where it becomes the unique gameplay aspect in the fourth phase of that fight, in the same way camera positioning and UI changes signified the first three phases aping the three preceding main series games. The willingness to engage in-depth with stories and subplots with tangential rather than direct connection to Snake is also new, with the epilogue featuring very lengthy cutscenes with absolutely no Snake at all, instead ending the character arcs and subplots of characters like Meryl and Raiden.
Some endings are reiterations of closure provided in earlier games, like Raiden’s (which basically just reiterates the ending of “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty”, ending a conflict set up entirely in “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots”, and returning Raiden and Rose to their conclusions and happiness they found earlier), provided to offset the inevitable nullification of endings and happiness that sequels must provide in order to set up conflicts for a new entry in a series. Interestingly, some are pointedly not – Meryl and Snake do not reiterate their love and happiness they find at the end of Metal Gear Solid. Instead, Meryl finds happiness with another man, and Snake goes off to kill himself at the grave of his at-times hated father figure. Kojima makes his point about passing on better worlds and important lessons to future generations very clear with the arc of Sunny, Olga Gurlokovich’s daughter, and Otacon’s adoptive daughter. The ending provides strong closure, from both character, plot, and thematic ends, to basically every character and subplot in the series…except Snake. Snake’s story seems to end with him killing himself, ending what he views as the cycle of conflict and pain that his “family line” has brought upon the world, sparing the world his “sense”.
Of course, Kojima wouldn’t actually close the game without providing a strong endpoint to Snake’s story. Indeed, the credits close, but freeze on crediting “BIG BOSS – Richard Doyle”, and the true ending of the game follows, with Big Boss returning from the grave to firstly stop Solid/Old Snake from killing himself, and then to have a long conversation that puts the cap on the series’ thematic ideas. Big Boss is a powerful visual representation of the “franchise zombie” aspect of the game, being literally composed of the bodies of the antagonists of the first two main series games (Liquid Snake for “Metal Gear Solid”, Solidus Snake for “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty”), being the actual protagonist of “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater” of course, and wearing a jacket heavily resembling (and perhaps actually) that of Gene’s, the antagonist in “Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops”.
Too long has Solid/Old Snake acted and been identified as a proxy Big Boss figure. Even the final boss battle, where Ocelot shedded the Liquid aspects of himself, and completely embraced his “sense”, didn’t see Solid/Old Snake completely do the same (he was even outright identified as “Naked Snake”, Big Boss, in the third phase of that fight’s UI). Ending the game with Snake killing himself would allow Solid Snake to break free of some associations with Big Boss, as Big Boss’ “sense” would seemingly prevent himself from ever committing suicide (at least, the character shown in “Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake” and “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater” seems unlikely to do such a thing), but not all of them. This epilogue, debriefing section of the game enabled Solid Snake to truly embrace his “sense”, shake off his proxy nature as a Big Boss figure, reach closure with Big Boss himself, and finally end his story in a way formalising his understanding and embracing of the messages of the four main series games. Solid Snake killing himself in front of the grave of Big Boss, after saluting Big Boss in a way very deliberately evoking Big Boss’ salute of the Boss, and surrounded by white flowers evoking the field where Big Boss killed the Boss…it would have been far too connected to Big Boss rather than Solid Snake himself.
Big Boss’ speech about “zero” (not just the character, but the concept itself) further articulates the idea of shedding aspects unrelated to “sense”, defragmentation. His physical presence displaces Solid’s nature as a proxy of him, allowing Solid to find personal closure more connected to his own “sense”. Big Boss brings the series to “zero”, “back to nothing”, killing Major Zero and himself, finally ending the conflict that underpins (mostly retroactively, but still notably) nearly all of the series’ story, from 1987’s “Metal Gear” to 2015’s “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”.
By killing Zero and himself, Big Boss frees the series of the conflict that enables it to exist. Big Boss fully realises what he is doing, deriding the repetition of “the same pattern over and over again” that both he and Zero, and later the Patriots, execute, propelling the plots of the games. “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” ruminates so much on the idea of franchises, of serial media, examining and critiquing their natures, that it’s so appropriate the game ends on the characters from that very first entry destroying the premise that the entire series has operated under. Much as the ending of “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty”, where Raiden threw away dogtags showcasing the player’s name and thus liberated himself from the player’s control, the ending here liberates the entire series from its reason to exist. The characters can have their happy endings, because there will be no more nullification of happy endings so as to provide conflict to propel plots of future entries. While the series does continue, through “Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker”, “Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes”, and “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”, these are all prequels. They all take place in times where Zero and Big Boss’ conflict existed.
I’ll address the nature of the spin-off “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance” when I get to playing it, and I’m aware it does have some of these sequel nullification aspects to a degree, but it’s extremely important to keep in mind it’s not a main series game, not a Metal Gear Solid game, was not written by Kojima, and even if it was…the ending of “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” liberates the Snakes at least. Finally can not only Solid Snake, but Big Boss as well, embrace their “sense”, can they shed all the history and conflict, all the genetics, memetics, and context that has defined so much of their identities…finally they can die, embracing their individuality, and at peace with themselves.
Big Boss finally understands not only his “sense”, but the Boss’ as well. He understands that trying to force an understanding of someone else’s “sense” is foolhardy, since it consists of the extremely personal and unique characteristics that are nearly impossible to communicate, let alone pass down to another and be truly understood. The Boss isn’t even alive to attempt to communicate them; instead, Zero and Big Boss warred over competing interpretations of her “sense”, her will, that likely missed the complete point of it. In finally realising that, Big Boss gains a greater understanding of his own nature, relationship to the Boss, and indeed, his own “sense”, as well as that of his reluctant child figure (Solid Snake) in the way he was to the Boss. Big Boss realises “it’s [the Boss’ will] not about changing the world, it’s about doing our best to leave the world the way it is. It’s about respecting the will of others, and believing in your own”.
Big Boss accepting and embracing that he is, in some form, a father to Solid Snake, allows the both of them to move on and find closure. Big Boss’s last words are even “This is good, isn’t it?” after the two of them have found closure and peace. They are free to embrace their “senses” and pass on. They both managed to pass on some aspects to future generations, but also to liberate future generations from some aspects too. Big Boss freed the world of the conflict between he, Zero, and from the Patriots. Solid Snake freed the world of FOXDIE, of the conflict between he and Liquid and Ocelot, and from what he views as his nature to bring about violence and conflict. In becoming such a fulfilled and self-aware person, he even manages to better understand and empathise with the “sense” of others, as he ends the game not by killing himself, but accepting to spend his last few weeks with his greatest friend, Otacon. Snake comes to a nuanced understanding of gene, meme, scene, and sense. He understands the individual ways in which they make up a person, as well as the ways they don’t. He has become as wise, mature, and fulfilled enough to completely accept himself, his oncoming death, and the desires and “sense” of his friend.
With “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots”, so too did Kojima succeed in passing on that understanding. I give the game five flashbacks, and a plate of fried eggs.