The Drifter is a psychogeographer of videogames. Most of his kind take to the mean streets of London and Paris, but he doesn’t like to go outside. He’s got vitamin D tablets and an Ocado account, and besides, who needs 3D?
I have little familiarity with the work of the magical realist enfant terrible Hideo Kojima. As a scrawny, anxious teenager with little self-worth, I baulked at the idea of crawling across a military industrial complex clad only in a soggy cardboard box, my genitals shrivelled by the fearsome reputations of Solid, Solider, and Sea Cucumber Snake. The risk of discovery by the local guards, and the subsequent ensuing embarrassment, was more than my nerves could bear. My mother forbade me even from reading related wikis and walkthroughs, fearing that any attempt to unravel Metal Gear’s baroque Cold War plots, counterplots, reversals, betrayals and other narrative architecture would only aggravate my paranoid tendencies.
She was right do so. In short: I was afraid. My trusty PC, with its gentle Theme Hospitals and Rollercoaster Tycoons, contained no such threats to my esteem. Yet, I can’t deny being intrigued by the latest entry in the series, The Phantom Pain. As youth has given way to emotionally crippled adulthood, I’ve come to enjoy lying in the dark on my belly waiting for a grunt to finish his patrol as much as the next man. I, too, fantasize at being whisked away from my place of work by a helicopter full of 1980s post-punk party cassettes. And though I have never been an animal lover, surely a dog trained to carry a serrated knife between his teeth could finally win my affections?
Before Christmas, I became determined to face my fear. Several of my closest acquaintances told me the story of the Metal Gear saga in full, so that I would be fully versed in the factions, flora and fauna of Boss’s world.
Months have passed since that time. I have twice requested a free Steam Key from the editorial staff of this website, only to be met with silence. My memory is growing rustier. Therefore, I thought it best that I set down my account of the plot now, while it might still be of help to those of you who wish to be fully prepared for 2015’s most celebrated stealth experience.
This, then, is my understanding of the Metal Gear franchise so far. I know it is not accurate in every last detail, but I hope it is useful to your attempts to follow the ties that bind snakes, foxes, ocelots and the other exotic creatures of this tale. I welcome any corrections or further embellishments.
Washington, 1998: Bossalot Snake, a mercenary with a fifty-a-day habit and his own line of designer wetsuits, is elected President of the United States. His first term is overshadowed by his military record: did he, or did he not, assassinate the Italian super-scientist Baron Leopold “Zero Face” Vici in 1963, as part of a special ops unit known only as ‘The Zookeepers’? Did he, or did he not, spend his early 30s floating across the Pacific in a stolen CIA hot-air balloon, kidnapping dolphins to work in his private military nation, The People’s Republic of Sea World? Is he, or is he not, the inspiration for Days of Outer Haven, a series of critically-derided espionage thrillers beloved by frequent flyers?
The answer to all three of these is ‘almost certainly’. Bossalot is more myth than man. He has no time for human warmth. His only true companion in the White House is Metal Gear Rex, a robotic dog armed with nuclear explosives. Puppies rarely live long enough to regret sniffing the anus of this sinister canine. Walks in the park quickly escalate into major diplomatic incidents; on too many occasions, Bossalot’s calming presence is the only thing preventing the outbreak of global thermonuclear war.
Rumours abound, too, about his country of origin. Some say he was born in the US to Japanese emigrés. Others claim he is a cross-breed between a Soviet spy held in Guantanamo Bay and a batch of experimental research explosives. The press have yet to see a certificate of his birth. Intrepid biographers have a habit of driving into telegraph poles while texting on their mobile phones, or else falling flat onto kitchen knives left loaded inside their dishwashers. President Bossalot puts this down to natural selection, but we know more sinister forces are at work: The Sons of the Zookeepers, a black market PR agency linked through a series of offshore shell companies to Bossalot’s own godchildren.
The truth is stranger than their fiction. Rewind to the Cold War: Big Boss, Lil’ Boss, Boutros Boutros Boutros-Boss, and Bossalot Snake are clones of Lady Boss, a Nazi camp commandant later reborn as a NASA rocket scientist with a little help from her friends in the CIA. She is a woman with loyalty to no nation save the tundra of her own frozen heart. In exchange for a steady supply of methamphetamine and barbiturates, Lady Boss sends her genetic material to spymasters in Moscow and China, Cuba and Egypt, seeding tyrannical regimes with her genius and jeopardising the safety and security of the free world.
Years pass. Beijing-based Big Boss follows in his mother’s footsteps and becomes an elite mercenary. Lil’ Boss becomes a global pop sensation, bringing inoffensive Russian hip-hop to a rabid early teen fan base. The Egyptian Boutros Boutros Boutros-Boss becomes Director General of the UN. All will come to disown their brother.
He is the runt of the litter. Tiring of his mewling, Cuba’s generals lock him away in their highest security prison until he is tough enough to live up to the family name. As Romulus and Remus suckled at the teats of their mother-wolf, so Bossalot is raised by a stockpile of John Carpenter VHS tapes, smuggled into his cell by a sympathetic guard he knew only as Liquid Orca. Little did Orca know that this act of charity towards his orphan ward would be repaid with terrible cruelty, as, under the sway of Kurt Russell’s masculine gaze, the child Bossalot strangles his guardian with a piano wire twisted from his own fingernails.
Thus the legend of Bossalot Snake begins in blood and anxiety. A gruff, hairy little boy is sighted in Chile the day Allende dies; a year later, he surfaces in Angola. Soon his grubby footprints are all over the international stage. In Miami, Florida on a rare vacation, he attempts to pick the pocket of a retired spymaster named Silver Fox. Fox takes Bossalot under his wing, offering him the love his real mother could never provide – not least because her brain has been uploaded into a cruise missile and buried deep beneath the Caribbean. In the upheavals following the fall of the Iron Curtain, she is forgotten entirely.
Fox hires his charge out to anyone who’ll pay. The world is their playground. Murder is their Coca-Cola.
Bossalot grows into a man as his guardian’s body and mind soften. Missions are completed with exceptional test scores and more than the usual level of sneakiness. Sensing the fast approach of adulthood, our hero adopts his mentor’s twin pencil moustaches above his own lip, the better to woo Fox’s beautiful assassin daughter, Electra Complex. Needless to say, her cyborg brother, Oedipus Arm, doesn’t take too kindly to this. I’d tell you more, but I’ve been writing this for a while now, and it’s late, so to cut to the chase: it turns out that the moustaches are actually a sentient parasite, and Bossalot is possessed by the soul of Silver Fox. I know, crazy, huh? At some point that cruise missile containing Boss’s mum is gonna launch, too.
Back to the present: Bossalot’s penchant for blood-soaked Japanese schoolgirls is souring relations with the Christian Right, and his biggest campaign donor, the cable network shaman known as the Televangelist. A psychic giant with a 1950s black and white TV in place of a head, the Televangelist broadcasts his messages of hate from Protestants Sans Frontieres, in their island fortress deep in the Pacific. If he is to avoid impeachment and survive to fight another term, President Snake must take down the Televangelist and his army of puritanical henchmen the only way he knows how: by fighting his way through Protestants Sans Frontieres armed only with a bowie knife, a Walkman, and the might of the US military industrial complex behind him…
That’s where our story ends. Enjoy The Phantom Pain.
P.S. If you’re reading this, Hideo Kojima, please can I have a job now? I’ve got so many, many more ideas that I want to share.