In further evidence that Metal Gear Solid V is the greatest work of aesthetic maximalism since Gravity’s Rainbow, I have just discovered that lead character Venom Snake is running an unlicensed zoo. 30 hours into my playthrough (not counting a one-year hiatus from the game as I adapted to life as a full-time child wrangler), just as Snake was returning in his helicopter from another brutal sortie in Afghanistan, white-haired mercenary Revolver Ocelot informed me that our aquatic headquarters in the Seychelles now had a dedicated rig reserved purely for animals.

“I had been stuffing my pockets with gerbils and stunned crows, and tethering goats to balloons to suck back up to my support helicopter.”

I had been abducting wildlife from the Afghan wilderness for some time. An undisclosed NGO had requested we remove animals from the war zone, where Mujahideen and Russian forces were engaged in ongoing guerilla warfare. As the Afghan government would not adopt the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) until 1985 and would not ratify it in law until 1986, two years after the events of the game, my wildlife pilfering was technically legal, though the NGO paying me bucketloads of cash to extract the animals to their (undisclosed, but presumably CITES compliant) developed nation was almost certainly not.

They had not been particularly picky about which species I went for, so I had been stuffing my pockets with gerbils and stunned crows, and tethering goats to balloons to suck back up to my support helicopter. Now I discovered that the NGO didn’t yet have the facilities to house the animal stock and our private military contractor had invested to cover the oversight.

Venom Snake’s zoo is mounted on a water-borne structure like an oil-rig in international waters. It consists of three platforms radiating from a larger hub, each one, I presume, costing in the region of $500,000,000 to build. While this does not make it the world’s most valuable zoo – the land alone beneath London zoo is worth approximately $2,600,000,000 – it certainly puts it towards the top of the list; small private zoos can trade hands for less than $500,000. It is also probably the zoo with the highest capital investment per animal. At present the collection consists of four goats and a crow. I definitely collected others, but presumably they were whisked away by their shadowy (charitable) benefactors before Revolver Ocelot could get the contractors in to put up their enclosure.

The aviary on the main platform is a vast structure, easily forty meters high, composed of girders and welded steel mesh, with a soil floor supporting full-grown trees (presumably helicoptered into place in root bags).The solitary crow seems happy enough flapping aimlessly from tree to walkway, though I don’t have high hopes for her if and when I capture an Afghan bird of prey. As corvids are a communal species the current setup breaches one of the ‘five freedoms’ that underpin animal husbandry – the freedom to express normal behaviour – so I make a note to tranquilize or rubber-bullet a few friends for this fellow in-between blowing up Russian AFVs. The maintenance team also really need to put a door on the enclosure.

Metal Gear Solid is a series with a fine history of animal crap.”

The ‘Cryptid’ platform is currently empty, which is probably just as well. There is something dangerously Borgesian about filling up my imaginary zoo with imaginary animals. I stuff my pockets with the carrots and tarragon growing in the open-topped enclosures and move on.

There are also no staff. I might have arrived during their lunch break – my indentured workforce of 250 volunteers is slightly surplus to the care requirements of four goats and a crow – but it is a little unnerving. Zoo-keepers are not only naturally overworked, they make a point of inventing extra work for themselves. Perhaps they are below decks, stuffing cardboard boxes with hay as an enrichment activity for the goats. Perhaps they are tending to all the scorpions I have stolen but which are nowhere to be found.

The goat paddock is reminiscent of the raptor enclosure from Jurassic Park, which has a certain poetry. I descend from the metal walkway (again, no door keeping the goats in) to visit my woolly charges. They seem content enough to mill around in the Seychelles air on their scrubby grass patches. Perhaps the keeping team have already been through: there is absolutely no goat shit to be seen, and I would expect Snake to have caked his heels in it by now. Metal Gear Solid is a series with a fine history of animal crap. By this point in my playthrough Snake’s personal steed D-Horse has learnt to poop on command. This goat shit is absent for a reason.

The carnivore enclosures on the neighbouring platform are an absolute disgrace. The four large metal cages standing side by side are far too small for predator species, and contain no animal shelters, no watering facilities, no exercise opportunities, and no visual barriers to prevent the occupants from seeing their neighbours. Any animal occupying these retrograde enclosures would exist in a state of constant stress. With this moral complaint registered, I am obviously still going to fire a tranquilizer dart into a bear’s head so that I can add him to my collection, but Snake should feel ashamed for facilitating such a horrible breach of animal welfare.

“I’m not convinced by the business plan for this zoo.”

I’m not convinced by the business plan for this zoo. The sunk costs are, as noted, astronomical, while the retrieval cost we’re (still) being paid by the NGO per animal is around 500 “gross military product”, a nebulous currency that (as far as I can work out from pure guesswork) translates to about $25 per GMP. $12,500 per gerbil may seem like a pretty good racket, but we’ll need 160,000 gerbils to make back our initial costs, and we don’t currently have the space for all that.

Snake doesn’t pay his staff, so ongoing costs are going to be low, but we’re also not getting an income from paying visitors. Situated on a secret military installation in international waters, Venom Snake’s Afghan Zoo is not well positioned for seasonal tourism. The education output is also extremely lackluster, and I’m not convinced by our contribution to conservation. Gerbils are already pretty well represented in captivity.

But as an expression of the messianic egomania of Snake and his sanctum of disciples (not to mention Hideo Kojima’s visionary lunacy), the PMC zoo makes perfect sense. This is unlimited ambition and power realised as an absurdist petting zoo that cost a fictional and literal-development-budget fortune. A lesser game would register captured animals as database entries – a normal game would do that. Metal Gear Solid V goes to the very edge of the logical extreme, and then dives screaming into the abyss.