*SPOILER ALERT* Spoilers for the entire Metal Gear Solid series follow. Read at your own risk!
The Greatest Warrior of the 20th Century was known as many names: John, Jack, Saladin, The Legendary Soldier, The Legendary Mercenary, Vic Boss, Naked Snake, and most notably, Big Boss. Big Boss is a legend to most of the known world. He has fought in battles in countless countries throughout the world, such as Korea, Vietnam, Columbia, Russia, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. Early in his career, Big Boss was a heroic figure, a man that stood up for what he believed in and even saved the world on numerous occasions.
By the year 1995, he had kidnapped the scientist Dr. Madnar and Madnar’s daughter, and forced them to work on a new Metal Gear for his mercenary company stationed at his fortress, Outer Heaven. Between his time in Costa Rica during the Peace Walker incident and his involvement in kidnapping and other questionable activities in Outer Heaven, something happened. With Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain soon to be released, we will likely see where the change occurs, but before that time, let’s take a look at the man who first used the code name Snake.
Operation Snake Eater – 1964
In 1964, Jack was deployed to the temperate rain forests of Russia to rescue the captured Russian scientist, Dr. Nikolai Sokolov. Jack was deployed under the newly created special forces unit, Fox, led by Major Zero. The mission was named the Virtuous Mission, reflecting the crisis of conscious that Major Zero had about his past when failing to rescue Sokolov himself. Jack was given the code name Naked Snake, and had a support staff that included his former mentor, The Boss. After nearly completing his mission, The Boss arrived in Russia to stop Snake. She defected to Russia, and gave her new host, Colonel Yevgeny Volgin, a prototype mobile nuclear rocket launcher known as the Davy Crockett. Volgin fired the nuclear warhead and nearly incited a war between the United States and the USSR. Snake’s new mission was to again rescue Dr. Sokolov, destroy the new nuclear capable weapon Volgin was developing, and assassinate The Boss, to prove the United States’s innocence in the matter.
Metal Gear Solid 3, the game where Operation Snake Eater takes place, is probably our best picture of the character development that turns Naked Snake into Big Boss. Snake’s fledgling leaderships start to show, as well as his growth from a naive soldier, following the commands of his country, to a hardened warrior who is cynical and distrusting of his government. This change isn’t even just shown through Snake’s actions and dialogue, but his physical appearance as well.
The code name “Naked Snake” reflects the characteristics of Snake early in these missions. Snake is pretty green, still trusts his government and leadership, and naive about the motives of others. The Boss is someone Snake sees as a mother or mentor figure, and he struggles to understand why she would betray her country and her government and defect to the USSR. Snake meets EVA, a supposed former NSA code breaker that now works for the Soviet Union. EVA supposedly stands in for ADAM, the code breaker that Snake was SUPPOSED to meet, and while Snake is a bit resistant at first, he does end up letting her help with his mission despite the fact that EVA doesn’t know the response to his password challenge. EVA is actually a spy from China, who uses Snake to her government’s ends. Snake is very much “naked” in not only the fact that he starts these missions with very little equipment, but also in his view of the world.
At the end of the Virtuous Mission, The Boss disarms Snake, physically injures him, and throws him into a ravine. Not only is Snake physically hurt, even nursing his injuries into Operation Snake Eater, but he is emotionally hurt as well. The physical injuries symbolize the hurt of betrayal by The Boss’s defection to the Soviet Union. During the briefing for Operation Snake Eater, Snake is informed that the Fox unit members, himself included, are likely to be severely punished for their involvement in the Virtuous Mission if they fail to assassinate The Boss, stop Colonel Volgin, and rescue Dr. Sokolov. Snake is starting to question the government’s actions during the briefing, showing change in his trust of authority.
Throughout the game, Snake’s loyalty to The Boss is shown, and he struggles with the fact that he must kill her to complete his mission and honor his duty to the United States. Snake contemplates that there has to be something to her betrayal, something he may have missed. Someone as dedicated and loyal as The Boss would never defect lightly. As players, we are able to catch a big sign that The Boss is actually virtuous in her mission: she wears white. When she first appears to the player at the beginning of Operation Snake Eater, she is wearing a black cloak. This symbolizes the fact that The Boss is still shrouded in mystery, but she throws off her cloak revealing an entirely pure white suit, and rides off on a white horse. By the end of his mission, Snake kills The Boss and escapes Russia with EVA. EVA reveals to Snake why The Boss had defected: to steal the Philosopher’s Legacy from Colonel Volgin. Volgin firing the Davy Crockett nuclear weapon meant that The Boss had to die to prevent full scale war, painting her a traitor to her country. While Snake isn’t comfortable with his ultimate goal, he kills her. He continues to struggle with the fact that he had to kill his mentor, and we even see Snake shed tears about carrying out an unjust order on a virtuous soldier during the end sequence.
We see more of Snake’s leadership skills later on in the series, but it’s nice to see where it all starts. Snake’s relationship with Ocelot, a commander of the Spetznaz unit of the same name, shows that Snake is a natural leader, especially to those he sees with potential. Throughout the game, when Snake and Ocelot have an encounter, Snake almost coaches him through battles, commenting on Ocelot’s choice of weapon and making suggestions on how to improve. By the end of the game, while a rivalry has obviously formed, Ocelot also seems to have found a mentor figure in Snake, judging by the conversation Ocelot has during the post credits scene.
The most noticeable change Snake goes through during the course of the game is his loss of an eye. Snake is captured by Colonel Volgin and tortured. During this torture, Volgin gives The Boss the command to cut out his eyes: a soldier’s most important tool. The Boss hesitates, and EVA, disguised as Tatyana to spy on Volgin, stops her from taking Snake’s vision. When Ocelot suspects Tatyana of traitorous intent and threatens to shoot her, Snake stops him and as a result, accidentally has his eye shot out. This very likely symbolizes Snake’s transformation from a mere pawn in the political games of his government, to a military leader, capable of taking on major responsibility. This symbolism is rooted in European myth, where rulers are very commonly depicted with a lost eye, arm, or leg. The operation in which Snake loses an eye, is the same as the operation in which he kills his mentor, or “dethrones” The Boss.
In part two of Big Boss: The Fall of a Legend, we’ll explore the story of Big Boss after Operation Snake Eater, up to his death at the hands of FoxDie in Metal Gear Solid 4.