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TOP 10: BEST AND WORST OF METAL GEAR BOSSES

Metal Gear! Even just saying the words gets me pumped. A combination of cinematic storytelling, one-of-a-kind characters, and - most importantly - enormously fun, emergent gameplay made the original PSX title one of the landmark games of its generation, and perhaps one of the best games of all time. It spawned a number of sequels, both direct and derivative, based on the strength of its regularly ponderous but nonetheless captivating gameplay and narrative. The plot is regularly over-the-top or simply idiotic, and most gamers who don't know much about the series know it primarily for its enormously long cutscenes. Still others have given the series a shot and can't get past an antiquated, overly rooted-in-"tradition" control scheme that can feel clunky even to tactical infiltration specialists like the crew here at NODJ. Yet still others can't even get past the weird balance of anti-war melodrama and quirky moments and mechanics that the series defines itself with.

Regardless, it's one of my favorites, and as I said in my last update, I firmly believe that a great deal of that has to do with the climactic fights against the series' villains. These special moments show off not only great mechanics at work, but also incredible landmarks in the player's overall experience. They quite often pit the player against a seemingly invincible foe, and force the player to use their skill AND their brain to overcome the challenge. There are very few Metal Gear fights where overwhelming force is a viable option.

Now, I'm in complete fan mode right now, and it would probably be easy for me to just pick a ton of fights in the Metal Gear series and tell you how I great I think that they are. But I like you better than that, dear reader, so in the interest of fairness, I've decided to list what I feel are the top 5 greatest fights in the series, but also call out the top 5 worst ones. I recognize that the franchise has flaws (don't get me started on nanomachines), but I still love it, and I want you to understand why I love it in spite of those flaws.



So that you're getting a healthy spread of all of the available choices, I'm going to alternate back and forth between the WORST and BEST categories, hopefully providing some semi-intellectual comparisons between nearby entries. There are enormous numbers of SPOILERS for the series as a whole on this page, although I have tried to keep them to a minimum.

WORST #5 - THE PAIN [MGS3]



The Pain is the first member of the legendary Cobra Unit that you wind up fighting as you trek through Metal Gear Solid 3. Each of the Cobras is named for - and themed for - an emotion that they carry into battle. The Pain exults in the torment that he feels in battle. Of course, this is represented physically by his ability to control hornets.

Wait, what?

You heard me. The Pain's special suit (or whatever) gives him control over hornets, allowing him to use them in-battle. As you battle him, he's actually surrounded by hundreds upon thousands of hornets that swirl around him.

I'm actually okay with this. Metal Gear is known for its total weirdos, and its complete refusal to back up how or why something works (the Big Bad of the game, Volgin, inexplicably has lightning powers which are quite seriously never once explained.) But more often than not, Metal Gear does an incredible job of pitting you against some sort of super-powered freak, and turning it into a legitimately interesting boss experience. Not so with the Pain.

The Pain's hornet covering is first and foremost a shield against bullets. Much like the Goldeneye armor pick-ups, these bees just absorb shots until you've peeled off enough of them to score an actual hit. You have to use high-powered weapons like shotguns and grenades to actually get through the armor, though. I don't remember bullet-stopping hornets from Zoobooks, but I guess they must've been in there somewhere. These bees also work as damage-over-time bullets: the Pain will shoot a "bullet bee" at you, which embeds itself in your flesh on contact and continues biting away until you pry it out. While these hornets might actually exist, they're actually a lot less effective than real bullets, making them more of a pain in the ass than anything else. The hornets can even SWARM AROUND A LIVE GRENADE tossed by the Pain, carrying over the player's head before releasing it. There's apparently even enough bees present to create a full duplicate of the Pain, leading you to wonder which one is real! What a conundrum!

You can see the entire encounter below:



The Pain doesn't even take himself seriously. Whenever he talks, or even just walks around, he's always break dancing. I can't make this shit up.

The Pain is one of the most prominent of the Cobra Units leading up to this fight: His hornets serve as an ominous screen for the arrival of the entire group. As the first of the Cobras that you actually get to fight, he winds up being pretty disappointing as an encounter - not outright horrible, but a disappointing use of what was otherwise a pretty intimidating superpower.

BEST #5 - PSYCHO MANTIS [MGS]



Psycho Mantis has psychic powers. This is stated and never once questioned for the remainder of the title. His powers allow him to hover in place, move objects with psychokinesis, and - most importantly - read minds.

Mantis uses stealth camouflage to hide within a commander's room in the Shadow Moses complex in Metal Gear Solid. His psychic suggestions eventually manage to make their way into the mind of Meryl, Snake's companion. Meryl goes completely psychobitch crazy, first lusting after Snake's sneaking-suited ass, then trying to kill him. The player has to incapacitate her without killing her before Psycho Mantis reveals himself.

Before actually battling the deranged telepath, he insists upon demonstrating his incredible powers to you personally. He does this with two amazing bursts through the fourth wall. First, he reads your mind - and remarks on the player's progress through the game so far. He's got lines for if the player killed a lot of people, or was cautious around traps, et cetera. Nothing too unheard of.

Then he notices that you like Super Mario Sunshine. What?! How did he know that?

The game actually looks through your memory card while the scene is going on and checks to see what games you've played on this machine before. Mantis has snide remarks for whatever he manages to find there. Goddamn!

Then he insists that you put your controller on the ground. Not Snake, the player avatar - YOU, the player, have to put your controller on the ground. Then, using the power of his will alone, Mantis commands the controller to move - and sure enough, it moves! The Rumble feature of the controller is what gives the game the ability to do this, but such an ingenious application of what's usually a pretty passive feature of gameplay is remarkable.

Okay. So you start fighting him, and - the screen goes black! There's some kind of error message! What the hell! I haven't saved in hours!

This is actually yet another ingenious little trick of Mantis's - the error message is one common to Japanese TVs. Like a music CD that features a song that deliberately sounds like the disc is scratched, the game actually tricks you into thinking your TV has died in the middle of gameplay - at the start of a boss fight, no less!

After an uncomfortable period of stunned silence, the game pops back in, with Mantis cackling at you. The fight begins in earnest. And it turns out this pasty little psychic is a beast! You can't hit him! Every shot is misplaced, every punch misthrown. Sure enough, Mantis is reading your movements, and can predict your every move, preventing you from being able to effectively score a hit. All the while, there's objects in the room flying around trying to hit you - heavy books, candelabras, statue busts. Mantis is even using his invisibility cloak, just so that things aren't too easy for you.

It took me a while - and a couple of helpful mid-fight calls from your in-game support team - to figure out how to prevent Mantis from detecting your movements. He's using the controller! You have to actually physically switch your controller from the player 1 port to the player 2 port in order to throw off Mantis's psychic readings. Once that's done, you'll be able to take him down.

You can see the entire encounter played out from beginning to end below:



Psycho Mantis is not only a fun fight and a tantalizing riddle to solve, but he's a memorable character whose crazy-go-nuts power set works really well for both the game world and the "meta" experience of playing a video game.

WORST #4 - METAL GEAR GEKKOS [MGS4]



Metal Gear Solid 4 is set in the near future, where - amongst other war economy shenanigans - the concept of "Metal Gear," a walking battle tank - has become a mass-produced commodity, allowing any and every country to have their own variants of the once-unique death machine. The player's own journey brings him into contact with many "GEKKO" Metal Gear units - AI-controlled machines that can tear the player apart if they're not circumvented properly. The very beginning of the game features the player on the run from these wily, predatory robots.

I was eager to finally have the opportunity to deal with them in classic MGS fashion - tearing them apart with some heavy-duty artillery. I love giant robots, and the Metal Gear series does a terrific job of building up these nuclear-equipped walking tanks as doomsday weapons. They even have an animalistic edge to them - beginning with REX, they begin to feature distinct heads and mouths that make it seem as though Metal Gear, even when piloted by someone else, has a real personality and "life" all of its own. They seem that much more deadly for seeming to be intelligent. And since GEKKO each has an on-board AI, that's actually somewhat true this time around!

About three-fourths of the way through the game, Snake is forced to return to Shadow Moses island for some reason. In the very chamber where he destroyed Metal Gear REX back in the very first title, he has a showdown with Vamp - a recurring villain throughout the series who apparently can't be killed. Snake is able to disrupt his Wolverine-style regeneration factor, but their duel is cut short by the arrival of hordes and hordes of Suicide GEKKO - Metal Gears that charge forward in the hopes of catching you in a death explosion.

At about the same time, Raiden (your ninja companion) shows up and contraviance dictates that Vamp and Raiden have to fight and it's up to Snake to fight the Metal Gears. This happens ... simultaneously. And it's displayed in split-screen.

Check it out:



This fight was pretty disappointing. I'd really wanted to face off against this game's new "Metal Gear" variant in proper style. As it turns out, by the time I got the weapon upgrade that finally put me on equal footing with them, I was forced to fight survival-mode waves of unintelligent, suicidal drones. The entire battle winds up being an affair of point and click. What's even more frustrating is that there's apparently a much cooler boss fight going on literally right behind me that I can't take part in, nor can I even spend the time to WATCH, since I'm in the middle of combat while it's going on! Both the boss fight and the acrobatic ninja/vampire fight suffer for the shared presentation. It's like I'm being punished for having wanted a cool encounter.

It's worth saying that there's a totally unexpected Metal Gear versus Metal Gear fight around the corner from this one that ALMOST makes up for how aggravating this encounter with the GEKKOs was, but not quite. Fighting "the" Metal Gear is one of the highlights of the MGS franchise, and as the defining battle against the latest variant, I felt like this left a lot to be desired.

BEST #4 - LIQUID SNAKE / HIND D HELICOPTER [MGS]



At the onset of Metal Gear Solid, Snake is told that the terrorist uprising that he's being sent to confound has been led by his former unit, FOXHOUND. He's never met the current roster of FOXHOUND, but their leader is Liquid Snake - a man who apparently has proved himself worth of Snake's own codename. As is much more apparent in the Gamecube remake of the PSX title, Liquid Snake even shares a similar face to the player's avatar. What's the connection? Some twin brother that Snake never knew about? Snake - and consequentially the player - doesn't really know. Liquid takes off in a Hind D helicopter pretty quickly after the beginning of the game, leaving the player to ignore the puzzle as he begins his mission.

You hear through radio chatter that Liquid has dispatched two fighter jets using the helicopter - a seemingly impossible feat for anyone other than a master pilot. Snake hasn't fought this guy yet, but he's clearly up against some kind of pro.

His first face-to-face encounter with Liquid is after Snake is himself captured. Liquid doesn't explain a great deal of the plot to his captive, but he refers to Snake as "brother," implying some sort of genetic link, even though Snake knows nothing of it. Before any real details emerge, Liquid takes off, and before much longer, Snake makes his own getaway, resuming his mission by climbing the first of two massive towers.

At the top of the tower, Liquid catches up with his brother - only Liquid's flying the helicopter.

Snake makes a descent from the top of the first tower to the bridge connecting the two by rappelling down the side with a rope, while Liquid harries him with gunfire from the chopper. Snake has to make a desperate race across the bridge into Tower B. All the while, Liquid's got him in his sights, making the crossing a dangerous one. This is, by the by, in the middle of the night on an island in Alaska. The wind is howling, snow is everywhere, and Liquid wants Snake dead.

In Tower B, Snake finds a Stinger missile launcher. He decides it's time to end this.

The player makes the climb to the top of Tower B, where Liquid is waiting. After a brief, barked conversation (I guess said over the ... loudspeaker? Do helicopters have those?), the two begin their confrontation. It's a grim game of cat-and-mouse as Snake uses the damaged gear on top of the roof to hide from the lethal firepower of the Hind D. Whenever Liquid's guard is down, Snake turns the tables, using the homing rockets from the Stinger launcher to tear holes in the sides of the helicopter.

As is often the case in Metal Gear games (like the Pain fight, above), the player is forced to one area while the boss is free to rove a different area entirely, forcing the player to think about the different lines of sight available. The encounter with the Hind D plays with this masterfully, allowing Liquid to move in all three dimensions, ducking the helicopter lower than the player can see down the side of the building and hiding in the turbulent snowstorm before suddenly sweeping out of nowhere to unleash hell. The boss music even ducks out when the helicopter disappears, leaving the player wondering where it's gone.

The Hind D fight is not only an incredible encounter on its own merits, but it's an incredible final moment in one of the best story arcs throughout the entirety of the original Metal Gear Solid game. Liquid's mysterious rivalry with Snake, the overwhelming, unstoppable force of a fucking military-grade helicopter, the harrowing setting of a tower in the middle of the night surrounded by an Arctic snowstorm - the tension keeps mounting and mounting until you blow the helicopter clear out of the sky.

Here's the fight itself. The player is using a cheat that puts Snake in a tuxedo. Stylish!



Liquid's lines really tie the bow on this fight. I still don't know how either of these guys can hear each other, but that's one of the "realistic" details that Metal Gear sees fit to do away with. "NICE SHOT, SNAKE!" So good.

Here's the cinematics that bookend the sequence WITHOUT the actual boss fight in it, beginning from the top of the first tower, taken from the Gamecube remake of the original game. It features slightly more ridiculousness than the original, because, you know. Tributes.



Holy shit, this video even has Otacon's greatest line in it. "Do you think that love can bloom, even on a battlefield?" This series is so incredible. This is a totally serious, totally played-straight conversation that these two grown men are having in the middle of a terrorist base in Alaska.

WORST #3 - FORTUNE [MGS2]



Metal Gear Solid features FOXHOUND as your opponents. Metal Gear Solid 2 features Dead Cell, an anti-terrorist unit made up of weirdos. The first one that you encounter is Fortune.

Fortune, as you can see, is apparently blessed with inexplicable good luck. Bullets can't hit her, explosions don't damage her. The ironic twist is that she's manically depressed about her life (her father and husband are both dead through tragic circumstance) and she herself cannot die. She's forced to go on in a state of constant misery - which she does in destructive fashion, given that her luck powers apparently also allow her to use an extraordinarily dangerous experimental rail gun.

Personal issues aside, Fortune seems like a nearly unstoppable opponent. Raiden - your protagonist for most of the adventures of MGS2 - is astounded by her capabilities when he first sees her. She and the rest of Dead Cell have taken over an marine decontamination facility in New York City's harbor, taken the president hostage, and other assorted evils. Raiden has been sent in to rescue the president and put an end to their plans.

In the process of hunting down a series of explosives set around the facility - known as the Big Shell - Fortune corners Raiden in an underwater dock. Raiden's not who she expected to find, but so desperate for death as she is, she decides to provoke him into a battle regardless.

Fortune's fight consists of the following: 1) Don't get killed.

This is seriously the entirety of the fight. Despite the appearance that you could actually do something, any of your shots or attacks are warded off by Fortune's luck ability. Her rail gun, on the other hand, will completely devastate your surroundings, and will easily tear you apart if you don't take cover.

There is nothing in the room that you can use to get an edge in the fight, or distract Fortune, or do ... anything. You simply have to wait it out until the fight is interrupted by a radio message and a cutscene.

... at which point Raiden simply leaves. You never face Fortune in combat ever again.

Seriously, what's even the point? Why did you put this scene here, Konami? To make me feel like an idiot? Did you start designing the boss fight and then run out of time? Why go through the trouble of producing the assets and spending the time to work on what makes so little of a dent in the player's experience?

It's perhaps wrong to even call this a "boss fight," but MGS2 certainly goes out of its way to fool you into thinking that that's what it is, so I have no qualms whatsoever for regarding it as terrible. MGS2's bosses in general are subpar compared to the rest of the series, but Fortune's is truly disappointing.

BEST #2 - CYBORG NINJA [MGS]



In the first hours of Metal Gear Solid, Snake hunts through the Alaskan base for high-profile hostages. Finding one - the president of the ArmsTech weapons company - he finds himself entangled in a showdown with Revolver Ocelot, one of the members of FOXHOUND. Ocelot is a formidable gunfighter, able to ricochet bullets off of surfaces in order to hit Snake while the player is behind cover, but the fight isn't an overwhelmingly difficult one. Ocelot's a terrific character, but not quite a top five best bosses ever as far as combat goes.

The FINALE of the Ocelot gunfight comes out of literally fucking nowhere. Check out the entirety of the Ocelot encounter here: It's pretty short.



For those who can't YouTube at work, or whatever - an invisible ninja cuts off Ocelot's hand, saves the ArmsTech president, waxes poetic at Snake, flips the fuck out, and runs off, screaming. Literally no one seems to have any idea what's going on, least of all Snake.

A series of bizarre circumstances sends the player off in search of the head scientist for the Metal Gear project - the nerdy "Otacon" who you might've seen if you watched the Gamecube Helicopter video above. Outside the lab, Snake finds a trailer of blood and murder - seemingly left specifically for him to follow. Within the lab itself is the mysterious Cyborg Ninja, an opponent who seems to be present exclusively for the purpose of putting himself between Snake and his goal in order to goad the superspy into a fight. Snake's needs the assistance of the scientist in order to continue the mission, he's left with little choice. Snake asks who the ninja is - and receives only mysterious answers in response.

Like Fortune, the ninja is a seemingly invincible foe. Capable of superhuman movement, invisibility, equipped with a sword, and capable of deflecting or nullifying most of Snake's weapon-based attacks, he regularly snarls at Snake's attempts to take him down with his current armaments. Tossing a chaff grenade will temporarily stun the ninja's systems, but this buys only a temporary reprieve from the ninja's constant assault. This is at an early point in the game, when the player's health total is still relatively small, and this ninja's attacks deal some serious damage. It's all the player can do to run around the room and try to avoid the barrage while looking for some new tool or environmental element that will assist him in his fight.

"You can't beat me with a weapon like that," scoffs the ninja, with a cold, modulated voice.

For most players - myself, certainly - the obvious meaning to read into this hint is that Snake needs some other weapon in order to defeat the ninja. But while ammo respawns around the room (in small quantities), and some of the computers in the room are destructible, nothing readily lends itself towards ninja-murder. The player just picked up a remote-control missile launcher before the fight, but the ninja simply detonates these from long range (if I'm remembering this correctly.)

As it turns out, the ninja really means that you can't beat him... using a weapon. Snake has to put his weapon away and go hand to hand against the ninja. The ninja responds in kind, sheathing his sword so long as Snake doesn't have a gun out, evening the playing field to some degree.

The two beat each other senseless across the room, with the ninja relying more and more on his cybernetic enhancements in order to keep pace with Snake. Before too long, though, these electronic components become a liability, creating a torrent of power around the ninja as Snake bashes him over and over again. In truly creepy fashion, the ninja seems to exult in the beating, urging Snake to hurt him over and over again.

As the battle draws to a close, the ninja asks Snake if the spy has figured out who he is yet. Even if the player hasn't figured it out, Snake has - this is Gray Fox, a character who served at Snake's side in the very first Metal Gear game, who turned heel and fought against him in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Snake had left Gray Fox for dead in that second title, after beating him apparently to death in a fist fight in the middle of an active minefield. Fox was apparently retrieved and resuscitated as the Cyborg Ninja, a shell of a man, haunted only by his memories of the battlefield. Only in the pain of battle against Snake does he feel alive.

Just as this revelation is made, the ninja's systems freak out yet again, sending him fleeing from the room in a mania, his brain torn apart.

Even as someone who hadn't played the original Metal Gear titles, the Cyborg Ninja encounter is a haunting experience. The Ninja is not merely a seemingly invincible foe, but he's clearly someone that knows something of Snake and Snake's history. His presence and his single-minded intention to battle Snake in such a specific, such a surprisingly simple yet creepy way, not only highlights the harrowing nature of Snake's missions, but also the far-reaching implications of Snake's actions within the Metal Gear world.

WORST #2 - BIG BOSS [MG2:SS]



Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was never released on its own in America - primarily because the MSX Computer console that it was made for was never released here, either! English-readin' fans like myself had to play the adventure using translated ROMs and emulators for a long time, although an official "release" was finally packaged with the Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence PS2 release. I couldn't wait to try it out, seeing as so much of the game's history seemed to be wrapped up in Metal Gear 2 in particular - the betrayal and fall of Gray Fox, and the final stand of Big Boss, whose origins the player explores in Metal Gear Solid 3 (a prequel set during the Cold War) and Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops (another prequel that follows MGS3 and continues the story of Big Boss's rise to prominence.)

As someone who's both faced Big Boss (in the original Metal Gear title, which I had by now already played) and used Big Boss as a player character (referred to by his Cold War codename "Naked Snake" in MGS3,) I was pretty stoked to play through the final encounter against this legendary soldier using Solid Snake. Metal Gear 2 impressed me for such a dated game, featuring many mechanics that I realized would be reused for Metal Gear Solid, including some of the encounter types, like the helicopter battle, the ninja encounter, the chase up a long spiral staircase, the ambush in an elevator, and the hand-to-hand battle against the pilot of Metal Gear.

So. Snake has destroyed Metal Gear and killed his best friend, Gray Fox, but he's managed to save the day and rescue everyone what needs rescuing. But no! Big Boss makes his appearance just as Snake thinks the battle is over. Big Boss begins a Final Villain Speech, which means he's raring up for the final encounter, which is a problem, because Snake's lost all of his equipment by now. His fight against Gray Fox, recall, was a fist fight. Snake brought his fists to a gunfight against the world's most renowned soldier.

Having played the Ninja fight and the Gray Fox fight previously, I expected that I would somehow need to take Big Boss down in similar fashion. So as soon as the fight began, I of course charged in with fists a-swingin'! It felt kinda weird to me that they would reuse the "you must use melee to win" mechanic over again, but hey, who am I to judge?

Well, as it turns out, they didn't reuse it. Big Boss pulls out a gun and shoots you down like a dog if you try to fistfight him. This didn't click for me until a couple of tries in. Frustrated, I double-checked my inventory, but only found Snake's ever-present cigarette lighter.

So ... if that doesn't work, then there must be some cool weapon I need to use nearby. So I started running around and looking for guns. All the while, Big Boss keeps after you, marching forward like a Terminator unit, ready to mow you down where you stand.

There's a lot of storage rooms in the area. Most of them are filled, inexplicably, with keycards for the OTHER storage rooms. The player is forced to flee from death while desperately flipping through their inventory as they look for something that will help them. All you find is MORE KEYCARDS. All the while, Big Boss wants you dead. Snake starts to get desperate. A ray of hope appears in his peripheral vision - a room with some other item in it! Snake lunges forward, hoping for a hand gun, a knife, ANYTHING. He picks up hairspray.

There is an aerosol can of hair spray in the storage closet. And as ever-fucking-useful Master Miller points out, you can combine the cigarette lighter and the aerosol spray to make a flamethrower.

This is your Excalibur. Your silver bullet. Your Golden Gun. This is what you use to kill the final boss. The hero of Metal Gear Solid 3. The supposed greatest soldier in the world. You spray aerosol at him over a cigarette lighter while he shoots guns with bullets at you. (One would assume he's wielding the Patriot gun that you get for beating MGS3 - a pistol-grip assault rifle with a shortened barrel and infinite ammo. It certainly packs the same level of punch.)

This fight is not only a joke within the confines of the more well-known, more polished series, but it is a travesty within the limited scope of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. And this is a game that features a boss called Running Man whose gimmick is that he is the fastest mercenary on the planet. I can buy that. I accept that within the definitions of the Metal Gear universe as an encounter that makes sense. But Big Boss is so built up as an incredible foe - nay, a worthy adversary - that his ultimate end at the end of a Bic lighter and a half-used can o' Vidal Sassoon just feels so terribly, terribly wrong.

BEST #2 - LIQUID OCELOT [MGS4]



The final boss of the final major entry in the series deserves a bit of explanation, although I'm sure the telling of it will probably cost what little readership I actually have. Liquid Ocelot is Revolver Ocelot, from the previous games. But remember when he lost his hand to the ninja in that video earlier? Well, he had a new hand grafted onto his arm, but for whatever reason, he took the arm of his former comrade, Liquid Snake - that charming helicopter pilot and Snake's evil twin brother. At the end of Metal Gear Solid 2, after several incidents of near-resurgence, Liquid Snake's disembodied spirit apparently takes full control of Ocelot's brain and completely overrides his personality, essentially "possessing" the older gentleman exclusively to continue to wreck havoc on Snake's world (and to war against an insane shadow government that seems to work behind the scenes in many of the games - particularly the near-future ones - but that's better left untalked about.)

By the time Metal Gear Solid 4 (the PlayStation 3 installment) rolls around, Liquid Ocelot - as he's now called - has become the leader of a paramilitary organization that directs mercenary forces all over the world, causing chaos and demolishing nations for the highest bidder, all the while working towards a goal of ultimate military dominance wherein they are the only armed force on the planet with operational guns (made possible by the electronic ID tagging now inherent to nearly all modern weaponry.) Complicated? You bet it is. It even gets relatively stupid at times. Maybe OFTEN.

What's way more important than the actual details of the plot, where the action happens, or what all goes down is the ongoing feud between Snake (once again the player character, for the first time in nearly 7 years) and Liquid. Snake doggedly chases down his opponent across the globe, desperately trying to confound his plans, even when they're not completely comprehensible, simply for the fact that his "brother" is a madman and will lead the world into destruction no matter what. The issue is made even more urgent by the fact that Snake's body is rapidly deteriorating as a result of flaws in his genetic structure: despite being in his early forties, Snake's body is emaciated like that of a 70 or 80 year old, and he has less than a year to live. Although the gadgets and equipment that he finds himself equipped with allow him to continue on as a super spy for this final mission, it's clear as the game goes on that Snake's condition is worsening badly. Injections of nanomachines allow for quick bursts of tremendous physical activity, and are regularly abused by the villains... included Liquid Ocelot, who's not particularly young himself.

As the game rolls on, Snake manages - with the help of his friends and allies - to put an end to Ocelot's plan to take control of "the System" and puts an end to the war between their opposing forces... but Ocelot himself not only evades capture, but he gets the drop on Snake while our hero experiences a moment of complete and utter exhaustion.

Liquid Ocelot hauls Snake to the top of his submarine-like vessel and pontificates at length, lecturing about his plans and the successes of his war regardless (or, in some cases, because of) Snake's interference. Snake, quivering with exhaustion and age, is barely able to get up, much less resist the fact that Liquid won't shut up.

Liquid gives him a little help in the form of a nanomachine shot. "The war is over," intoned Ocelot, "But we still have a score to settle." After all that globetrotting, all that chasing, and all that struggling - Liquid wants a proper showdown with you just as badly as you do, and he's willing to throw away total and complete victory for the sake of the battle.

The two begin to fight.



Beating each other within an inch of their lives, struggling for any and every advantage, both fighters snatch up a nanomachine syringe - and plunge it into the other's neck. These two hate each other's guts more than anything in the world, but they only exist to war with one another. Their only purpose is to fight. And the player has followed their battle - in all likelihood, if they made it to this point in Metal Gear Solid 4 - through all three of the previous games. They've borne witness to every quip, every jab, every roundhouse.

Metal Gear Solid 4 recognizes and uses that history. As the syringes refuel the two decaying men, putting them back in fighting form, the lifebars take on a different look than they have for the rest of the title. They resemble not the sleek, minimalist bars of MGS4, but rather, the blocky, digital-pixel versions from the original Metal Gear Solid PlayStation title.

And suddenly, so do the controls.

As you begin fighting against Liquid in the actual battle, you find that things have changed. Reverted. The music, the controls, and even Liquid's AI behavior - all of it is a mirror of the original battle against Liquid at the end of Metal Gear Solid (not actually featured in this list, so don't look for it.) Your tactics even have to match that fight. You, the player, are reliving that exact battle. As the fight procedes on, the fight shifts to include elements from the subsequent games (Metal Gear Solids 2 and 3) before finally ending in the Metal Gear Solid 4 style battle - but by this time, both combatants are incredibly weary, and their battle is reduced almost entirely to massive punches, any of which could be the end.

You can see the actual playable part here:



The cinematic that precedes this fight is one of my all-time favorite scenes in games... I'm always amazed when I re-realize that. This is totally a brawl between two enormously old, vaguely homoerotic, inexplicably ripped dudes. But the advanced age highlights what the entire game has built up to - these characters have a tremendous history to them that the player has been a part of, and their constant struggle against one another has taken an unbelievable toll. The scene itself is incredibly well choreographed. It feels superhuman and action-packed while still retaining a visceral, somehow grounded-in-reality tone of bones breaking and spittle flying. I love that the impracticality of Snake's bandana finally comes into playing during the battle. The ingenious use of music is really what seals the deal. As Snake hovers at death's door, he suddenly surges back and presses on, unwilling to let Liquid take him out so easily. The notes are from the main theme of the Metal Gear Solid series, and their soft notes highlight the terrible beauty of their conflict. The actual fight moves near the 3:20 mark are taken straight from the revised cinematic of the battle from the Twin Snakes rerelease of the original game, literally echoing the previous confrontation.

The actual fight itself is a treat to play, forcing your mind to race back years and years to the previous games as you think of how to overcome each battle, all the while relishing the re-imaginations of those classic conflicts. It's easy to fall prey to the exact same tricks and mistakes that the AI would try to lead you into with the previous battles - featuring their own sort of charm, in spite of your failure.

Everything about the fight represents a true, final showdown with an entity that you've fought against for over a decade of gameplay if you've been following the series. It's a remarkable, poignant end.

WORST #1 - SOLIDUS SNAKE [MGS2]



As a designer, I feel pretty strongly about what a final boss battle should accomplish if you feel the need to feature one in your game. While it should make sense from a narrative standpoint (at least a little, anyway), and hopefully provide some degree of emotional catharsis in the struggle (see my notes about Liquid above!), what's truly important from a GAMEPLAY perspective is that you utilize everything that you've learned as you play the game and use it to complete this big final challenge. Everything that you've done throughout the game should feel like practice towards this last challenge.

Solidus Snake, the final villain of Metal Gear Solid 2, doe a rather poor job of being a final villain.

Solidus Snake is, first of all, an extraordinarily lazy character. He's touted as another "twin" to the brothers Solid and Liquid Snake, somehow achieving some nebulous "perfection" as a result of his genetic balance, utilizing the genes that made each of his brothers such enormously capable soldiers. Not only is Solidus (even his NAME is lazy!) an incredible soldier, but he was apparently also once PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. He also leads Dead Cell (see my notes on Fortune and her ilk earlier in the article), has access to some incredible technology that for literally no explained reason arrives in the form of missle-launching Doctor Octopus arms (I'm not fucking making this up.) To seal the deal, his preferred weapons are a set of Japanese samurai swords.

I feel like this is a character I would've made up when I was two years old, and then quickly hid so that no one would realize how horribly uncreative I was. This guy is a mish-mash of the randomest fucking shit, and very few of his actions throughout the game come across as menacing, much less logical. His goal seems to be to unearth the location of the strange shadow organization that I mentioned briefly earlier. In order to do that, he kidnaps the current President of the United States at the Big Shell location in order to get access to Arsenal gear, a Manta Ray-shaped superstition that is also a computer. I think. Metal Gear Solid 2 was a remarkable exercise in meta-narrative, and it was a lot of fun to play, but the story was pretty ridiculous and not very good. I say that with all the enthusiasm of someone who absolutely loves this series to death. I can't be more chagrinned about this. MGS2 has its merits, but this particular bit of storyteling is not a great part of it.

Solidus is at the heart of it all - an ends-justify-the-means soldier who wants to liberate the world, but whose plans must be stopped by superspy Raiden (the player avatar for most of MGS2) because the AI supercomputer shadow government has Raiden's traitorous pregnant girlfriend held captive. Also, Solidus apparently killed Raiden's parents. (That particular bit of info is revealed with about as much build up as I gave it in this paragraph.)

FINE. Okay. So Solidus has to go. So you sneak him to death, right? Or you use all the incredible skills you've accumulated throughout the game. Or you fist-fight. Or something.

No. Inexplicably, the Ninja character from MGS2 gives his sword to Snake near the end of the game with the intention of passing it on to Raiden. Raiden accepts the gift, but the sword is wildly inefficient in the following sequence of gameplay, requiring the player to stop short every time that they want to make an attack of some kind. While it's a lethal cutting tool, it feels clunky and unwieldy and ultimately unnecessary during the battle - and is shortly followed by a boss battle against MULTIPLE Metal Gears wherein it is completely useless.

The sword is the ONLY weapon available to you for the final battle. Remember how Solidus prefers to fight with a pair of samurai blades? Well, he has rocket shoes and Octopus arms and missiles and super strength to go along with it. You get cartwheels. Raiden has to cartwheel around a roof, trying desperately not to be lit on fire, or hit with a rocket-propelled grenade, in the hopes of catching Solidus while he's recovering from an attack animation so that you can stand perfectly still while you wave your sword around like a pre-teen trying to smack a piƱata.

Behold!



Everything about this showdown was a disappointment. The mechanics didn't make sense. They weren't fun. The player looks like an idiot running around with that sword. The fucking backdrop wasn't even interesting to look at. And it came at the tail end of a long, long, long series of conversations where the player is told over and over again "You must do X, and you don't have any choice in the matter," and you really and truly don't. Ground-breaking narrative style? Maybe. But irritating.

BEST #1 - THE BOSS [MGS3]



Metal Gear Solid 3 takes place in 1964, at the height of the Cold War. Your mentor, a soldier known only as "The Boss," has turned traitor and gone over to the Soviet Union. Through villainous mishaps, the United States faces being blamed for an accidental nuclear explosion, and the only way to avert all-out nuclear war is for you - Jack, codenamed "Naked Snake," the man that would one day be known as "Big Boss," who would become father to Solid, Liquid, and Solidus Snake - is to infiltrate the Soviet Union, track down your mentor, and kill her.

This is problematic for Snake (I'm speaking of the MGS3 protagonist, here) for a number of reasons. First of all, from the earliest minutes of the game, it's made clear that the Boss and Snake share a one-of-a-kind bond with one another. More than master and student, more than fellow warriors, more than mother and son, the two have a kinship unlike any I've ever really seen displayed between two characters. It's a feeling of mutual respect, a feeling of loyalty to one another, of belief in each other to the bitter end. But as the Boss says over and over to Snake, his duties as a soldier require him to move beyond those feelings. She is now his enemy, and their past is irrelevant - he MUST learn to dedicate himself to the mission and to his country, or else he will never realize his true potential. Snake wrestles with his ongoing feelings for his former mentor even as he continues his mission.

It's also problematic because the Boss is an exceptionally talent soldier. Throughout the game, she literally manhandles Snake at nearly every altercation, literally tossing him on his ass with little to no effort. She dismantles his gun in close-quarters combat almost entirely on instinct. She handles herself with grace and fluidity like no one else in the game has ever seen. She is, quite seriously, an invincible opponent.

She is your final challenge. After the villains of the Soviet have been put down, and after their doomsday weapon - the Metal Gear-esque "Shagohod" - has been demolished, the Boss is the only thing standing between Snake and an escape back to the free world. She is the final objective in his mission. In order for peace to continue between the USA and the USSR, she must be eliminated.

The Boss waits for Snake near the aircraft that will spirit him away. As Snake approaches this enormous field of white flowers, she fires yet another nuclear weapon, taking the blame for the attack and guaranteeing that the Soviets will respond to her presence. One way or the other, death will arrive for both her and for her student in ten minutes. Her death is a certainty - the only question is, can the player defeat her within the time limit in order to make a getaway?

The battle begins.

The Boss is capable of dishing out as much damage in gameplay as she is in cinematics. She will completely school you if you allow her to run up on you while you're trying to shoot her. She tosses you to the ground, inflicting tremendous damage (and likely breaking a few bones), while casually taking your currently-equipped gun to pieces. She sprays gunfire quickly and easily with the aforementioned "Patriot" gun, a custom-built weapon capable of annihilating a player that doesn't take her advice to run. She's incredibly mobile, capable of covering the entirety of the field with aplomb. Finally, in a game where being camouflaged can mean the difference between life and death, her white outfit blends in perfectly with the tall flowers of the meadow.

While this fight is the culmination of a truly incredible story between two people who love one another but are forced to kill each other anyway, that's not what gets me about this fight. It's not the incredibly beautiful setting or the grace and style of the animations. It's not the tense silence of the first five minutes - and then the incredible fade-in of the game's theme song, a James Bond-styled number called "Snake Eater," that plays over the final minutes of the encounter. It's not even the challenge of overcoming an apparently "ultimate" opponent.

What really sells this fight for me is that the player can approach it almost any way that they want. Any of the player's weapons, any of their preferred approaches are viable. Hand to hand combat? If you've got what it takes, you can actually defeat the Boss this way. Pistols? Rifles? Sniping? Traps? Explosives? Any of the things that you've accumulated throughout your battle, almost ANYTHING that you have access to is a useful tool. You can even manage to hide from the boss by utilizing cover and camouflage in order to send her looking for you. Metal Gear Solid 3 allows you to act like the soldier that you've spent the game crafting Snake into. It doesn't railroad you into a specific set of mechanics for the encounter, nor does it senselessly take weapons away, or restrict you to "the useful ones," as is often the case against Metal Gear units. In this incredible final battle, the player can actually fulfill the demands made by the Boss early on - to realize what it means to Snake to be a soldier.

Here's one video out of the few nice-quality shots of the fight that I could find as I finished this article up. A lot of the rest of the videos seem to be all about speed or strategy and showing off how quickly they can take down this character - which is fine, but it doesn't really demonstrate the majesty of the encounter. This one features the player using melee-tactics to counter the Boss's out attacks, and use darts while the Boss is stuck on the ground. It's followed by the concluding cutscene:



What's not 100% clear from that scene is that the player has to pull the trigger at the final moment. The game will wait until the player presses the relevant button and finishes the job that they came here to do. It's not simply enough for the player to watch Snake put a bullet in the person he loves most in the world - the player IS Snake by this point, and they have come to feel the same way that Snake has. Feelings of regret... but also of duty.

*


So, that's what I think. Completely unintentionally, 3 of the top 5 are all from the original game, which I think speaks well of how awesome that title was. MGS3 was also incredible, but the original is really just remarkable in a number of ways. All of the entries in the series have something to offer, but the moments that really stick with you are these crazy encounters with over-the-top villains. There's pretty clearly a fine line between incredible gameplay ideas and frustrating bullshit, but more often than not, Metal Gear manages to deliver.

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