One of the defining Metal Gear series is its incredibly dense and complicated storyline, a military fantasy epic filled with betrayals, amazing coincidences, pratfalls and switchbacks, double- and triple-crosses, supernatural and technobabble elements, and yes, a plot hole or two. It’s so difficult to keep all the schemes and players straight, in fact, that Kojima Productions released an exhaustive interactive document alongside Metal Gear Solid 4 which reads as a sort of Cliffnotes to the series. Even with that resource, though, it’s quite difficult to explain in short terms what the series is about.
My goal in this blog entry is to provide a concise resource people can point to explaining the series in the broadest strokes possible. Each individual game has a plot unto itself, of course, filled with fiddly details and twists and connections and references and retcons… but I’m not concerned with any of that at the moment. Let’s leave aside for a moment all the things that happen throughout the series and look at what it all means.
In the beginning, there was The Boss. For the purposes of the Metal Gear universe, we can safely say that The Boss is a symbol of perfection. Her ideal of a world without boundaries greatly inspired those who served with her, and her manipulation and death at the hands of her government had a deeply profound impact on those people. They formed an organization dedicated to preserving and fulfilling The Boss’s vision for the future. This group was The Patriots, and it was headed by Major Zero and Big Boss.
But neither Zero nor Big Boss were perfect (unlike The Boss), and so their interpretations of The Boss’s will was perverted. As a result, their methods deviated both from The Boss and from each other. Zero saw a world united through force, and worked to expand his military control and influence to that end. Big Boss, meanwhile, became obsessed with the idea of freedom from governments and other manipulating agencies. They had a falling out, and began working at cross-purposes.
Both Zero and Big Boss inflicted great evil upon the world. Zero became corrupted by absolute power, eventually leading to the creation of self-propogating AI systems that could control people down to the genetic level. Big Boss became the leader of several private militias, instilling in an entire generation of soldiers and mercenaries the dream of battle without adherence to a specific flag or ideology. Both men lost control over the systems they had created. Those systems took on a life of their own and began warring against one another with the help of nuclear-capable walking battle tanks.
One of Big Boss’s sons was Solid Snake. Snake had no knowledge of Zero’s machinations, nor did he share Big Boss’s obsessions. The world was a much simpler place, by Snake’s reckoning: regardless of country, creed or ideology, the world deserved to live without the fear of nuclear-capable walking battle tanks. Snake devoted virtually every moment of his life to saving the world from the disasters constantly brought on by his forebears. In this way Snake (and several of his close allies) fought for The Boss’s beliefs despite never being made aware of her existence.
In the end, Snake brings down the AIs and the private militias, leaving the world in a state much like what The Boss would have liked to see in her own lifetime. He bears witness to the deaths of Zero (who is too infirm to realize what is happening) and Big Boss (who is repentant of his course of action), and then exits the battlefield for good.
Whether or not the story has a “happy” ending depends on whether you consider Metal Gear Rising to be canon, I suppose. Other than that, I hope I’ve cleared it all up for you. Thanks for reading!