From Liquid to Solid: a Metal Gear retrospective

Solid Snake is the main character of Hideo Kojima’s well-known Metal Gear series and one of the gaming world’s greatest icons. This silent footed mercenary-spy-agent-man-person has been regularly hailed as one of the best gaming protagonists to ever come to light.

Because the upcoming release of the latest Metal Gear installment, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, is drawing closer, we decided to take a look back at the history of the Metal Gear series and its hero, Solid Snake. In this article we take a trip down memory lane, recapping the epic years of gaming we’ve shared with him and how he originally came into existence.


Solid Snake first appeared in 1987 with the release of the original Metal Gear on the MSX computer. Back then, he was a rookie recruit of the FOXHOUND Special Forces team, an elite US Black Ops team that specialised in stealthily dealings with “local revolutions, regional complications, and global terrorist activities in ‘unauthorized’ combat zones too politically sensitive to intervene through conventional means.”

Metal Gear 1 (1987)

This Black Ops group was established by a man called Big Boss, a soldier who was known as the “greatest warrior of the 20th century”. But as he got older, the US military started to fear that they were going to lose their most valuable asset and in the 1970’s, they started Project Les Enfants Terribles (The Terrible Children). The aim of this project was to create clones of Big Boss so that they didn’t have to risk losing their super soldier. Solid Snake was the result of this project.

Later, Big Boss started project Outer Heaven, inspired by his need to control the world’s wars, and created a bi-pedal tank that had the ability to launch a nuclear missile from and to anywhere in the world. This secret weapon was called Metal Gear. This is where the game’s title is derived from and it is the core concept and theme that the Metal Gear series revolves around. The world’s militaries feared the creation of the Metal Gear tank and so Solid Snake was sent to dismantle Project Outer Heaven. In a series of infiltration missions, Solid Snake faced, and eventually killed Big Boss, without ever knowing that he was his genetic “son”.

Daddy issues

Early versions of Solid Snake were loosely based on movie action heroes, drawing inspiration from characters such as Snake Plissken (played by Kurt Russel) from Escape from New York. A very popular belief is that Snake also got his name from this movie character. But Hideo Kojima explained in a series of tweets that this was not the truth. “The reason I used Snake as code name in MG (Metal Gear) was Snake was the most appropriate symbol of living thing that hides his presence and sneaks without any noise.” Kojima explained.

Snake-s_Revenge (1990)

A sequel to Metal Gear was released on NES in 1990 called Snake’s Revenge, a title that Kojima had no part in. As Kojima despised the NES port of Metal Gear, claiming “that title has soiled my reputation”, you would think he would have hated Snake’s Revenge. But it turned out to be quite the contrary. “Actually, one of my juniors was working on the NES Snake’s Revenge and he said to me, ‘We’re making a sequel to Metal Gear, but what I really want is a true sequel made by you, Kojima-san.’ It’s because of that request that I ended up creating Metal Gear 2 on the MSX2.”

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was released later that year.

It was released only in Japanese until nearly sixteen years later when an English version was included as a bonus game with the PlayStation 2 hit Metal Gear Solid 3. Metal Gear 2 provided Snake with a lot extra tool and manoeuvres such as a radar and the ability to crawl and sneak.

In 1998, the first Metal Gear Solid was released on PlayStation 1.

Solid Snake was no longer based on movie characters but now took on his own unique appearance. It was also the first game in the series to use 3D graphics. The addition of “Solid” in the title not only referred to the lead character but also the new “solid graphics”.

Yogi Shinkawa (Solid Snake Illustrator)

Japanese concept artist/illustrator, Yoji Shinkawa, is the man who designed the new Solid Snake, an appearance that has become the Solid Snake most of us know today. Metal Gear Solid was also the first of the series to employ voice acting. Akio Otsuka provides the voice for the Japanese version of the game while David Hayter provided the English voice. But he has now been replaced by veteran actor, Kiefer Sutherland, in the latest installment, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

Metal Gear Solid V (Kiefer Sutherland)

Metal Gear Solid introduced a new rival in the place of Big Boss. It was Solid Snake’s twin clone brother, Liquid Snake. After Snake retires as the leader of FOXHOUND, Liquid Snake takes his place. Under the leadership of their new leader, FOXHOUND turns rogue and takes control of a nuclear facility in Alaska and a new Metal Gear weapon known as REX. They threaten to launch this nuclear weapon unless the US government hands over the remains of Big Boss. Solid Snake is forced out of retirement and once again sets out on a death-wish solo mission, his objective: terminate FOXHOUND and neutralize the looking nuclear threat.

Different strokes

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was released on PlayStation 2 in 2001. To the disbelief of many, Solid Snake was replaced as main protagonist (and playable character) by Raiden, a young rookie of FOXHOUND and an ex-Liberian child soldier. Kojima’s reason for this abrupt change was so that he could develop a Solid Snake from a third-person perspective. Just as many people expected to play as Solid Snake, so Raiden expected to be like Solid Snake. This is what Kojima aimed to accomplish, to further cement the superiority of Solid Snake from a third-person angle. A third clone brother, Solidus Snake, is also revealed in this title and serves as the antagonist.

Metal Gear Solid

Hideo Kojima

In Metal Gear Solid 2, Kojima focused on utilising the hardware capability of the PlayStation 2 to improve on the Metal Gear gaming experience. As Metal Gear Solid was a great success the funds provided for Metal Gear Solid 2 was considerably larger. Kojima used this advantage to focus more on developing a better gaming environment. He says: “When I heard about the hardware for the PlayStation 2, I wanted to try something new. Up to that point, all cut scenes had focused more on details like facial expression, but I wanted to pay more attention to the surroundings, to see how much I could change them in real time.”

Metal Gear Solid 2 (2001)

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was released in 2004 and it serves as the prequel for the entire game series, now putting you in the shoes of Naked Snake a.k.a. Big Boss, the “father” of Solid Snake.

In this title, many of the origins within the Metal Gear series are explored. You also experience Big Boss’ transformation into the legendary soldier he later became known as, and eventually he faces his mentor and patriarchal figure, The Boss.

Metal Gear Solid 3 (2004)

Metal Gear Solid 3 was originally intended to be made for the then upcoming PlayStation 3, but the waiting period was too long and Kojima had to settle for the PlayStation 2 instead. This is a setback for the developer because he was once again interested in pushing the limits of the game and taking it into a new direction.

He wanted to take the game into a jungle setting, something he claimed was what both his development team and Metal Gear fans craved for. He wanted to go for something more “realistic”. The problem was that it was extremely difficult to create a jungle environment because a jungle is filled with uneven terrain and as such, has no flat surfaces. Other elements also needed to be added, such as weather and wildlife, something that he could not achieve with the consoles and software of the time. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t stop Kojima and the previous titles’ collision engine was done away with and a new one was built from scratch.

Parting words

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was released in the 2008 and was the last released main title of the series.

Here, you are placed in the shoes of Old Snake, an elderly but still deadly Solid Snake. Because he’s a clone, he ages rapidly and is given a year to live. The year is 2014 and the world is overrun by Private Military Companies (PMC’s) and relies on their civil wars for a stable economy. These PMC’s are equipped with nanomachines, which enhance their battle abilities. These nanomachines are connected by a control network namely Sons of Patriots. This network gets taken over by the game’s antagonist, Liquid Ocelot, which he intends to use in his pursuit of world domination. On request of his former commanding officer, Solid Snake sets out to the Middle-East on one last mission to save mankind.

Metal Gear Solid 4 (2008)

Metal Gear Solid 3 was meant to be the end of the Metal Gear series. Yet due to increasing demand from fans to deliver another game, especially a sequel to Metal Gear Solid 2, it was decided to start development of Metal Gear Solid 4. It was the first title to be released on PlayStation 3 and as such, presented some problems for Kojima, as he explains: “The PlayStation 3 was quite a complex system; games had to be developed in three levels. By the end of the Metal Gear Solid 4 project we had nearly 200 people working on it, with three directors (although often they were directors in name only, and I ended up doing a lot). This is why the game was delayed.” The game did eventually get released and went on to international critical acclaim and won several awards such as Game of the Year from various major gaming publications, including GameSpot, who described it as “technically flawless”.

There is no doubt that the Metal Gear series is one of, if not the greatest gaming saga to have ever existed. It has entertained and enthralled us for over twenty years and now, exactly 27 years later, we are on the verge of immersing ourselves in another title. May the Metal Gear series last indefinitely and may the legend of Solid Snake live on.

Wiehahn Diederichs


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