If one were to mention Solid Snake in a conversation about video game characters with a severe case of moral ambiguity and an identity crisis, I’m sure it would be a heated debate. Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear introduced the world to an unlikely covert hero in Solid Snake, perhaps one of the most recognizable figures in modern gaming. Part of an elaborate conspiracy directly connected to Big Boss, the series’ resident “nemesis”, Solid Snake’s journey throughout the Metal Gear universe is a complicated explanation that requires many spoilers, so to avoid the outlandish twists that the series is known for, let’s rather look at how Solid Snake’s shaky morality made him more of a villain than the same people he kills.

Solid Snake began as a rookie recruit of FOXHOUND, an elite special-forces unit lead by the elusive Big Boss. In the events of the first Metal Gear, Solid Snake is tasked by Big Boss to infiltrate Outer Heaven, a fortified base theorized to be developing a weapon called “Metal Gear”, to rescue his missing teammate Gray Fox and also uncover the truth behind the mysterious weapon. However, as one might expect, things don’t go as planned and Solid Snake uncovers a deeper conspiracy that perhaps directly ties into Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and its revelatory twist ending (bare with me, the plot for the series can get awfully convoluted sometimes) leading into the games’ sequel.

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake follows a similar overarching plot to the first game. Solid Snake is hired once again to infiltrate another enemy base, this time being in Zanzibar Land, who face an international oil crisis directly caused by them, and plan to bio-engineer an oil substitute in order to declare themselves as a new nuclear power. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with Snake when he discovers who the real culprits are behind the operation. Even though the plot threads may be similar, it’s the climactic twist of the game that brings out Solid Snake’s true colors, not only as his first betrayal (trust me, there’s many more to come), but how his reaction comes to shape his cold demeanor in future installments.

Metal Gear Solid shows Solid Snake in a more professional, colder state, infiltrating a nuclear weapons disposal facility on Shadow Moses Island to uncover the truth behind a new Metal Gear being developed called REX and defeat the more sinister members of FOXHOUND. What was once a safe haven for Snake soon becomes one of his targets as FOXHOUND quickly establishes itself as an evil organization determined to acquire control and power over international resources. This not only pushes him into a corner, but forces Solid Snake to adopt a lone wolf demeanor, treating all his missions from then on as carefully calculated and planned, something Hideo Kojima intricately captured through the new gameplay mechanics introduced in the first Metal Gear Solid that directly reflected Snake’s professionalism in stealth.

It’s not hard to explain why Solid Snake is such an iconic gaming character. His appealing design, which Kojima often stated was heavily inspired by the likeliness of Snake Plissken from John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, donning the eye-patch, sleek 80’s hairstyle and even the name “Snake”, became an internationally recognized character trait in gaming specified for the stealthy soldier. His personality, while more subdued than the average gaming hero, is a direct result of the events that transpired even before the first Metal Gear Solid began, as explained above. Literally living in the shadow of Big Boss, Snake’s conflicted personality in war marks him as the idealistic super-soldier with morality issues, blurring the line between a hero and villain as the body count accumulated by Snake begins to outweigh the very villains he sorts out to kill. This tipping of the justice scale is the central theme behind Kojima’s series, and brilliantly illustrated by Solid Snake himself.

Solid Snake, as the central protagonist behind the Metal Gear and Metal Gear Solid series (for the most part on the latter), came to pioneer the cold, lone wolf character traits that weren’t adopted by most stealthy soldier/assassin gaming heroes at the time. Being the subject of one of gaming’s more bewildering twists that Kojima practically reinvents with every single Metal Gear Solid game, Solid Snake’s shifting personality and mysterious, insane and revealing history lands him a deserving spot as stealth gaming’s most beloved icon.

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