Why are you here?

Most game bosses lack a certain amount of coherency with the plot at large. They’re designed to be big and scary and difficult, and most enemies in video games aren’t those things: they’re usually absent entirely, and when they’re present, they aren’t very powerful or interesting.

Metal Gear Solid 4 is a prime example of this. The enemies are, maddeningly, nanomachines and proxy wars and PMCs, none of which really make a good boss fight. You can’t fight a proxy war. Well, you can fight a proxy war, but not in a climactic encounter. So Metal Gear Solid 4 decides to revive the most fantastic villains in the series: Liquid Snake, Naomi, Vamp, and …Metal Gear (imagine a David Hayter growl). The first two make perfect, logical sense. The last one does, too, because the name of the game is Metal Gear Solid. Vamp…sure, Vamp is there just to fight in dramatic cutscenes and eventually die happy, but…it’s a loose end that definitely had to be cleared up, and makes a good boss fight. Flimsier excuses have been used for boss fights in a Japanese video game.

And then, Hideo Kojima, in his infinite wisdom, decided the game needed more bosses. Four of them. With the callsigns Octopus, Raven, Wolf, and Mantis. You know, like the bosses in Metal Gear Solid.

These four characters are the most manipulative, vapid, and petty boss fights in any video game.

Metal Gear Solid has a tradition of wacky bosses. This probably explains why the Beauty and the Beast corps exist. To be wacky. Metal Gear Solid had Foxhound. Sons of Liberty had Dead Cell (including MGS4 boss Vamp). Snake Eater had the Cobra Unit. The Beauties were necessary to fit the theme. Fitting the theme is, of course, one of the big ways MGS4 shoots itself in the foot, but that’s another show.

The Beauties are Laughing Octopus, who is a Doctor Octopus clone with octocamo skills much like Decoy Octopus in the first game (there’s a pattern here). Raging Raven is basically a Hind D (what’s a Russian gunship doing here?) who looks like a bird. Crying Wolf, despite the fact that *she’s a fucking armored wolf* fights you in a sniper battle, only rending you occasionally. Screaming Mantis is Pscyho Mantis. There’s no gimmick here, besides the gimmick.

The thing is the series of battles in previous games made sense. Foxhound, in the first game, made sense. They carried the plot. Otacon loved Sniper Wolf, Decoy Octopus demonstrated the effects of Foxdie and was a lover, not a fighter, and Revolver Ocelot was important overall. Vulcan Raven was kind of a random obstacle, but he said some interesting things, and provided some good thematic insight into Snake. Psycho Mantis was the only one who really didn’t matter at all. He was a gimmick, but you can get away with a gimmick boss if the rest matter.

You will note, of course, that Psycho Mantis was the one they copied whole hog for this game. The one who didn’t matter.

Sons of Liberty had Dead Cell, who were fantastic. Sons of Liberty was basically as much of a clusterfuck as MGS4 is, but it was carried by a good cast of villains. Vamp and Fortune, of course, were central to the plot. This left one other living member, Fat Man, who was ridiculous but had a degree of plot importance. That was it*. No absurd bosses. Sure, all three were silly, but all three were relevant and could motivate you to fight. Snake Eater had the same thing: sure, the bosses were pretty random. However, The Sorrow was plot related, and The End was spectacular, so the lesser bosses (the Pain, the Fear, the Fury) don’t bother us too much. Some silly bosses are okay, of course.

The problem is, all of MGS4’s bosses are silly bosses. None of them have any relation to the plot except Screaming Mantis, who is related only in the sense that she involves a completely nonsensical boss from the first game (a fantastic boss, but one who had no relation to the plot). The game tries to work Laughing Octopus into the plot, but forgets that her role could have easily been filled by Vamp. She’s there because she’s silly, and she could create a boss fight. Raging Raven literally doesn’t matter. She happens for no reason. She’s not even trying to stop Snake from anything. She’s just…Snake fights her because she’s there. Crying Wolf appears because you have to go through Sniper Wolf’s old field. That is the only reason she exists: to remind you of Sniper Wolf. Screaming Mantis is Psycho Mantis, in any way you can think of. Like, this is not subtle.

None of these characters do anything besides provide epic battles, and they aren’t even that epic. Screaming Mantis suffers from being a rehash of a good idea from three games ago. Raging Raven is the Hind D fight, just made more frustrating. Laughing Octopus is the most generic boss fight. All three had some potential to be exciting, but instead they lean on nostalgia or don’t fulfill their potential.

Crying Wolf, at least, is a proper boss fight. It’s tense, it’s challenging, and it does what a good boss fight does: it stresses your weaknesses. Laughing Octopus was a good idea, except that in the end she de-evolves into a shooting match, and Snake’s power is guns. He’s got guns. Raging Raven is boring and not especially threatening. Wolf, at least, is tough, because the difficulty is finding her. With the Solid Eye running out of batteries, a thick, opaque snowstorm, and only her footprints to follow, it becomes a tense game of cat and mouse that doesn’t rely you on you shooting to be fun.

That, of course, doesn’t change that she needn’t have existed. She’s just a bigger soldier Liquid hired to stop you. All four are the opposite of dramatic in a game designed around massive, immense melodrama. They are the modern equivalent of the big monster you found in a cave guarding a sword in Dragon Warrior, who had no possible reason to exist but did so you could kill them.

The Beauties exist only to die by Snake’s hand. This is drilled in by Drebin, who calls you after each fight to tell you a why you should care story, portraying Snake as some sort of deliverer. These were the most patronizing scenes in a very patronizing game, where some guy speaks lines of dialog at you to explain why you should care. It’s the opposite of good video game storytelling. It’s the opposite of good storytelling, period. It’s telling you, after the fact, about why this enemy is important. It’s a key difference from the first game; in Metal Gear Solid, your contacts could be called be*Immediate note: Solidus Snake was also a member, but he was also the fucking president of the United States. Interesting side note: originally Sons of Liberty was meant to feature two additional bosses: Old Boy and Chinaman. A weird note of Kojima cutting things from his games. You know, before MGS4 happened.fore hand to talk about the enemy. In Metal Gear Solid 4, they are obstacles until they are summarily explained by a completely unnecessary character after the fact.

They are, however, the perfect metaphor for MGS4: a game you plow through until it is explained to you after the fact.

*Immediate note: Solidus Snake was also a member, but he was also the fucking president of the United States. Interesting side note: originally Sons of Liberty was meant to feature two additional bosses: Old Boy and Chinaman. A weird note of Kojima cutting things from his games. You know, before MGS4 happened.


  1. Fernando Cordeiro

    Psycho Mantis was actually the reason why other gene soldiers took part into Liquid’s uprising. Liquid and Ocelot even discuss the problem of the men’s morale sinking without Mantis’ brainwashing. The only random element in MGS, plot-wise, was Vulcan Raven.

    But then again, someone was needed to drive that tank…

    • Tom

      Oh right!

      It’s been a while since I played it; I forgot he had a role. Which is fine, because it only hammers home the point that the new bosses were stupid. xD