By Marty Mulrooney
Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots is a novelisation of the PlayStation 3 video game Metal Gear Solid 4 written by the late Japanese author Keikaku (Project) Itoh and translated into English by Nathan Collins. It tells the story of the legendary soldier Solid Snake as he battles both the deadly FOXDIE virus coursing through his veins that will soon turn him into a walking biological weapon, and his old enemy Liquid Ocelot, who is planning to hijack a worldwide nanotechnology network known as the Sons of the Patriots.
Let me tell you a story about the Snake I know best.
The Snake who was my friend. The Snake who changed my life.
Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots is told from the perspective of Hal ‘Otacon’ Emmerich, chief engineer of Metal Gear REX and close friend of Solid Snake. Project Itoh places Otacon in the role of narrator, recounting the arduous final mission of Snake whilst reflecting on previous missions that they undertook together. It’s an inspired creative decision from a storytelling perspective that allows the narrative to always retain a human element – during the events of the book Snake is drawn ever closer to death. Aged beyond his years and with time running out, his final battles continue to damage him physically and emotionally even further still. It pains Otacon greatly to see his friend – the legendary hero – in such poor shape. It taints the entire book with sadness.
The story closely follows the complex plot of the game upon which it is based. The year is 2014 and the ‘war economy’ reigns supreme, with PMCs (Private Military Companies) waging war across the globe. The world’s five largest PMCs are all part of the same mercenary company, Outer Heaven, which is ruled by Liquid Ocelot. Genetic engineering scientist Naomi Hunter – who may or may not be working against her will – is tasked with hacking into the SOP, an advanced battlefield control system that monitors and enhances the performance of soldiers injected with nanomachines. This system is operated by five highly intelligent computer AIs known as The Patriots. Liquid Ocelot – the man formerly known as Revolver Ocelot, whose mind is seemingly possessed by the persona of Snake’s brother Liquid – plans to take control of the SOP and unleash a global insurrection.
With a voiceless roar, he lifted his Operator and stumbled into the courtyard. He pushed his way through the throngs of writhing and flailing soldiers. He fought against waves of overwhelming nausea. With saliva streaming from his mouth, he closed in on Liquid.
Suddenly, Liquid pointed straight at him.
Snake paused as if pierced straight through.
Liquid gazed down upon the courtyard in chaos and boomed, “Brother, it’s been too long!”
Despite the complexities of the story, Snake final mission is, at its very core, simple. It’s a covert assignment – a hired hit. It’s a wetworks op with only one agenda: stop Liquid by any means necessary. This isn’t a sneaking mission. It’s an assassination. Snake and his friends – including Otacon, the half man, half cyborg ninja Raiden, and a little girl named Sunny who cooks eggs with varying degrees of success – must chase Liquid across the globe and put a stop to his plans before it’s too late. Whilst doing so, Snake must face a ticking clock of his own. He carries a virus called FOXDIE within his bloodstream that is mutating and could eventually kill the entire human race. A clone of the legendary soldier Big Boss, Snake was born sterile and with a shortened lifespan, causing his body to age rapidly. He’s 42 trapped in the body of a 70+ year-old man.
Project Itoh is obviously a huge fan of the source material and this book is clearly a labour of love. Following the masterstroke of making Otacon the narrator, Itoh also made the decision along with friend and Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima to omit the Beauty and the Beast Unit – key opponents in the video game that were presented as boss battles – entirely. It makes sense for the novelisation. There is enough action present already and by omitting these more video gamey characters and moments, the cast of series regulars can be more closely followed and wholly embody the weighty themes present throughout the narrative. Although the story is contained admirably (with several nods to key moments from the previous games in the series), in truth it is likely that fans of the franchise will get a lot more out of this book than newcomers.
I have stuffed my thoughts into the lines within. I may have put in too much; if it’s a little overpowering, I hope you’ll endure it.
Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots does complete justice to the landmark video game – and series of Metal Gear Solid as a whole – upon which it is based. Sometimes it can be slightly too wordy, preachy and heavy-handed, stretching out such moments to breaking point. At other times, the dialogue can feel unnatural and entirely self-aware and the storyline is equally as convoluted as it is gripping. In other words, it embodies the flawed masterpiece that is Metal Gear Solid 4 perfectly. Otacon is the narrator of Snake’s final battle, but he also narrates the battle of the author who breathed reverent life into this project.
The afterword by Project Itoh, along with an interview with Hideo Kojima, are particularly touching. Itoh first met Kojima with tears streaming down his face after witnessing Metal Gear Solid on Sony PlayStation at the Spring ‘98 Tokyo Game Show. He later became a novelist and close friend of Kojima. They planned to work together again on another Metal Gear Solid novelisation, but after a long battle with cancer, Itoh sadly passed away in March 2009. Kojima says that when he made Metal Gear Solid 4, he always wondered: Would this game make Itoh-san happy? Therefore, he already dwells inside the game. It’s a beautiful sentiment – this book serves both as an epic adventure, and the unbreakable bond between two dear friends.
9.5 OUT OF 10