|Metal Gear character|
CGI render of Venom Snake for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
|First appearance||Metal Gear (1987)|
|Last appearance||Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (2015)|
|Created by||Hideo Kojima|
|Designed by||Yoji Shinkawa, Chihoko Uchiyama|
|Full name||Assigned by the player|
|Alias||Punished Snake, Ahab, V, Big Boss' phantom|
Venom Snake (ヴェノム・スネーク, Venomu Sunēku), also known as Punished Snake (パニッシュド・スネーク, Panishudo Sunēku), is a fictional character from Konami's Metal Gear video game series. Created by Hideo Kojima and designed by Yoji Shinkawa, he is most notably the protagonist in the 2015 game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. He is performed via voice acting and performance capture by Akio Ōtsuka in the Japanese version and by Kiefer Sutherland in the English version.
Venom Snake is the leader of a mercenary unit who returns to the battlefield after waking up from a nine-year coma in an incident that also resulted in the loss of his left arm and a piece of shrapnel embedded into the right side of his forehead. While initially introduced in-game as long-standing Metal Gear character Big Boss, hints of his true identity gradually emerge throughout the course of the story. It is ultimately revealed that he is actually a former physician and combat medic who underwent facial reconstruction and subliminal brainwashing to serve as Big Boss' body double; via retcon, Venom Snake is also revealed to be the man killed by Solid Snake at the end of the original 1987 game.
Venom Snake and his role as a replacement for Big Boss in The Phantom Pain received mixed opinions from critics, with some finding the decision fitting in the context of the series, while others thought it negated the emotional crux of the game's story or failed to provide closure.
Metal Gear Solid V
Venom Snake (ヴェノム・スネーク, Venomu Sunēku) makes a minor appearance in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes as an unnamed combat medic and then throughout Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain as the player character also known as Punished Snake (パニッシュド・スネーク, Panishudo Sunēku).
His original identity (whose face is partially obscured when he's on-screen) was employed by Big Boss's Militaires Sans Frontières private forces. He accompanies Big Boss in the helicopter extraction of Ricardo Valenciano Libre and Pacifica Ocean from a U.S. Naval prison facility in Cuba in 1975. The medic successfully removes a time bomb implanted inside Pacifica's abdomen, however, fails to notice a second bomb within Pacifica's womb which goes off, causing their helicopter to crash in the process. The medic shields Big Boss from the blast and two men survive the crash, but the medic ends up losing his left arm while fragments of bones and teeth are buried within his body, including a large piece of shrapnel lodged within his cerebral cortex. Both Big Boss and the medic fall into a coma for the next nine years. During his coma, the medic gets transferred to a hospital in Cyprus, where he was subjected to Zero's process of subconscious brainwashing and facial reconstruction in order to be Big Boss' mental doppelganger and draw attention away from his mental template.
After awakening, Snake escapes the hospital following an attack by XOF strike force and is extracted by Revolver Ocelot. He takes command of the Diamond Dogs mercenary unit along with a new Mother Base constructed near Seychelles in 1984. Snake then engages in a series of missions in Afghanistan and Central Africa as he and Kazuhira Miller seek revenge for lost comrades and pursues the Cipher organization. With Miller and Ocelot as advisers, he recruits several individuals into his army, including companions such as the sniper Quiet and the canine D-Dog. Snake ultimately comes face to face with XOF's leader Skull Face, as well as the traitorous Huey Emmerich and child mercenary leader Eli. During an unspecified time period, he is shown in Outer Heaven receiving Big Boss' cassette tape, with one side labelled "Operation Intrude N313" which he plays on a Sony BitCorder device connected to an MSX2 computer; the timeline establishes that Big Boss' phantom would later die fighting against Solid Snake in Outer Heaven.
After Metal Gear Solid V
Big Boss' character debuted in the original Metal Gear game, initially serving as Solid Snake's commanding officer of FOXHOUND and Snake's main radio contact, while also serving as the leader of Outer Heaven's forces. Despite an apparent defeat, the game ends with a message from Big Boss vowing revenge following the credits. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had an in-game rumor about Big Boss rebuilt with cybernetic parts after being mortally wounded during the previous game's final encounter; this explanation was used for Big Boss' survival in the Metal Gear Solid 4 Database, although it has since been retconned with the release of The Phantom Pain.
Creation and design
Venom Snake is distinguished from the original Big Boss by his bionic left arm, the numerous facial scars and the shrapnel "horn" protruding from the right side of his forehead. His eye-patch also differs from the one usually worn by Big Boss, as it has three straps instead of just two. The decision to have Snake lose his left arm was made early during the development of Metal Gear Solid V, although originally he was supposed to wear a regular prosthetic rather than a bionic arm.
The game features a hidden "karma" system which causes Venom Snake's appearance to change based on the player's behaviour. Negative actions such as killing people and animals or developing nuclear weapons earn Demon Points. Earning 20,000 causes Snake's horn to grow, and reaching 50,000 makes it grow even longer, with Snake becoming permanently soaked in blood. This demonic appearance is accentuated by Snake's belt, which resembles a tail. Positive actions such as extracting animals and child soldiers, earning certain achievements, or visiting Mother Base's zoo will eventually reverse these changes, which are purely aesthetic.
In Metal Gear Solid V, Venom Snake is portrayed by Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland through voice-over and facial motion capture, briefly as the medic in Ground Zeroes and then as the player character throughout The Phantom Pain. Sutherland plays both Venom Snake and Big Boss but the official credits makes no distinction between either character, with the role simply billed as "Snake". The casting was announced by Konami on June 6, 2013, during the annual Konami Pre-E3 show. Kojima's reason for selecting Sutherland rather than David Hayter (Snake's usual voice actor) was to "have a more subdued performance expressed through subtle facial movements and tone of voice rather than words", and that he "needed someone who could genuinely convey both the facial and vocal qualities of a man in his late 40s". Hollywood producer and director Avi Arad suggested to Kojima that Sutherland could fulfill these requirements. Akio Ōtsuka was unaffected by this casting change and continued to voice the character in the Japanese version. On March 4, 2015, Kojima said that Snake would have less dialogue in The Phantom Pain than in previous installments, explaining that this would make Snake more an extension of the player, and that he would act based on the player's actions "rather than doing things like making spontaneous comments or flirting with women."
The character was initially introduced as "Punished Snake" in the E3 2013 trailer for Metal Gear Solid V, but this moniker would fall into disuse in favor of "Venom Snake", which is the name that was used in most of the promotional imagery and merchandising since E3 2014. Although the final game bills him as "Punished 'Venom' Snake" in the opening sequence of every mission, the "Punished Snake" codename is never spoken by anyone, while the "Venom Snake" name is only mentioned once in the actual game - otherwise the character is simply referred to as "Snake" or "Big Boss".
During the prologue sequence of the game, the player character is briefly given the Ahab (エイハブ, Eihabu) name by the medical staff protecting him in Cyprus, while Big Boss (whose face is covered bandages) assumes the identity of Ishmael when helping the player thwart off the enemy forces pursuing them in the hospital. These are the names of the protagonist and the narrator respectively in Moby-Dick. According to Kenji Yano (who wrote the novelization of The Phantom Pain under the pen name Hitori Nojima), these names were chosen to symbolize Big Boss handing down the role of protagonist to Venom Snake while Big Boss takes a supporting role in the story.
The character of Venom Snake and his role in The Phantom Pain received mixed opinions. Asserting that Metal Gear has always been a primarily metafictional series, Dave Thier of Forbes praised the game's substitution of a player-created avatar for Big Boss: "It's not ending the actual plot – lord knows how anyone would actually go about doing that – it's ending the game, and the series as well. You’ve made it through every mission, you've backtracked, perfected, gotten your S ratings and employed perfect stealth. That's it, you're Big Boss, you're Snake, You're 'you.' And you're done." Chris Carter of Destructoid said that Venom Snake made sense within the context of the series, as the games have "always dabbled in the concept of 'the legend' being stronger than the actual person", but suggested that a depiction of his death at Solid Snake's hands (recreating the original Metal Gear from the character's perspective) would have been a stronger ending.
PC Gamer's Samuel Roberts called the revelation of Venom Snake's identity "one perfect moment in a bad story". The reviewer elaborated: "The epilogue takes away the pillar of his identity as Big Boss, and all you're left with is every unscripted experience you've had in the battlefield, no backstory other than the one you’ve just created. The ending is about what MGSV 'the game' is [...] a freeform experience shaped by your intent – and such an ending is a perfect thematic match for this game Kojima Productions has created, a true military action sandbox where few situations ever play out the same way." Roberts also noted that the twist worked on a literal level, making the medic a "tragic and unsettling" figure whose only meaningful relationship is with a woman who thinks he is someone else.
Conversely, David Roberts from GamesRadar+ wrote that the reveal was "a bizarre bit of fridge logic that makes less and less sense the more I think about it, and it's a strange way for The Phantom Pain to 'end'". He further felt that the twist caused the story to become "hollow", and additionally had no sense of closure as a result of the "rehash[ing]" of missions during the game's second half and its "slapped in" ending. However, he thought that the idea of a player-created avatar for Big Boss was "purely and distinctly Metal Gear", and a humorous way for Kojima to show his appreciation towards the series' long-term fans.
Kotaku's Jason Schreier said: "Scrutinized in a vacuum, this twist is kind of neat – turns out the 'legend' of Big Boss had always trumped the man himself – but the harder you think, the more it unravels, leading to all sorts of questions with no clear answers [...] Turns out that while we thought we were experiencing Big Boss' revenge-driven evolution from noble soldier to misguided villain, we were actually watching someone else entirely, which seriously cheapens the emotional effects of Mission 43 and just about everything else you do in The Phantom Pain." Schreier also disliked that The Phantom Pain failed to provide any explanation or context for both Venom Snake and Big Boss' change of character for their portrayals in Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, respectively, writing "it’s never made clear just how or why [Venom] became that villain, building weapons of mass destruction in hopes of dominating the world [...] In the second Metal Gear, the bad guy was Real Big Boss. Also evil. And because we know nothing about where he went or what he did while Venom was building Mother Base, his motivations also remain unclear."
Ryan Gilliam of Polygon included Venom Snake as one of the best video game characters of the 2010s, writing he was "one of the more complex characters in all of Metal Gear [...] The Big Boss character lost a lot with the switch from series regular David Hayter to celebrity voice talent Kiefer Sutherland. But Venom Snake makes the list because he isn’t the hero. He’s masquerading as the real Big Boss, unknowingly, and represents what a person can be if they’re told exactly who they are."
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain - The Complete Official Guide (Collector's ed.). Piggyback Interactive Limited. 2015-09-01. ISBN 978-1-908172-76-1.
- Kojima Productions. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Level/area: Episode 46.
Miller: "How he's doing?" Doctor: "He's stabilized, but we took too long. He's in a coma." Miller: "What about him?" (nods towards the viewer) Doctor: "He took some shrapnel... to the head..."
- Kojima Productions. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Level/area: Truth Records - Doublethink.
Ocelot: We've been busy over the last nine years. His altered state of consciousness has helped us implant powerful suggestions through induced hypnogogia. He's experienced all your missions on record, and shares all your knowledge and experience. To make him believe that he is the one true Big Boss. No one around him will doubt that he's the Big Boss they know. So is he the real Big Boss or a stand-in? What does that mean to him? Nothing. The human brain is capable of many illusions. Of pain, of the future. What happens from here depends on his skill. But you can vouch for that. / Big Boss: "He was always the best man we had. But..." / Ocelot: "Nine years ago in that helicopter, he threw himself between you and the blast. In that moment, the man you knew died. He died protecting you. And now, by becoming you, he protects you again. This is just a detour in his journey to Hell. And don't forget it's what he wanted. He's in his Dog Days now. It's not just him. We'll be putting the people in this hospital in the line of fire. They'll be your shield, and a necessary diversion. To buy us some time."
- Kojima Productions. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Level/area: Ocelot's Briefing  - The Strike Force: After the Attack.
Ocelot: The days of Naked Snake are long gone. Welcome back, Venom Snake.
- Kojima Productions. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Level/area: Episode 46.
1995 - While commanding special forces unit FOXHOUND from a position in the U.S. military, Big Boss establishes the fortified military nation 'Outer Heaven' in South Africa. The Outer Heaven Uprising occurs, but it is quashed by Solid Snake, who kills Big Boss' phantom.
- Bailey, Kat (September 9, 2015). "Metal Gear Solid V Story Guide: What Happened and How it Connects to the Rest of the Series". US Gamer. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
- Konami. Metal Gear (PS2). Level/area: Final boss dialogue.
Big Boss: "Solid Snake! I've been expecting you... ...I am the supreme commander of the FOXHOUND unit... And... The leader of the fortress of Outer Heaven, Big Boss!"
- Konami. Metal Gear (PS2). Level/area: post-credits message.
...can you hear me? Solid Snake... I'm not dead... Someday, I'll get even with you. Someday... We will meet again
- Konami. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (PS2).
George Kasler: "Three years ago, when Outer Heaven fell, Big Boss was seriously wounded. He almost died... He lost both hands, both feet, his right eye, and his right ear. But somehow... he survived. Then an Eastern bloc despot took an interest in him. Probably couldn't resist getting his hands on a soldier of Big Boss' caliber. They decided to use Big Boss as a guinea pig in Madnar's Snatcher project. I don't know the details, but apparently it involved turning him into a cyborg. Now he's half man and half machine. Hard to believe, I know."
- Kojima Productions. Metal Gear Solid 4 Database (PS3). Level/area: Snatcher Project.
After his death at the hands of Solid Snake, Big Boss became the first test subject [of the Snatcher Project]. When he was found after his battle with Solid Snake, Big Boss had lost both arms, both legs, his right eye, and his right ear. The Snatcher Project brought him back from the dead.
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain - The Complete Official Guide. pp. 370–371.
We decided early on in the project that Snake was to lose his left arm and two fingers from his right hand. Technically he could still wield weapons, but this would have made it difficult for the player to appreciate the full intended experience; that's why we opted to equip with a powerful prosthetic arm.
- @HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN (June 14, 2014). "There's a horn on V Snake but in fact he also has a tail. Instead of physical tail, the belt looks like the tail" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- Kelly, Andy (September 22, 2015). "Metal Gear Solid 5's hidden karma system". PC Gamer. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
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- Narcisse, Evan (27 March 2013). "Beloved Solid Snake Voice Actor Says He Wasn't Asked to Be in Metal Gear Solid V". Kotaku. Gawker Media. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
- Goldfarb, Andrew. "Kiefer Sutherland Playing Snake in Metal Gear Solid V". IGN. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
- "Metal Gear Solid 5 - Behind The Scenes". YouTube. GamesHQMedia. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
- "Metal Gear Solid 5: Kiefer Sutherland = More Cutscenes - IGN Conversation". YouTube. IGN. Retrieved 23 June 2014.
- "ヒデラジE3スペシャル（後篇） 【通算第315回】 （13.06.21）" (in Japanese).
- Albert, Brian. "SNAKE 'WON'T REALLY SPEAK MUCH AT ALL' IN METAL GEAR SOLID 5". IGN. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
- "How should we interpret the story of MGSV? The expert speaks!". Famitsu.com. Kadokawa Dwango Corporation.
- Thier, Dave (September 8, 2015). "The Real Meaning Of 'Metal Gear Solid V's' 'True' Ending". Forbes. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
- Carter, Chris (September 18, 2015). "SO, LET'S TALK ABOUT METAL GEAR SOLID V'S ENDING". Destructoid. Retrieved March 16, 2016.
- Roberts, Samuel (November 26, 2015). "Why MGS5's ending is one perfect moment in a bad story". PC Gamer. Retrieved March 16, 2016.
- Roberts, David. "Metal Gear Solid 5 is the best and most disappointing game of the year". GamesRadar+. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
- Schreler, Jason (September 10, 2015). "Why Metal Gear Solid V's Ending Is So Disappointing". Kotaku. Retrieved March 16, 2016.
- Polygon Staff (November 27, 2019). "The 70 best video game characters of the decade". Polygon. Retrieved December 30, 2019.