Metal Gear is what happens when you answer philosophical questions with a nuclear battle tank. But it wasn’t always such a motivational masterpiece.
Back before it was a Solid success, in the days when even its own guards would “FEEL ASLEEP” while playing, Nintendo of America released the “Worlds of Power” Metal Gear novel, which is based on an unofficial NES port of the original game called Snake’s Revenge. And it was a more vicious attack on your brain cells than the FOXDIE virus. It’s awful even for video game writing, which usually obliterates the alphabet down to one-twenty-sixth of its size by saying “Press A to do pretty much anything.”
But just like Nostradamus, this trash pile of random words can be sifted to scry hints of the future. Here’s how one of the worst books ever written predicted the future of one of gaming’s greatest series:
It Stars the Wrong Person
The Metal Gear novel stars some dude named “Justin Halley.” It would be less of a betrayal of a child’s expectations if Justin was an actual man trying to sneak into their house disguised as the book. Solid Snake’s name is Solid Snake. (Sure, he’s called “Dave” in a few endings, but that’s just a technique he uses to comfort civilians.) If you’re writing an action book for kids and your main character is named Solid Snake, you’re done! In fact, you’re even better than done, because somebody else has already done the best bits for you.
Instead the author, “F.X. Nine,” gives Snake the name Justin Halley. The author is so ashamed of his work, he gives himself an obviously fake name, and it’s still much better than the one he gives the character. F.X. Nine sounds like an experimental explosive or a long-running movie franchise made entirely of special effects using that explosive, while “Justin Halley” makes the book’s hero sound like a wimpy boy band hero who’d rather spend time feathering his hair than killing terrorists.
Prediction: This is the perfect preparation for meeting Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
In the Metal Gear universe people survive on double-crosses instead of oxygen. Their cells betray adenosine-triphosphate into accepting secretly smuggled oxygen molecules instead of using regular metabolic functions.
The only person in the entire Metal Gear franchise who didn’t have a secret ulterior motive was FOXHOUND’s janitor. And even then a CODEC conversation with facilities management would doubtless reveal that they’re secretly copying military designs for use in experimental Metal Gear Dyson vacuum cleaners. But only because, as children, they once sneezed pretty badly due to the dust on their parents’ old copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Which they then quote in its entirety via CODEC.
At the start of the game, Justin is betrayed by Fox Hound, an organization like FOXHOUND except written by someone who can’t even be bothered to check if something is one word or two. Or more likely deliberately broke it into pieces to fill out this stupid book’s word count faster, so they could get back to stripping lead paint with acetone and drinking it…
An impression confirmed by Commander South and Lieutenant General West when they tell Justin they’re giving him an elite high-tech compass radio and nothing else to single-handedly attack an entire terrorist facility. And those really are the commanding officers’ names. “South” and “West” aren’t codenames. F.X. Nine just got tired of thinking up the high-tech compass (that’s a whole thing) and decided to use it to name everything else in the scene as well.
Prediction: “Endless convoluted betrayals” technically predict every plot point of the series.
Incredibly Ill-Equipped Action
You want to know how pointless the betrayals are? The commanders were lying about the compass radio. It’s just a regular compass. They tell each other that they’re doing this to distract the villainous Commander CaTaffy’s forces while the rest of Fox Hound attacks, and it’s impossible to overstate how much they’re both telling the truth. Neither is doing this because they’re secretly on CaTaffy’s side or to manipulate a resignation for Amazingly Gross and Stupid Incompetence out of the other.
Two people in the Metal Gear universe couldn’t even tell each other the truth when they’re ordering at Starbucks — they’ll secretly palm extra sugar packets to play their part in the La-li-lu-le-lo-sugar conspiracy — but these two commanders really are that stupid. They double cross Justin when telling him the truth and giving him a gun would get the job done much faster and more effectively.
The endless double-crosses might explain why Justin is paranoid to the point of utter uselessness. Everything in his universe might be poisoned: rations, cigarettes, magazines, etc. If he remembered there was such a thing as air, he’d think twice before breathing. Luckily, he’s so bad at stealth that he’s unaware of anything he can’t see.
Predictions: Setting Justin up to talk endlessly and pointlessly to someone that doesn’t care is a brilliant prediction of Raiden’s romantic scenes in Sons of Liberty.
The Worst Stealth Operative in the World
Justin Halley is the worst stealth operative ever to be internationally identified by name. (Sure, James Bond is the world’s least secret agent, but at least he gets things done). When deployed to the terrorist base at night, he decides it’s too dark to do anything and sleeps until sunrise. But not before disturbing a group of monkeys to loudly announce his presence.
In the morning, having made sure people can see and hear him, he works to complete the collection of senses by rubbing his camo clothes with panther musk to make sure every armed guard in the world can smell him as well. If he hadn’t found the base at that point, he’d doubtless have coated himself in chocolate so he could shove his hand into guards’ mouths while shouting “Guess who!”
He’s detected by the very first guard dog he encounters. Then the first conscious guard. He steals a truck to cover a one-minute walk up to the base, then leaves it parked at the main entrance to the complex.
By the end of the book, he’s collected more heavy weaponry than Doom Guy, and still refuses to shoot a single guard, instead knocking them all out with the pistol butt. There are fireworks better at stealth than this guy. Famous fireworks in globally published books written by famous authors like Oscar Wilde.
Prediction: Throwing stealth out the window and insisting on using melee weapons instead of shooting people is basically all of Revengeance.
The Funniest Moment in Metal Gear History
Justin is the worst prepared agent in the history of infiltration. He’s dropped into the jungle and uses his instincts to navigate to the terrorist base because he didn’t even look at a map before arriving. He’s learned how to tell dogs to sit in seventeen languages, but when he’s attacked by dogs, he doesn’t even know which continent he’s on, so he doesn’t know which to use. (“Using far too many words to achieve nothing and look stupid” is where this book’s predictions become meta-Metal Gear, because now the text is predicting itself.)
This is where the prediction gets spooky. Justin survives by getting down on all fours, arching his back, and pretending to be a cat in the most humiliating possible manner.
Prediction: This book predicted the funniest moment in Metal Gear Solid history: Snake’s first meeting with Revolver Ocelot. Check out the video above.
Text Instead of Action
The Metal Gear series has always been thoughtful, but the book attempts to remove all gun violence from a game about a marine attacking a terrorist base. Even the game’s original cover is airbrushed to remove the gun.
The Worlds of Power series didn’t have the budget for an artist. The series would surprise me if they had the budget for a bottle of brand name paint thinner. The result leaves Solid Snake standing clutching something in a way which suggests that he’s in an entirely other kind of fiction that also needs to be sold with airbrushed covers.
Preparation: Getting over a hundred pages of this nonsense instead of an action scene was perfect preparation for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots and its very long cinematics.
Predicting Psychic Powers
Justin Halley might be an idiot who doesn’t know which way to point a gun, but he’s got an unbeatable power: his author’s laziness. Here represented as “instinct.” When the writer can’t think of how to get Justin to the next page, his “instinct” kicks in and tells him to do the most bizarrely specific things. Checking underneath a certain tile in a prisoner shack inside a minefield. Punching his way through a solid brick wall in a pitch dark room. Refusing to take cigarettes even though they’re the most distinctive personal item in the Metal Gear franchise.
The closest the terrorists come to defending their base is a high-explosive version of Three Card Monty. At multiple points, Justin faces three crates, or trucks, or chairs, and has to decide which is rigged to explode and which contains genuinely useful equipment the terrorists apparently donated to his cause. Every single time, his instinct gets it right.
Predicts: Psycho Mantis! We’ll forgive a lot when it comes to one of gaming’s greatest bosses. And it’s not like using his psychic powers to read what someone plays on their PlayStation is any less of a misuse of amazing powers.
This book had nothing to do with Hideo Kojima, making it an unfortunately faithful rendition of its source material. The original NES Metal Gear, Snake’s Revenge, was created without Hideo Kojima’s permission by altering source code from the MSX2 version. Normally unauthorized spy software is even more exciting, at least in spy stories, but they screwed it up so badly, they removed the Metal Gear from a game called Metal Gear. They added an incomprehensibly tangled jungle maze whose solution route is never revealed. You’re just expected to trudge through it until you get to the end. Which reveals everything you need to know about what Konami thought of their players. Though at least they gave us great music to waste our time with.
Prediction: This sadly foreshadowed the present, with Konami making more money from Metal Gear Solid V after kicking Kojima out altogether.
The book’s Metal Gear is revealed to be nothing but a big computer, complete with keyboard and printer, which will somehow end the world by being connected to lots of other computers. It really was a masterful representation of the NES game, which also forgot to add the bipedal nuclear battle tank to the game about bipedal nuclear battle tanks. Even if you weren’t making a game specifically about Metal Gears, “giant robot” should beat “office terminal” in any action story. Except this one!
Prediction: I don’t know how they did it, but they predicted ARSENAL GEAR, the Patriot’s submersible fortress capable of intercepting and altering all computer communications in Metal Gear Solid 2. In fact, encoding the truth about a Metal Gear supercomputer in a textbook written over a decade in advance is exactly the sort of over-convoluted heavily-text-based plan a Patriot would use. But the real truth about the book is la-li-lu-le-lo-la-li-lu-le-lo. (Please note that an endless stream of “la-li-lu-le-lo” would still be better written than this book.)
The Perfect Agent Fails (But Succeeds at Secret Mission)
The Metal Gear book was designed to trick kids into reading, and no Metal Gear mission would backfire so badly until FOXHOUND told Liquid Snake, “Hey, take control of a genetically enhanced force of soldiers and make the world a better place.” If a kid thinks books are stupid and boring, this book is only going to confirm their expectations.
But how could it fail? Metal Gear is the most perfect book plot possible. An elite secret agent against a desperate terrorist, with video game weapons and an ultimate world-threatening system. That’s already several successful books and movie franchises. Instead, we end up with a book that spends more pages talking about numbered key cards than the games online FAQ. How could it possibly fail so badly?
Prediction: Because it was meant to! If there’s one thing Metal Gear has taught players, it’s that every single secret mission is even more secretly sabotaged to serve a greater goal.
This must have been a secret plot by Nintendo of America to destroy any interest in reading which may have lurked within loyal players. And this book is so bad it might cause your brain to forget how to read in self-defense. Which means that while this book failed at its alleged mission of getting kids to read, that failure was its greatest success.
Luke McKinney is a freelance contributor.
This article was first published on September 9, 2015.