Welcome to Hey, Listen!, a feature where we’ll be looking at some of the best video game music ever composed. In the same way that music can enhance the experience of watching a movie, it can vastly improve the quality of a video game, and in Hey, Listen!, we will celebrate the work of talented video game music composers, as well as the online communities that seek to put their own twists on these iconic melodies.
The Metal Gear Solid series is well-known for its tight stealth gameplay, its overindulgent cut scenes, its notorious developer, Hideo Kojima, and his tendency to juxtapose serious political issues and meaningful human problems with bizarre toilet humour. However, Metal Gear Solid is also known for its fantastic soundtrack, composed mostly by British composer Harry Gregson-Williams. Over the years, MGS’s immersive music has added a new dimension to Snake’s memorable adventures, and with the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, what better time than now to celebrate the music of Metal Gear Solid?
1. Theme of Solid Snake (Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake)
While the series arguably took off with the release of Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation in 1998, Solid Snake’s adventures had already begun on the MSX2 in 1987, in the original Metal Gear and its sequel, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Its sequels went on to take the series into increasingly complex places, but at the time of Snake’s 2D adventures, Metal Gear was pretty basic; run, gun, hide, and solve puzzles. As such, Metal Gear 2’s high-tempo theme was appropriate for Solid Snake, rather than the more solemn themes he received later.
2. Encounter (Metal Gear Solid)
The theme that plays when Snake is spotted by enemy guards changes in every MGS game, but the Encounter theme from MGS1 is probably the most memorable. May it be due to sheer nostalgia, or just that it’s a damn good song, MGS1’s Encounter theme matches the player’s racing heartbeat and invokes a sense of urgency that the other Encounter themes simply fail to match.
3. The Best Is Yet To Come (Metal Gear Solid/Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)
The powerful ending theme to Metal Gear Solid, The Best Is Yet To Come is a poignant ending to what is supposed to be Solid Snake’s final mission. With Liquid Snake conquered and with his whole life in front of him, Snake appears to ride off into the sunset to this theme. Because of this, this theme is even more effective when it makes a return in Metal Gear Solid 4, when a rapidly deteriorating and heavily aged Solid Snake is forced to return to Shadow Moses to end a battle he was hoping to have left behind a long time ago. From a gamer’s perspective, this theme’s return in MGS4 was very powerful, as Kojima masterfully draws every last bit of nostalgia from the series’ loyal fans.
4. Arsenal’s Guts (Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty)
Metal Gear Solid 2 is widely accepted as the game where everything got confusing. From what was a basic hero vs villain plot in Metal Gear Solid, MGS2 introduced new plot threads such as the enigmatic Patriots, a bizarre narrative arc which showed Revolver Ocelot seemingly possessed by Liquid Snake’s arm, and artificial intelligence; some believe that Hideo Kojima, wanting to leave the Metal Gear series behind, intentionally made MGS2 as big of a mindfuck as possible, so he wouldn’t have to continue. Arsenal’s Guts is therefore the perfect choice of track from MGS2; the music plays as a naked Raiden fights off the pleas of a malfunctioning AI, posing as his commander Roy Campbell, asking him to “turn off the console”.
5. Snake Eater (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
Taking the series back to the 1960s, Metal Gear Solid 3 changed the narrative focus of the entire franchise. Where the series used to be Solid Snake’s story, MGS3 is where it became Big Boss’ story, and all subsequent entries showed Solid Snake as no more than a pawn in Big Boss’ bigger story. Hideo Kojima used MGS3 to highlight his love of movies; for example, key support character Para-Medic will discuss 1960s movies with you on the codec, while Kojima paid homage to the popular James Bond movies in the game. Snake Eater is full of references to the iconic British spy – no more so than the iconic theme song, which wouldn’t feel out of place at the start of a 007 movie. Well, other than the bit about eating the tree frog.
6. Old Snake (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)
Metal Gear Solid 4 carried the air of an ending, and this was typified by its striking title screen. A very old Solid Snake is visiting the grave of The Boss, and points a gun at himself before the camera moves away from the scene. While this is not resolved until the very end of the game, the title screen, as well as the accompanying Old Snake theme, showcases the sombre theme of MGS4 effectively. The theme itself is split into two sections; the particularly melancholy first half is drenched in Snake’s sadness at his situation – realisation that he was created and has lived solely for the purpose of the war between Big Boss and Zero, and his belief that he must die once his part is done. The second part is a more conventional Metal Gear Solid song, which serves to remind us that despite Snake’s tribulations, a mission is still to be completed.