Alex has been an online sports and pop culture writer for five years. When he's not writing about sports, Alex is an aspiring screenwriter.
Third entries in any media can be a tough nut to crack. In both video games and movies, people often use up their good ideas in the first two entries. In some games, sequels give the designers a chance to build off success or correct mistakes from previous entries. And boy, did Kojima and his team do that with Metal Gear Solid 3. This game is widely considered to be one of the high points of the series. The gameplay is tight with several new mechanics. The cutscenes can still be long in the tooth, but not as bloated as the previous or (spoiler) next game.
And the bosses delivered too. Ranking these almost feels criminal because this game has a murderer’s row of great bosses. There isn’t a bad one among the bunch. But among a series of bright stars, some still manage to shine brighter than others.
I’ve used the phrase Murderer’s Row a lot. But if someone ranked the actual ‘27 Yankees, someone would have to be on the bottom. Fighting the Pain is kind of simple: Wait for the bees to dispense—or be proactive with grenades—and shoot. The Pain telegraphs his attacks like no one’s business. But there are enough tricks to save this battle from being pedestrian. Being in a pool of water instead of a walkable area makes this novel and gives the player a few ways to crack this nut. Plus, the Pain has cool tactics like bee bullets. In a slower game, this battle might have ranked higher. But with this lineup, someone had to bite that bullet.
Volgin is an imaginative boss battle, but he’s one of the few in this game that can be kind of frustrating. He can throw you down, obliterate your ammo, freeze you, and there’s a time limit. However, Volgin does force the player to be creative with how they attack. From a narrative standpoint, this bottle is also cool in how it shows the changing relationship between Snake and Ocelot. Once you know how to hurt Volgin, he’s not too hard. But the journey there is one of the tougher ones.
It’s like the greatest hits of the first bosses from the previous games. Ocelot has two revolvers so, of course, the bullet counting strategy from the first game is back. But you have the battle from a distance like Olga. But there are several more wrinkles. Snake may be armed to the teeth even by this point, but Ocelot still isn't easy. Ocelot has backup and is well-armed too. But you can get your own backup by dropping beehives on him. A stick and move strategy will save the player in this battle.
It’s weird thinking that the series has relied so little on fire as a boss motif. Using a flamethrower as a weapon is perfect for the Fury’s fiery temper. It's not the deepest symbolism, but it makes sense. This boss feels like it upped the ante of the Vulcan Raven battle from 1. Snake has to play keep away from someone with a strong weapon that can reach him from great distances. But we’ve gone from cold to hot. The Fury has tough attacks, like charging at the player. As the battle goes on, fires keep spreading, which only builds the suspense. When you win, The Fury has a death scene that is… It needs to be seen.
This is probably the easiest Metal Gear battle up to this point. Once again, the boss battle is a two-parter. But this isn’t nearly as hard as Metal Gear Rex in 1. The first round is a cakewalk with unlimited ammo and your health regenerates. The first round can be a task because you’re relying on Eva to drive you. She sometimes takes her sweet time escorting Snake to where he can actually hurt this thing. But it’s never too bad.
The second round is a little tougher. Volgin fuses himself with Shagohod, which—let’s be honest—is pretty cool. You don’t have Eva’s protection anymore, but she at least helps Snake with supplies. Being extra angry, Volgin unleashes the missiles and machine guns. Volgin is a smaller target, but that also means he has more obvious weak spots.
The Fear says his name like he’s a Pokémon, and the battle is like if a Predator game were done right. Those aren’t the only reason this battle is awesome. But they help. The Fear lets you know he’s not messing around right off the bat by poisoning you. With the stakes clear right away, you have to hunt down this fast-moving reptilian man. You can get some hits when The Fear stops to eat. It's a cool battle, and I love that the PS4 trophy is called "If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It."
As much as I love the Metal Gear Solid series, one issue I’ve always had is that the game emphasizes stealth. It’s not that hard to just use brute force. But if the player tries that, one boss will make you pay. In one of the most innovative boss moves, you don’t actually fight The Sorrow – who has an empty life bar. Instead, Snake is confronted with every enemy that has been killed up to this point. Every. Single. One. No more, no less. If you somehow made it to this point while only using tranquilizers, it’s smooth sailings. If you played the game like Rambo, you might be in trouble, especially since the Sorrow still has offense.
Still, going on a murder spree is about the only way this boss will be a huge challenge. Though it’s interesting how this character lingers over the first half of the game. Since most players know he’s coming, it does make one think twice about strategy throughout the game. Whether or not the battle is as complex as others, the atmosphere and tone give many horror games a run for their money. How to actually thwart the Sorrow is clever. There are rewards for draining energy instead of killing each boss. And the Sorrow is one of the only freebies in that department.
This isn’t just a Boss, this is The Boss. Yes, there’s an in-game explanation for that—and for how Snake obtains that nickname. But the moniker is certainly earned. Speaking of story, with the relationship Snake has with the Boss, this may be the most personal battle so far. Out of all the one-on-one showdowns, this is the first time you keep your weapons, and you’re going to need them. You get 10 minutes to hunt her down before getting nuked. And The Boss does not make that easy. The white flowers not only make great atmosphere, but the Boss has camouflage that blends in seamlessly, meaning you have to work to find her – preferably before she finds you.
It is possible to take her head-on, but that is a bad idea. She can just wreck Snake’s Day and smash his weapons (albeit the pieces can be found). It’s not impossible to knock her down. So only do it when absolutely necessary—such as if the timer is about to end and she’s low on health. Speaking of the timer, this is another mostly silent battle, but the Snake Eater theme creeps in, building atmosphere and informing the player of the time limit.
This is not just the best boss battle in the game. This is one of the best boss battles in any game. Sniping battles are common in the series. But the battle with the End feels like a sniper battle in its final form. Entire articles could be written just on this battle. In fact, this would probably be a bad choice for the final boss because this is a slow, methodical battle. And this time, there are no music cues to even use as a time gauge. This only absorbs you in the atmosphere.
The End is not just sitting there, actively shooting at you like Sniper Wolf. He waits. And waits. Hunt or be hunted is the name of the game. The player is tasked with finding The End’s footprints, waiting for him to take shots, listening for his breathing, using the map to track The End, etc. There are so many ways to track this guy, I’m sure someone reading this is laughing at me for the various strategies I’m missing. And there are three screens to find him. If that sounds daunting, the game throws you a few bones. For starters, The End can’t directly kill you. The biggest threat you face is having your stamina drained and being sent back a few screens – and this can happen instantly if the player farts around in the first-person view. Even stamina isn’t a huge threat because food is plentiful. The End CAN heal himself, but it only happens if he hasn’t been hit for a while so don’t worry about him reaching full health.
If it still sounds too daunting, there are easy ways out. If a week passes on the save (or the player sets their clock a week ahead), The End dies of old age. Plus, it’s possible to snipe him early on. But anyone who does that (and I’m sorry to say I was one at first) misses out on a classic boss battle. Yes, fighting The End can be a task, but even laying a hit on the geezer can be satisfying. And actually beating him feels so good.
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© 2022 Alex deCourville