A major theme explored in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is that ideals and skills can live on through any one person, and there’s no better example of this than the game’s big reveal that player-character Venom Snake is not Big Boss, but a former comrade to the legendary soldier. We say ‘big reveal’ but there was in fact numerous instances which made clear Venom Snake was not who we thought he was – some of which were given to us before the game even came out.
NOTE: This feature contains major spoilers for Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain.
Ishmael and the Medic voiced by Kiefer Sutherland
Not the most obvious one in this list, Ground Zeroes’ Medic only delivered a handful of lines but it was immediately jarring for those who heard it closely. By tweaking the Medic’s sound, it was revealed that he was voiced by Sutherland. And then in TPP’s opening moments, Ishmael is voiced by Sutherland too. Something strange was obviously afoot; just who is this Ishmael guy anyway?
Ishmael also an expert in stealth and evasion
Continuing this Ishmael thread, you could conceivably ponder how Ishmael is such an expert in stealth and evasion, professionally guiding the player through danger in the game’s hospital prologue. His skills so closely bear the hallmark of Big Boss it’s impossible to ignore.
“Who am I? You’re talking to yourself”
These lines delivered by Ishmael are as on the nose as anything, removing any doubt that Ishmael and the player are some sort of carbon copy of each other. However, this line principally fed speculation that Ishmael was just a figment of the player’s imagination, something Venom Snake conjured in his own mind after being comatose for so long.
‘The Man Who Sold the World’
Using the well-known song ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ in the game’s trailers and the opening seconds of the game offer clues to Venom’s true identity too. See, the song’s originally by David Bowie but the version used by Konami was Midge Ure’s cover, immediately signalling something isn’t quite right. Plus, one interpretation of the song is it’s about a doppelganger, or indeed a friend who’s lost in the world.
Venom Snake’s inability to speak languages
One of the first missions in MGSV is to capture a Russian interpreter to assist in an interrogation, but we learn in Metal Gear Solid 3 that Naked Snake is excellent at speaking Russian – so how can it be Venom Snake requires a Russian interpreter? This discrepancy is blamed on Venom’s brain damage, but with all the other clues up to now it’s another obvious example Venom is not who we think he is.
Conversation about Liquid Snake with Ocelot
One of the biggest clues as to Venom’s true identity as an unrelated medic in MGSV comes during a conversation with Ocelot regarding Liquid. Ocelot reveals that Venom doesn’t share the same DNA. This revelation would suggest that either Liquid is not who they’re purported to be, or Venom isn’t. Confusion aside, this is yet another evidence that Venom is not the real Big Boss.
Kaz saying “what about him?”
First witnessed in MGSV’s GDC 2013 trailer, we see through the medic’s eyes both Big Boss and Kaz being frantically treated for their injuries. Kaz is awake when Big Boss goes into a coma, stating “what about him?” in reference to the medic. It is argued here that Kaz already knew at this point that the medic was going to fill in as Big Boss’ body double, hence his desire for the medical staff to treat him too. Post GDC, Kojima was asked by Keighley about that third guy to which Kojima referred to himself which was an indirect reference to Venom being a representation of the players themselves.
Saying “kept you waiting” in the blandest way possible
Kaz is aware of Snake’s iconic one-liners, so requests Venom recite one during his rescue at the outset of MGSV. However, presumably as he’s unfamiliar with saying it himself, Venom says “kept you waiting” in the blandest way possible, clearly not realising the gravitas of the words.
This one could easily have been explained away as Hideo Kojima toying with the concept of the player representing Snake in a more involved way, or more simply as a custom avatar for future multiplayer play. As it happens, the ability for the player to reconstruct Venom’s face is another clue as to his true identity as a stand in, morphing his original face to something more akin to Big Boss.
Huey expressing surprise
During the culmination of episode 12 just as Venom is about to kidnap Dr Huey Emmerich, Huey glares somewhat at Venom’s face with an air of confusion. “Are you…. Snake?” This person looks like Big Boss, but not exactly like him – shrapnel protruding from forehead notwithstanding – leading Huey struggling to recognise who exactly was about to abduct him. Another clue as to something being ‘off’ with Venom’s appearance.
The Boss AI not recognising Venom
As sophisticated as The Boss AI is – developed as a decision maker to respond to nuclear strike, after all – it had a hard time recognising Venom in MGSV, despite knowing who the real Big Boss was during their interactions in Peace Walker.
Volgin realising Venom is not Big Boss
In the side quest whereby, Venom retrieves the man on fire’s body, the scene was set for a boss battle. However, during the cutscene, bullets fall to ground with Volgin and his horse simply dying away. Confusing at first perhaps, really what this scene is proving is that Volgin recognises Venom is not the real Big Boss, therefore his lust for revenge dies away and with it his lease on life, Volgin henceforth resting forever.
Paz’s side arc
Encountering Paz within the medical platform conjures feelings of guilt and shame from Venom which could easily be explained by Big Boss’s memories. However, what’s evident come the big reveal is that Venom is actually traumatised by his own guilt from way back as a medic when he failed to save a patient. Not being able to save Paz must have weighed heavily on Venom’s psyche and was something he couldn’t shake despite him filling the shoes of Big Boss.
The posters in Motherbase
Motherbase’s posters stating ‘Big Boss is Watching You’ is clearly a play on 1984 whereby the slogan appearing on posters in this novel is ‘Big Brother is Watching You.’ This phrase is intended to threaten the dictated populace into always keeping in line. If Venom was Big Boss, why would these posters need to exist?
Big Boss wore an eyepatch on his right eye because of an accident through Ocelot in Operation Snake Eater, his eye torched by muzzle burn rupturing the cornea and lens resulting in the complete loss of the eyeball. On the contrary, Venom appears blinded in one eye. It’s possible his eye was purposefully damaged to support his illusion as a Big Boss stand in, however there is a neat theory floating around that Venom’s eye actually works fine but he’s under the spell of being Big Boss so strongly that his eye is malfunctioning as a result of some psychological hypnosis.
Venom Snake’s reflections and shadows
If the player zooms into their reflection in the ACC window, the face that stares back at them is the one they’ve created – their avatar is the reflection. Shouldn’t they expect to see the reflection of Venom Snake? The same thing even happens in his face’s shadow which is structurally different than its form.
Venom can smell
Pretty obvious, this one. In Metal Gear Solid 3, Naked Snake tells us he has no sense of smell. Yet, in MGSV Venom Snake says of the quarantine bay that it smells “sweet like fruit”, and that he can “smell it through the mask.” This is too big of an inconsistency to be overlooked and is a very deliberate clue as to Venom’s true identity.
Venom asking Ocelot about Ishmael
In one of the first cassette tapes, it’s audible Venom is asking Ocelot who the man who saved his life in the hospital is, referring to Ishmael. Ocelot offers no response, instead outright blanking him. Sure, its possible Ocelot has simply forgotten given he himself underwent therapy to play his role, but there’s something strange in Ocelot outright ignoring Venom’s question.
Entering name and date of birth
There’s symbolic meaning behind Venom acting as silent protagonist: Kojima is working to get the player to see themselves as Big Boss – you are not Big Boss but your own version of him. To solidify this point – and much like the avatar creation – the game requests you input your name and date of birth. The medic doesn’t have a name until you give him one.
Metal Gear Solid has precedent for meme
MGS has a history of characters living on through meme, a theme closely explored in MGS2: Sons of Liberty whereby Big Boss’ third clone Solidus Snake is sterile so as to not bear children just like Solid Snake and Liquid Snake. The theme of the game proposes that characters can live on through artifacts beyond genetics – hence, meme. Given this, a non-genetic body double in MGSV shouldn’t have been too big a revelation when it was eventually revealed.