“A shadow of the inside. Of the old age.” – Old Snake, Metal Gear Solid 4
Revisiting Shadow Moses was one of the highlights of Metal Gear Solid 4 for many long time fans. We were now able to see the island from a different perspective, in more than one sense.
At the very beginning of Act 4, players suddenly find themselves back at the start of the original Metal Gear Solid. The graphics, sounds and game mechanics are all exactly as they were in the past. After entering the building, the game cuts to a close up of Snake’s polygonal head. Snake wakes up with a start, while his face quickly transitions into the detailed Old Snake head. Otacon notices Snake’s sudden awakening, and asks if everything is all right. “I was having that dream again.” Snake responds, still with distant thoughts.
Snake and Otacon approach the island by helicopter. Nine years ago, Snake arrived at the heliport by elevator, this time, he comes from a different direction. In front of him, he can see the base, the same structure of concrete and metal – but from a different perspective. Meanwhile, music begins to play. The Best if Yet To Come, which can be immediately recognized as the haunting song that played during the end credits of the original Metal Gear Solid game. This music not only reminds us of that history, but also invokes a feeling of something that has come to an end.
The facility, abandoned and crumbling, serves to illustrate Snake’s place in this new world: like the building and the technology inside, he is no longer needed. As Otacon remarks when booting up the old security system, it has become ‘totally obsolete’.
Perhaps one of the most explicit examples of this is the moment Snake sees the same camera he noticed 9 years ago. ‘A surveillance camera’, Snake utters, just like back then. But immediately after, the machine simply plunges off the wall. It’s no longer the threat it used to be, it’s now just a heap of junk.
Soldiers have been replaced by surveillance robots. The total absence of human beings only adds to the feeling of forsakenness that envelops this place. Or, as Mei Ling puts it during the briefing, it is ‘more like a forgotten island’. Something that simply lost its relevance and faded from the world as those involved have either passed away or moved on, willingly or not. ‘I thought I’d never go back.’ Otacon says. Snake has his back turned towards the camera. He is silent, not saying a word. We can’t fully make out what he is thinking or feeling at the moment.
On the island, it is as if the entire site has become a decor for Snake’s memories. Each room contains the elements as we remember them – but it’s just not the same anymore. It’s feels like Snake is in a dream about his past: the same, yet different.
When Snake takes the elevator down to the second floor basement, dust and rubble come raining down. Like Snake’s body failing him more and more, this facility too has started to fall apart. Is this still the backdrop of Snake’s most heroic feats, or is it simply an worn down, outdated structure of steel and concrete?
As Snake moves through the old facility, each location reminds him of what took place here nine years ago, and he can hear the voices of the people he encountered echoing in his head. They are voices of the past, of things long gone. Memories of something that is over.
Snake has a different perspective on things now. He can still see the traces of his fight with Gray Fox. But he now has a new kind of understanding, about Gray Fox, about Naomi. “She must have hated me too.” he realizes.
The same goes for Otacon. Looking back at his old working place, he remembers a certain birthday party celebrated right there in the laboratory – and the bitter irony of how their frivolous antics contrasted starkly with the monstrous weapon they were creating.
It is a walk down memory lane, but one that reminds Snake of just how much the world, and especially he, has changed. From, respectively, a giant threat and a young, bold hero, to a forgotten ruin and a vanishing shadow.
As Mei Ling explained, soon after this final visit this entire island will be swallowed up by the sea. This too, is the result of a changing world. It will be erased from the earth, and it will be as if it never even existed. This is the same fate that awaits Snake, who, as Otacon notes at the very end of the game, can’t leave anything of his own behind to remind the world of his existence. No genes, no memes. He will simply cease to exist, together with Shadow Moses Island, and all the traces of their past, the reminders of their time, will be gone for good. As if they were just a myth.