For the next couple of weeks, we’re going to take a look at two of the most memorable characters from Metal Gear Solid: Psycho Mantis and Solid Snake.
In this week’s edition of Character RETROspect, the spotlight will be shining on Psycho Mantis, FOXHOUND’s gas mask wearing psychic expert and psychological warfare specialist.
Chapter 4: Diving Into the Mind of a Pyschopath
Hideo Kojima is undoubtedly one of the greatest minds in the video game industry, and he will go down in history as an innovator in the realm of character development. His unique approach to character progression through the use of expansive, fleshed out back stories and fascinating cinematic moments is nothing short of breathtaking.
While my first foray into the world of the Metal Gear saga happened to be the first game on the NES, it wasn’t until Metal Gear Solid came out in 1998 that I became obsessed with Hideo Kojima’s masterpiece of a series. Not only is Solid Snake’s mission on Shadow Moses Island quite possibly one of the greatest stories ever told in video games; Snake’s encounters with Psycho Mantis are some of the greatest moments to ever grace this medium that we love so much.
The Birth and Life of a Psychopath
The complex back story of Psycho Mantis starts with the death of his mother during child birth, and his father’s overall resentment and hatred towards him because of her death. Mantis, as a young boy, accidentally read his father’s mind one day and discovered the hatred he was harboring for his son. It was this discovery that made him believe that his father was going to kill him at some point; consequently, this allowed Psycho Mantis’ psychic powers to be awoken. With the use of his newfound telekinetic abilities, he burned his entire village to the ground, leaving his body and face disfigured from fire.
After the display of his incredible telekinetic powers, the KGB recruited Psycho Mantis to join their psychic intelligence division. Soon after joining the KGB, however, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Mantis left Russia to move to the United States. It was in the US that Psycho Mantis joined the ranks of the FBI, and was tasked with using his abilities to enter the minds of suspected killers to uncover the truth about their crimes. During an interrogation in the year 2000, Mantis entered the mind of a serial killer and adopted the persona of the killer, ultimately leaving Psycho Mantis in a psychotic state from which he would never truly recover from.
Psycho Mantis had left the FBI and became a “psychic-for-hire,” always lending his services to the highest bidder. Reading thousands of minds had its toll on his mind though, and he began to despise humanity as a whole, regarding humans as selfish beings who just wanted to pass along their seed. Eventually Mantis was enlisted by FOXHOUND to be their psychological warfare specialist, and with the “Sons of Big Boss,” the renegade faction of FOXHOUND, took over Shadow Moses Island in 2005. Their initial demands were to receive one billion dollars, and to retrieve the remains of Big Boss from the government, or else they would launch a nuclear attack from the newly engineered Metal Gear REX.
An Instance of Deception and Hallucinations
After FOXHOUND took over Shadow Moses Island, Psycho Mantis attempted to read the minds of Donald Anderson, the chief of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) — an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military — and Kenneth Baker, the president of ArmsTech, but he was unable due to the cranial implants the two had received to prevent psychic interrogation.
When Anderson was interrogated by Revolver Ocelot and “accidentally” killed, Psycho Mantis suggested that Decoy Octopus, FOXHOUND’s impersonation expert, trick Solid Snake into getting the codes they needed to detonate Metal Gear REX by impersonating the now deceased Donald Anderson. Decoy Octopus, while still disguised as Donald Anderson, died because of coming into contact with Solid Snake and the FOXDIE virus, and on his way out of “Anderson’s” cell, Snake experiences a brief hallucination in which he sees Psycho Mantis because of the psychometric interference emanating from Mantis’ actions.
A Battle of Wits
The greatest boss battle in Metal Gear Solid is between Solid Snake and Psycho Mantis, and the genius of the gameplay mechanics is second to none. Psycho Mantis reads your memory card to tell you how many times you’ve saved, and also what other games you’ve played. He also “uses” the rumble feature of the DualShock controller to make you believe that he’s broken the “Fourth Wall.”Along with the rumble feature gag, the player has to physically plug the controller into the second controller port, or else Psycho Mantis will dodge every single attack from Snake. The funniest feature that was implemented was the “Hideo” trick in which Psycho Mantis pretends to change the video source on the player’s television set, but instead of saying “Video,” it instead says “Hideo.” The first time I played through Metal Gear Solid, I was positively floored by how original this boss battle was, and to this day it remains my numero uno boss battle in a video game.
Close to defeat in battle, Psycho Mantis decides to awaken Meryl with his psychokinetic powers and use her against Solid Snake, but Snake eventually overcomes Psycho Mantis in battle, while also saving Meryl from killing herself. Knowing that the end is near for him, Mantis asks Snake to remove his gas mask, and with his final words he tells of his tragic past — going on to explain why he despises humanity so much, telling Snake that all humans can do is bring each other pain and misery. Mantis also tells Snake that he never actually agreed with Liquid Snake’s revolution, but rather just wanted to use this as an opportunity to kill as many people as possible. The final kicker before Psycho Mantis dies is that he tells Snake that he’s “not so bad,” especially compared to Snake, to whom he refers to as being truly evil. Mantis asks that Snake put his gas mask back on for him to prevent people’s thoughts from entering his mind, as he wanted to be by himself as he lay dying. For Snake’s compliance with his dying wish, Psycho Mantis uses his powers to open up a secret passageway that leads directly to Metal Gear REX’s maintenance base.
A Haunting Reunion
Psycho Mantis makes quite the cameo appearance in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, in which his psyche, through the use of nanomachine technology, was integrated into the mind of Screaming Mantis — the final member of the Beauty and the Beast Unit that Snake battles in the game. After Snake defeats Screaming Beauty, the spirit of Psycho Mantis appears behind the now floating suit remnants of Screaming Mantis. Shortly after, however, The Sorrow (from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater) appears and sends Psycho Mantis back to the spirit world for good.
The story of Psycho Mantis is a beautiful work of art that stems from the mind of Kojima — one of the greatest minds the video game industry has today. I for one can’t begin to imagine what the state of video games would be like today if it weren’t for his unique approach to character design, which I think has helped to stimulate other game designers to think “outside-the-box,” and to develop interesting and deep characters in their own games. Although, some people might disagree with me and claim that the Metal Gear franchise has a gaggle of lackluster characters; I would most certainly rebuttal with this:
You must not have played Metal Gear Solid 4, because Raiden totally redeems himself for being such a pansy.