*Warning: The following article about the End and the art of the boss battle contains some (very) minor spoilers of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, reader discretion is (kinda) advised
The boss battle is a huge cornerstone of the action-adventure genre, it gives the player the opportunity to test themselves against a unique opponent, who is overpowered and possesses a different arsenal of offensive weapons from the usual enemies they encounter throughout the game, which are usually relatively low-skilled cut and paste clones of one another. However, often times bosses and boss battles can fall victim to a recycled set of tropes which permeate throughout gaming as a whole: see glowing body-parts which need to be destroyed limb by limb, regenerating health and high powered ballistic weaponry among other generic attributes.
Metal Gear Solid holds claim to, among other things, some of the strongest and most original boss battles in all of gaming, from the psychic mind-reading of Psycho Mantis who can be bested more easily by switching the the controller port (ah, the old days) to Fatman, a roller skating mad bomber who the player must gun down while simultaneously diffusing bombs he plants around the map. However, no boss battle is more unique or, consensus dictates, better than The End from Metal Gear Solid 3.
A standout moment in a standout title, and one of four members of The Cobra Unit that Snake must take on during the course of the game, The End is not just the best boss battle out of an impressive collection of bosses, he’s one of the best in gaming period. Foregoing the usual muscle-men with iron fists or advantageous superpowers, The End instead is an old man, over a century old in fact, armed with nothing but a bolt action sniper rifle. His abilities are limited to the uncanny ability to camouflage himself and the photosynthetic ability to heal himself and communicate with the forest (and its animal inhabitants) in which he resides. Supernatural these abilities may be, but still totally unique in the pantheon of gaming boss battles
Speaking of the forest, the showdown takes places across not one but three forested areas, and unlike most boss fights where the player is forced to engage with an enemy who launches their full arsenal at them in total conspicuousness, The End stays hidden, only making himself known by shooting at an exposed Snake, deterring the player from running around recklessly and encouraging cautiousness. This means that Snake must camouflage himself, forcing him to use primitive tools such as directional microphones, sonar, and thermal goggles to track his footsteps.
All of this means that every single time you spot The End in the cross-hairs of your Sniper rifle and fire is immensely rewarding. Even more satisfying is when you manage to track down his location, sneak up behind him and hold him up (or blast him with a shotgun) without alerting him and getting shot at close range. What’s even more atypical still is that rather than shooting you with a typically lethal sniper bullet, The End shoots Snake with tranquillizer darts; take too many without removing them and replenishing your stamina by eating wildlife and you’ll pass out, which leads to The End carrying Snake off to an earlier area of the game, forcing him to trek all the way back to the forest, with The End drolly greeting you with a “welcome back…” It’s a battle of attrition and patience, words that aren’t normally used in the same breath as the words ‘boss battle’. There isn’t even any music playing during the encounter, save for the sounds of the flora and fauna; but rather than detracting from the experience, it actually serves to ramp up the tension even more.
As if that weren’t enough, there are actually three ways to defeat The End: you can beat him by simply depleting his health with gunfire, or… well I’m not going to delve into spoiler territory any further, but let’s just say that one of them seriously highlights series creator Hideo Kojima’s ingenuity, genius and penchant for using the hardware of the console to impact his in-game software.
When The End is finally defeated and the player proceeds through the rest of the game (the battle takes place at the story’s midway point), they are of course immediately excited to see what else lies around the corner. However, they are also highly aware that what they just experienced was something truly special. Contrary to hipster logic, all that is unique and different is not always superior, engaging in close quarters shootouts in gaming is repeated ad finitum for a reason: it’s fun and it works. That being said, when a developer tries something different and it succeeds, it immediately stands out, leaving many of its contemporaries looking ordinary and in the process, often times, influences change in future games. Metal Gear Solid 3 and The End’s boss battle didn’t seem to instigate the latter however, and that’s unfortunate because the action genre could only benefit exponentially from the inclusion of more unique boss battles like this.