Why Snake Is The Best Climber In Video Game History

Why Snake Is The Best Climber In Video Game History

Or Big Boss if you want to be pedantic.

Point being video games are full of people who climb: Lara Croft, Nathan Drake, Ezio, um… The Ice Climbers. But after watching an early demo of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, it has become crystal clear. Snake is the Adam Ondra/Chris Sharma of video game climbing and I’m now going to explain why.

(Warning: there will be GIFs.)

Who am I to explain? I’m only someone who spends a vast majority of their time climbing? I’m not a world class athlete, but I like to think I know my onions. A while back I put together some analysis of the flawed technique of some of gaming’s most notorious climbers. Most of them came up short. For the most part video game characters are clumsy, inefficient climbers who ignore technique and proper footwork, substituting it with an unrealistic amount of raw power. Video game climbers are — in climbing terms — pure thugs.

Snake, however, totally knows his shit. I could learn a thing or two from this guy.

(Skip to 3.00 above to watch Snake climbing in the latest Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain footage from TGS.)


If you want to climb technically and efficiently you need to use footwork.

Video game climbers don’t use footwork.

Nathan Drake is by far the worst offender. Climbing without feet — or ‘campusing’ — is (on rare occasions) the most efficient way to climb, particularly if you have good upper body strength, but Drake always campuses. He ignores his feet completely. No-one in real life has the power or the endurance to keep that up.

Snake uses his feet well. Not only is he wearing shoes that are remarkably similar to actual rock climbing shoes, note how deftly he places his right foot in the crack of the wall. Note how he is attempting to ‘flag’ his left foot to provide himself with stability and balance. If I were Snake I’d probably be looking to to flag a little further left, thereby steadying myself and pulling my hips into the wall, but this is LIGHT YEARS ahead of Nathan Drake and his ilk. KUDOS!

High Knees Baby!

Why Snake Is The Best Climber In Video Game History

Snake has clearly been stretching his hip flexors. Most likely this dude is busting out multiple different yoga poses in his spare time.

The above example: note how Snake pulls his left leg up to a high hold, before rocking his knee over the hold, using that momentum to reach further with a stronger base. This is textbook manoeuvring on rock. To begin with, he’s climbing using his legs, taking pressure off his forearms and shoulders, enabling him to climb more efficiently.

But, more subtly, by choosing the high foothold, and rocking over the knee, Snake is also pulling his hips closer to the wall which is, again, another great technique used to take pressure from the arms. When you hang from a wall with a (sexy) muscular derrière dangling in the air, you add unnecessary weight to your arms, making it difficult to climb efficiently.

It’s All In The Hips

Worth noting: Snake always keeps his hips close to the wall. Always. What a pro!

In all the GIFs shown this is clear. Less clear is the manner in which Snake uses his hips to extend his reach. By turning his hips into the wall he is able to reach further. This results in less movements required during his climb. This also makes it easier for him to climb with straight arms, this allows Snake’s joints to bear the burden of his body weight, meaning he has to rely less on pure muscle strength.

Good efficient climbing. Nice job Snake!

Lactic Acid Is A Thing

Why Snake Is The Best Climber In Video Game History

One of the most frustrating things about video game climbing, for me personally, is the way in which playable characters climb on into infinity without losing any power or grip strength. Ezio and Nathan Drake are the worst offenders. The reality is all climbers have a limit to their endurance. The first thing to go is usually forearms and tendons, eventually your grip just becomes utterly useless. One of the worst feelings in climbing is the moment you reach up, slap onto a hold you know you should be able to stick, and your hand just pathetically peels off. Brutal.

The problem here is a build up of lactic acid in the forearms. Snake is totally aware of this. One way to reduce this lactic acide build up is to literally shake it out of your arms. You’ll see a lot of top climbers stop halfway up a climb. They’ll rest on an easy hold, and simply shake out their arms in the precise same way as Snake does above.

I’m not sure if this is just a rest animation, or part of some mechanic where Snake has limited stamina on the wall. I seems to remember Metal Gear Solid 2 gave players a very specific (and realistic) amount of hang time before Snake/Raiden would lose their grip and plummet to their death. Little known fact: players could also train and elongate that grip time by doing pull ups. I’m hoping a similar mechanic is added to Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain.

Above and beyond specific climbing techniques, Snake’s climbing is — overall — on a completely different level when compared to Ezio, Nathan Drake and Lara Croft. He climbs fluidly, realistically, and efficiently. He makes dynamic moves when required but, for the most part climbs statically and technically. This makes me very happy indeed.


  • Great article, Mark. I like that you write something you know and are passionate about.

    I Am Alive had a stamina meter for climbing. It was nightmarishly scary! D:

    • Never finished that game. It was pretty hard on the hard difficulty and in the end it all just got too much for my nerves to handle. Before The Last of Us there was I Am Alive for survivor horror/adventure, but whereas The Last of Us has plenty of colour, I Am Alive was depressingly grey.

  • This will be the first Metal Gear I’ll buy since PS1.
    Also, it’s Kotaku, we know they’ll be GIFs.

    • Hey, at least appreciate the fact that Mark was polite enough to warn you beforehand. When he uses gifs, you know there’ll be a damn good reason for it.

  • as a climber I agree, he def has the best technique however he is still lacking many fundamentals.

    you dont climb directly up a crack like that, you need to fall back to one side

    • Yeah, you’re right. But this wall is a bit slabby, so I’d be sticking close the wall on this one I reckon.

      • I don’t understand what any of this means, but you definitely sound like you know what you’re talking about so I’m upvoting anyway.

    • Lacking fundamentals? Pft, Solid Snake eats fundamentals for breakfast. With a big friggin’ glass of OJ.

      (Chuck Norris could only dream of eating fundamentals. He’s still on Coco Pops.)

      • He eats them for breakfast, and because of this, he uses more energy than needed when climbing.

        should be flagging

    • As a (struggling) crack climber I disagree, that’s exactly how you climb crack. Look closely, he’s got perfect hand jamming technique. They must have closely studied pros to get it this spot on. Such attention to detail!

  • I probably wouldn’t have noticed things like Lara Croft’s ridiculous one-handed Cliff-hanger leaps in Tomb Raider till I started reading your articles Mark, but now they stand out like dogs balls.

    • You can also train to increase your grip gauge in MGS by dropping from a ledge and grabbing the ledge below by hitting grab at the precise moment. This was a lot more efficient because you only had to do it 10 times. I used to have a lot of free time apparently.

  • Little known fact: players could also train and elongate that grip time by doing pull ups.

    Wasn’t there another way to increase grip strength as well?

  • Well Mark, you’ve found a profoundly unnerdy topic to be a huge nerd about, so kudos!

    Little known fact: players could also train and elongate that grip time by doing pull ups. I’m hoping a similar mechanic is added to Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain.
    Holy shit, Kojima and his details. This is the same guy who had slowly melting ice.
    TPP is going to be so good.

  • One thing you overlooked — and it lends the in-game climbing the most authenticity, more than any of the points you’ve listed in the article.

    He’s actually jamming the cracks, rather than just face climbing. Somebody on the dev team did their research, or they actually have real experience climbing outdoors.

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