The Metal Gear Solid series is a collection of strange games, made stranger through its habit of waffling on whether the goings-on are supernatural or technological. But within this world of ghosts and ghosts-in-the-machine, there's one figure that stands above it all: that "powerful practitioner of psychokinesis and telepathy," Psycho Mantis. The genius of Mantis as a villain is that he gets to rise above the usual cadre of Metal Gear Solid's half-vampires and nano-solidiers, to see the story for what it is. In a tale that oscillates between the natural and metaphysical, he gets to have it both ways. His supernatural stuff is technology: the system sitting in front of you. Standing apart from thousands of phony psychics, Mantis is the real deal, a seer who really can see something the rest of us can't - the parameters of the game.


As a member of Metal Gear Solid's turncoat FOXHOUND team, Psycho Mantis seems at first to be one of a menagerie. They all fit a certain pattern - each member of this elite black ops unit of the military has a history of emotional strife, and pairs their select proficiencies with an animal totem that seems to speak to their damaged souls: Sniper Wolf, Vulcan Raven, Decoy Octopus. And like his cohorts, Psycho Mantis has a past fraught with trauma that has transformed him into who he is today - his mother died in childbirth, and after inadvertently learning of his father's loathing for him, his psychic powers ran amok, burning down his entire village. Later, working as a psychic profiler for the government, he delved too deeply into the mind of a serial killer, and caught the man's madness like an infection. Now, he is a gaunt, emaciated man, forced to wear a helmet at all times in order to shield himself from other people's minds. The result is a vaguely insectoid figure, part bug and part bugaboo, who floats through the air limply as if snared in a spider's web.

All this might set up a boss fight that plays out as another chapter in Metal Gear Solid's pseudonatural high drama - but Psycho Mantis is no mere freak of the week. After attempting and failing to seduce you through your possessed teammate, he reveals himself and announces that you are worthy to witness his true powers. He proceeds to read your "mind," or the closest thing to it - with his legendary abilities, he scours your game file for data. Psycho Mantis knows how many times you fell for traps, if you're cautious or reckless, whether you're a seasoned pro at the game or have stumbled along one tripped alert at a time. If he doesn't like what he sees, he'll mock you as a coward or a poor warrior. Mantis belongs to a long tradition of shit-talking villains, but who else will scold you if you haven't saved your game enough? He turns every scrap of information into a dirty little secret he dangles over your head, even going so far to bring up other games you've played: Castlevania, Suikoden, Vandal Hearts. A remake of the game is on the GameCube, and it's particularly disconcerting to hear Mantis hiss, as if through clenched teeth, "So ... you've been playing Super Mario Sunshine, haven't you?"

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