Metal Gear: Ranking the Games

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has arrived! Den of Geek ranks all of the Metal Gear games from worst to best.

Metal Gear Solid V is video game auteur Hideo Kojima’s last game in the Metal Gear series, and it’s no accident that this latest installment is the biggest, most ambitious game in the series. With the brand new FOX engine and tons of new gameplay mechanics, MGSV, which is made up of both Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain, stands to be the game Kojima was born to make. But something even more important lingers in his final installment: MGS5 fills the gap between Big Boss’ adventures and Solid Snake’s final victory against forces set into motion during MGS3: Snake Eater, the first chronological entry in the series. The world of Metal Gear finally comes full circle in a complex thread.

We want to take a look back at a series that has captivated us with its innovative gameplay and unique storytelling. The Metal Gear series has driven the video game world crazy with every new installment, and we’re sure it will continue to create waves for years to come.

Don’t think of “bottom of the list” as a reflection of how “bad” a game was. Think of it more in terms of how GOOD the games higher on the list are to eclipse the ones that came before. 

Here is our ranking of the main CANONICAL games in the series:

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10. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (2013)

Takes place in: 2018

It’s not just the incredibly silly title that turns us off to this game. And we don’t hate the change of pace — Raiden’s lightning quick sword skills make for a very fun distraction. But that’s the keyword: distraction. Revengeance is a cartoony hack-and-slash game that strays away from what made the series great in the first place: the nuance in storytelling and gameplay. Where is the bigger message? It seems more like fanfare to us. Raiden was so badass in MGS4 that he left fans wishing he was a playable character (jokes on you, Raiden haters). But Kojima originally cancelled this game, and perhaps it should’ve stayed that way. Platinum Games did little with the opportunity they were given to comment on the aftermath of Metal Gear Solid 4 (Revengeance takes place 4 years after Solid Snake’s final mission). Here was a golden egg: a chance to usher in a new era in the Metal Gear narrative with one of the most badass cyborgs in the game’s universe. Instead, you get a heavy metal action game that couldn’t stray farther from the spirit of the Metal Gear series. If all that cyborg phooey is the future of Metal Gear, we’re going back into cryo-stasis a la Big Boss. In their defense, Platinum was probably given a set of rules and weren’t able to tamper too directly with the Metal Gear story. Why make the game then? The cutting mechanic is pretty cool, though.

9. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (1990)

Takes place in: 1999

That’s really what we have to get at with this list: the massive success that has been Kojima’s career, making quality game after quality game, each installment blowing away the last, at least until the dust has settled. That’s the case with MG2: Solid Snake, an installment that only officially crossed the Japanese border 14 years after its release for MSX2 computer in 1990. This game introduced many of the plot and gameplay elements that would become staples of the Metal Gear SOLID series, such as complex storylines, the (cyborg) ninja boss fight, a love interest for the main character, a fight against a piloted Metal Gear, etc. Solid Snake returns in this installment on a mission to infiltrate Zanzibar Land, Big Boss’ new militarized nation state (after the demise of Outer Heaven in MG1). Metal Gear 2 will perhaps be best remembered as the game that paved the way for 100x more successful Metal Gear Solid. Still, many consider MG2 the best 8-bit game ever made. Fun fact: it was also Big Boss’ last appearance as the main antagonist.

8. Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops (2006)

Takes place in: 1970

Portable Ops continues where Snake Eater left off. Naked Snake (soon to be known as Big Boss) must defeat his old unit FOX with the help of a couple of old friends and a new ally, Roy Campbell, the future voice in your ear. Portable Ops was (you guessed it) Snake’s first handheld adventure and brought multiplayer along with it, connecting players for Metal Gear Online action. The game also focuses on squad-building. You must recruit soldiers in order to complete missions. It’s a mechanic that would be fully-realized with Peace Walker, the second handheld installment in the series.

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7. Metal Gear (1987)

Takes place in: 1995

The game that started it all. From the very first broken transmission from FOXHOUND agent Gray Fox, “METAL GEAR…,” we are thrust into a world of espionage, nuclear proliferation, and double crosses. In this story, Kojima laid the groundwork for the rest of the series: a single agent is sent on a sneaking mission into enemy territory to stop a rogue faction from unleashing a Metal Gear, a mobile nuclear missile launcher, on the rest of the world. You play as Solid Snake, the newest recruit of the special ops unit FOXHOUND, led by the legendary Big Boss. Snake is tasked with infiltrating the African militarized nation Outer Heaven and finding Gray Fox before its too late. Of course, the mission is more than meets the eye and the plot thickens as Big Boss reveals himself to be a double agent, the leader of Outer Heaven. This game was a crazy concept at the time, focused more on evading your enemies than fighting them. Getting into a firefight was to be your last resort. It was risky, but it paid off, single-handedly introducing thousands of (Japanese) gamers to the stealth genre.

6. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008)

Takes place in: 2014

Guns of the Patriots has the daunting task of cleaning up MGS2‘s mess (and making Raiden cool). After playing Sons of Liberty, you’re left wondering what is real-life and what isn’t in terms of the game’s universe. Well, most of the first half of MGS4 clears up the simulation vs. reality plotline, setting up the pieces that conclude Solid Snake’s storyline (that remains to be seen): JD, an AI programmed to fulfill the will of Major Zero and in turn The Boss’ will, is the major villain of the game, and all of the other major players (Solid Snake and Liquid Ocelot, primarily) seek to defeat the AI or take control of it. But, of course, there are double-crosses, triple agents, twists and turns, and nano machines that control the battlefield until you’re not really sure what the fuck just happened. When Guns of the Patriots gets going on its own plot, it’s just as confusing as its chronological predecessor. Players need to watch a two-hour closing cutscene to understand what’s happened from Snake Eater up to this point. Basically, everyone in the Metal Gear SOLID series is a proxy in a war of ideas between Big Boss and Major Zero, which is cool, and definitely hammers in the themes from past games: gene, meme, government, and will control. Social engineering at its bloody best.

5. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (2010)

Takes place in: 1974

After MGS4 was done, Kojima decided to prequel-it-up once again with Peace Walker, a handheld game that once again revolutionized the series. Big Boss’ second PSP outing brought with it an emphasis on base building and co-op gameplay. Mission prep was also a big addition to the series: players get to pick and choose their load outs. Story-wise, Peace Walker is about Big Boss’ search for his mentor, The Boss, who might still be alive in Costa Rica, which has been invaded by a militant group. The plot thickens, of course, revealing that the conflict is just one big setup in Major Zero’s war against Big Boss. Mother Base is infiltrated by Zero’s agents and all hell breaks loose. The end of this game sees the expansion of Soldiers Without Borders, Big Boss’ nationless military organization, and the seeds are planted for the events of MGS5 and Solid Snake’s first mission in Metal Gear!

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4. Metal Gear Solid (1998)

Takes place in: 2005

Metal Gear Solid was the series’ first 3D entry (the first installment to be officially released in the U.S.), and perhaps its most pioneering. Okay, this is where the series really started getting ridiculous. Although, the plot comments heavily on the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, the game focuses on genetics and what new generations inherit from the old. Solid Snake comes out of retirement to stop a rogue group of soldiers from using a new model of Metal Gear known as REX. Perhaps here, more than anywhere else, is Kojima’s love of cinema most notable. The game’s plot feels like his response to classic 90s action flicks such as GoldenEye and The Rock. The main villain of the game is Liquid Snake, Solid’s genetically-engineered evil twin. Solid is also a test-tube baby, for that matter. Their genes derive from legendary soldier Big Boss in an effort to replicate the ultimate soldier. Besides all that mumbo jumbo, MGS revolutionized the stealth game, giving the subgenre renewed life. Many fans and publications regard Metal Gear Solid as the best PlayStation One game ever made. Oh, and Gray Fox (aka Cyborg Ninja) is easily one of the most tragic heroes in the series.

3. Metal Gear Solid V (2014/2015)

Takes place in: 1975-1984

Metal Gear Solid V wraps up the loose ends from the past few games. Although it’s the latest installment in the series, it actually takes place in the middle of the saga, connecting Big Boss’ adventures to Solid Snake’s trials as a clone supersoldier. Are all our questions answered? No, but we get answers to the most important questions: why did Big Boss turn into a villain? Who is Skull Face and what is his plan? How were Solid and Liquid created? We’re putting Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain together here, because one can’t quite exist without the other. The former lights the fuse and the latter is the explosion. Surprisingly, this chapter is a little lighter on story, which won’t get into detail about here to avoid spoilers. The game is only a week old, after all! The real marvel of this installment is the gameplay, which is a fully revamped experience, with new engine, gunplay, and micromanagement. This game, unlike any other in the series, truly makes you feel like you command your own army on the battlefield. Dropping into missions, both main ones and side ops, demand quick skill and strategy, especially when it comes to the tools you want to take with you to the field, while building your new Mother Base is simplified enough but still as complete as possible. Kojima listened to fans who wanted more gameplay and less cutscenes for this game, and it’s all the better for it. 

2. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004)

Takes place in: 1960

This is the solid (no pun intended) spy game fans were looking for after the philosophical, convoluted plot of its predecessor. Still, it was quite the feat: a much more straightforward spy thriller that didn’t lose its smarts. The game tells the story of Naked Snake, who finds himself in the middle of a Cold War crisis. In the spirit of MGS2, Snake becomes a tool manipulated, not by an AI, but both the American and Russian governments. In terms of gameplay, Snake Eater introduced adaptable camouflage to the series. It also incorporated survival mechanics (hunting for food, tracking enemies, first-aid) that made for a very unique outing in the Russian jungle. That’s a level of strategy that we hadn’t encountered before in the series.

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1. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001)

Takes place in: 2007/09

Sons of Liberty is Kojima’s masterwork. His commentary on the mutation of information in the digital age brought a new focus to the series. Built on misinformation, MGS2 deceives players every step of the way. On the surface, the biggest lie of all is the introduction of Raiden (anime princess version) as the game’s protagonist, a role reserved only for Solid Snake at the time. But if you dig deeper, you get to the “truth” of the matter: there is no MGS2 at all. It’s not about saving the President and stopping another nuclear weapon. The game’s set pieces, its plot, and the role each secret agent plays are almost identical to those in the Shadow Moses Incident in Metal Gear Solid. The true villain of this game was a digital AI that used the player to do its bidding instead of the other way around. The point? Kojima wanted to show the dangers of converting information into data. In a new age of warfare, anything could be manipulated.

How would you rate the games? Tell us in the comments!

John Saavedra is an assistant editor at Den of Geek US. Find more of his work on his website. Or just follow him on Twitter.