I’ve said this in articles before, but the Metal Gear series is in my top three franchisees of all time. Despite all of Hideo Kojima’s little quirks, I think he’s a genius and I swallow everything he sells, two-hour cut-scenes and all. He’s one of gaming’s few directors who has a stylistic stamp to his games. Also, not a lot of people can say they steered a franchise for thirty years. Thirty years! That is incredible and while I’m sad his version of the series has ended, I’m also glad he gets to go and do new things. I kind of just want to see his vision for the series I discussed in my last article, 20 Video Game Franchises That Need To End ASAP, and how he could revive those properties. Discounting Metal Gear obviously.
With that said, I am glad he’s working on something completely new with Death Stranding, as it looks amazing even though no one, probably not even Kojima, knows what it is at this point, but we’re getting off track. This is going to be a tough one because most of these games are like children to me and ranking them isn’t going to be easy. I will say I’m not going to include remakes like Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, or HD collections, or collections of any sort, or mobile games like Metal Gear Solid Touch. It would be too weird to rank those. Now ranking ports of a game I could do, but that’s not important right now. Removing all of those extra versions, we have exactly fifteen games to order, so let’s get to it.
15 Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Putting this one on here may be considered a stretch since, as this is just a demo for The Phantom Pain, but while it feels like a demo, it was released in stores so I’m going to include it in the pantheon. As it is so short though (I think the current record time is like five minutes), I’m going to place it at fifteen. It was a nice glance into the Fox Engine and what players would get into with The Phantom Pain, but it also holds back a lot of the proper installment’s mechanics. It was a nice tease of greater things to come, but at thirty bucks originally, it was kind of a rip at the same time. I have to blame for Konami for that bungled decision.
14 Snake’s Revenge
Okay, so this is where things get confusing and we’re only on fourteen! Metal Gear was developed for the Japanese MSX2 computer. That game was then ported to the NES albeit at a downgraded version. Following this was two sequels. Snake’s Revenge was developed exclusively for North American and European territories, never coming to Japan in any form, while the actual sequel, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, released on the MSX2 as well. Admittedly, I have not beaten this game since it’s pretty hard even for a NES game and I just have no interest in it, since Kojima wasn’t involved and it’s in a weird other timeline of sorts. Nothing is really wrong with it, but it just lacks a magic touch. Everything feels less polished basically.
13 Metal Gear
I never touched Metal Gear’s NES form even in emulation. Actually, I never knew it existed because I thought Metal Gear Solid was the first game in the series. This was in a time before the Internet was as widespread as it is now. Imagine that world dear reader. Anyway, the original MSX2 versions of this and Metal Gear 2 were included in a later release of Snake Eater, Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. While it certainly wasn’t easy, I powered through because I loved this series so much and I was determined to see the game’s origins, especially since Snake Eater was all about Big Boss becoming a villain, so I actually wanted to see him be evil. As advanced as it was at the time, it is basic in terms of what Metal Gear would become with lavish boss battles and a quirky story. It’s somewhat basic, but still worth investing your time into.
12 Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
Since I played these first two games back to back, it's hard to keep track of what was what in my mind, as they're both very similar in terms of mechanics and story, but it’s a slightly better game overall. Taking place a few years after the first, Snake must now infiltrate Zanzibarland to rescue a scientist who is being forced to make another Metal Gear machine. Sound familiar? Well, in some ways, Metal Gear Solid is like a more refined Metal Gear 2 with a lot of callbacks to characters and themes, even though it wasn’t released outside of Japan until years later. With that said, there is a summary in Metal Gear Solid that goes over that mission, but it’s still weird. Anyway, like Metal Gear, you’ll find the gameplay here simple and possibly a bit frustrating given the limitations. It’s here where the story picks up though, so that’s mainly why it’s better in my eyes.
11 Metal Gear: Ghost Babel
Like Snake’s Revenge or Metal Gear Solid in other territories outside of Japan oddly enough, this game takes place in an alternate timeline to the main series. It was released on the Game Boy Color a year before Sons of Liberty launched. Kojima did not direct it, but he produced it. Shinta Nojiri instead directed it, who I will bring up again later. The game looks phenomenal on the GBC especially with the character illustrations in the cutscenes. Leave it to any of the Metal Gear teams to use every ounce of power a system has. Now to the game itself, Ghost Babel serves as another alternative sequel to Metal Gear. It features the same top down perspective, but the strangest thing is it that it's level based. It’s like a more advanced version or more like a call back to the original two Metal Gear games in terms of gameplay. It's simple, beautiful, but essentially more of the same.
10 Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops
Let’s get back into the 3D world of Metal Gear with Portable Ops, which serves as the first direct sequel to Snake Eater, continuing the backstory of how Big Boss rose to power and created Outer Heaven in Metal Gear. Six years after the events of that game, Big Boss travels to South America to fight his old FOX unit as bad blood is rising. It ditched the survival aspects of Snake Eater, but retained some of the key elements, including different outfits for operations and the missions themselves were designed with the PSP's portability in mind, as they were usually short and great for quick sessions on the go. This game also first introduced the Fulton system, where players could extract soldiers to use in operations via a balloon. It wasn’t as fully featured as its sequel, Peace Walker, but it was an important step for the franchise. It’s hard to play now with the cramped controls of the PSP, which is unfortunate because the narrative is excellent, accompanied by beautifully drawn cutscenes in the form of comic panels. It has a lot of good elements that would be improved upon, but ultimately it’s a bit sloppy in execution.
9 Metal Gear Acid
To this day, this is the only Metal Gear game that has shipped at a console’s launch. It was released alongside the PSP’s debut in Japan, North America, and Europe. While it’s not a proper Metal Gear game, it’s still a cool get for the system. It’s actually a card based tactical RPG akin to something along the lines of Disgaea. His partner, Teliko, accompanies Snake as they try to stop terrorists who hijacked a plane carrying a U.S. senator. Cards allow the characters to move, equip gear like armor, as well as items that can heal or be used as weapons. It takes the stealth concepts to a whole new level and while, like Portable Ops, it is clunky, the RPG elements work well for this Metal Gear spinoff. Nojiri directed this and the sequel as well, with his offshoot style doing well for the franchise.
8 Metal Gear Acid 2
As cool as Metal Gear Acid was, this sequel cranked things up considerably by improving upon the mechanics it set forth. Not only that, but they decided to use cel-shading instead and the game came with 3D goggles you could put on to make the game pop, literally. While they’re pretty chintzy, as they’re only made of cardboard, they did enhance the game’s striking graphics, making a better use of the title’s namesake. It’s another tactical RPG with cards, but as I said in the last entry, everything was doubled down upon. The story was crazier, boss battles returned in a better way, and overall it’s just a much better game. I’d like a HD collection for both, or just a 3DS port of this game because my eyes want to bleed with joy. That probably won’t happen, so in the meantime track down a copy and don’t let this spinoff pass you by.
7 Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Guns of the Patriots was the reason why I finally forked over the insane amount of cash to get a PS3 when it launched in June 2008. It was being touted as the last Metal Gear, which was understandable since all signs point to Old Snake dying and being too old for this shit, or something like that. It was a beautiful send off letter to the character, with so many call backs and references that tried its hardest to literally close every single plot line the game had developed over its twenty year history, to that point. It even went so far as to redeem Raiden by making him a complete bad ass. Kojima was unleashed to his fullest, maximizing the full extent of the 50GB one could store on a single PS3 Blu-ray disc. It’s a massive game. With that said, I’ve only finished it once because of how long it takes to get through everything. Plus the setting is less interesting mostly due to a lot of the game taking place in the Middle East, which by now, and even then, has been done to death.
6 Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
If Konami isn’t going to do anything with the Metal Gear franchise other than put out garbage, as I predict Metal Gear Survive will be, can PlatinumGames have another stab and continue what they started in Revengeance? Also, let’s make it psychedelically colorful like Metal Gear Acid 2 because it would make this first entry’s style that much more insanely groovy. After Raiden’s redemption in Guns of the Patriots, looking like a bad ass and not a pansy, I desperately wanted a game starring him again. Like the other spinoffs, I appreciate this one more than any before it for a fresh take on the series while still including a lot of the insane elements that make up Metal Gear. The terrible, but strangely addicting metal soundtrack, the over the top story, the spastic action of cutting everything from limb to limb, and that final boss battle are all amazing. Again, where the hell is this sequel?!
5 Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
This was actually the first game I played in the series, thanks to a random rental decision based on the name seeming somewhat familiar. It was the fourth game I played only my newly acquired PS2 and while GTA III, Final Fantasy X, and Jak and Daxter are all great games, Sons of Liberty showcased the power of the PS2 to me very early on. Like, from the moment, Snake drops off a bridge and does an amazing landing with the powerful soundtrack rocking on in the background. Wow. Definitely top fifteen opening moments in video games. From there, the ship was your playground to infiltrate and it continued further with a new character on the plant. Being new to Metal Gear, the switch from Snake to Raiden didn’t bother me as much, even though he was a weaker character and wined a lot. There are a lot of great moments, but retroactively I do agree now that Raiden holds the game back, plus that whole ending while genius, is also very frustrating. Setbacks aside, it is undeniably one of the top five Metal Gear games.
4 Metal Gear Solid
While Sons of Liberty was my first, I did watch my brother play Metal Gear Solid when it came out, but it looked like just another spy game like Syphon Filter, so I ignored it. That’s why MGS2 popped out to me at the time. Now had I seen the story, I’m sure I would have been more motivated to track it down as he was only borrowing it at the time. Regardless, I’ve played it now and wow. While I like the controls and the wackier plot of Sons of Liberty, I love how somewhat grounded Metal Gear Solid feels, even though it was still pretty crazy. I can’t really fathom ranking the bosses of the series right now, but on a consistent level, I would have to say this game has the best ratio of good boss fights. Not the best boss fights, but an overall consistent level of good ones. Plus I finally got to play an entire game as Snake and figured out why the whole Raiden thing was an issue.
3 Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Peace Walker is the culmination of every portable game, tweaked to the max, while perfecting the formula to make not only an amazing Metal Gear game, but also one that uses the PSP's functionalities amazingly well. The button layout is still a bit hard to get used to, like in Portable Ops, but less so thanks to some other fixes. It lacks the usual deluge of unique, insane bosses and instead trades these fights in for armor duels between various tanks and Metal Gear machines. Like Metal Gear Solid, the narrative here is more grounded and is further centered on Big Boss as a person, along with the soldiers he’s trying to train. The best thing about the game is the Pokémon like catching system with the Fulton balloons, which again is better implemented. Gotta recruit ‘em all!
2 Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
My conflicts with The Phantom Pain’s narrative keep it from being my number one pick. While good, it does feel unfinished and the lack of Big Boss talking was the biggest let down. Changing the voice was aggravating, but I would have been fine with Keifer Sutherland, if he actually talked. Based on Konami and Kojima's relationship or what we know now, at least it makes senses why it feels disjointed. Unless you happen to corner Kojima in a bar and get him wasted, we'll never know the full story. Plot aside, this is the best gameplay in any Metal Gear and an amalgamation of everything the team has learned from the beginning, including the portables. The open environments and swappable gear allowed for multiple ways to take on any mission, plus your A.I. partners are all cool, especially your adorable eye patch wearing pooch and your mini Metal Gear you can cruise around in. It's just fun to play above all else and since the story is so low key, it’s probably the best entry point for the series, technically.
1 Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
However, even though the gameplay of MGSV is better and thus easier to get people hooked on with the series, Snake Eater would still be the one I would push. Solid Snake is a great character, but after seeing Big Boss' arc starting here, well, he's like Sons of Liberty’s Raiden by comparison. Few games, or media overall, take the time to build up a character as much as Kojima did with Big Boss or as he was called in this game, Naked Snake. He had to fight his old unit and his mentor, The Boss, through the jungles not only sprinkled with enemies, but dangerous beasts as well. The day I got this game I developed stomach flu and slept for a day straight. To make up for my lost time, I played Snake Eater in literally two sittings with a total of somewhere in the twenty-hour mark. It's a treasured memory for one of my favorite game of all time. There are just too many moments to name why I love this game, but it's enough to say that Snake Eater is the complete package with amazing set pieces and moments, including the best last two hours of any game period. It’s an emotional ride, but one I’ve take too many times to count.