Between the non-stop plot twists and the cinema lengthy cutscenes, there’s one element that keeps fans coming back to Metal Gear Solid more than anything: the boss fights. Sure, the series’ claim to fame is the story and the stealth elements but if you ask a fan what their highlight of any given game was they’d probably answer with one of the bosses. Starting with the series’ 3D debut in 1998, Hideo Kojima introduced the video game to a gauntlet of antagonists never seen before.
Each game since has tried its best to top the original’s Foxhound and —collectively— you could probably make the case that they’ve all failed. That said, there are certainly individual boss fights and character that blow MGS1 out of the water. And some that don’t. For every amazing boss that Metal Gear Solid has seen, there’s been a bad one lurking in the shadows behind it. You get Psycho Mantis, but you also get a tank with some soldiers in a snow field. You get Vamp diving and jumping out of a pool of water, but you also get Vamp standing on a pipe holding a girl hostage. It’s a mixed bag.
So what does make a good boss fight? For Metal Gear Solid, it’s having a great gimmick, making use of the mechanics, and having a fun personality to boot. When the series gets it right, its bosses end up being some of the best in video game history, period. When the series gets it wrong, however, you’re left wondering how Kojima could have made such an obvious oversight. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen often enough to ruin any individual game, but it happens just enough to tarnish the memory of the “perfect” Metal Gear Solid. Whatever you consider that to be.
BEST: Vulcan Raven
When people think of boss fights from the original Metal Gear Solid, most remember the mind-boggling shenanigans Psycho Mantis forced players through and the adrenaline rush of sniping Sniper Wolf in a snow field, but few recognize the sheer genius of Vulcan Raven’s boss fight. It’s not like it isn’t an iconic moment in Metal Gear Solid history but it gets forgotten in the greater scheme of things since the biggest draw to Vulcan Raven’s fight is just that it’s a really well-designed boss fight.
Out of all the boss fights in the original Metal Gear Solid, Vulcan Raven’s has the most variety, by far. His arena is an open room with plenty of cover. It's a sterling use of the game’s stealth mechanics, exploiting them to their fullest. This allows for plenty of different strategies. You can drop claymores and bait Vulcan Raven into walking into them, you can shoot him from afar normally, and you can even follow him around with a missile. All the while, Vulcan Raven is slowly hunting you down waiting to shred you with a gatling gun in one of the tensest fights in the series.
14 WORST: Cyborg Ninja
Gray Fox is an incredible character. His relationship with Solid Snake is one of the most interesting things about the latter’s person. He only has a big role in Metal Gear Solid and the original Metal Gear games, but Gray Fox made an impression on the franchise that could never be forgotten. It’s a real shame about his boss fight, though.
On a thematic level, the Cyborg Ninja fight is great. If you played the original Metal Gear duology then it’s an excellent and emotional callback to Snake and Gray Fox’s fight in Zanzibar. If you’re new to the series, then it’s an awesome introduction to an awesome character. Unfortunately, the gameplay leaves a lot to be desired. The whole boss boils down to punching Gray Fox three times, waiting for him to try to attack you, and then punch him three times again. There’s little to no variety whatsoever. Chaff grenades make the fight a bit more manageable, but it doesn’t make it fun.
13 BEST: Metal Gear RAY
There are few cooler moments in Metal Gear Solid than when the titular Metal Gear finally gets unveiled. Liquid operating Metal Gear REX, Ocelot stealing Metal Gear RAY at the beginning of MGS2, and Volgin piloting the Shagohod like a lunatic remain some of the best moments in the series’ thirty year history. Naturally, it makes sense that one of the best boss fights in the franchise would feature Solid Snake finally piloting a Metal Gear to fight another Metal Gear.
A sudden change in gameplay is a rarely a smart decision on the developer’s part but leave it to Hideo Kojima to actually make it work. Metal Gear REX has weight to every action it takes, and its move set is simple yet thoughtful. RAY is significantly faster meaning REX needs to be controlled with precision and consideration for every action. Metal Gear RAY is a fight that takes a lot of skill with a newly implanted system that works far better than it should and fulfills every fanboy’s inner desire to pilot a Metal Gear.
12 WORST: Revolver Ocelot
Metal Gear Solid is in no short supply of amazing characters. Revolver Ocelot has been a series mainstay since the original MGS where he masterfully played Liquid and Solid Snake against each other while conspiring for the President of the United States all along. His presence has been felt in every main game since, but his boss fight isn’t exactly the best first impression for the character.
His personality is there, and his deviousness is emphasized, but the fight itself is an incredibly simple and basic shootout that comes down to running around a room and shooting Ocelot from afar while he ricochets bullets off the walls. The concept of a boss maneuvering his bullets would be revisited and perfected in Ocelot’s boss fight in MGS3 but here it’s little more than a minor nuisance. It’s a good thing Kojima kept Ocelot around after his boss fight, because this battle doesn’t do him many favors in the gameplay department.
11 BEST: Solidus Snake
Solidus Snake, the soothsayer antagonist that predicted the plot of MGS4: Guns of the Patriots. As right as he was, he was also heartless and cruel taking any possible measure to achieve his goals. His boss fight features him and Raiden sword fighting on top of Federal Hall, and it’s just as ridiculously awesome as it sounds.
Since Metal Gear Solid 2 gives you a solid half hour to learn the sword controls before you actually get a chance to fight Solidus, the controls feel well learned and natural by the time the boss starts. From a narrative level, the boss fight represents just how much the player has lost. If Raiden dies, Olga’s daughter dies, and Solidus succeeds in wiping New York off the grid. If Solidus dies, the Patriots are safe and continue their tyranny. It’s an incredibly fun boss fight with high stakes that hammers in the theme of the game near perfectly.
10 WORST: The Pain
Metal Gear Solid 3 is one of the greatest games of all time, balancing gameplay and story better than any MGS game out there. It’s an incredible ride from start to finish, but it’s not without its problems. For as memorable as he is, The Pain is far from a good start to the Cobra Unit’s tenure. Ocelot’s boss fight was boring, but his character was at least fascinating, and he set up Foxhound well. Fortune is a mess of a boss that we’ll get to later but she at least had a personality and her fight made sense. The Pain is ridiculous on a level that doesn’t really work in his favor.
He’s a man made of bees but he fights Snake in a water filled cave and he has no discernible personality outside of liking hornets a lot. All Snake has to do is swim back and forth, toss the occasional grenade, and pump The Pain full of lead. Out of all the boss fights in MGS3, he is by far the worst.
9 BEST: Metal Gear RAY Units
Fighting Metal Gear RAY in MGS1 was a tense, endurance match as Snake dodged Liquid’s rockets and had to take every chance possible to fire at REX. The Metal Gear REX fight in MGS2 amps things up by having Raiden take on up to twenty Metal Gears before he’s allowed to rest. In a surreal landscape that’s nothing like Metal Gear Solid had seen before or seen since, the Metal Gear RAY Units challenged everything the player was capable of.
Survival requires legitimate skill since you’re taking on the RAY Units three at a time. One stands on the platform with you while the others shoot you from afar. One misstep can cost you the entire fight, but it never feels unfair. It’s a matter of figuring out patterns and keeping cool in a tense situation. The fight can be a bit overwhelming on higher difficulties, but that’s half the fun of taking on twenty Metal Gears at once.
8 WORST: Man On Fire
You’d think that one of the biggest monsters in Metal Gear Solid would offer a better boss fight as a ghost-zombie hybrid who’s perpetually caught on fire. His appearance at the beginning of The Phantom Pain gives him a good introduction thanks to near invulnerability, and the horror atmosphere the first hour has but the actual confrontation with him near the end of the game feels like a massive wasted opportunity.
The whole boss fight consists of Snake trying to drop water tanks on the Man on Fire to put him out and ... that’s pretty much it, honestly. You don’t even get the satisfaction of beating him since the fight is about making him wet so you can get on your helicopter and escape. The fight has no real story significance, it’s repetitive and short-lived, and it’s a waste of not only an interesting character but also the best game engine Metal Gear Solid has ever had.
7 BEST: Metal Gear Sahelanthropus
Not all the bosses in The Phantom Pain are bad, however. Where the Man on Fire failed, Metal Gear Sahelanthropus succeeded. In fact, Sahelanthropus is pretty much the exact opposite of the Man on Fire. Taking on the largest Metal Gear to date, Venom Snake has access to a huge wasteland with plenty of cover to take on Sahelanthropus along with his entire arsenal of weapons to choose from, each weapon actually capable of doing damage even if it’s just a bit.
You can stealth around Sahelanthropus and disable his weaponry, you can face it head on, and you can call in missile strikes to help you in a pinch. Everything that works to your advantage in the regular game can work here. It’s a rarity for a boss fight which makes it all the better. The best part is that Sahelanthropus is a legitimate danger, constantly hunting you until you take it down.
6 WORST: Liquid Snake
As far as final bosses go, Liquid Snake is easily the worst one in the series. The premise is great, fist fighting on top of Metal Gear REX, but the actual execution is lackluster and aggravating. Snake’s combos just aren’t refined in the original Metal Gear Solid, so you’re left doing three hit combos and running around the top of REX until Liquid gives you an opening like in the Cyborg Ninja fight. To make matters worse, you can’t even cheese the fight by throwing chaff grenades. It’s just a repetitive fist fight.
The “second phase,” if you can call it that, doesn’t really help make the fight any better since you’re just clumsily aiming a turret at Liquid so that he doesn’t shoot you down. It’s a huge shame, really, because the Metal Gear REX fight that precedes it is fantastic. The ending itself is still great but it’s hard not to imagine how much better it would have been had Liquid actually been a fun final boss.
5 BEST: Liquid Ocelot
Liquid Snake may have been a poor note to end on, but Liquid Ocelot is one of the greatest final bosses in video game history and the second best final boss in Metal Gear Solid (we’ll get to the best soon enough.) Kojima loves callbacks, and no better fight demonstrates that more than this one. The four phase battle takes place on top of a Metal Gear, and each section represents a part of the Metal Gear Solid history.
The first phase switches the UI to match the first game’s and features the boss music from it. The second phase swaps it out for the second game and has the Tanker boss battle theme. The third phase, meanwhile, calls back to Snake Eater even changing Solid Snake’s name on the health meter to Naked Snake. The last phase, of course, represents the end of an era, Metal Gear Solid 4. It’s a somber battle with fist fighting that actually works and keeps you combo-ing instead of throwing three punches over and over again.
4 WORST: Every Single Vehicle In Peace Walker
It’s hard to pick just one bad boss fight in Peace Walker because they’re all generally so bad. It should be noted that Peace Walker is a great game and does a ton of things right, but it’s seriously lacking in the boss department. Most bosses consist of taking out some soldiers, and then chipping down a vehicle’s health bar until you can either fulton it or blow it up completely.
Half of what makes boss fights so memorable in Metal Gear Solid is the personality said bosses bring to the battle. Peace Walker’s vehicles are lifeless, repetitive, and too time-consuming for the trouble they’re worth. The AI vehicles tend to fare a bit better, but not by much. All in all, you can only fight a tank so many times before you get sick and move onto a better Metal Gear Solid game instead.
3 BEST: The Boss
She’s the best final boss in the series, and she’s appropriately titled The Boss. As a whole, Snake Eater is probably the best game in the series so it makes sense that its grand finale would be so stellar. The whole fight is a stealth CQC match in an open field that also lets you use your weaponry if you need to. The Boss stalks you like her prey and, in turn, you do the same to her. It’s a completely even match relying entirely on how well you can outmaneuver her.
The white flowered field captures the purity between Snake and The Boss, perfectly displaying the sincere affection they have for one another and the pain they feel having to fight each other as you stain the flowers with blood. It’s a beautiful last act accented by one of the best boss fights ever. It’ll keep you on the edge of your seat, and it’ll break your heart. What more could you need?
2 WORST: Fortune
Fortune is pretty much the other end of the spectrum when you compare her to the vehicle fights in Peace Walker. They were lacking because they were repetitive and were (accurately) lifeless. Fortune fails because her boss fight is all personality and not in the cool way Psycho Mantis’ was. Her character is interesting and the fight makes sense in the context of the story, but it’s so uneventful and lacking.
You’re pretty much forced to just keep dodging for a minute or two until the elevator comes down and the battle automatically ends. You can’t do any real damage to Fortune — there should have at least been some sort of puzzle to figure out. Maybe you could have shot down boxes to trap her somewhere instead of just waiting around. Staying alive isn’t even hard, either. Had it actually been a challenge to survive, Fortune could have been a standout boss but, as is, she’s a waste of time in the worst way possible.
1 BEST: The End
You’re walking through the jungle, you spot a beam of light rejuvenate an old man laying down among the flora, and he gets up and shoots you with a sniper rifle. Welcome to The End. This boss fight exemplifies everything that Metal Gear Solid is about gameplay wise. The End will quietly wait for you in a three area large battlefield as you crawl through the grass, so he doesn’t spot and snipe you. The idea is to snipe him back but, like every great game, you can create your own strategies.
Want to use your thermal goggles to run up to him as fast as possible? Go for it, but he can hear and see you. Think night vision can help? They can, but it’ll make it all the easier for The End to spot you. If you get lucky and sneak up on him, you can actually kill his parrot making it harder for him to spot you. It’s a dynamic match of cat and mouse where the hunted and hunter are constantly changing. The End is not just the best Metal Gear Solid boss ever, he might be the best video game boss period.