It’s crazy to think about, but the release of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is finally here. The game is easily one of the most highly anticipated games of the entire year, despite the recent behind-the-scenes issues between Hideo Kojima and Konami, and many gamers will be flocking to game stores to pick up the next chapter in the twisted, complicated universe that is Metal Gear.
With Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain releasing across PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One, we thought it would be fitting to take a look back at the games that led us to this point, and rank the entire franchise, in order to see which game holds up as the best and is the epitome of tactical espionage action.
For this list, we decided to stick to canonical games only, so this excludes games such as Metal Gear Acid on the PSP. However, non-traditional MGS titles like the Platinum Games-developed Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance are still fair game.
10. Metal Gear
As it turns out, the conflicts between Hideo Kojima and Konami date back to the first Metal Gear. The original version of the game was released for the MSX2, a system that was never released in North America, and was a critically acclaimed game. The NES port that most people outside of Japan had as their first introduction to the franchise? Not so much.
The NES port didn’t have the involvement of Hideo Kojima at all, and the development team that worked on it apparently had a measly three-month deadline. This resulted in numerous issues, such as some hilarious translations errors like, “The truck have started to move!” and “I feel asleep!” Due its disjointed release and the poor NES port, the original Metal Gear is easily the weakest entry in the series, yet it still effectively set the tone for what was to come.
9. Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes
While Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes does a solid job of offering players a taste of the open world gameplay featured prominently in The Phantom Pain, it was criticized for having a high price tag and being extremely light on content. In fact, the game is so short that players can technically beat Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes in a mere 10 minutes!
Luckily, the game was recently available for free download on PS Plus, and is currently free as one of August’s Games with Gold games. While the experience it offers is fairly compelling, the game is more of a glorified demo than anything else, and perhaps experiencing it as a free PS Plus or Games with Gold download will help players appreciate Ground Zeroes more.
8. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Out of all the games featured on this list, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is perhaps the most odd, which is saying a lot for this series. The game was initially cancelled by Hideo Kojima, only for Platinum Games to come along and finish it.
Starring everyone’s favorite cyborg ninja Raiden, the game largely drops the stealth focus of the other games in favor of strategic, over-the-top action using Raiden’s incredible cyborg ninja abilities. Despite featuring a focus on action, Metal Gear Rising is still very much Metal Gear, thanks to its memorable boss encounters and crazy story, but the game isn’t held in the same regard as the more traditional games in the series.
7. Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops
Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops is notable for being the first portable game in the series that’s relevant to the franchise’s canon. While previous portable outings such as Metal Gear: Ghost Babel were critically acclaimed at the time of release, Portable Ops actually adds to the MGS lore, depicting the founding of FOXHOUND as well as the Patriots, two very important factions in the overarching plot of the series. While Portable Ops is a great game, the next game on our list did portable MGS a bit better.
6. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
By all accounts, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is the ultimate portable MGS experience. The game is the only portable entry in the MGS franchise to be directed by series creator Hideo Kojima, and considering Kojima’s firing from Konami, it will probably the only one.
In any case, the game is, in more ways than one, a prelude to Metal Gear Solid 5, as its plot leads into the events of Ground Zeroes, and its base-building mechanics are being heavily featured and expanded in The Phantom Pain.
5. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
After Konami released a non-canon sequel to Metal Gear without the involvement of Hideo Kojima, the franchise could’ve been dead in the water right then and there. However, Kojima was brought back on board to create a true sequel, entitled Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, again for the MSX2.
Metal Gear 2 is a considerable improvement from the original game, and introduces many elements to the franchise that have been utilized ever since. The game was originally only playable in Japanese markets, but the game has been included along with later games such as Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection. When it comes to 2D Metal Gear, it doesn’t get any better than Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.
4. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, the long-awaited sequel to the PS1 classic Metal Gear Solid, blew away expectations when it released on the PlayStation 2 back in 2001. Building expertly on the foundation laid by its predecessor, Sons of Liberty greatly advances the franchise’s plot, and features some truly brilliant gameplay moments, as well as one of gaming’s most memorable twists. While some fans were disappointed with having to play as Raiden for most of the game – instead of franchise hero Solid Snake – it’s still an incredible experience and a must-have PS2 classic.
3. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was once meant to be the final game in the series. Set nine years after the events of the original Metal Gear Solid, the game stars a rapidly aging Solid Snake, affectionately nicknamed Old Snake, and serves as a conclusion to the story that began with the original Metal Gear. The game remains one of the most important exclusive titles that ever released on the PlayStation 3, and for many, was reason alone to justify the price of the console.
2. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Boasting some of the most creative boss fights in the series’ history as well as some much-needed backstory on Big Boss, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a bonafide classic, and one of the strongest outings for the franchise on PS2. The game stars the original Snake, then known as Naked Snake and later Big Boss, during the Cold War era, and features deeper stealth mechanics and a compelling cast of characters. More importantly, the game represents player’s first chance to finally learn more about the character of Big Boss before he became the big bad off the original Metal Gear.
1. Metal Gear Solid
Yes, the first Metal Gear Solid game, technically the third main game in Hideo Kojima’s innovative stealth series, remains the best game in the franchise to this day. It represents one of the most graceful transitions from 2D to 3D, and was hugely innovative with its film-inspired cut-scenes and spy/action story.
The game is full of jaw-dropping plot twists and creative gameplay mechanics, completely reinventing the stealth genre in the process. It’s easily one of the most important video games ever made, and despite releasing way back on the original PlayStation, it still holds up to this day. Metal Gear Solid is a must-play video game for anyone even somewhat interested in the industry, and it is the epitome of tactical espionage action.
Over the last few decades, Hideo Kojima and Konami have given gamers one of the most memorable video game franchises of all time. The over-the-top story of Metal Gear may be a bit convoluted, but that hasn’t kept the series from being one of the best video game franchises of all time.
The recent breakup between Kojima and Konami means that Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain could very well be the last “true” entry in the series, but who knows? Maybe they can kiss and makeup before it’s all said and done.
Disagree with our list? Which Metal Gear game is the best, in your opinion?
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is available now on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.