When you require an encyclopedia or a two-hour-long YouTube video to explain a franchise like Metal Gear Solid, it can be challenging to rank the titles from worst to best – especially when you love every single entry. So, for the sake of simplicity, this list will only include the numbered titles in the franchise. Whether you enjoy your Snakes solid, liquid, naked, punished, or old – here are my rankings for the five numbered Metal Gear Solid titles.
5. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain/Ground Zeroes
Kojima Productions' final entry in the franchise possesses arguably the best gameplay the series has to offer. From the macro-management of building, maintaining, and recruiting for Diamond Dogs – to the moment to moment open-world tactical espionage action – Metal Gear Solid V was a whole lot of fun.
Unfortunately, the game fell flat when it came to the story. We could dive down the rabbit hole that is Hideo Kojima's well-publicized final 12-24 months with Konami, but inevitably the game that landed on our store shelves felt incomplete, like it had more to say – but simply could not. The final story revelations are barricaded behind hours upon hours of grinding through previously played missions at a higher difficulty. Consequently, once players reach those revelations, they do not land as well as they could have. Based on previous entries in the series, the final act of the game did not feel like it stood for what the Metal Gear series is – story-driven.
4. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
This entry pulled an intriguing bait and switch of its lead character, and not many games since have attempted such a feat. I would argue that Konami played their hand well, and consequently, we ended up with a game with more plot twists than an M. Night Shyamalan film, and I was all for it. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty expanded upon the foundations that were built in the first game and made for an entertaining, and frighteningly accurate commentary on where the digital age will lead humanity in the 21st century.
The only criticism about this game I can genuinely think of is that the Big Shell midsection of the game felt a little repetitive. The expansive hexagonal map in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean tended to loop back in on itself a bit much, and the forward momentum of the game was a little broken as a result. Despite its ranking in the bottom half of this list, I still think this is an exceptional game – which says a lot about the games to come.
3. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
This title is as peculiar as it is memorable. For its time, it showcased jaw-dropping visuals, and the gameplay was also extraordinary – whenever players were granted a section of it. This game was Solid Snake's swansong, and it was a poetic, tear-jerking farewell to the hero we had all come to know so well over the previous decade of gaming.
The main downside to this game was the silly immersion-breaking install times in between the games five chapters, for which we can thank a cross-section of Kojima Productions' graphical ambition and the PlayStation 3's peculiar Cell processing architecture. Staring at Old Snake puffing on an e-cigarette for long periods did not do good things for my impressionable teenage brain who had already been experimenting with nicotine! All jokes aside, the epilogue of this game alone makes it stand proudly in my top three Metal Gear Solid games.
2. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
This entry in the series sees us step into the shoes of Big Boss for the first time and accompany him on his journey to earning that prestigious title – and what a thrill it is. From the Virtuous Mission to the iconic Bond-style opening credits, all the way through to the showdown in a field of white lilies – Metal Gear Solid 3 became an instant classic. This game had me playing back through and chasing Easter eggs and green frogs almost immediately after the final credits rolled, before the idea of Trophies and Achievements even existed.
I acknowledge that for many, this incredible game is Kojima Productions' magnum opus and it belongs at the top of this list – and for good reasons. After all, Naked Snake's gritty journey through the dense forests in Soviet territory through to the seemingly impenetrable Groznyj Grad base in pursuit of his mentor and the Shagohod is iconic. The ladder sequence, the Cobra unit, eating all sorts of grot to survive, patching yourself up, it's all executed to perfection. After hours of deliberation, however, I had to give the edge to (in my opinion) – the number one game on this list.
1. Metal Gear Solid
The first entry in the Metal Gear Solid franchise dared to do things that no high-profile game had done before. For a start, it took the gameplay of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and brought it to a 3D platform and executed it perfectly. It didn't shy away from bashing on the fourth wall, and most importantly, it subverted player expectations.
Running and gunning would get you nowhere. Players got locked out of progressing the game until they found a codec frequency on the back of the game's physical CD case (possibly the cleverest anti-piracy measure for its time). Depending on a critical moment halfway through the game, maybe the hero doesn't save the girl. Psycho Mantis uses your PlayStation hardware (or GameCube, if you're playing the Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes remake) as a stand-in for the players' mind. What starts as a game about tactical espionage action, ends up being a supernatural science fiction masterpiece.
The tale of Solid Snake's incursion into Shadow Moses island stands at the top of this list for one simple reason – it innovated as no other game had done before. On top of this, it delivered a story and gameplay experience that redefined what a videogame could be. Metal Gear Solid sits in the hearts and minds of many gamers, over 20 years later – mine included.