Metal Gear is a franchise that, on this day, July 13, has been running for 35 years. It’s a series known for its stealth gameplay and deep and often convoluted storyline. Even though for the past several years, the series has been on the backburner due to Kojima’s departure, there are still a bunch of great games made during these last 35 years. In honor of Metal Gear turning 35, I’m ranking all of the mainline Metal Gear games.
Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
This is a somewhat controversial pick for the last place spot because people do generally consider this game to be an improvement over the first MSX Metal Gear title. However, I much prefer replaying the first game over this one for several reasons. The first reason is that Metal Gear 2 probably has the worst backtracking I’ve ever seen in a game.
The last section before you get to the boss gauntlet may require you to backtrack up to 4 times if you’re lacking specific rations. One of those times, the game requires you to go all the way back to the very first building just to change the shape of a key. At that point, I really wanted to stop playing. At least the major backtracking section in the first Metal Gear Solid that requires you to go back to the first building is not even at the halfway point. The second is that this game has some of the worst and most annoying sections in the entire Metal Gear saga.
The worst section by far is having to tail the green beret soldier. That section is rage-inducing. These two issues completely break the game for me, despite it having genuine improvements over the first game. The stealth gameplay is much better for a 2D stealth title and actually makes sense. The storyline, boss fights, and graphics are also heavily improved. However, the backtracking and some of the sections make this a game I simply can’t recommend.
The first Metal Gear has aged incredibly poorly. At this point, so many great 2D stealth games have come out since this one, and the title feels like a relic. The main issue is the actual stealth gameplay. It doesn’t make any sense. In 2D stealth games or any stealth game for that matter, normally, the guards have peripheral vision, but not in this one.
Guards only see what is dead-on ahead of them. If you are a little to the left or right, they can’t see you. It frankly is unacceptable for modern standards in stealth games and proves that this title doesn’t hold up. The backtracking is not as bad as the sequel. However, it can still be annoying, particularly with elevators that only move in one direction.
Equipping keycards in this game is a total pain because, unlike the sequels, the cards don’t stack, and you don’t get master cards like in Metal Gear 2. In Metal Gear 2, they have master cards that have 3 of the keycards in one, but that’s not even in the first game. This first entry has 8 total keycards, so have fun with that towards the end of the game. Metal Gear 1 has better pacing than the second game, and I was definitely more compelled to finish it. The game keeps on moving ahead, for the most part. For that and the not-as-bad backtracking, I would say this game is better than Metal Gear 2.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
This is the least important entry in the series but definitely not the worst. The game was originally a PSP exclusive, and you can see that it was designed for a more portable experience. This is the first Metal Gear to have the Tactical Espionage Operations tagline, and the game delivers on that.
The central focus of the gameplay is building your Army, MSF. Obtaining better squad members, developing new weapons and gear, and engaging in Outer Ops is the name of the game in Peace Walker. The new gameplay focus is addicting and refreshing, especially since the stealth is a bit dumbed down due to Peace Walker being designed for the PSP. Enemy line of sight is far less than in previous games, and you can’t even crawl. The gameplay can boil down to crouch walking while tranquilizing every enemy. Thankfully the Extra Ops and boss fights bring in the variety and are a nice diversion in the gameplay.
What brings the game down is the story and how unimportant it is in the Metal Gear saga. In the end, Big Boss isn’t much different than what he was at the end of Snake Eater. The story works as a lead-in for MGSV, however. Due to how uneventful the story is and the general unimportance of Peace Walker is why it’s near the bottom.
Metal Gear Solid 4
The following Metal Gear games were the toughest to rank, but next up is MGS4. This is a game that, to this day, is still a PlayStation 3 exclusive. As such, it is the entry with the worst availability to new consumers. However, I would say that this game is almost worth the price of an old PS3 just to play it. MGS4 is the entry with the most style, in my opinion. It definitely feels more style over substance. The initial core premise of the game is great. The game follows an old and ragged Solid Snake who, despite his circumstances, still manages to come out on top.
Making Snake Old Snake is a good way to raise the stakes and have the player root for him even more. The soundtrack is my favorite of the series, and the game has some of the best moments in the Metal Gear saga. The final boss and the ending are great. MGS4’s ending feels like Return of the King with how many characters get their resolutions. The final scene has a lot of emotional weight and is a powerful end to the series.
MGS4’s main issue is the lack of enough gameplay. This game is filled to the brim with cutscenes, and I don’t dislike that on the surface. However, there is simply not enough gameplay to match it. The balance between gameplay and cutscenes needed to be better. MGS4 does have great moments, but due to a lack of enough gameplay is why it’s in the lower end.
Metal Gear Solid V
While this entry did disappoint some people, I am not one of them. Metal Gear Solid V is the last entry made by Kojima Productions, and the gameplay is the best out of the series. MGS3 is close, but in terms of core stealth, MGSV is better. This is the first entry that felt like Kojima Productions actually wanted to make a deep stealth game in line with other titles of the genre. Metal Gear has mostly been behind in terms of quality stealth in comparison to other games of its era, like Splinter Cell or Thief. MGSV was the first Metal Gear game to actually have the stealth mechanic of light and darkness, which was a staple of the genre since at least 1998’s Thief.
The gameplay is candy. Something you just can’t get enough of. By the time I got 100%, I was kind of sad that it was over. The stealth gameplay has so many options and tools that it just never gets old. It’s incredibly addicting. The main issue is the story, which is lacking compared to other Metal Gear games. MGSV doesn’t even have much of a story to tell besides how these big conglomerates are formed that eventually make up the world of MGS4.
It is advised to play MGSV after playing Peace Walker due to the theme of revenge landing more due to MSF’s destruction. If you play in chronological order, MSF’s destruction will motivate you to make Diamond Dogs even better. I don’t mind the lacking story, considering how amazing the gameplay is. However, considering a good story is expected from a Metal Gear game, I understand why fans would be upset. Fantastic gameplay and a bare-bones story are why MGSV is in 4th place.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
MGS2 is by far the most ambitious entry in the series. The game is infamous for its main-character switch-up, the heavy amount of plot twists, and themes that ended up being relevant far after the title came out. Where credit is due, the first Deus Ex also tackled many of these themes, but considering how big of a game MGS2 was at launch, it likely had a far larger player base. The impact of the story and its themes is very poignant today. MGS2 is a good follow-up on its predecessor. Stealth gameplay remains intact with a few new gameplay additions.
You can now peek around corners and do first-person aiming. This game feels much better to control than the first MGS. However, the stealth gameplay isn’t heavily improved or expanded on. Sneaking is essentially the same as MGS1 with a few new tools. It definitely feels outdated in comparison to other stealth games out at that time.
One big advantage MGS2 has in comparison to the first 4 MGS titles is extra game modes. A lot of extra content is in this game. The VR Missions return, and there are over 500 of them. There’s also Boss Survival mode and 5 scenarios to play as Snake in the Snake Tales mode. Total completion in this game can take well over 50 hours. With its impactful story, solid gameplay, and amount of content, Metal Gear Solid 2 does deserve a spot in the top 3 of my ranking list.
Metal Gear Solid
MGS1 is the definition of a classic. It was a game-changer for the industry. While there were previous games on PC that had a cinematic feel to them, the first MGS was the one that everyone noticed. The story and presentation of it all was just not something that you’ve ever seen before, at least on a console. The stealth gameplay is a bit basic, but 1998 was when the stealth genre was just getting its footing, so it’s acceptable. MGS1 is surprisingly hard if you’ve never played before, but that makes it more rewarding when beating certain sections.
A big standout for the game is the voice acting. Voice acting during this time in gaming was atrocious. MGS1, though, actually had a great cast of recognizable voice actors who did an amazing job. Not to mention a great English localization by Jeremy Blaustein, who unfortunately was not involved in future entries. It is a shame because the writing in MGS1 is my personal favorite in the series.
Over 20 years later, this game is still effective with its cinematic feel and emotional moments. My only real issues with the game are the combat and occasional backtracking. This game is a classic, and I still think it holds up today. For the impact this game had and how effective it still is today is why it takes the silver medal on this list.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
MGS3 is the fan-favorite of the series and mine as well. The game has the best pacing and best overall campaign in the series by far. It has the perfect balance of gameplay and cutscenes, with both on around equal measure. The actual gameplay is great and what MGS2 should have been in terms of a big leap forward. Stealth is excellent, with a lot more depth than previously. The areas to sneak through are the most well-designed in the series. There are a lot of tools at your disposal and tactics that people still don’t know about. To this day, people are still finding new discoveries in this game.
Bosses here are the best in the series. The End is one of the best bosses in video game history, bar none. The actual predator and prey gameplay in that fight is just awesome. All the other bosses don’t disappoint either. The story is good and a lot of fun to boot. MGS3 is the best Metal Gear in terms of what defines the franchise. Excellent gameplay, great soundtrack, great bosses, and a good and fun story. It has all the best elements of what makes Metal Gear special, which is why it is at the top of my ranking list.
Ranking the Entire Metal Gear Saga – Conclusion
The Metal Gear series is a really fun one to get into. I had a blast following the story and all the twists and turns that occurred. Plus, the stealth gameplay is always solid, even if it’s often not the best in the genre. The entire saga might be hard to play for gamers who only own modern consoles, though.
Every game on this list except for Metal Gear Solid 1 and 4 are playable on an Xbox Series X. MGSV, and Peace Walker is still available for purchase. However, the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection (MGS2 and 3 plus the MSX titles) has been delisted from the Microsoft Store due to licensing issues. Thankfully a physical copy isn’t very expensive, but if you own a Series S and don’t already own it digitally, you can’t play it for now.
If you’re playing on a PlayStation 4 or 5, you’re out of luck, as only MGSV is playable at the moment. The best way to play MGS1 and 4 right now is on an actual PlayStation 3 through Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection. The Legacy Collection has the latest version of MGS4 with the trophy patch included on disc 2, and the voucher codes for MGS1 and the VR Missions still work today. Downloading them is a very easy process, despite the PS3 online store being a bit of a pain these days. Brand new copies of The Legacy Collection are still readily available on online retailers, as well.
(YouTube Video by Boss Fight Database)