10. Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes
Release date: March 18, 2014 (NA) / March 20, 2014 (EU)
Platform: PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC
In 2001, Metal Gear Solid 2 delivered a stark warning about the internet’s lack of context and echo chamber of opinion. 13 years later, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes highlighted digital media at its most reactive. ‘MGS Ground Zeroes can be finished in an hour’ chorused the headlines, assuming outrage on behalf of the audience – while largely missing the point. In fact, MGS: Ground Zeroes can be finished in four minutes by its world-record speed runner but the main campaign earns you a mere 9% completion rating. Set in one location, the compact and oppressive Camp Omega encourages you to explore the game’s renewed, trench-deep, mechanics, which might get lost in a wider canvas. Ground Zeroes streamlined the series’ trademark cut-scenes, ditched the comedic incongruity and embraced open-world stealth. Snake could tag foes with binoculars (like Far Cry 3), drive vehicles, shoot while side-rolling, and evade alerts using the last-chance Reflex Mode.
Dedicated players could easily clock 20-40 hours+ with the game, drilling deeper into the focused sub-missions to learn new approaches to stealth or all-out gunplay. Tonally, this is the darkest MGS game, skirting real world themes of rendition (with contentious results) in an analogue to Guantanamo Bay. Sure, Ground Zeroes was likely a cash grab to offset the spiraling development costs of MGS5, but this doesn’t belie its worth. MGS: GZ set precedents for AAA game delivery (as a prologue and a digital release), mid-tier pricing, open-world stealth and big budget gaming’s reluctance to tackle ‘taboo’ issues. Ground zeroes, indeed.
Best bit: When the PS4-exclusive Deja Vu mission asked you to erase XOF logos in a spooky mirror of real world events to come. Dan Dawkins
9. Metal Gear Solid: VR missions
Release date: September 23, 1999 (NA) / October 29, 1999 (EU, as Metal Gear Solid: Special Missions)
VR Missions isn't quite a full game, as there's no campaign or story to speak of, but that doesn't mean it's short on content. Instead, think of VR Missions as a stand-alone expansion to one of the greatest stealth games of all time, taking its core concepts and devising a wide array of sneaking time trials and puzzles to go with them.
Featuring over 300 bite-sized stages, VR Missions runs the gamut, from weapon-based challenges to pure stealth gauntlets. VR Missions isn't afraid to explore the weird side of Metal Gear Solid either, letting you solve murder mysteries, take on Godzilla-sized genome soldiers, or even play as the coolest cyborg ninja ever. If Metal Gear Solid is the main course, then VR Missions is one hell of a dessert.
Best bit: Solving a series of increasingly difficult whodunits by examining the environment, following a trail of snowy footprints, and more David Roberts
8. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
Release date: March 9, 2004 (NA) / March 26, 2004 (EU)
Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is the glorious result of the unlikeliest of partnerships. Helmed by Eternal Darkness developer Silicon Knights, produced by Hideo Kojima and Shigeru Miyamoto, and featuring new cutscenes by Japanese action flick director Ryuhei Kitamura, The Twin Snakes takes the classic Metal Gear Solid experience and completely overhauls it for the GameCube, featuring updated graphics and controls found in Metal Gear Solid 2, as well as a re-translated and re-recorded script.
So if Twin Snakes is such an improvement over the original, why does it end up ranking lower? Well, for one, the changes to the gameplay actually make Metal Gear Solid way easier, as the level design and boss encounters weren't originally meant to be tackled with first-person shooting, tranquilizer darts, or by hanging from ledges. Plus, Twin Snakes' cut-scenes are perhaps a bit too over-the-top, often performing feats of anime ridiculousness as easily as one would boil a pot of water. Twin Snakes is still one hell of a trip, even if some of the magic gets lost in the transition.
Best bit: Doing a backflip off a speeding rocket, then launching your own missile at a Hind D helicopter David Roberts
7. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Release date: February 19, 2013 (NA) / February 21, 2013 (EU)
Platform: Xbox 360/PS3/PC
While the Metal Gear series constantly waffles between melodrama and goofiness, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is pure fan-service, taking Metal Gear's themes and slicing them all up into tiny pieces. It even turns the series' most reviled character into an unstoppable badass. It follows the events of MGS4, as Raiden investigates the fallout caused by the sudden implosion of corporate militarization. His hyper-violent journey leads him right to the doorstep of the war-profiteering Senator Armstrong.
In Revengeance stealth is secondary, a way to thin the field a bit before you inevitably get spotted. But, honestly, who needs to sneak around when you have a sword capable of severing limbs like a hot knife cuts through butter? With a strategic series of cuts, you can remove arms or legs to cripple your foes, or simply rend them in half to reveal their juicy, life-replenishing innards. Don't question it - just go along for the highly entertaining, ridiculously satisfying ride.
Best bit: A speech from Senator Armstrong that feels perhaps a bit too relevant in today's political climate David Roberts
6. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Release date: June 12, 2008 (WW)
Metal Gear Solid 4 is a glorious disaster, a patchwork of disparate levels and play styles with the most indulgent cut-scenes in the series’ history – and still one of the best games of its generation. Imagine Led Zeppelin being given $70bn to stage history’s biggest rock concert and spending it all on Kanye West. Few games feel so over-produced yet so embellished by its auteur’s eccentricities. Notionally, it’s about an ageing Solid Snake coming to terms with his own mortality – an obvious cipher for what Kojima (falsely) claimed was his last MGS game – and a vainglorious attempt to tie up the series’ themes of information control, genetic legacy and the relativity of virtue (plus Jonny Sasaki’s irritable bowels).
MGS4’s first two acts are sublime, as you use OctoCamo to evade – and engage – Gekko beasts in chaotic war zones. Act 2’s final 30 minutes are basically a cover version of MGS3’s breathless, varied, conclusion, yet no less effective. In Act 3’s eastern Europe, however, the wheels explode off the bus, with a dull tribute to The Third Man, before Act 4’s genuinely affecting nostalgia and… well, whatever Act 5 is, on the few occasions it lets you play. For all MGS4’s mega-budget indulgence, execrable dialogue and incoherence, you’ll forgive it everything when Liquid and Solid Snake duke it out, stripped to the waist, to an acoustic version of MGS3’s theme at sunset. Even a ‘bad’ Kojima game is still an unforgettable, once-in-a-generation, highlight.
Best bit: Solid Snake’s surprising and highly affecting reunion with a series’ stalwart is perhaps Kojima’s most personal scene yet, inviting parallels with the MGS creator’s loss of his father at a young age. Dan Dawkins
5. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Release date: June 8, 2010 (NA) / June 18, 2010 (EU)
Platform: PSP/HD versions on PS3, Xbox 360, Vita
Some people complain that Metal Gear games have way too many cutscenes and not enough gameplay, and for some entries it's a valid concern (see: Metal Gear Solid 4). But Peace Walker takes those complaints and jettisons them into the ocean, making this portable title one of the biggest, most expansive Metal Gear outings ever.
Taking place a few years after Portable Ops, Peace Walker sees Big Boss continuing to build his mercenary army - only this time, you'll have a full-on outpost called Mother Base to grow. Big Boss undertakes a wide variety of missions set during the backdrop of the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1970s, recruiting new soldiers, researching gear upgrades, and even developing a Metal Gear of his own. The sweeping story is still here, but between building out Mother Base and fighting actual monsters from Monster Hunter, there's enough gameplay to fill up a dozen Metal Gear titles. The HD release greatly improves the controls and adds online multiplayer, making it the definitive version.
Best bit: Finding a giant robot that hums a disturbingly haunting and robotic version of The Carpenters' classic 'Sing' David Roberts
4. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
Release date: September 1, 2015 (WW)
Platform: PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC
Is Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain an unfinished game? The argument still rages among MGS fans, between those who believe that Kojima’s final Metal Gear game was deliberately left ambiguous, and those who swear the veteran developer’s fallout with Konami forced him to release the game unfinished, removing the fabled third chapter and padding the second act with non-contextual repeated missions. Let’s fulton extract that debate for now, and celebrate MGS5’s sublime open-world mechanics: an endlessly replayable stealth toybox with a russian doll of interrelated systems that drive a compulsive loop of investment and reward. Every mission earns cash, which unlocks new items, which transform the way you play – look at the 30 minute E3 demo with four wildly disparate strategies for infiltrating an enemy base, or your ability to ambush an enemy jeep by exploiting their patrol route and tactical horse manure.
Whatever your views, Kojima ran a genius two-year marketing campaign, establishing MGS5 as an analogue to literary classic Moby Dick: a tale of revenge that defied the printed medium’s conventions, that was originally released ‘unfinished’. It’s entirely plausible that MGS5 was compromised by Kojima’s acrimonious departure from Konami, but MGS5’s ambiguity feels like a fitting conclusion for a series that raised weighty, human, questions – about surveillance society, the nature of self and digital culture – a decade ahead of time.
Best bit: The implausible intensity of the penultimate mission, as you fight alongside Quiet, which pushes all your skills and equipment beyond reasonable limits. Dan Dawkins
3. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Release date: November 12, 2001 (NA) / March 8, 2002 (EU)
Platform: PS2/Xbox/PC/HD versions on PS3, Xbox 360, Vita
Kojima’s thoughtful, divisive, blockbuster was arguably decades ahead of its time, asking deep questions of the player’s role in video-games and the nature of sequels – yet allowed you to perform nude cartwheels, explode melons and teach parrots to talk. Technically, it’s astonishing, from the destruction physics, to the pinpoint targeting (you could lose hours decorating guard’s heads with darts then dragging them to obscure hiding places), and *those* raindrops on the screen. Metal Gear Solid 2 sparked legendary scenes at the world’s biggest games show, with its E3 2000 debut trailer drawing crowds of hundreds with every showing.
Kojima’s sequel is both outrageously out-of-sync with player’s desires – forcing you to play as whiny nobody Raiden, not fan favorite Solid Snake, and endure 20 minute cut-scenes berating the player’s lack of awareness – while empowering you like no game before. MGS2 lets you torment guards in inventive ways (a cruel trouser punch, perhaps), shortcut bosses and unearth Easter eggs in even the most unlikely Codec conversations (like Rose expressing her love of Godzilla movies). It’s the most Metal Gear of Metal Gears: a joy of contrasts; an anti-war game that fetishes conflict, a game that empowers the player while mocking them for a lack of control. MGS2 took years to be understood by its fans, and – wild as it sounds – bears comparison to literary, post-modern, classics like James Joyce’ Ulysses. It also lets you run down a corridor with a sword dicing up foes like carrots while fighting alongside the greatest soldier in history. Difficult, obtuse and layered – MGS2 is one of the most deservingly-analysed, and acclaimed, games of all time.
Best bit: The fourth-wall breaking curtain drop when Colonel Campbell implores you to turn off your PS2, before offering a critique of internet culture a decade ahead of its time about digital tribes and echo chambers of opinion that are, sadly, all too relevant today. Dan Dawkins
2. Metal Gear Solid
Release date: October 21, 1998 (NA) / February 22, 1999 (EU)
The original PlayStation hit Metal Gear Solid is still one of the best, as almost every single one of its sequels and spin-offs ends up living in the shadow of this classic. Its story deals in a heady mix of nuclear proliferation, illegal cloning, double-crosses, and paranormal activity, and it moves at a rapid-fire pace for the duration of its 10-hour campaign. It was a revelation at the time, wearing its Hollywood aspirations on its sleeve while never forgetting that it's still a video game at heart.
Few games can boast the sheer amount of amazing twists in Metal Gear Solid. The mysterious death of the DARPA Chief; finding Meryl's Codec frequency on the back of the game's actual CD case; the fourth wall-breaking battle against Psycho Mantis; Snake's capture and escape from prison; and so many more that I could fill this entire slide and still not have enough space to gush about everything cool that happens. Even with its rudimentary 3D graphics, Metal Gear Solid remains a masterpiece.
Best bit: The lead-up to the Psycho Mantis fight (along with the fight itself) is one of the greatest moments in video game history David Roberts
1. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Release date: November 17, 2004 (NA) / March 4, 2005 (EU)
Platforms: PS2/3DS/HD versions on PS3, Xbox 360, Vita
Metal Gear's hard left turn into the Cold War era remains its best, taking everything fans love about the series' narrative and gameplay and executing on them to near-perfection. Metal Gear Solid 3's story is the tightest and most thrilling of the bunch, using a pastiche of 1960s spy movies to tell the origin of just about every single narrative thread in the series. Plus, it just feels so much more human than the rest, dropping a convoluted web of nanomachines and artificial intelligence to focus on Naked Snake and his subsequent fall from grace as he discovers the truth behind the betrayal of his mentor and friend, The Boss.
The jungles of Russia change up Metal Gear's stealth gameplay for the better, forcing Snake to utilize a wide variety of camouflage to tip-toe through Snake Eater's various locales without getting spotted. But it's not enough just to sneak - Snake has to survive, foraging for food among the flora and fauna of the untamed wilds and tending to wounds he receives on the battlefield. It's hard to top a classic such as Metal Gear Solid, but Snake Eater manages to surpass its predecessors with dozens of memorable moments of its own and gameplay that has yet to be matched - and if you're new to the series, it's the best place to start.
Best bit: Climbing the ladder. You know the one. David Roberts