I've never played Metal Gear Solid, where's the best place to start?

Video games have their share of long and storied franchises. But around the seventh or eighth sequel, it can be difficult for newcomers to know where to start. These guides on where best to start in popular game series will point you in the right direction and maybe you'll find a new favorite.

It doesn't take a master of tactical espionage action to recognize Metal Gear Solid as one of the most complex and impenetrable series in gaming. Spanning almost three decades, Metal Gear Solid is now mired in so many sequels, prequels, and spinoffs it's almost impossible to know where to start. What's the difference between Solid Snake and Naked Snake; Big Boss and The Boss? Well, worry no longer as we're here to set the record straight. If you've never finished a Metal Gear game - or want to gear up before Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain - then your best bet is Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater HD. Here's why:

Snake Eater kicks off the entire Metal Gear backstory. Despite being third in the series, Snake Eater is still the best place to start if you want to understand what the Hell anyone is talking about in these games. It's a prequel to every other Metal Gear Solid, and the starting point of a complex - and engrossing - narrative. Remember those examples I listed above with The Boss vs. Big Boss? You'll learn the difference between them here. And the events that transpire in Snake Eater will be a touchstone in every MGS game that follows.

It's a mix of Rambo and James Bond with several memorable characters. Snake Eater has a keen sense of time and place that sets it apart from most games. You are not just generic-soldier-man in some nondescript jungle; you're Naked Snake infiltrating the Russian wilderness at the height of the Cold War. The game is filled with little details - from the movies referenced to the technology used - that make this setting feel authentic. It also helps that you'll be meeting some of the series' most memorable characters. Ocelot's gun-twirling antics and The Boss' cool demeanor will give you plenty of motivation to soldier through even the toughest encounters.

If you can beat Snake Eater, you can beat any MGS game. Snake Eater is by no means an easy game, or a simple one. There is a lot you have to manage, including: ammo, stamina, wearing the right camouflage, conserving battery power, treating your wounds, and much more. It may feel overwhelming at times, but trust us when we say that, if you can surmount this challenge, you'll be ready for whatever the series throws at you. In fact, the other MGS games either omit or streamline a lot of the mechanics found here, making them feel a bit easier by comparison.

Snake Eater is a very open-ended game that rewards creative thinking. There's no "One Right Way" to play MGS3. If you want to haul off and kill every enemy soldier in glorious combat, you can do that (and with a wide variety of weapons to boot). Alternatively, you can take things slow and sneak around the jungle without alerting anyone. And there are tons of little tricks - from dropping beehives on soldiers to tossing out spoiled food for them to pick up - that complement both styles. This flexibility extends to (most of) the boss fights as well, letting you either face them head-on, or hide and strike from the shadows.

The series' creator even said MGS3 is the best starting point. I mean, what more of an endorsement do you need? A few years back, when Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection was about to come out, series creator Hideo Kojima posted on Twitter that he felt MGS3 was the series' best starting point. As reported by Siliconera, Kojima said he often gets asked which game to play if you haven't played MGS. His response, "Play MGS3 as control is more modern; if you [like] it then MGS4."

Ocelot's gun-twirling antics and The Boss' cool demeanor will give you plenty of motivation to soldier through even the toughest encounters.

Once you finish Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater HD, where should you go next? That's a tricky question, as this game represents a fork in the MGS storyline. From here, you can either follow Naked Snake and his storyline, or go back to the beginning with the first Metal Gear Solid starring Solid Snake (who is a totally different character). With that in mind, here are my recommendations:

What to play next: Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker or Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. Peace Walker is a direct continuation of Naked Snake's storyline, and will bring you up to speed on everything leading up to Metal Gear Solid 5. It's also part of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection alongside Snake Eater. Twin Snakes is a remake of the original Metal Gear Solid released on the GameCube. It has updated visuals and controls making it a smoother transition from MGS3 compared to the original version.

What to skip: Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Neither of these games are terrible by any stretch, but in both cases the gameplay and story elements you'll encounter are simply handled better in other games. If you're not in a rush then, by all means, play them, but if you're just looking to hit the high points feel free to give 'em a pass.

Maxwell McGee
Maxwell grew up on a sleepy creekbank deep in the South. His love for video games has taken him all the way to the West Coast and beyond.