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Metal Gear Solid Games Ranked from Worst to Best

In this Metal Gear Solid games ranked article, I’m going to attempt to rank this well-known series from worst to best. Metal Gear Solid is a peculiar series. On one hand, there’s clearly a massive amount of research that goes into each title: multiple scenes within the series come off as humongous geek-out moments about military tech and tactics. Not to mention, the games are quite detailed and frequently grounded in the actual methodology employed by armed forces today. However, accompanying this is an absolutely ridiculous alternate universe wherein Metal Gear, essentially a nuclear-armed mech, serves as the most significant and dangerous development in military technology.

This is a world with psychics, vampires, lightning-wielding Russian colonels, and all manner of rogues scurrying around, causing trouble for the superpowers on the global stage. Half the time, the series seems like a hyper-serious discussion of nuclear proliferation or the nature of warfare. The other half, it seems like the devs are seeing what they can get away with — “what if we had the Devil fight a tank? What if that was the opening of our game?” 

With tonal fluctuations of that magnitude, it can be hard to nail down the best Metal Gear Solid game. Accordingly, this article has a particular goal: to convey which main entries in the Metal Gear Solid series hold up best by modern standards and which are most worth playing today for people with interest in the series. We’ll only be evaluating the numbered titles, so you’ll have to decide if playing a cyborg ninja who slices people into little pieces is your idea of a good time. Don your sneaking suit, be sure to bring along your lucky cigs, and let’s get this operation started. 

Metal Gear Solid Games Ranked

Starting at #6, let’s work our way down to the #1 best Metal Gear Solid game ever made.

6. Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid
  • Developer: Konami
  • Release: 1998
  • Platforms: PC, PlayStation

Dead last in my Metal Gear Solid games ranked list is Metal Gear Solid. Putting the first game at the bottom of the list should come with some disclaimers: for one, this is by no means saying that Metal Gear Solid is a lousy game. Nor is this to say that it hasn’t earned its esteemed position in gaming history. The first MGS is a solid title that exemplifies everything for which the franchise is famed. The story weaves a fun, convoluted espionage tale inspired by various action movies (especially Escape from New York). And it presents players with well-designed stealth encounters that reward exploration and careful observation.

Unfortunately, Metal Gear Solid is also the worst offender in terms of the series’ most glaring flaws. 

Clunky controls, awkward, frustrating action scenes, and a dearth of quality-of-life features make the first Metal Gear Solid a rough ride by modern standards. Yes, the game carries a lot of retro charm, and no small amount of nostalgia for me. But none of that is enough to compensate for the fact that the game simply isn’t that fun to play for a significant portion of its runtime. Essentially, the hoops you have to jump through to enjoy the strengths of MGS will likely discourage newcomers from giving the series a chance. This is unfortunate, as Metal Gear Solid is still an excellent title with plenty of historical value.

Overall, Metal Gear Solid is one of those older games that’s simply begging for a remake, a la Resident Evil 2 or Final Fantasy VII. Taking the story of the Shadow Moses Incident and translating it into a modern title with all the accompanying amenities would almost certainly be a lucrative, popular move. Given all the rifts between Konami and Hideo Kojima, the prospects of such a thing are shaky. But we can all dream, can’t we?

5. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Metal Gear Solid 5
  • Developer: Kojima Productions
  • Release: 2014
  • Platforms: PC, PlayStation, Xbox

Now here’s some whiplash. Rounding out the bottom of this list are titles young and old, with wildly different strengths and weaknesses. In fact, Ground Zeroes has some of the best gameplay in the series. It’s fluid, open-ended, and just downright satisfying to play. So why the low ranking? Two major factors: length and story. 

The most obvious issue is that this is essentially a prologue for The Phantom Pain. As such, Ground Zeroes is astonishingly brief. While you can replay the scenario set in Cuba as much as you want, it’s hard to ignore the fact that you’ll get considerably more out of playing almost any other title in the series. The other games are fully-fledged experiences unto themselves; Ground Zeroes basically serves to set up the events of the real MGS V. 

Additionally, the story itself is somewhat lackluster. Now, this comes down to personal taste, as I alluded to earlier. Personally, I enjoy it when MGS is as ridiculous and over-the-top as possible, and Ground Zeroes exemplifies the very opposite. It is a dark, serious, sometimes even disturbing story. One scene — featuring the only major female character in the game — is horrifyingly effective at the emotion it’s trying to convey. But in doing so, it comes across as exploitative and tone-deaf. What’s more, the darkness at play doesn’t get properly explored until The Phantom Pain, so Ground Zeroes lacks the charm of other games in the series and a compelling throughline based on its merits.  

4. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

Metal Gear Solid 4
  • Developer: Kojima Productions
  • Release: 2008
  • Platforms: PlayStation 3

Number four coming in at number four. How fitting. In truth, the placement of Guns of the Patriots was one of the more difficult decisions surrounding the article. After all, I enjoyed the majority of my time with the game. To be sure, it exhibits a willingness on the part of Kojima and the other devs to experiment with their settings, which is indeed commendable. When you fire up the game, after a rash of silly advertisements that also provide a healthy dose of worldbuilding, you’re thrown into a Middle Eastern warzone and asked to engage in some tactical espionage action amid chaotic, bloody firefights. It’s an interesting idea that’s mostly well-executed on the gameplay front. So what holds Guns of the Patriots back? Why can’t it break into the top three?

Once again, we come back to the story. There are certainly upsides here: the idea behind ID tag nanomachines and how that would transform warfare is a fresh sci-fi concept, and characters like Drebin are fun and memorable. However, one character in particular breeds some cognitive dissonance in my skull. 

That character is Akiba, a series staple with notorious digestive problems. Unfortunately, he’s given a very prominent role here, resulting in a torrent of poop jokes that are mostly groaners. I say it breeds cognitive dissonance because it should fit into the larger tapestry of silliness that I like about MGS, but it just leaves me cold. Perhaps it’s that they’re trying too hard to be funny, whereas the best moments in the series give off an earnest B-Movie sort of feel. Metal Gear Solid excels with humor derived less from deliberate jokes and more from a general atmosphere of absurdity. And that’s not the case in Guns of the Patriots.

3. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

Metal Gear Solid 2
  • Developer: Konami
  • Release: 2001
  • Platforms: PlayStation 2

Here we come to a curious entry in the series. For my time spent, Sons of Liberty provided some of the best and worst moments of MGS

While the second game has some truly baffling decisions — the dialogue between Jack and Rose makes me want to die — it also takes some serious risks, managing to deliver on narrative and drama that are actually engaging. Furthermore, Kojima and team successfully paired the narrative stakes with relevant, exciting gameplay.

The sequence that impressed me most was the bomb defusal on the Big Shell. The time limit imposed by the bombs lent a tense sort of energy to stealth and combat encounters, helping orient me in Raiden’s perspective and feel some empathy for his situation. This is important, given the fact that Raiden is significantly less cool than Solid Snake, who is playable for the prologue but thereafter becomes an NPC. But when Raiden, “Pliskin,” and Stillman are interacting, there are interesting twists and turns, and each character feels motivated and distinct from the other two. The whole sequence culminates in the bitter, destructive conflict between Stillman and Fatman, his former pupil, and it’s one of the most memorable aspects of the series for me. 

The other advantage that Sons of Liberty possesses? It takes the gameplay of MGS 1 and makes it considerably more palatable. Once you get to Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots, the core remains the same, but with such divergent settings that the overall feel is quite distinct. Consequently, Sons of Liberty feels like the best option for getting that classic “lone operative infiltrates a compound taken over by terrorists” atmosphere. Sure, Raiden is no Solid Snake, but if we’re honest, neither can match up to the big man himself.

2. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Metal Gear Solid 3
  • Developer: Konami
  • Release: 2004
  • Platforms: PlayStation 2

Coming in at #2 in my Metal Gear Solid Games Ranked lineup is Snake Eater. What a thrill. I hardly need to announce the game that has provided some of the most gloriously ridiculous narrative beats I’ve seen in a video game. From its wonderful James Bond-esque theme song to Naked Snake meticulously nitpicking Ocelot’s shooting, there’s so much to love. The best moment for me comes when Colonel Volgin of the USSR is about to test out the Davy Crockett, a handheld nuclear launcher, on a facility currently crawling with Russian operatives. Ocelot protests, leading to the following exchange:

“You’re gonna nuke your fellow Russians!?”
“Remember the Alamo.”
“Colonel!” 

B-movie style ham aside, Snake Eater boasts a number of merits in terms of narrative and gameplay. On the story front, Naked Snake is easily my favorite protagonist in the series. The game seems to take some sick delight out of kicking this poor man’s ass and forcing him to kill everything he loves. There’s some great drama (and, to be fair, far too much philosophizing) between Snake and the Boss, his mentor and implied old flame. There’s also great banter between Snake and his support team. All of this works together to make him a sympathetic character who’s easy to root for. 

It also helps Snake Eater’s case that the gameplay and setting were taken in such an intriguing direction. The Cold War setting is perfect for a game about tactical espionage, and emphasizing survival as a core element here is a nice twist on the MGS formula. The result was a slower, more methodical process of infiltration, but one with new considerations lent by the game’s lower-tech, nature-oriented constraints. Camouflage and healing mechanics, while a little simplistic, add some wonderful flavor to the whole experience, making Naked Snake’s trek through the jungle a thoroughly memorable one. 

1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Solid Phantom Pain
  • Developer: Kojima Productions
  • Release: 2015
  • Platforms: PC, PlayStation, Xbox

My mission was to extract a Russian interpreter and have my boys convince him to work for Diamond Dogs. Being more than a hundred meters off from my target, I decided to have my team drop a sniper rifle, and then I took up position on a rocky overlook. Two Soviet soldiers accompanied the interpreter. I scoped the outpost, adjusted my vantage point, and lined up a shot. I put my crosshairs over a soldier’s head and blew his brains out. 

The other two scrambled, and I repositioned to a stand of trees on a hillock, tracked the movements of my quarry, and waited. The interpreter and the soldier separated, scouring nearby hills and ridges for their assailant, and I waited for the soldier to hold still. The report of the gun rebounded off rock faces and canyons, and the soldier fell dead, his blood seeping into the gravel beneath him. My target went to the overlook as I stalked him. I came close, shot to my feet, and sprinted toward the man. He whirled just as I seized him and hurled him over my shoulder, knocking him senseless on the hard, sun-beaten rock of Afghanistan. Then I hooked him up to the Fulton and extracted him. Mission accomplished. 

When I think of game series that could use the open-world treatment, Metal Gear Solid isn’t exactly what comes to mind first. However, once I started digging into the open-ended mission design, tackling jobs for the Diamond Dogs as I so wished, I knew this was the perfect fit for the series. 

The kind of organic problem solving that each situation presents, along with complications like dust storms and enemy tactics like using comms equipment to call for reinforcements, makes for a deeply engaging, rewarding experience. And while David Hayter is sorely missed, Kiefer Sutherland does an admirable job portraying Big Boss. And, The Phantom Pain’s story contains heavy doses of the hyper-violent silliness I’ve come to love about the series, particularly in its opening.

On top of that, the drama and character motivations at play are sometimes genuinely affecting. You come to understand the drive that Big Boss and Miller have to make Diamond Dogs as successful and effective as possible, to build a future for themselves.

In sum, MGS V takes my favorite protagonist in the series and pairs him with my favorite gameplay in the series. If you play just one Metal Gear Solid game, it should be this.

That’s it for my Metal Gear Solid games ranked list! Now, if you’ll excuse me… I have a game to load up.

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