It’s an exciting time for Metal Gear fans. The iconic stealth franchise is returning in a big way with a Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater remake. And while you wait patiently for the remake, which doesn’t have a release window, you can revisit the original trilogy this fall on modern platforms in the Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Volume 1. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Metal Gear series as a whole by ranking the games from worst to best.
Few video game franchises have been as revolutionary as Metal Gear over the decades, a series that has consistently reinvented itself to offer fresh and exciting twists on tactical espionage action. From the original game that prioritized stealth in an era where action games ruled supreme, to the groundbreaking rebirth of the series that paved the way for cinematic video games, the brainchild of Hideo Kojima has never been short on surprises.
35 years later, the Metal Gear series is a legendary showcase of creative design, intense showdowns, and storylines that helped prove that video games could be cinematic powerhouses. Grab your favorite cardboard box, sneak in for a covert op, and grab some intel on the best Metal Gear Solid games to make the cut in GameSpot’s list. We excluded a couple of mobile games and the non-canon Snake’s Revenge, but almost the entire franchise is represented here.
For more game rankings, you can check out our features on the best Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, and Pokemon games.
18. Metal Gear Survive
The Metal Gear franchise’s most recent game is… well, quite bad. In the shadow of Hideo Kojima’s departure from Konami, the publisher attempted to prove that the Metal Gear franchise could survive without the visionary behind it, but this spin-off proved otherwise. Metal Gear Survive was an interesting departure from the usual MGS formula, but it was a chore to play, frustrating most of the time, and quickly lost to the sands of time.
Read our Metal Gear Survive review.
17. Metal Gear (NES)
The game that started it all, Metal Gear’s port from MSX to NES was both a cunning business decision to maximize eyeballs on the product and a lesson in how not to rework a game for a new platform. The more intricate aspects of the MSX version were largely cast aside, map layouts changed drastically, and any sense of balance was jettisoned in this clumsy port. That all resulted in a messy espionage adventure, and an unintended advert to grab the MSX version to experience Snake’s first mission at its very best.
16. Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions
What would happen if Metal Gear Solid removed its narrative entirely? You’d get a lean and mean Metal Gear Solid game, loaded with hundreds of virtual reality missions that pushes you to master Solid Snake’s talent for stealth. While the more linear structure does make the game more rigid in its design, it’s still a fascinating dive into Metal Gear Solid that shows off the stealth aspects of the landmark title in its purest form. Plus, you can carve people up as cyber-ninja Gray Fox.
Read our Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions review.
15. Metal Gear (MSX)
Metal Gear on NES is a trainwreck of a port, but on MSX, it’s a well-aged title that flipped the script on what video games were capable of at the time. Some archaic elements have naturally carried over, but the core ideas of sneaking, staying out of the visual range of enemies, and radio communication formed a Rock-Solid Snake foundation that the franchise could be built on.
14. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
The original Metal Gear was proof that stealth games had a place in a market saturated with guns-blazing action-adventures and platformers. The 1990 MSX sequel was a reinforced statement of that idea, polishing up every rough edge of the first game and adding layers of nuanced and sophisticated design. Series staples such as silenced pistols, improvisational combat, and cardboard boxes helped reinforce its stealth gameplay, and with a more complex plot, Metal Gear 2 felt like a true cinematic video game at the time.
13. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
Twin Snakes is a strange beast, as this remake of the first Metal Gear Solid was co-helmed by none other than Eternal Darkness developer Silicon Knights. A number of Metal Gear Solid 2’s gameplay ideas (like the superb first-person aiming) were used to update the game, creating a well-received remake. Godzilla: Final Wars director Ryuhei Kitamura helmed the new cutscenes, and while they may have turned Snake into a nigh-unstoppable action hero, the end result made the stealth operative cooler than ever.
Read our Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes review.
12. Metal Gear Solid GBC (Ghost Babel)
The Nintendo Game Boy was a miracle handheld, a device that regularly managed to capture the essence of big-name games on its more limited hardware. Metal Gear Solid for the GBC (AKA Ghost Babel in Japan) cleverly dials back the PlayStation MGS experience, throws in a few familiar narrative ideas, and charts its own path forward with a return to Outer Heaven. It looks great, the boss fights against colorfully named mercenaries are charming, and the level-based structure made this chapter in the franchise an instant classic.
11. Metal Gear Acid
Sony’s PSP handheld had a great lineup of launch games in 2005, and with a new Metal Gear game in the list, fans were only too eager to dive into Solid Snake’s latest adventure. Metal Gear Acid was unlike anything that had come before it at the time, a mixture of cards, conspiracies, and tactical gameplay that threw out the usual stealth-action gameplay of the series for a more cerebral approach. A turn-based shift might have been seen as an odd move for the series, but almost two decades later, Metal Gear Acid and its sequel hold up surprisingly well.
Read our Metal Gear Acid review.
10. Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops / Plus
For those fans looking to grab a proper Metal Gear Solid experience in a handheld form factor, Portable Ops arrived in 2006 to make that dream a reality. There were a few issues–notably a camera system from hell–that made the game somewhat clunky, but it was still a fun game that stuck to the formula that had made Metal Gear Solid a success on PlayStation consoles. It’s also notable for having elements that would be incorporated into later games, such as base-building, making Portable Ops an important and worthy addition to any Metal Gear Solid collection.
Read our Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops review.
9. Metal Gear Acid 2
A deeper and more strategic return to card-based tactical action, Metal Gear Acid 2’s gameplay polishes up the unique approach of the original game to stunning effect. Featuring another oddball story of covert infiltrations told through an eye-catching cel-shaded graphical approach, Metal Gear Acid 2 also came packaged with the Solid Eye peripheral. It was essentially an accessory that you’d slap onto your PSP so that you could get a 3D effect, which was neat for 10 minutes before it was tossed aside so that you could focus on the invigorating tale unfolding around you.
Read our Metal Gear Acid 2 review.
8. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
It’s hard to classify Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes as anything other than bold, because this glorified demo managed to sneak into stores and charge players a premium retail price for an early slice of Phantom Pain gameplay. It’s still essential for any complete Metal Gear Solid library, and as a prologue squeezed between the events of Peace Walker and Phantom Pain, it functions well as a prologue that would help set up the grand campaign to come while also proving that Metal Gear Solid had kept up with the times.
Read our Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes review.
7. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance took the franchise in yet another new direction. Developed by Platinum Games and armed with a soundtrack that perfectly complemented its over-the-top gameplay, Revengeance has the subtlety of a runaway freight train and an attitude that propelled to the top of the meme charts. Almost a decade later, people are still talking about this gem of a game, or tapping splinters into their feet while listening to its energetic score as they slice enemies into bloody chunks of atoms.
Read our Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance review.
6. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
The grand conclusion to the saga of Solid Snake, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots mixes fascinating ideas with terrific gadgets and a story that celebrates the entire history of the series up to that point. It’s Hideo Kojima at his cinematic action best, blending over-the-top characters with deadly stealth action as the game. It’s sadly only available on PS3 consoles, but it’s still one of the best console exclusives of its era.
Read our Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots review.
5. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty / Substance
Sons of Liberty had a high benchmark to reach after the runaway success of Metal Gear Solid, and with a Big Shell of hype and momentum behind, this sequel proved to be more than up to the task. Controversial for its decision to replace Solid Snake (who’s the spitting image of that Iruqios Plissken fella) with Raiden, history has shown Sons of Liberty to be easily the cleverest entry in the series. Filled with all manner of baffling plot points and ideas that only made sense years later, the first Metal Gear Solid game on PS2 was a runaway success that looked amazing, held a ton of secrets, and pushed the envelope for interactive storytelling further than ever. Metal Gear Solid 2 will be available to play via the Master Collection Volume 1 in Fall 2023.
Read our Metal Gear Solid 2 review.
4. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Though the other Metal Gear PSP games were pretty good, none of them reached the heights of Peace Walker, which was a full-fledged traditional entry in the franchise that bested a number of the console games. A good-looking stealth-action campaign, slick production values, and well-honed gameplay made it an essential purchase for the PSP. It was arguably the best PSP game ever made. With fascinating gameplay systems, a spectacular soundtrack, and some of the best boss fights in the series to date, Peace Walker stood out at launch and remains a wonderful experience today.
Read our Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker review.
3. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
The final Metal Gear Solid game with Hideo Kojima leading development duties, The Phantom Pain moved the franchise into more modern territory with its sandbox approach, upgraded stealth gameplay, and an ambitious online mode that’s admittedly impossible to beat. While it has a few flaws and a slightly unfinished atmosphere, it’s still a masterpiece of storytelling, environmental design, and is filled with an absurd amount of detail. It’s also easily the “biggest” entry in the Metal Gear franchise. You can easily spend dozens of hours sneaking behind enemy lines and listening to Cold War chart-topping hits.
Read our Metal Gear Solid 5 review.
2. Metal Gear Solid
A genre-defining leap forward for video games, Metal Gear Solid hit with an extinction-level impact in 1998. In a year that saw the release of Grim Fandango, Half-Life, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid was making waves for its deft combination of stealth, action, and cutscenes that seamlessly flowed into each other. It was action-packed and cerebral, a graphical leap forward that squeezed every inch of power possible out of the original PlayStation, and was loaded with technological achievements that are taken for granted these days.
Even better, Metal Gear Solid was a fascinating game to revisit, as Hideo Kojima’s attention to detail meant that each playthrough was packed with new facets of the Shadow Moses Island to uncover and experiment with. From the mind-bending Psycho Mantis boss fight to the final showdown with walking war machine Metal Gear Rex, Metal Gear Solid helped solidify games as thought-provoking narrative experiences and redefined the stealth genre. You can revisit the original game in the Master Collection Volume 1 later this year.
Read our Metal Gear Solid review.
1. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater / Subsistence
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater takes the top spot on this list as the definitive Metal Gear experience. More accurately, though, we’re talking about Subsistence, the overhauled take on the third Solid Snake game that instantly became one of the best games of its time. Subsistence significantly improved the game’s camera, which really helped to highlight the game’s excellent mix of stealth and survival gameplay.
Though a number of games in the series are known for their great writing, Metal Gear Solid 3 tells the most emotional and well-paced story with a better ending than even the most diehard Metal Gear enthusiasts could imagine. Featuring some of the most inventive boss fights in games–period–and a world rife with interesting set pieces that forced players to put their thinking caps on, Metal Gear Solid 3 took the already revered series to a new level.
Subsistence also introduced Metal Gear Online, an awesome multiplayer spin on Metal Gear Solid 3’s tactical-stealth experience. Metal Gear Online is unsurprisingly no longer online, but at the time it made Metal Gear Solid 3 one of the best solo and competitive games around.
Metal Gear Solid 3 can also lay claim to the best use of a ladder in a video game. This is extremely impressive considering how many games feature ladders.
Needless to say, we can’t wait to see what Konami does with the upcoming Snake Eater remake. In the meantime, it’ll be nice to revisit the original version in the Master Collection.
Read our Metal Gear Solid 3 review.
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