Tuesday 8 September 2015

Metal Gear Solid – everything you need to know about the entire series

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain 

Metal Gear is arguably the greatest action gaming series ever created – but it is also easily the most bewildering. What is the difference between Liquid, Naked, and Solid Snake? What is Foxdie? And why is the US president involved? These are just some of the questions lurking within Hideo Kojima’s expansive, convoluted and often contrived gaming classics.
So if you’ve been attracted to the series by the deliriously positive reviews of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but are worried about not understanding anything that’s going on, here’s what you need to know. We’ve also ranked all the main titles for lasting quality – behind the latest title, of course, which we consider to be the very best.

Metal Gear

Metal Gear
Metal Gear – the original game first seen on the old MSX computer
Year: 1987
Format: MSX2 (now on PS2, PS3, 360, PS Vita as part of MGS3: Subsistence / HD)
The one where : Special ops soldier Solid Snake infiltrates Outer Heaven on the trail of missing agent Gray Fox. Directed over the radio by his CO Big Boss, Snake discovers the existence of Metal Gear, a doomsday nuclear-equipped tank, and plans to take it out – but the enemy seems aware of his movements, and Big Boss starts acting funny. Eventually Snake offs the Metal Gear, and Big Boss reveals himself as the puppetmaster. The two face off, and after winning Snake flees the exploding compound. But after the credits, Big Boss vows he will meet Solid Snake again ...
Best bit: When Big Boss, panicking at Snake’s success, tells the player to “TURN THE MSX OFF AT ONCE.”
Weirdest bit : Metal Gear was “ported” to the NES but utterly butchered in the process, with many important aspects (like the Metal Gear) removed. Kojima publicly disdains this version.
Still playable? Technology has moved so fast Metal Gear is more of an historical artefact than a great game, but in its time the achievement was enormous.
Series ranking: 9

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake

Metal Gear 2
Metal Gear 2 – the snake bites back in one of the greatest games of the 8bit era
Year: 1990
Format: MSX2 (now on PS2, PS3, 360, PS Vita as part of MGS3: Subsistence / HD)
The one where : An enormous refinement over Metal Gear, and the basis for many of Metal Gear Solid’s 3D mechanics, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake sees the retired Foxhound agent return for one last job. Again. Supported by Roy Campbell, Solid Snake infiltrates Zanzibarland to rescue a biologist, but discovers there’s a new Metal Gear project cooking away. Snake duffs up Metal Gear D’s creator, destroys the mech, battles ex-comrade Gray Fox to the death, and then faces off against Big Boss. Again. In a rather grim twist, Snake burns Big Boss to death with an aerosol can and a lighter.
Best bit: The wealth of new options Snake has for stealth, including robotic mice.
The weirdest bit: There are children knocking about the fortress, and you can shoot them (which is penalised with loss of health) .
Still playable? It was one of the best 8bit games ever made – but, unavoidably, of its era.
Series ranking: 8

Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid – the series updates to 3D for the PlayStation generation
Year: 1998
Format: Playstation (also available on PC, PS3, PS Vita)
The one where : Metal Gear moves into 3D. The detailed environments and polished presentation set a new standard for action games - then Kojima’s gift for creative set-pieces and toying with the player elevate things even further. Solid Snake stars again, this time facing down his brother Liquid Snake alongside a great rogues’ gallery including Revolver Ocelot, Psycho Mantis and Sniper Wolf. Snake infiltrates Shadow Moses in order to rescue two hostages but, after both die in his presence, begins to suspect he’s the vector for a bio-weapon called Foxdie.
Another Metal Gear turns up, this time twinned with its guilt-ridden creator Otacon. The cyborg ninja slaughtering Liquid’s troops is revealed as Gray Fox, kept hideously alive by bio-mechanical engineering, who earns his redemption in getting crushed by Metal Gear Rex. Solid Snake duly takes out Rex, socks Liquid in his posh English jaw, escapes in a jeep, and then when Liquid makes a dramatic return – Foxdie hits him. Solid Snake survives and imagines a future free of this crazy stuff. Who wouldn’t?
Best bit: When Revolver Ocelot has Snake trapped in his torture device and advises that you submit before death because “there are no continues, my friend”.
Weirdest bit: Probably the fact that you can gawp at Meryl in her underwear while hiding behind the ceiling vent – then you have to punch her unconscious when Psycho Mantis takes over her mind and starts saying “make love to me Snake!”
Still playable? MGS holds up surprisingly well. The stealth is fast-paced with clear mechanics, and Shadow Moses is still a detailed, vibrant world.
Series ranking: 4

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

Metal Gear Solid 2
Metal Gear Solid 2. “You haven’t seen me, right?”
Year: 2001
Format: Playstation 2 (later PC, Xbox, Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita)
The one where : (Deep breath) Snake takes photographs to prove the existence of Metal Gear Ray, a new weapon, which is immediately stolen by the returning Revolver Ocelot – who now thinks he’s Liquid Snake. I know. Fast-forward two years and new character Raiden’s responding to a terrorist incident on an offshore rig called the Big Shell and, lo and behold, Solid Snake and Metal Gear Ray are right in the middle.
MGS2 is a rug-puller, not least in the fact you play as Raiden, and a core part of its technique is to bombard the player with information so they’re not sure what is true. As the mission proceeds, Raiden’s world starts collapsing, his support team begin to behave erratically, and revelations pour out of everyone – but what to believe? Liquid Ocelot reveals the Big Shell was set up to train a soldier as good as Solid Snake (ie Raiden), a new Metal Gear called Arsenal crashes into downtown Manhattan, and Raiden is ordered to assassinate Solidus Snake. Solidus? Yep. The third brother of Solid and Liquid, Solidus is also the president of the US (!) but makes zero impression before being offed. This is honestly the simplest explanation of MGS2 you’ll find anywhere.
Best bit : The revelation that Raiden is a rookie soldier who’s been trained through VR videogames to emulate his hero Solid Snake – making him not-unlike the target audience.
Weirdest bit : Kojima realised that killing off Liquid Snake in MGS was a terrible idea – despite the character’s terrible accent. So Ocelot returns, with Liquid’s hand grafted onto his arm, and is “taken over” by Liquid’s personality. Dire.
Still playable? MGS2 is an acquired taste, not least because it’s got far too much exposition. But the ideas are great, and the game underneath all the chin-stroking is even better.
Series ranking: 5

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Metal Gear Solid 3
Metal Gear Solid 3 – the best in the series before Phantom Pain, we believe
Year: 2004
Format: PS2 (later Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, 3DS)
The one where: After the negative reaction to MGS2’s internet philosophising, Kojima goes back to the series’ roots – and basically makes a Bond movie set at the height of the Cold War. Naked Snake, who is not Solid, is double-crossed by his mentor the Boss as she defects from west to east. The political shockwaves mean that Naked Snake soon has a new assignment – assassination. Fighting his way through Boss’s WW2 Cobra unit, as well as psycho Russkie Volgin, Snake and the Boss eventually face off in a field of white lilies. Naked Snake is haunted by the success of his mission, and is given the name Big Boss – the CO and antagonist of the original Metal Gear.
Best bit: The End, a hundred-year old sniper, and a boss battle that can take hours as you battle mano-a-mano over a huge environment.
Weirdest bit: The eerie boss battle against the Sorrow forces you to wade through the ghosts of all the enemies you’ve killed before that point.
Still playable? MGS3 has aged better than any other entry, because the story is easy to follow and the amazing systems have the time they need to breathe.
Series ranking: 2

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

Metal Gear Solid 4
“Hmm, yes I suppose you’re right... wait, what?”
Year: 2008
Format: PS3
The one where: Kojima makes the game the fans say they want – Solid Snake’s back. And Meryl. And everyone else from every game. MGS4 is the series lowpoint, even if there’s still a great game in there somewhere, because it’s buried under a mass of convoluted and contrived fanservice.
Solid Snake is, pointedly, now an old man – and war is in an era where “normal” soldiers are no longer required. Yet this hardy geriatric stealths his way through, settling various old scores before a return to MGS’s setting of Shadow Moses, where he and Liquid Ocelot pilot the Metal Gears from the first two games. Characters including Psycho Mantis, MGS3’s Eva and Meryl return in ways that only dull the impact of their original characters. After even more cutscenes, Solid and “Liquid” fight to the death in an admittedly great showdown. At the very end, Big Boss turns up again, says “I was never dead all that time after all”, then dies.
Best bit: The “octocamo” suit at the centre of MGS4’s stealth, which lets Snake blend into surroundings like a chameleon, is both an incredible mechanic and gorgeous in action.
Weirdest bit : After beating the main bosses, they turn into scantily-clad ladies who try to hug you to death – and can also be enticed into a photo mode.
Still playable? If you skip all the cutscenes, MGS4 has a lot of great stuff – but redundant elements too, and a few duff sections. The years have not been kind. Ranking: 7

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
“Kojima? Are you in there? Because nobody understands what’s going on.”
Year: 2010
Format: Sony PSP (later PS3, 360, PS Vita)
The one where : Big Boss is running his own mercenary group, helped by his chum Kaz Miller, and gets tempted into Costa Rica by CIA agent Hot Coldman – who has an audio recording of what appears to be the Boss. As Big Boss investigates and sets up his own private army, he begins uncovering the existence of an AI-controlled nuclear-capable Metal Gear – built because of Coldman’s belief that human unwillingness to launch a nuke is the flaw in deterrence theory.
Big Boss shows Peace Walker what deterrence theory really means, whereupon the machine’s AI personality (based on the Boss) realises it shouldn’t be allowed to exist and drowns itself. Alongside this, Big Boss’s merc squad has been constructing Metal Gear Zeke as a defensive measure, which eventually gets nicked by the peace-loving Paz who threatens nuclear war. After sorting her out, Big Boss finally accepts his nickname and christens this new merc paradise Outer Heaven.
Best bit : The introduction of the fulton surface-to-air recovery system, which lets you hook balloons to KO’d bad guys and turn them into Mother Base soldiers.
Weirdest bit : You can use X-ray vision, never explained, to look at the underwear of female characters during cutscenes.
Still playable? This is a truly epic PSP game with a lengthy main game supplemented by numerous objectives and challenges. Peace Walker’s a masterpiece but also built for its chosen platform – Sony’s PSP. It doesn’t transition perfectly to the big screen but in co-op, especially, it’s still fantastic.
Series ranking: 3

Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes

Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes
Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes – the primer to Phantom Pain provides a compelling play space
Year: 2014
Formats: PC, PS3, 360, PS4, Xbox One
The one where : Chico and Paz, two supporting characters from Peace Walker, have been kidnapped and are being held in Camp Omega – a thinly-veiled version of Guantanamo Bay. Big Boss breaks in to get them out, but it’s all a set up. While he’s at Camp Omega, Mother Base is being razed to the ground by XOF, and Paz has been booby-trapped with bombs – she leaps out of the chopper before exploding, but the chopper loses control anyway and the only survivors are Miller and Big Boss.
Best bit: Helping an informant escape by providing air support, and realising it was Mr Kojima all along
Weirdest bit: The idea of a bad guy called Skullface inserting two bombs into the body of a teenage girl is probably not Kojima’s greatest moment.
Still playable? It’s a great starter. Ground Zeroes is more than anything a showcase for imagination, experimentation, and play for play’s sake, because there is simply so much to do in and around this environment.
Series ranking: 6

Spinoffs, Remakes, and Revengeance

A quick look at the titles orbiting the main Metal Gear series
Metal Gear 2: Snake’s Revenge
Year: 1990
Format: NES
The one where: Konami wanted a Metal Gear sequel and gave the job to someone other than Hideo Kojima. Though much-derided by series fans, Snake’s Revenge is decent for the time.
Still playable? One for Metal Gear boffins only.
Metal Gear: Ghost Babel
Year: 2000
Format: Game Boy Color
The one where: Konami mishmashed together Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and MGS to make a Game Boy Color game. This is one of the series’ secret gems, a non-canon but completely true-feeling Metal Gear
Still playable? Great, but hard to get hold of.
Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
Year: 2004
Format: Gamecube
The one where: Silicon Knights remade Metal Gear Solid for Nintendo’s Gamecube, introducing some of MGS2’s mechanics and rather unwisely recasting much of the voice talent.
Still playable? The original MGS remains definitive.
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops / Portable Ops+
Year: 2006/7
Format: PSP
The one where: Big Boss is being targeted by Foxhound and has to build his own squad to respond, but the kidnapping mechanic is terrible – which rather taints the whole thing.
Still playable? Obsessives only, and even then ...
Metal Gear Acid / Acid 2
Year: 2004/5
Format: PSP
The one where: it turns out you can make a half-decent card game out of the MGS principles, but you can really bog it up with cutscenes and chatter too.
Still playable? The card strategy is great, but Acid 2 is a much better take on the formula.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Year: 2013
Format: PC, PS3, 360
The one where : MGS2’s Raiden returns as a cyborg ninja who’s had quite enough stealth, and now just slices through armies and enormous mechs at mach speed. A belting action game, the mental plot ends with Raiden ripping out the heart of a US senator.

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