Ranking The Metal Gear Series

by Joe Juba on Apr 08, 2014 at 02:52 PM

Metal Gear is one of the biggest names in the gaming world. Few franchises can boast such a long history, or a more fanatical fan base. We delved into the history of series in our month of coverage connected to Metal Gear Solid V, but Game Informer tried not to play favorites. That doesn't mean I can't, though. This list is my personal ranking of the Metal Gear games, starting with my least favorite.  

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Fans of the series will notice a few titles missing from the list. For ease of comparison, I've only included the nine main entries in the series, meaning that non-canon diversions (like Metal Gear Solid on Game Boy Color) and titles in a completely different genre (like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Metal Gear Acid) aren't figured into the rankings.

9. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

While it is the most visually impressive game on this list, Ground Zeroes is also the most sparse in terms of compelling content. The story feels unimportant, and the gameplay hardly gets a chance to ramp up before the mission is over. The new mechanics offer the potential for a cool game in the future, but it isn’t there yet. Eventually, gamers may consider Metal Gear Solid V to be a single game – Ground Zeroes coupled with the upcoming The Phantom Pain – and it might be better received in the Metal Gear lineup.

8. Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops

I’m in the minority here, but I am a fan Portable Ops. Not a big enough fan to give it a higher place on this list, but I appreciate the way it translates Metal Gear to a handheld experience. Even though the controls are impressive for the PSP, they still don’t measure up to their console counterparts. Also, missions designed for smaller blocks of time, the story never gets a chance to hit its stride. Dragging “recruits” back to Campbell’s van gets old fast, but I loved the sense of slowly building an army. This title was the first to really distinguish between Solid Snake and Big Boss; the former is an obedient soldier, while the latter is a charismatic leader. Even so, the story has been rendered obsolete by the events of Peace Walker, leaving many fans to question whether Portable Ops is even considered canon.

7. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake

This isn’t a bad game, but just about every standout moment in Metal Gear 2 was later refined and executed better in Metal Gear Solid. A shape-changing keycard? An elevator ambush? Shooting your way up some stairs? Those all happened here first, but they were also held back by baffling moments like hatching owl and snake eggs in your backpack. In the context of the whole series, this entry feels more like a Metal Gear Solid prototype to me.

6. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

Peace Walker takes the Portable Ops formula and fixes the big issues. It still focuses on short missions, but recruiting enemy soldiers via the Fulton recovery system gets you back to base sooner. Building up Mother Base is a great way to illustrate Big Boss’ growing power, making you eager to hunt down as many recruits as possible. The addition of co-op play provides a fun way for friends to team up, but I was always more interested in Metal Gear as a solo experience. I was also a bit disappointed in the lack of great boss fights. I remember the strange tune Chrysalis emits, but otherwise, a parade of tanks, APCs, and helicopters don’t make for satisfying or noteworthy victories.

Up next: The top five Metal Gear games.

5. Metal Gear Solid 4

When I think back on Metal Gear Solid 4, one word stands out: Nanomachines. Amid the game’s over-reliance on dubious technology to tie up loose plot threads, it can be easy to forget about all of the things this entry did right. The automatic camo system lets you stay hidden without wading into menus, modern controls replace the archaic configuration of the PS2 era, and the whole fourth chapter is a love letter to the series’ longtime fans. Even if the cutscenes run a bit long, I think Metal Gear Solid 4 uses them effectively to deliver memorable moments and send Solid Snake out with style.

4. Metal Gear Solid 2

Despite my disappointment (or was it outrage?) when I learned that Raiden – not Solid Snake – was really the star of Metal Gear Solid 2, this entry won me back over time. Defusing bombs, fighting a Harrier jet, and taking down over a dozen unmanned Metal Gear RAYs stand out as unforgettable moments in the series. Additionally, jaw-dropping cinematic sequences clearly demonstrated the advantages of the PS2 hardware. Yes, the ending gets a little bonkers and long-winded, but it wouldn’t be a Metal Gear game if the story immediately made perfect sense.

3. Metal Gear

From the very beginning, Metal Gear was something different. In a market full of platformers and side-scrolling shooters, Snake’s objective wasn’t to rack up points or kill monsters. The original Metal Gear on Japan’s MSX home computer gave players a different kind of mission: Avoid detection, don’t antagonize your enemies, and explore the multi-screen compound of Outer Heaven. It was a pioneering title, blazing the trail for the future of the franchise.

2. Metal Gear Solid

As the game that exposed countless gamers to Metal Gear’s breed tactical espionage action, Metal Gear Solid holds a special place in the hearts of many fans. However, don’t attribute this fondness to nostalgia alone. With a plot full of intrigue, bizarre characters, and surreal moments, Metal Gear Solid established Solid Snake as an industry icon. Though the gameplay may seem rough by modern standards, sneaking around guards and finding multiple paths through areas made you feel like you are just as smart and capable as Solid Snake himself.

1. Metal Gear Solid 3

The appeal of the Metal Gear series is held up by several pillars. Great stealth and an interesting story of two of the big ones, but don’t forget about the importance of the supporting cast, the boss fights, and the dialogue. On all of these fronts, Metal Gear Solid 3 outperforms its peers. Metal Gear Solid 3 had its hooks in me the whole time, from the Virtuous Mission that opens the action to the heartbreaking conclusion. It fires on all cylinders to provide tense, deep, and surprising gameplay. Picking the best game in a series is rarely this easy.

For more rankings of major series, check out our rundowns of Final Fantasy and Castlevania.