The Metal Gear franchise has always been a very strange mixture of bad and good. Over the years, the stories have fluctuated between emotional tearjerkers and the insane psycho-babble of a man off of his pills. The gameplay has taken leaps and bounds since its inception on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but most fans are aware of the infamous naked Raiden scene from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. And who can forget the times when Konami felt Metal Gear needed to be a card battle game with Metal Gear Ac!d and Ac!d 2?
Still, fans keep coming back for more, as evidenced by the franchise’s vast timeline of games spanning four different consoles and several handhelds. Even without the variety of spinoff games, the series has an impressive six titles that all relate to one story, with a seventh and eighth in development. What is this story, you might ask? Let’s dive in and find out.
It all begins in 1995 with Metal Gear. FOXHOUND, a formidable special forces group, sends new recruit Solid Snake to investigate a weapon of mass destruction being built in the heavily fortified compound known as Outer Heaven. Along the way, he discovers that they have developed a super-weapon known as Metal Gear, a bipedal monstrosity capable of launching nuclear missiles anywhere on the planet. Though he manages to destroy it, Snake learns that the man who sent him on the mission, Big Boss, was the mercenary leader behind Outer Heaven the whole time. Snake’s first mission ends in success, with Big Boss dead, Metal Gear destroyed, and Outer Heaven vanquished.
The story picks up four years later with Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, during which Snake returns from retirement to save the world once again, this time by infiltrating the heavily fortified territory of Zanzibar Land in order to stop the newly built Metal Gear D from bringing the world to nuclear war. A similar plot is explored in Metal Gear Solid, when Snake’s former FOXHOUND unit goes rogue under the command of Snake’s clone brother, Liquid Snake, using Metal Gear REX to threaten the United States into giving up the remains of Big Boss, from which both brothers were cloned.
The title that followed may have been strangest title of the series: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. The metaphorical torch is passed on from Solid Snake, thought to have died during the game’s prologue, to FOXHOUND agent Raiden. Sons of Liberty follows Raiden as he tries to rescue several hostages, including the president of the United States, from the eponymous terrorist group. Eventually, however, it turns out that the leader of the Sons of Liberty, Solidus Snake, was really targeting the mysterious Patriots organization – twelve men who have controlled the flow of information for over a century to guide America on a path set by them. In spite of a twisted maze of betrayals, hidden agendas, and secret motives, Raiden manages to kill Solidus, thus preventing him from finding and killing the Patriots.
Then came the most praised title in the series – a prequel to the entire franchise that set up the events of every game that came after it. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater replaced all of the quasi-futuristic settings of its predecessors with a massive jungle, as well as the military compound of Groznyj Grad. This time centering on Naked Snake, the man who would one day become the terrorist leader Big Boss, Snake Eater told an epic tale of betrayal and patriotism as Snake defeated the traitorous Cobra unit, including his mentor, The Boss, in order to stop them from deploying the Shagohod, a predecessor to the Metal Gear. In the end, it turns out that The Boss’s betrayal was only an act, one that would put her into history as one of America’s greatest traitors, simply so Snake could recover a cache of funds known as the Philosopher’s Legacy, one billion dollars to be divided up among the Philosophers – themselves the people who would one day become the Patriots.
The series draws to a close in the year 2014 with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Now focused once again on the series’ original hero, Guns of the Patriots follows Solid Snake as he tries to stop his brother, Liquid, once and for all. The story revolves around Liquid attempting to use a nuclear weapon hidden away in Shadow Moses, where the first Metal Gear Solid took place, to destroy the Patriots just as his brother, Solidus, planned. In the end, Solid Snake fights a duel to the death with Liquid and emerges victorious.
So what makes the games so great? Well, aside from the story, especially the emotional rollercoaster that is Metal Gear Solid 3, the gameplay has evolved considerably since its inception. Known as Tactical Espionage Action, the series forces gamers to take a stealthy approach to every area; even though Snake is at the peak of fitness and combat ability, he is still outnumbered by a large margin. Even a single guard can call in a squad to take down the hero in a manner of seconds, so every raised alarm is a potential death sentence. On that note, almost nothing ever changed between games, aside from adding a camo system in Metal Gear Solid 3 that carried over to Metal Gear Solid 4. Like the age-old adage goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Unfortunately, I then have to address what makes the games not-so-great. Despite having a fantastic stealth system, none of the game have really had a decent combat system. Every hero of the series has basically the same level of close combat skill, which is a single combo of smacking an enemy a few times to make him go down. Plus, the game is played from a top-down perspective, which makes aiming tricky to say the least. Though you can stop and aim from a first-person perspective, you can’t actually move while doing it, so you have to go quick if you want to shoot someone.
On the topic of the story, the games do have several failings. Though the overarching tale is an epic story of brotherhood, war and betrayal, each game has the similar issue of getting bogged down in the details. Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3, in particular, both had a number of conversations that lasted a solid ten to twenty minutes. In Metal Gear Solid 2’s case, the dialogue and plot wound up getting so twisted and confusing that it took several playthroughs to even understand what in the world was going on with the story by the end of it.
Metal Gear Solid 2, as I said before, was the most infamous of the series, because while it revolutionized the gameplay, it also featured a story that went stark-raving mad. It introduced a number of characters that were flat-out supernatural, including the preternaturally fast and strong Vamp and the absolutely inviolable Fortune. Another big point that bugged me (and a lot of fans, for that matter) was a scene that happened during the prologue, when Revolver Ocelot, an elite former military colonel, has the arm of Liquid Snake surgically attached to his own, to replace the one he lost during the events of Metal Gear Solid. With zero explanation, Liquid Snake’s personality then takes over the body of Revolver entirely.
Yet for all of its bizarre plot twists, awkward combat, and tedious dialogue, the Metal Gear franchise lives on with its six main titles and cavalcade of spinoffs and prequels, including three centered around the infamous Big Boss. At the end of the day, the Metal Gear games refined stealth gaming to near-perfection, and even with the utterly baffling Metal Gear Solid 2, they remain some of the finest titles in the history of gaming.