Unless you’re Hideo Kojima itself, it’s pretty close to impossible to talk about the Metal Gear timeline and story without sounding like a conspiracy theorist or drug-addled squirrel. The events and specifics of the story are so absurd at points that they feel at one moment like a Saturday morning cartoon, at others like some mature-audiences-only 1990s animé, and yet others like an elaborate, decades long practical joke. What I’m saying is, I adore Metal Gear.
I love it, but it can be mildly confusing at its best moments.
Yesterday, we covered the characters in the Metal Gear universe. You might want to brush up on that before reading this.
The below image shows the series in release order, while the arrows depict the order in which the events of the story occur.
Warning: This article will contain heavy spoilers for games in the Metal Gear series released prior to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
So, it’s not surprising if you might need a little catching up. We’re going to attempt to fit as much of the story into as small a space as we can, catching as many of the primary plot points as possible without making it as confusing as the games can be.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
In the early 1900s, an organization called The Philosophers formed, aiming to guide the advancement of the world. The Philosophers would eventually amass hundreds of billions of dollars in funds, creating The Philosophers’ Legacy, a cache containing the money, as well as the names of the Philosophers themselves.
The cache was stolen, of course, shortly after.
This leads us up to the beginning of Snake Eater, which starts with the U.S. sending The Boss to Russia to find the Legacy. Meanwhile, Naked Snake is sent there to find a scientist named Nikolai Sokolov and to destroy the weapon he’s creating, the Shagohod.
The Boss, however, has defected to Russia, delivering to them some nuclear warheads in the process. Colonel Volgin then uses one of the warheads to destroy a Russian base, framing America.
After recovering from the mission, Naked Snake is sent back on Operation Snake Eater, with Major Zero as his commanding officer, to not only stop the Shagohod, but to kill Colonel Volgin and The Boss – Snake’s teacher.
During the mission, Snake will have his first encounter with the man we know as Revolver Ocelot, who we find out later is a spy for the Philosophers. Snake loses an eye during torture by Colonel Volgin.
Naked Snake successfully takes down the Shagohod, kills Colonel Volgin and The Boss, only to find out that she hadn’t actually defected at all. Naked Snake becomes Big Boss.
Snake Eater introduced the concept of camouflage to the series and took it back to the jungle for the first time since the original 8-bit games. Some of the best known moments from the game include the battle against the sniper boss The End, which can be won either through careful maneuvering through a large, open field or by turning off the game, waiting a week, and coming back to find The End having died of old age.
The game also features a nearly endless ladder sequence and a boss known as The Pain, who is covered in bees.
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops
Big Boss left the FOX Unit and, during this time, met Frank Jaeger, who we’ll talk more about in a bit.
With Big Boss gone, a man named Gene – short for both Eugene and Genetics – takes over FOX Unit and uses it to pursue the Philosopher’s Legacy.
Big Boss is captured and tortured by Gene, and meets Roy Campbell during this time. Big Boss escapes, and the two form FOXHOUND.
While pursuing Gene, Big Boss fights Null, whom he later finds out is Frank Jaeger, who has been brainwashed and experimented on in an attempt to create a better soldier. Big Boss takes Gene down. Big Boss, Ocelot, and Major Zero use the Philosophers’ Legacy to create The Patriots.
It’s around this time that the experiment to clone Big Boss, Les Enfants Terribles, is initiated. This would eventually create Solid Snake, Liquid Snake and Solidus Snake.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Big Boss and his new organization, Militaires Sans Frontieres, go to Costa Rica to help stop a military force oppressing the small nation. The military force turns out to be backed by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency, and an agent named Hot Coldman (I’m not kidding) is planning to use the first Metal Gear to launch nukes at Cuba. The Metal Gear was designed by Huey Emmerich, father of Hal Emmerich.
Militaires Sans Frontieres begins building its own Metal Gear, ZEKE, which is stolen by a woman named Paz who was raised by Major Zero, but Big Boss destroys ZEKE, and it is believed Paz died in the explosion.
This game also introduces one of Big Boss’ support agents, Kazuhira Miller, and the first mention of Outer Heaven, which would feature heavily in the first Metal Gear title.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Paz and Chico, one of Big Boss’ soldiers, are captured and tortured by a man named Skull Face. A false S.O.S. prompts Big Boss to head to the source of the signal.
Big Boss rescues Paz and Chico, but Paz had been implanted with bombs that went off, killing Chico and putting Big Boss in an extended coma.
Ground Zeroes was harshly criticized by fans and press alike for a variety of legitimate reasons. The game is short – very short. Much of its story is told through optional cassette tapes that you’re not given much impetus to collect, and those tapes imply or explicitly depict some pretty dark story elements, like rape, that are extra hard to stomach when wrapped in the G.I. Joe-meets-anime aesthetic the series so often adheres to. Despite this, it’s an amazing looking game that proves the power of the Fox Engine as a strong, multi-platform game engine, and shows that Metal Gear Solid‘s unique play style still has some serious life left in it.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
We’ll find out soon how this bridges the previous games back to the plot of the original Metal Gear.
Big Boss, now leader of FOXHOUND, sends Solid Snake into Outer Heaven to rescue the captured Frank Jaeger, code-named Grey Fox, and to destroy the Metal Gear that Outer Heaven is building, the TX-55.
Big Boss, however, was also leader of Outer Heaven. Big Boss attempts to stop Solid Snake, his own clone, but Snake defeats Big Boss and destroyed both the TX-55 Metal Gear and Outer Heaven.
Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
In the series’ first sequel, Solid Snake is tasked with rescuing the inventor of synthetic oil, Kio Marv. Snake fights Grey Fox, the soldier he rescued in Metal Gear for the first time, and Big Boss for the second, defeating both. Upon his death, Big Boss reveals to Solid Snake that he is his father.
Metal Gear Solid
FOXHOUND has been taken over at this point by Liquid Snake and, under his leadership, taken over a military base on Shadow Moses island. Using Metal Gear REX, Liquid is threatening to launch nuclear warheads at the U.S. unless they supply the body of Big Boss along with 1 billion dollars.
Solid Snake is sent in at the command of Colonel Roy Campbell, both of whom have been pulled out of retirement to stop the terrorists that have taken over their former unit.
Snake meets Revolver Ocelot for the first time, who loves his gun to an almost pornographic degree, saying this like this:
Their battle, though, is cut short by the first appearance of the Cyborg Ninja, who lops off Ocelot’s hand. The way this sequence was localized would eventually go on to result in this meme image as well:
Snake then rescues Campbell’s niece, Meryl Silverburgh, and scientist Hal “Otacon” Emmerich, designer of Metal Gear REX and son of Huey Emmerich, designer of Metal Gear ZEKE. Otacon joins Snake’s cause once he finds out that REX is set to launch a nuclear warhead, a use for his creation he never intended. The Cyborg Ninja interrupts them, however, still chasing Snake, with whom he is obsessed.
During the fight, Snake realizes that the person in the suit is Frank Jaeger – Grey Fox – whom Snake believed he’d killed in Zanzibar Land in Metal Gear 2.
Snake’s next battle pits him against Psycho Mantis for one of the most famous boss battles of all time. Mantis is psychic and uses that in interesting ways. Mantis takes control of Meryl, forcing Snake to neutralize her with nonlethal means. Then, Mantis would do things like read your memory card for other Konami games and move your controller around on your desk using its vibration motors.
In one of the first big video game fake-outs I can think of, the screen would flash with the word HIDEO in bright green in the upper right corner, as if your TV’s signal had suddenly cut out and it had no VIDEO signal.
Colonel Campbell would contact you during the battle and break through the fourth wall to suggest that you switch your controller to the second port, which would prevent Mantis from reading your mind and avoiding your attacks.
Eventually, Snake obtains the key codes that he believes will deactivate the Metal Gear, only to find out after inputting them that Liquid didn’t have the codes at all and had tricked Snake – partly through killing and taking the identity of Master Miller – into obtaining them, causing Solid Snake himself to activate REX.
It’s around this time, as well, that Snake finds out why the people he’s come into contact with since arriving at Shadow Moses have simply died in front of him. Naomi Hunter, one of Snake’s support team, had injected him with a synthetic virus called FOXDIE, a fast-acting virus designed to attack only specific genetic sequences.
Naomi had planned to use FOXDIE to not only take down FOXHOUND, but Snake as well.
Liquid Snake informs Solid Snake of his genetic lineage – that he, like Liquid, is a clone of Big Boss, though Liquid calls Solid the superior clone and himself the inferior one.
The two battle, first with Liquid in Metal Gear REX. The Cyborg Ninja makes one final appearance here, exposing REX’s cockpit before Liquid manages to crush him.
Snake stops REX and the twin Snakes fight it out in hand-to-hand combat, with Solid ultimately defeating Liquid. In an after-credits sequence, we find out that Ocelot was a double-agent for the President of the United States and that Solid Snake is the inferior clone. We also find out that the President himself, George Sears, is the third and best of the clones of Big Boss.
Here’s some evidence that Snake is the inferior clone, as he seems to have trouble understanding each new situation he’s faced with, despite his superior training and experience:
Metal Gear Solid was one of the first games of its kind, and Kojima was really a visionary creator at the time. Rather than using live actors or pre-rendered cutscenes to tell the story, Metal Gear Solid used the game’s real-time graphics and cinematic cameras to create a more complete experience. Each new area was something fresh, too, asking you to find new ways to traverse. Areas covered in mines could be navigated with thermal goggles. Wolves could be calmed with their master’s familiar scent. Subtle animations could help you tell one guard apart from all the others.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Following the incident on Shadow Moses Island, Solid Snake and Otacon, both presumed dead, form an organization called Philanthropy, with the goal of destroying any Metal Gear tanks built by governments, terrorist cells, or paramilitary companies.
The game opens with Solid Snake boarding a tanker transporting Metal Gear RAY. Unfortunately, Revolver Ocelot had other plans, and has boarded the ship as well. Revolver Ocelot, now with Liquid Snake’s arm attached in place of his severed one, takes control of Metal Gear RAY and escapes with it.
Solid Snake goes down with the tanker, presumed dead, and is framed for the event and labeled a terrorist.
The game switches to control of Raiden at this point. Raiden, like Solid Snake in the first Metal Gear Solid, is infiltrating through an underwater entrance at the command of Colonel Roy Campbell.
There, Raiden meets Lieutenant Junior Grade Iroquois Plisken – Solid Snake disguised as a Navy SEAL.
Raiden fights the seemingly immortal Vamp a few times, and many of the plot details that would go on to inform the rest of the series are revealed. Raiden finds the President, who informs him of The Patriots and their role in world politics, doing things like deciding who the next president would be.
The Big Shell, posing as a cleanup facility, was actually a cover for the manufacture of Arsenal Gear, a huge mobile fortress that would deploy Metal Gear RAYs and could launch nuclear warheads from anywhere on the planet.
Solidus is Raiden’s adoptive father, having raised him to be a ruthless soldier, and Raiden was part of an experiment to recreate the events of Shadow Moses Island and mold Raiden into the perfect soldier.
Solidus’ primary goal was to use Arsenal Gear to obtain the identities of The Patriots so that he could destroy them and restore freedom without their control. Raiden was forced to kill Solidus, though, and eventually came out that The Patriots had been dead for some time, with an AI acting in their stead.
Metal Gear Solid 2 was a huge risk for Konami and Kojima. They took a long-lived and well-liked protagonist, Solid Snake, and relegated him to being a non-playable character to try to tell a different story. The game itself was well-received, but this change was not. Despite that, Sons of Liberty set in motion many of the plot points that would inform the rest of the games to come, whether they took place before or after in the epic timeline.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
The world’s governments are largely controlled by Paramilitary Corporations thanks to the events in Metal Gear Solid 2, the largest of which is run by Ocelot, whose personality has been completely taken over by Liquid Snake’s (a result of Ocelot taking Liquid’s arm in MGS1).
Snake, now called Old Snake, is asked to take down Liquid Ocelot, who plans to use the DNA of Big Boss to gain access to The Patriots AI so that he can control all the biometrically-operated weapons used by the PMCs.
Using a computer virus called FOXALIVE, Snake is able to shut down the Patriots AI and all the nanomachines in the world.
Liquid Ocelot and Solid Snake fight atop Liquid Snake’s Outer Haven battle platform.
Snake, who is aging quickly at this point, decides to visit Big Boss’ grave to commit suicide. At the grave, though, Big Boss himself shows up, pushing a wheelchair occupied by Major Zero. Big Boss explains that Major Zero had let the AI take control of the Patriots, which in turn caused the world to be dependent on the war economy. Big Boss takes Major Zero off the oxygen keeping him alive, and then dies in the arms of Snake.
Did you make it all the way here? You deserve a reward. If I missed some major plot point, which is possible, jump in the comments to let me know. No one human brain is enough to contain all the elements of these stories and keep them ordered, so I have to give credit to the Metal Gear Wikia for reminding me of some plot points and straightening out others. Now, it’s time to play Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, likely the last chapter in this long-running, ultra complicated series, and quite possibly director Kojima’s best work yet.