Which Metal Gear Solid Game to Play First

Image credit: Konami Digital Entertainment

Metal Gear Solid is the techno-thriller stealth game that sparked a revolution in sneaking games. It also put Hideo Kojima on the map, making him the face of Konami for years. The series’ tells an eccentric tale that covers the gamut of conspiracy theories—clandestine government ops, a secret society that runs the world, paramilitary merc groups, and killer nanomachines (lots and lots of nanomachines).

Metal Gear Solid came out in 1998, but Kojima has been making Metal Gear games since the late ’80s. This piece focuses specifically on the titles that carry the “Solid” moniker, but altogether, more than 20 titles have been published under the Metal Gear name since it was first introduced, spanning nearly every major console in that time. If you’re a newcomer looking to jump into this acclaimed series, it’s hard to know where to even start.

To make matters more confusing, there are significant time jumps between the games. The first Metal Gear Solid is set in 2005, and its sequel, Sons of Liberty, takes place in 2007. Then we head to the USSR during the Cold War in number three, Snake Eater. We return for a brief stint in the relative present in Guns of the Patriots before heading to the ’70s and the ’80s in Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain. That’s enough time hopping to give you whiplash.

And let’s not forget all the side games. Some of them have tenuous relevance to the main plot, while others aren’t canon at all.

So, which Metal Gear Solid game should you play first? Thankfully, despite a famously convoluted plot, the Metal Gear Solid games all connect together rather elegantly. You can start almost anywhere and still have a general idea of what’s going on. We recommend a few approaches ourselves: by release order or in chronological order.

Play By Release Order (Start with Metal Gear Solid)

Here are the Metal Gear Solid games ordered by release date:

Game TitleIn-game YearRelease DatePlatform
Metal Gear19951987MSX
Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake19991990MSX2
Metal Gear Solid20051998PlayStation, GameCube
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty2007/20092001PS2
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater19642004PS2
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots20142008PS3
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker19742010PSP, PS3, Xbox 360
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance20182013PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes19752014PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One, PS5, Xbox Series X/S
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain19842015PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One, PS5, Xbox Series X/S

If you want to experience Metal Gear Solid the way Kojima intended, you have to play them in the order of their release. Playing the series this way ensures you hit all the major narrative beats just like someone who played the games when they first came out.

Playing by order of release also means you’ll get to enjoy the newer, shinier features as they’re added to the series. In any other order, you might play a game and dislike it because it lacks the quality-of-life features you’re used to from a more recent title.

While Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake are important to the overall series narrative, most of their important plot points are also covered in the later games. You can skip them if you’re not interested in going that far back. Start with Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation, 1998) and work your way down the list.

Why Start with Metal Gear Solid?

Metal Gear Solid was revolutionary in its day, and, even now, the core gameplay is still enjoyable. Crawling through vents and sneaking around armed guards is tense and exciting, and despite the serious tone, Kojima wasn’t afraid to include a few silly, just-for-fun features, like hiding in a cardboard box or lighting a cigarette to reveal hidden laser beams.

Metal Gear Solid is a direct sequel to the Metal Gear games that were released on the MSX home computer system. You won’t have to play either to get an understanding of what’s going on, though; Metal Gear Solid does a good job of catching you up with the story so far.

This is also the last Kojima game that doesn’t devolve into a mystifying jumble of supernatural mumbo-jumbo. There are still some wild bits that hint at the direction Kojima will take the series, but overall, Metal Gear Solid has a straightforward, save the world story. Appreciate the simplicity, because things really get wild after this one.

While the gameplay and story are as impressive as they were on release, Metal Gear Solid does have some presentation issues. It’s full of long, unskippable cutscenes, and while you can fast forward through CODEC calls, you risk missing out on key plot points and dialogue that are necessary to get through the game. Thankfully, Kojima can really tell a story, so you won’t find yourself itching to skip that often; just prepare to sit through a lot of talking.

Play in Chronological Order (Start with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)

Here’s the full list of the main Metal Gear games in chronological order:

Game TitleIn-game YearRelease DatePlatform
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater19642004PS2
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker19742010PSP, PS3, Xbox 360
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes19752014PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One, PS5, Xbox Series X/S
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain19842015PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One, PS5, Xbox Series X/S
Metal Gear19951987MSX
Metal Gear: Solid Snake19991990MSX2
Metal Gear Solid20051998PlayStation, GameCube
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty2007/20092001PS2
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots20142008PS3

One benefit to tackling the series chronologically is that you get to watch events unfold in the order they occurred. This helps keep the story relatively straightforward (as you can get for a Kojima game, anyway), as many unresolved plot threads in the games later in the timeline are explained.

Keep in mind that, since the games weren’t released in chronological order, you’ll miss out on some of the series’ big “wow” moments. Major twists that occur in the future are explained or even taken for granted in the games set earlier in the timeline. The series may lose some of its punch if you take the games in chronological order.

Why Start with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater?

Besides being the first game in the Metal Gear Solid timeline, Snake Eater was also important for modernizing the series. Many of the features introduced in Snake Eater and its remix edition, Subsistence, would bring the series more in line with other modern stealth games.

The biggest feature introduced in Subsistence was a free, over-the-shoulder camera. Previous Metal Gear games (including the original edition of the Snake Eater) were played from a fixed, top-down perspective. Other features that would become series staples include the CQC (Close-quarters Combat) system, character stamina, and the camo mechanic.

These modern features have allowed Snake Eater to age much better than the Metal Gear games that were released before it. Add the Cold War jungle setting to the mix (it’s one of the best Cold War games you’ll play) and you get a game that serves as a great introduction to the series.

Start with the Latest Game (Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)

Don’t mind missing out on the nuances of the plot? If you’re looking for the most modern experience, start with the latest game in the series, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

A big part of the series’ appeal is figuring out new and creative ways to use Snake’s various tools and gadgets; The Phantom Pain takes that aspect to a whole new level. Snake’s iconic cardboard box and cigar are still there, but he also gets fun new toys to his toolkit, including a ridable horse (that poops!), popup Snake decoys, and a rocket arm to punch guards from afar.

The Phantom Pain also introduces an open world map design, which gives the game space a scope that finally matches that of Kojima’s narrative aspirations. The levels are massive and filled with all sorts of fun events, distractions, and things to discover. I found myself spending hours between missions just clearing out outposts and camps, mostly for fun, but also because the game rewards these extra-narrative excursions with new soldiers and weapons for your base.

Oh yeah, The Phantom Pain has base-building, too. Every soldier you find in the field has unique statistics and skills. After knocking a soldier out, you can tie him to a balloon and send him off to your base, where he’ll be brainwashed and added to your staff. You can deploy them on missions that reward you with resources and recruits, or keep them on base to gain special in-field functions that make completing missions a bit easier.

Story-wise, The Phantom Pain is one of the weaker titles in the series. A lot of its plot assumes you’re familiar with the series’ important characters, and the dialogue is excessively dramatic and extremely expositional. All of that is par for the course for a Kojima game, but can be off-putting to newcomers. As someone coming in fresh, you’ll find yourself scratching your head a lot.

This also Kojima at the peak of his weirdness. There’s a half-naked sniper character who feeds by absorbing sunlight through her skin, a floating psychic boy in a gas mask, and a special unit comprised entirely of zombies.

Taken together, these aspects make Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain the most expansive and playable game in the series and one of the best stealth games around. If you’re going to only play one Metal Gear Solid game, make it this one.

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