Today Konami released Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the first numbered installment of the Metal Gear Solid series since 2008’s Metal Gear Solid IV. For the unaware, Metal Gear Solid is one of the most idiosyncratic franchises in videogames. Kojima has been designing Metal Gear games since the ‘80s, and has injected his creation with an insane amount of content. On the surface Metal Gear is just a stealth action game with some pulp-ish flavor, but the Metal Gear lore goes very, very deep. It’s populated with bizarre, enduring characters. Along with the rugged superspies Solid Snake and Big Boss you’ve got rogues like the mind-reading Psycho Mantis or the 100-year-old deadshot sniper The End. The Metal Gear universe is melodramatic, convoluted, crazily verbose, silly and horny, and that all makes it pretty wonderful more often than not.
Metal Gear Solid V is chronologically set in the middle of the Metal Gear series. If you are a newcomer to the game, or if you’ve not been paying enough attention, the plot might completely lose you. And that’s okay! You could probably play Metal Gear Solid V without thumping the story bible and still have a good time. However this is a game that routinely features 30-minute plus cut scenes. It rewards investment. So if you’re curious, here’s a story guide through all the main-timeline Metal Gear games to get you up to speed before you pick up The Phantom Pain. I know what you’re thinking: this article seems pretty long, but trust me, this is the watered down edited version. I could’ve spent another 2,000 words writing about Otacon, but nobody wants that.
So strap in, we’ve got a lot of conspiracies to cover.
A quick word on the timeline
There’s one thing we need to say from the start: Metal Gear Solid has been a franchise since 1987, and like most long-running series on dozens of different platforms, the in-game timeline is very, very confusing. Metal Gear Solid V, the spicy new open-world next-gen adventure we’re all excited about, serves as a canonical sequel to Metal Gear Solid III and a prequel to the original, NES Metal Gear. Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid II and Metal Gear Solid IV are all much further down the timeline, and that’s not even including the random spinoffs like Metal Gear Acid and Metal Gear: Portable Ops.
You should consider Metal Gear Solid’s story like you might consider the Marvel or DC universes. Those are both massive, interconnected worlds with various fudges to explain the inconsistencies, and Metal Gear is kinda the same way. There’s been plenty of excuses, desperate exposition, and flat-out retcons over the last thirty years, but that shouldn’t deter you. Later, I’ll have to explain how there are two main characters who look and talk exactly alike because of a weird cloning experiment, and how that was basically just a hackneyed trope to get this character into games taking place in both 1964 and 2007. If you’re new to the series stuff like this might be frustrating, but don’t worry! That’s part of the charm.
1964: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
1970: Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops
1974: Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
1975: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
1984: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
1995: Metal Gear
1999: Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
2005: Metal Gear Solid
2007/2009: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
2014: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Alright, ready? Take a deep breath, here we go.