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Metal Gear Solid is a consistently great stealth action series, but it’s best known for Hideo Kojima’s bonkers creative direction. It’s a decades long socio-political drama about nuclear powers, magical realism disguised as pseudoscience, relationship problems, ninjas, military and government conspiracy, mullets, and death. The franchise spans 12 games, not including spin-offs and iterative releases, and the canon timeline covers 100 years of alternate world history. To put it lightly, there’s a lot to know. Not knowing won’t leave you treading water during Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, but it sure doesn’t hurt having a loose idea of where the Metal Gear north star lies while playing any game in series.
Rather than writing yet another Metal Gear story recap, I’ll point you toward some of the best that are already out there, with a wide range of time commitments and depth. You’ll also get my personal take on what I think happened in each game, which is still enough to enjoy the series on its most basic level. Metal Gear may have a dense narrative—I’ve read and watched recaps at least once a year and still have trouble—but its inherent absurdity and hard-to-follow story are part of its fascinations. I don’t really care about the minutiae of Kojima’s nuclear character drama, but I do care about the puzzling sincerity with which it’s all expressed. Put the notebook away and just let whatever sticks, stick. This is Metal Gear, gaming’s spaghetti on the wall.
A massive warning: Spoilers for the entire Metal Gear series (except MGS5) beyond this point.
All dates refer to when events transpired in the Metal Gear timeline.
Series overviews (1918 - MGS3, supporting info through 2018)
Most of what I point to comes from these Metal Gear deep dives. I recommend at least giving the timeline a read before spending too much time watching anything. Build yourself some scaffolding before you start to construct a beautiful, useless Metal Gear castle in your mind.
Metal Gear Timeline: This self-explanatory website is a great summary of everything that happens in the 100 years (!) of Metal Gear so far from 1918 to 2018, on and off screen (excluding the events of The Phantom Pain, of course).
Metal Gear Wiki: I mean, it’s a wiki. Folks have crowdsourced everything there is to crowdsource about Metal Gear here. Just be warned, that means some Phantom Pain spoilers have likely found their way in there. Might be one to visit after finishing MGS5.
A beginner’s guide to Metal Gear Solid V: PC Gamer’s own Andy Kelly made a guide a few months back to ease people into Ground Zeroes, and it’s still helpful today. He covers only the necessary characters and events in a frugal space, so give it a shot whether you’re short on time or not.
GamesRadar+ Metal Gear story summary: David Roberts put together a convenient way of reviewing the story over on our sister site. The format is slick, gives me study guide vibes and college flashbacks. The Phantom Pain is our final exam. Study buddies?
KefkaProduction’s Metal Gear Movies:If you don’t have the systems to play the older Metal Gear games, don’t have much time to play them anyway, but still want the closest approximation to doing so, then KefkaProduction’s ‘movies’ are the way to go. They leave all important story beats intact and edit down extended gameplay sequences to quick montages.
Metal Gear Scanlon - Giant Bomb: Game recognize game. It’s locked behind a subscription, but I think Metal Gear Scanlon might be my favorite way to watch full length playthroughs of the MGS series. Both sides of the MGS player coin are represented: One is Dan Ryckert, the child at heart who wholly embraces MGS absurdity and acts as the story cipher for Drew Scanlon, a newcomer to the series and Dan’s foil. There’s something voyeuristic to watching Drew bear witness to MGS’ convoluted mechanics and narrative for the first time. But stick with the series. In MGS, he’s cursing and frustrated, but by MGS4, he seems to be a total convert.
Head to the next page to find specific resources for each Metal Gear game.