Feeling lost? Confused? Adrift? Don't panic. IGN is here to help with a brief rundown of the entire Metal Gear Solid series, from start to finish.
Making Sense of Metal Gear Solid
It's not long now until the release of Metal Gear Solid 4, and the good news is that it's shaping up to be the very best game in the series. One of the great things about it is the way it ties up every last loose end, bringing every single plot twist and development from every single Metal Gear game to a rip-roaring conclusion.
If you haven't played all of the games in the series, there's every chance that some of it will leave you feeling slightly adrift and a bit confused. Heck, even if you've been following every labyrinthine twist and Byzantine turn of the story so far, there's every chance it will leave you pretty confused. That's because with each new game in the series, the story so far has got more elaborate, more complex, and more convoluted, to the extent that trying to make sense of it all is a bit like herding cats. So in case you don't have time to play every game in the series again, here, in time for the next plot-twisting instalment of Kojima-san's epic series, is a brief rundown of what's happened so far in the Metal Gear series (and, lest it need be said: SPOILER WARNING).
Before we start though, we'd better get one thing out of the way. As if the main storyline isn't confusing enough, there are a number of non-canon Snake-based spin-offs to muddy the water even more. Clearly part of Kojima-san's vision from the start, we can only assume that they amount to some sort of VR training exercises to prepare Snake for his real work. They include the very first sequel, Snake's Revenge (released only in the west), as well as Metal Gear Solid on the Game Boy Color and the Metal Gear Acid games, but Snake has also appeared in a Japanese radio drama and a kid's novel that's based (very loosely) on the original Metal Gear. So you can forget about anything that happened in any of those. It just didn't happen.
With those out of the way, it's time to turn to what did actually happen. And that starts before any of the Metal Gear games, before World War II, with the formation of the Philosophers, a shadowy organisation with the aim of ruling the world from the shadows, consisting of representatives from China, Russia, and the US. After the war, however, they start bickering among themselves, and one of them ends up stealing The Philosopher's Legacy – a massive stash of money that the organisation had been using to finance military activities. So far, so straightforward, right?
Here's where it starts to get a bit confusing, because the earliest game in the series is actually one of the latest. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake-Eater is set in 1964, after the Philosophers have fallen apart. It starts with Snake parachuting in, James Bond-style, on a mission to retrieve a Russian scientist called Sokolov, who's developing a bipedal nuclear tank against his will.
Cobra's The Fury, from MGS3: Snake Eater.
On the way, Snake takes orders from a guy called Zero, ends up defeating a group of paranormal bad guys called the Cobras, and destroys his old boss (called, appropriately enough, The Boss). He also has a showdown with a young Major Ocelot – of whom we'll see more later – and encounters a sexy double agent called Eva. The most important development, however, is that he stumbles upon the location of the Philosopher's Legacy, and, as the plot snakes and writhes itself into successive twists, it turns out that Eva's a double agent who's trying to retrieve the legacy for the Chinese, while The Boss and Ocelot have been working for the US all along.
As for Snake, it turns out he's not Snake at all. Or at least, he's not Solid Snake, the bandana-wearing chain-smoker that we all know and love from the other Metal Gear games. In fact, after getting promoted for helping to recover The Legacy, he's given a new name, Big Boss, and, in 1971, establishes a covert operations team called FOXHOUND – a year after the American arm of the Philosophers rename themselves The Patriots. Both events are essentially depicted in Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. One event that isn't depicted, but is alluded to at the end of Snake-Eater, is that, in 1972, a US government project called Les Enfants Terribles successfully creates the sons of Big Boss: Liquid Snake, Solidus Snake and, most importantly, Solid Snake, the bandana-wearing chain-smoker that we all know and love.
Fast forward to 1995 and we finally catch up with the first game in the series, Metal Gear (released, in the real world, in 1987, on the MSX2 and then the NES). That's when Big Boss sends in the newest member of FOXHOUND, Solid Snake, to a place called Outer Heaven to rescue another operative called Grey Fox. But it turns out that Big Boss is actually in charge of Outer Heaven, and has secretly been building a massive walking battle tank called Metal Gear. The episode culminates in a showdown between Snake and Big Boss, neither of whom, apparently, realise that they're father and son.
After Big Boss is left for dead, his colleague, Roy Campbell steps up to take over FOXHOUND. Then, four years later, (or three, in the real world, since Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was released in 1990), Snake is called out of retirement to rescue the inventor of an oil-refining microbe from the heavily armed nation of Zanzibar Land. It turns out that Grey Fox is behind it all, with a rebuilt Metal Gear, except then there's another twist, and it turns out that Big Boss is even more behind it all, attempting to reduce the world to constant conflict and war. (This part of the story only appeared in Japan until its inclusion in the Metal Gear Solid manual, and then, eventually in playable form as part of MGS 3: Subsistence).
Liquid Snake and Big Boss both appear in Metal Gear Solid.
Which brings us on to Metal Gear Solid, where Solid finally learns that he's the cloned offspring of Big Boss. After coming out of retirement (again), Snake heads off to Alaska, and the nuclear weapons disposal facility of Shadow Moses, where FOXHOUND, under the leadership of Solid's cloned brother, Liquid, has turned terrorist, demanding that the government turn over the remains of Big Boss or they'll use a new Metal Gear to launch a load of nukes. In among the thicket of plot developments, Grey Fox reappears as a cyborg ninja (before dying under Metal Gear's foot at the end); one of Snake's support staff, Naomi Hunter, turns out to be another double agent; and Snake defeats his brother, Liquid Snake. Snake also meets up with Otacon, who has been helping build the new Metal Gear REX, and runs into the newly prefixed Revolver Ocelot, who is now working for FOXHOUND. Except, at the end of the game, it's revealed that he has still been working for the US all along – reporting directly to the president, in fact, who just happens to be the third cloned brother, Solidus.
Still with us? Good, because Metal Gear Solid 2 is where things start to get really confusing. That's when, in 2009, a new character, Raiden, thinks he's part of FOXHOUND, when, in fact, he's being duped by an AI controlled by the Patriots (who, you'll remember, are the US arm of The Philosophers). It starts with a brief prologue, in which Snake meets up with Revolver Ocelot again, except Ocelot is now actually Liquid Snake (due, in one of Hideo Kojima's more improbable plot twists, to a hand transplant that goes awry). Snake, however, is unable to prevent Ocelot/Liquid from commandeering a new Metal Gear RAY.
Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid 2. Better than Raiden? You bet.
The action then segues to the much maligned Raiden, whose mission is to rescue some hostages from a terrorist group calling itself Sons of Liberty, led by Snake's other brother, Solidus. Raiden's mission sees him discover the construction of yet another new Metal Gear, before he bumps into Ocelot, who reveals himself to be a Patriot agent, and who explains that the whole thing is an elaborate simulation to turn Raiden into a supersoldier. Except he's lying, and it hasn't been. It's actually been an attempt by Solidus to seize the Metal Gear and use it to take over Manhattan and rebel against Patriot control. The Patriots, on the other hand, were planning to implant an AI in the new Metal Gear, and (in another improbable piece of plotting) take control of America via the internet. And then, at the end – dun-dun-duuun! – it's revealed that the Patriots are all dead.
So basically, Big Boss is Snake's dad, and Liquid Snake and Solid Snake are his brothers, and Big Boss has been going round trying to start wars so that soldiers don't get treated badly by governments, but the whole time the Patriots have been hanging around in the shadows, trying to keep the world in a perpetual state of conflict so that they can rule the world. And Solid Snake has just been following orders and trying to make the world a nicer place. Or something like that. And that, in a nutshell, is what the Metal Gear series is all about. Until Metal Gear Solid 4 reveals it was all a dream or something.
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