Ryan Boyce took on the monumental task of summarizing the Metal Gear timeline for those of you wondering what’s been going on in the series
Spoiler alerts: This article details events that happen across the entire Metal Gear series to properly explain its chronology. Some spoilers are necessary to tie all events together.
With the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, I’ve been bombarded by questions from newcomers to the series. The Metal Gear series of games has been running for a long time, with the original Hideo Kojima masterpiece released in 1987 on the MSX in Japan. Today, there have been so many titles in the series released that many people don’t know where to start. “Metal Gear Solid 2 took place in 2009, but Metal Gear Solid V is taking place in 1974 and 1984? What the heck? And what is this Revengeance game with this weird ninja character? I don’t understand!” Have no fear, for I’m about to help relieve the stress of figuring out what fits where on the Metal Gear timeline and do all the hard work for you. Some small spoilers for the older games will be included, so if you wish to keep things a secret, you can refer to the graphic I’ve included here of the timeline and not ruin anything.
The first thing that new fans of the series (or those who have only played Metal Gear Solid in the past) might not realize is that there are actually two different protagonists to the main series of games. These are Solid Snake – the hero of Metal Gear, Metal Gear 2, Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Metal Gear Solid 4 - and Big Boss, who was also given the codename of Snake before his rise to fame in Metal Gear Solid 3, Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker, and the new Metal Gear Solid V games, which are set as prequels to the rest of the games. Big Boss becomes the mentor and commanding officer of Solid Snake in Metal Gear, which is where the two stories begin to link together.
Luckily, the games I mentioned above are the only games you have to worry about. The other games with the Metal Gear moniker are not officially canon, meaning that the events in these games can be ignored and have no bearing on the story. The exceptions to this are Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops (whose canon status is frequently debated, and is never referenced in any other game) and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance which acts as a distant sequel to the events of the Metal Gear and Metal Gear Solid games and is not part of the main series. Keeping this in mind makes everyone’s lives easier when trying to untangle the already jumbled mess of plots that is the Metal Gear universe.
First let’s start from the earliest setting. Metal Gear Solid 3 follows the tale of Big Boss in the USSR. In 1964, Big Boss (still known as Snake at this point) was sent by the CIA to rescue a weapons scientist named Sokolov from the heartland of Russia. However, his mentor The Boss defected to the Soviet Union, and sabotaged his mission. Sent back to the USSR, Snake was ordered to bring Sokolov back to America and kill both the Soviet Union’s Colonel Volgin and The Boss. After completing his missions, Snake was awarded the new title of “Big Boss” in honor of defeating his mentor.
After the events of Metal Gear Solid 3, we come to Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker. Big Boss left the CIA, displeased with the way things were being run and still upset over the events of MGS3. He set out and created his own mercenary force alongside Kazuhira Miller. Undertaking a mission for a young Costa Rican girl named Paz in 1974, Big Boss led an operation in co-operation with Nicaraguan rebels to push the US military out of neutral Costa Rica and defeat the secret US Peacewalker project, acting as the precursor to the Metal Gear projects of the future.
Following Peacewalker, we come to the newest release of the series, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, which acts as a prologue to the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. In 1975, Big Boss received word that both Paz and one of the rebels from Peacewalker, a child soldier named Chico, had been captured by an unknown organization. Big Boss and his mercenary forces headed in to retrieve them from the prison encampments in Camp Omega, but one thing led to another, and an accident put Big Boss into a coma for almost 10 years. From there in 1984, The Phantom Pain begins, starting when Big Boss is awoken from his long sleep and continuing from there. Currently, this is where the Big Boss’s role as protagonist ends.
The next game in the timeline is Metal Gear on the MSX, which is actually the first released and the first to feature Solid Snake as the main character. In 1995, Snake was sent on his first mission as part of FOXHOUND, working under the guidance of Big Boss. Our hero was sent to infiltrate Outer Heaven and recover the scientist Dr. Drago Pettrovich Madnar along with some other prisoners of war, one of which was Grey Fox, the leader of the original assault force. Solid Snake discovered that the entire operation was a ruse. Outer Heaven was actually being run by Big Boss himself, and Dr Madnar was actually working with him to develop the newest Metal Gear weapon. After the destruction of Metal Gear and Outer Heaven, along with the death of Big Boss, Snake completed his mission and returned home.
In 1999, the events of Metal Gear 2 occur. Solid Snake was sent on another mission to investigate the uprisings of Zanzibar Land. Zanzibar Land had broken away from Russia through the use of war and began attacking nuclear missile housing sites. The suddenly aggressive Zanzibar Land quickly became a nuclear threat and threatened its neighboring countries. Snake was sent to the enemy headquarters to rescue another kidnapped scientist, Dr Marv, who was being forced to work on weapons for Zanzibar Land, and eliminate the leader of the newly formed military threat. In the end, it turned out that Big Boss was not quite so dead and was once again leading the new nation alongside Grey Fox. Sadly, the doctor was killed and Snake discovered yet another Metal Gear weapon had been completed. Taking on Grey Fox, Metal Gear, and Big Boss, Snake completed his mission once again and retired from the FOXHOUND unit to Alaska.
In 2005, the famous Shadow Moses incident of Metal Gear Solid began. Snake was forced out of retirement to hunt down the new members of his former unit FOXHOUND as they had begun to mutiny against the US government and had taken over the Shadow Moses base. Snake discovered through the prisoners who refused to join the rebelling soldiers that it was a secret development site for the newest Metal Gear project, codenamed REX. Eventually, Snake also met a number of characters who become major players for the rest of the series. Snake first met Revolver Ocelot, one of the lead members of FOXHOUND that becomes a primary antagonist in future games after the events of MGS1. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Snake also gained a number of allies. Meryl Silverburgh, a rookie soldier who refused to join the rebellion and niece to one of Snake’s commanding officers, and Hal Emmerich, the lead engineer tasked with creating REX believing it was a defensive weapon, both join his cause against Metal Gear after discovering its true nature. After fighting with the various members of FOXHOUND, Solid Snake came face-to-face with his own doppelganger, Liquid Snake. It turned out that they were actually brothers, clones created from the genes of Big Boss himself in an attempt to create the perfect soldier. After a fight to the death atop Metal Gear REX, Liquid is killed, and Solid Snake left the base victorious.
Metal Gear Solid 2 picks up where the Shadow Moses incident left off two years later in 2007. Snake cut off contact with the government, much like his clone father, Big Boss, had done before him. Snake and Hal had begun to try to expose the existence of the Metal Gear projects that had begun to spring up throughout the world. Unfortunately, Snake was led into a trap and killed, leading to the rise of a new protagonist two years later codenamed Raiden. Sent in to rescue the president of the USA from a rogue faction called Dead Cell and the soldiers under the command of Ocelot, Raiden discovered that all the events of the past three decades had been caused by a group called The Patriots, and that this new scenario had all been set up to develop another Metal Gear project called Arsenal Gear. Ocelot was revealed to be working for The Patriots and betrayed his allies in Dead Cell, escaped from the base, and stole various amounts of technology for his employers. Raiden, with the help of Snake (who had faked his death to throw off the Patriots) defeated the Dead Cell group and successfully destroyed Arsenal Gear.
Finally, in Metal Gear Solid 4, the player takes control of Solid Snake once again in the year 2014. Private military mercenary groups supplemented with mass-produced Metal Gear units are now the way of the world, with countries using mercenary groups instead of their own standing armies. One of the big technological breakthroughs for the world was the advent of nanomachines which monitor the condition of the human body and make changes to it as necessary. This allowed for soldiers to become perfect fighting machines with battle data and information about their fellow soldiers – including what they can see, hear, and think – to be processed in real time and give them every edge possible. However, this technology was governed by The Patriots. WIth the ability to kill a person with a single flick of a switch or alter the face of any war they wished if nations didn’t do things the way they wanted, the Patriots were in complete control of the world from behind the scenes.
Once again Snake and Hal fought back against the powers that be. Chasing after Ocelot once again, Snake headed all over the world and met with a number of old allies from the previous games in his hunt. Eventually, it was revealed that Ocelot had been biding his time to rebel against The Patriots themselves. Sabotaging The Patriots’ systems, Ocelot disabled the control The Patriots had over the world’s armed forces and gave it to himself, intending to launch a nuclear strike against the heart of The Patriots. Calling in every favor he could, Snake united the world against Ocelot just in time to prevent the attacks. Snake fought against Ocelot one last time and was finally able to kill him. Injecting his own virus into The Patriots system, Snake destroyed everything but the absolute minimum technology needed for the world to continue functioning normally, completely ruining any chance The Patriots would have to regain their control over the world. Snake then left to live out the rest of his days in peace, wanting to live to see the new world become all it could be. With this event ends Snake’s saga, and effectively serves as the end of the series – at least chronologically.
I hope that this has been a useful guide to what’s been happening in the Metal Gear world so far. Hopefully it will allow those who are looking to play Metal Gear Solid V on its release without having played previous games in the series to do so. It’s been a long and confusing roller coaster ride for everyone involved, but that shouldn’t be a reason to avoid the series. It’s great fun for those who like stealth-based gameplay, and Metal Gear is a series that has been critically acclaimed for a reason. Give it a try if you haven’t already – you won’t regret it.