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The entire Metal Gear timeline explained

The gaming community has its eyes glued to Death Stranding, the newest mystery spearheaded by producer Hideo Kojima, and it's easy to understand why. While he's worked on various titles throughout his career, he reached new heights of fame with his work on the Metal Gear Solid series. Spanning across nearly three decades, the games tell the epic saga of Big Boss and his clone-sons, particularly the iconic Solid Snake.

If you've never played the Metal Gear games, the story might be the most daunting part of the series. Each game finds itself on a different place in the timeline. For example, MGS3 tells the beginning of the entire story, but the next game, MGS4, tells the end of the Snakes' saga. Then MGS5 bridges the story between a spin-off prequel and the very first Metal Gear game. But the confusing release timeline doesn't even compare to how wildly baffling some of the plot twists are.

So we've compiled a quick timeline of the Metal Gear series to help you navigate through Kojima's wild ride.

The failed Virtuous Mission

First, let's set up some background. In 1918, America, China, and Russia established a secretive group called the Philosophers. Across the years, they'd control the world from the shadows, and they pooled their resources into something called the Philosophers' Legacy. The Legacy is a cache that lists the identities of all the Philosophers and provides access to $100 billion. Unfortunately for them, by the beginning of the events of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, they had become fractured. None of the three superpowers trusted each other.

Now, on to the game itself, which is set in 1964. An American operative named Naked Snake goes to the Soviet Union, tasked with saving Sokolov, a weapons scientist. The operation, called the Virtuous Mission, ends in failure because of America's best soldier, a woman known as The Boss. She went to the Soviet Union on a top-secret CIA mission. However, she defected, providing Russian Colonel Volgin with Davy Crockett nuclear missiles. She secures Sokolov for Volgin, and he launches the missiles at the scientists' research facility, causing numerous civilian casualties. Now Volgin, using the Legacy his father stole, aims to take over the world using a powerful weapon called the Shagohod.

After Snake barely escapes with his life, he's sent back to the Soviet Union again to kill his former mentor, The Boss. If he fails, Russia's leader, Khrushchev, vows to declare nuclear war as revenge for The Boss and Volgin's nuclear attack.

Operation Snake Eater

Throughout the new mission, dubbed Operation Snake Eater, Snake coordinates with Major Zero, who provides situational intel. Additionally, Snake often runs into a KGB operative named Ocelot. The Russian has a thing for Westerns, only bolstered by Snake telling him to use revolvers because they jam less. More often than not, though, Ocelot becomes a punching bag for both Snake and Volgin.

Snake sets out to slay Volgin and destroy the Shagohod, as they're both in the way of his true mission: killing The Boss. Then, in a student-becomes-the-master confrontation, Snake engages his mentor in hand-to-hand combat, after which a lot of exposition gets dumped on the player. On her top-secret CIA mission, The Boss was meant to defect to Russia in order to secure the Legacy. However, the nuclear attack courtesy of the Davy Crockett missiles escalated tensions between America and Russia. This led to Snake's current mission, which makes him clean up The Boss's mess.

To maintain the cover story, he must kill her, even if begrudgingly so. He returns home a hero, and he's awarded the title Big Boss. He mourns the loss of his mentor, who was forced to die because of the CIA's crusade for the Legacy. It's revealed later that Ocelot actually works for the CIA, and he obtained half of the Legacy before Volgin passed.

The Patriots, aka the new Philosophers

After Snake Eater, Big Boss and Zero team up with Ocelot to form a group called the Patriots. Using Ocelot's access to the Legacy, Zero led a reorganization of the Philosophers, focusing on unifying the entire world in the name of The Boss. Big Boss in particular refused to work with the CIA anymore because of how it treated his mentor in the Soviet Union.

Over time, Zero spread rumors that idolized Big Boss, making him a larger-than-life hero. Big Boss grew to resent the treatment, and the two former friends grew further apart in their interpretations of The Boss' will. Zero thought ironclad control over all people was the only way to unify the world. Meanwhile, Big Boss believed his mentor just wanted a world where soldiers would be seen as more than tools.

Everything came to a head when Zero started the Les Enfants Terribles project, where he took Big Boss' DNA and created clones of him. Two clones went on to become Solid Snake and Liquid Snake, and a perfect third one named Solidus was created down the line. Upon learning about the project, Big Boss left the Patriots, angry at his former friend for using his reputation and DNA in such a way. He starts his own military force called Militaires Sans Frontieres (French for Military without Borders), in hopes to provide help to those in need, regardless of ideologies.

The first Outer Heaven

In Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Big Boss establishes the base of operations for the MSF with the help of his second-in-command, Kazuhira Miller. Big Boss calls this location, off the coast of Costa Rica, Mother Base. A rogue CIA group has taken over the nearby nation and installed a nuclear deterrent, the eponymous Peace Walker.

Big Boss and the MSF eventually destroy Peace Walker, with the help of a child soldier named Chico. The MSF starts building its own nuclear deterrent called Metal Gear ZEKE, thanks to the help of some scientists. But in a turn of events, a Patriots agent named Paz takes over ZEKE, threatening to use it on America and blame it on the MSF. However, she'll stop if Big Boss joins the Patriots again.

Refusing to return to Zero, Big Boss destroys ZEKE. In the explosion, Paz presumably dies, but it is later revealed that she miraculously survives. Unfortunately, she gets kidnapped by the XOF, another rogue CIA organization. The XOF used to do the Patriots' dirty work under Zero's command, but their leader, Skull Face, grew to resent Zero and Big Boss for taking all the glory.

Rescuing Paz and Chico

Chico went to save Paz, but he inevitably got captured by XOF as well. Skull Face tortured both Paz and Chico to find the locations of Zero and Big Boss, respectively. He sends Zero a pin laced with a debilitating disease that slowly destroys a person's cognitive functions, rendering them vegetative. In the years before Zero lost all function, he organizes the creation of an AI network that would act as the Patriots moving forward.

In Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes, Big Boss mounts a rescue for Paz and Chico. Unfortunately, Skull Face expected that would happen. In anticipation, he plants two bombs inside of Paz while preparing an attack on Mother Base. He sends some of his soldiers to plant C4 around Big Boss' base of operations and lay in wait for an ambush.

After Big Boss rescues Paz and Chico, he returns home only to find his base in flames. He's only able to save Miller and a single MSF soldier, while the rest die to either the explosions or direct gunfire from XOF forces. In the helicopter, a medic, known as the best soldier in the MSF, removes one of the bombs from Paz's body. When she regains consciousness, she reveals there's a second bomb in her. She jumps out of the aircraft at the last second, but the force from the blast sends them into an XOF helicopter. Only Big Boss, Miller, and the medic survive.

Big Boss' stunt double

In Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, Zero orchestrates a rescue mission for the three survivors. Ocelot takes care of Big Boss and the medic during their nine-year coma, and he reluctantly carries out Zero's grand plan to create another Big Boss. Through hypnotherapy and plastic surgery, Ocelot convinces the medic that he is actually Big Boss. This copy will continue the legacy of Big Boss as the real one recovers behind the scenes. Called Punished "Venom" Snake, this character leads the successor to the MSF: the Diamond Dogs.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Skull Face plans to use a parasite that targets only English speakers to rid the world of the language. He also has a nuclear-capable giant mech called Metal Gear Sahelanthropus under his command. What Skull Face didn't expect, though, was betrayal. A child soldier with psychic powers named Tretij Rebenok defected from the XOF, siding with a child soldier named Eli, who rebelled against the Diamond Dogs. These two would grow up to become Psycho Mantis and Liquid Snake. They take Sahelanthropus, but Venom Snake ends up destroying it. In the chaos, Skull Face gets pinned under rubble, at which point Snake, Miller, and a scientist named Huey Emmerich end his life.

Outer Heaven (again)

We're finally at the first game featuring Solid Snake! In Metal Gear — the very first game in the franchise ever produced — Big Boss plays a dangerous game. On one hand, he's built a new military state in South Africa called Outer Heaven. The place houses his new equivalent of the MSF, and he has a nuclear deterrent called Metal Gear TX-55 that he uses as leverage to convince the world to treat soldiers as more than tools.

On the other hand, Big Boss establishes an elite US Army task force called FOXHOUND. He sends one of its rookie operatives, Solid Snake, to Outer Heaven to rescue another operative named Gray Fox and destroy TX-55. However, Big Boss expected Snake to fail. Of course, Snake proves to be far more capable than that, considering who his clone-father is.

By the end of the game, Snake puts an end to TX-55, destroying it with plastic explosives. This set off the base's self-destruct sequence, but before Snake could escape, Big Boss reveals himself as the leader of Outer Heaven. Snake subdues his former commanding officer, leaving him to die in the exploding base. However, it's later revealed that the Big Boss who died in Outer Heaven was actually Venom Snake from The Phantom Pain.

Outer Heaven: third time's the charm?

The real Big Boss sets up yet another military state in central Asia called Zanzibar Land, where Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake takes place. FOXHOUND, now under the command of Colonel Roy Campbell, sends out Solid Snake, trusting him to infiltrate and destroy Zanzibar. This time, the stakes are raised. Big Boss has kidnapped a scientist who discovered a way to mass produce an oil alternative. He hopes to use his control over the valuable resource, along with a new nuclear-capable mech, as even more leverage against other countries, again in hopes to improve the treatment of soldiers around the world.

Part of Snake's mission includes rescuing the scientist, but upon reaching his destination, all he found was a corpse. Moving forward, he obtained the formula for the oil alternative and faces down Metal Gear D, which was controlled by Gray Fox. Fox reveals he has always held allegiances to Big Boss, and he suffers horrible injuries after Snake destroys the mech. In the final showdown, Snake burns Big Boss alive using an improvised flamethrower and escapes Zanzibar.

Snake retires from FOXHOUND, tired of these nightmarish missions. He hides away in the Alaskan wilderness, hoping to spend the rest of his days there. Meanwhile, the Patriots recover Big Boss' body, keeping him as alive as possible through cryogenic sleep and nanomachines.

The Shadow Moses Incident

Snake made his PlayStation debut with Metal Gear Solid. Campbell pulls him out of retirement after a villain named Liquid Snake turned FOXHOUND into a renegade unit. Liquid secures Metal Gear REX, a new nuclear mech. With all these resources at his disposal, Liquid declares war on America.

Snake, also pulled out of retirement, infiltrates Shadow Moses in an effort to neutralize FOXHOUND. While there, he encounters all kinds of FOXHOUND operatives, including Psycho Mantis and Revolver Ocelot. The latter gets his arm cut off by a Cyborg Ninja. Snake also finds new allies in Shadow Moses, like Campbell's daughter, Meryl. Additionally, he meets Hal "Otacon" Emmerich, a scientist who becomes his best friend.

Liquid fools Snake into activating REX, and he uses it to try to kill the hero. Snake turns it on Liquid, however, and destroys the mech. In the wreckage, Liquid delivers a monologue, revealing that he is Snake's twin brother. Furthermore, he confirms that he and Snake are cloned sons of Big Boss, but Snake got the superior genes.

In the end, Liquid ends up dying to a manufactured heart attack, thanks to the FOXDIE virus Snake was unknowingly carrying among his other nanomachines. In a final scene, Ocelot calls the president, revealing Liquid was actually the superior twin. He grafts Liquid's arm to his body, replacing his lost one. Furthermore, the new president reveals himself as Solidus Snake, the perfect clone of Big Boss.

It was all a simulation

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty happens four years after the Shadow Moses Incident. FOXHOUND recruit Raiden infiltrates an offshore facility called Big Shell, which was taken over by a terrorist group. The Big Shell Incident was meant to cover up the creation of Arsenal Gear, a giant mobile fortress that could launch nukes anywhere while deploying mass-produced Metal Gear RAY units.

Solidus, formerly a US president, orchestrated the event to challenge the Patriots, who at this point control everything in America. He flies Arsenal to New York City, using it as a distraction while he tries identifying the Patriots. His goal is to kill them and restore freedom to the people.

Additionally, Ocelot tells Raiden about the S3 Plan: the Solid Snake Simulation. Raiden's mission was a deliberate re-creation of Shadow Moses in order to make the ultimate soldier. Arsenal Gear crashes onto the streets of New York, atop which Raiden and Solidus fight each other. At that moment, Raiden gets a call from one of the Patriot AIs, who explains that the S3 Plan is actually called the Selection for Societal Sanity. The entire incident was a test to see how the AI Patriots could control everything during a crisis.

The Patriots hold Raiden's girlfriend hostage, goading him into killing Solidus. He slays the Big Boss clone, saving his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Snake gets his hands on the disc that identifies the Patriots, but he finds out they've all been dead for decades.

The beginning of the end

Set in 2014, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots puts players back in the shoes of Solid Snake, although he's much older now. Due to being a clone, he ages much faster than a normal person, and the game even calls him Old Snake. Everything has changed, with private military companies exploiting the war economy that plagues the world. Ocelot, who now is controlled by Liquid courtesy of the arm transplant, owns the five largest PMCs. He brings them together to fight the Patriots.

However, nanomachines have come a long way since the Shadow Moses Incident. The newest ones, embedded in every soldier on the planet, suppressed symptoms of PTSD and improved everyone's combat awareness. These third-generation nanomachines, called the Sons of the Patriots System, could be accessed by the Patriots. This means with the drop of a hat, the Patriot AIs could cripple every soldier on the planet. Liquid knows this, and he tries shutting down the nanomachines in his soldiers through various tests.

Colonel Campbell, who had retired after Shadow Moses, pulls Snake out of his retirement. The hero chases Liquid across the globe, witnessing the results of his different experiments. In most cases, shutting down the nanomachines led to immediate brain damage and trauma. Fed up, Liquid obtains Solidus' DNA, which he thought was Big Boss' DNA. With it, he gains direct control of the SOP System, renaming it the Guns of the Patriots.

The end of Solid Snake

Liquid steals an Arsenal Gear-like ship from the Patriots and calls it Outer Haven (again). He outfits it with a Metal Gear REX railgun. Also aboard the warship is GW, one of the Patriots' AI systems. He hopes to use the railgun to destroy the Patriots' main AI core, named JD, and then take control of the Patriots' entire network via GW.

Thanks to the help of some scientists, Snake obtains a computer virus called FOXALIVE, which can destroy the SOP System. He infiltrates Outer Haven and uploads the worm to GW. In an unexpected turn, the virus goes beyond destroying SOP and affects the entire Patriots AI network, severing their control over everything in America.

Snake and Liquid have their final fistfight, in which Ocelot (who Liquid is possessing) starts showing more of himself. He reveals that his whole goal was for Snake to destroy the Patriots, starting his entire insurrection to draw attention to himself. After the fight concludes, Ocelot collapses and succumbs to his wounds.

After the credits roll, Snake finds himself at Big Boss' grave, about to commit suicide. At the last second, he doesn't go through with it, at which point Big Boss himself approaches, carrying his mentor's gun. Alongside him is the vegetative Zero, in a wheelchair. Big Boss pulls Zero's plug and reconciles with Snake, telling him it's "time to put aside the gun and live."