Feature Article

What you need to know about Metal Gear Solid before playing MGS5: Ground Zeroes

Snake? SNAKE?! Oh, there you are.

Metal Gear Solid is often dismissed as having a bit of a hokey plot, full of silly, overwritten contrivances and screens of flowing exposition. It's true, of course: the series has all of those things in abundance, but I've always got a real kick out of spending time with Kojima Productions' dense narratives and conflicted characters. I've even got a notebook in my parents' attic somewhere filled with Metal Gear Solid 2 speculation and theories (and I'm still convinced that game was all a VR dream, no matter what Metal Gear Solid 4 might have said).

It's a confusing series, but an iconic one that I think is worth the time investment. It's also about to kick off all over again, with Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes being released in just under two weeks. Ground Zeroes is the first time Big Boss has been the star of a console game in 10 years, and his story continues from where it left off in 2010's PSP game Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.

It's a game that you might just want a bit of a refresher course in before you take the plunge, so here's a brief (well, about as brief as Metal Gear Solid gets) overview of everything that has happened to Big Boss since his first appearance. Hopefully it will help prepare you for Ground Zeroes. You might want to get comfortable, though, because there's a lot of information here, and that's with me actively trying to make it concise.

To download GameSpot's History of Big Boss infographic, click here.

I. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

IN BRIEF: Naked Snake is sent into the Soviet jungle in 1964 to track down and kill his former mentor, The Boss, and disable a prototype nuclear tank, the Shagohod. Unbeknownst to him, the whole mission is secretly a ploy by the US government to get its hands on a $100 billion cash fund owned by a clandestine group called The Philosophers. Snake's loyalty to his country wavers when he finally discovers the truth after being forced to kill The Boss.

The full story: A series of events are put into motion in the 1920s by the formation of a clandestine group known as The Philosophers, made up of influential leaders from the United States, China, and the USSR. Internal squabbling fractured the group following WWII, leading to the theft of a once-shared $100B war chest known as the Philosopher's Legacy.

Fast forward to 1964, and a world in the midst of the Cold War. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater opens by parachuting FOX agent Naked Snake into the Soviet Union territory to extract Nikolai Stepanovich Sokolov, a defecting USSR rocket scientist. The mission goes swimmingly, right up until Snake's leader, mentor, and friend The Boss chooses to defect. Snake has his arm broken and is thrown off a bridge, while Sokolov is handed over to GRU special forces boss Volgin (who has lightning punches, coincidentally) along with two US-made nuclear missiles, one of which Volgin fires on a Russian base. The mission is, unsurprisingly, seen as a rather massive failure. Whoops!

The Boss and Naked Snake
The Boss and Naked Snake

Following all that fracas, the US government attempts to avert a nuclear war by insisting that The Boss was a rogue agent and that it did not condone or approve of the attack. The Soviet Premier insists that the US clean up its own mess, and therefore Snake (all fixed up) returns to Soviet soil with two aims: to kill The Boss and her reunited Cobra unit, and to stop Sokolov's now-nuclear Shagohod tank.

Snake, under the command of FOX leader Major Zero, is deployed into the Soviet jungle and faces off with the elite GRU forces in the region led by Major Ocelot, making his way through the forests of Bolshaya Past on his way towards research base Graniny Gorki. He also has to compete against the Cobra unit: the one that's a really old sniper, the one who is a pyromaniac spaceman, the Predator-inspired one, and, of course, the creepy one covered in bees.

Infiltrating Graniny Gorki, Snake learns from Dr. Aleksandr Leonovitch Granin--who believes his own 'Metal Gear' concept would make a far superior weapon than Sokolov's Shagohod--that Sokolov is being held in Volgin's military base, Groznyj Grad. He is caught by Volgin after disguising himself at GRU Major Ivan Raikov and locating Sokolov, and taken for interrogation. Sokolov is heard being beaten to death and Snake is then tortured himself, losing his right eye in the process.

During his interrogation, Snake finds out more of Volgin's plans: he sees his control over the combined forces of the (now dead) Cobra unit, Shagohod, and the Philosopher's Legacy as a way to reunite The Philosophers under Soviet leadership. He also assumes Snake has been sent to recover The Philosopher's Legacy, which he's storing in the underground vault of Groznyj Grad.

Snake doesn't know it, but he's really there for the money: The US wanted The Philosopher's Legacy this entire time, and Snake's mission was orchestrated as cover for their grab at the jackpot. It also transpires that The Boss was in on the scheme the whole time, and accepted that she would need to die in order to maintain the cover story of the US after Volgin launched the nuclear missile, leading to a climactic fight to the death with Snake after he dispatches both Volgin and the Shagohod. Learning the truth of the situation does not exactly fill Snake with happiness, shall we say.

And where is China in all this? Well, it turns out they sent an agent to run off with The Philosopher's Legacy: Eva, who had been working with Snake for much of the mission. She also infiltrated Tselinoyarsk, and posed as one half of the KGB duo Snake was supposed to rendezvous with. Confessing the truth of her mission via a tape recording, Eva says that she was ordered to kill Snake, but spared his life due to a request from The Boss. But Eva only manages to retrieve a fake Legacy, with Ocelot bringing half of the funds to the CIA. Ocelot, it transpires, is actually a spy working for the US, and was also supposed to be Snake's genuine contact at the KGB. Crikey.

Following Snake's defeat of The Boss, he's awarded a new title: Big Boss. There's also a fantastic ending cinematic that doesn't outstay its welcome, which is more than can be said for Metal Gear Solid 4.

No Caption Provided

II. Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops

IN BRIEF: Snake wakes up in a cell next to Roy Campbell. It's 1970, and his former unit, FOX, has gone rogue and stolen a Metal Gear from the US military. The leader of FOX is now a man named Gene, who wants to defeat The Philosophers by creating a nation of soldiers called Army's Heaven. Meanwhile, Ocelot and Major Zero create a shadowy organisation of their own: The Patriots.

The full story: It's 1970, and Naked Snake (he still doesn't like calling himself Big Boss) has been drugged and taken to an abandoned Soviet missile silo located in Colombia's San Hieronymo Peninsula. His captors are the rogue remnants of the FOX unit, which is now no longer under the command of the CIA. Tortured by a Lieutenant Cunningham, Snake learns that FOX believes he ran off with the missing half of The Philosopher's Legacy--which would be a total of $50B. Even worse, everyone else is under the impression that Snake and Major Zero instigated the FOX revolt to begin with, and the pair is also accused of stealing a prototype weapon from the US military.

Snake is imprisoned, and his cell mate is Roy Campbell, the only survivor from a green beret squad send to investigate the situation. It is not long before the pair escapes, at which point Snake contacts his former FOX squadmates Para-Medic and Sigint, who inform him that the only way for him to clear his name is to capture the leader of the FOX rebellion: Gene.

Campbell suggests that he and Snake start recruiting disenfranchised Russian soldiers to work with them, and shortly afterwards, on an unrelated note, contracts malaria. Snake heads to a laboratory to find the necessary medicine, only to stumble upon a young soldier being stored in a tube and a woman, Elisa, who turns out to be one of the dual personalities of a single FOX member--the other, Ursula, had previously tried to attack Snake. Elisa gives Snake the malaria cure and directs him to a cargo ship, and eventually provides him with two prophecies: firstly, that Snake will one day unleash a Metal Gear of his very own, and secondly, that one of his children will ruin the world and another will save it.

Null and Big Boss face off.
Null and Big Boss face off.

Snake and crew, now freshly free of malaria, discover an empty shipment with US markings and are contacted by Sokolov--though Snake doesn't know who he's speaking to--who faked his own death back in Groznyj Grad. He informs Snake that Gene has put into production a version of Granin's Metal Great concept, and the machine is powerful enough to fire multiple nuclear missiles. Sokolov would later provide Snake with vital information in destroying this Metal Gear, as Gene's master plan, it transpires, is to launch a nuclear attack on both the CIA and the Pentagon, the two US bases of The Philosophers, in order to create a new world order.

Gene's vision was to create a country for soldiers, known as Army's Heaven, that would supplant The Philosophers and involve themselves in all of the world's armed conflicts, creating a nation of superior soldiers that wouldn't be used for any nation's political or territorial interests. Snake disagrees with Gene's vision, arguing that he's no different from any other dictator, and Gene replies by saying that Snake doesn't know the full story behind the death of The Boss: Volgin was acting on the commands of a mastermind in the US, and The Boss was aware of this. Gene also says that he has his own motive for involving Snake in his planned revolution: he wants to fight him to the death in order to determine who The Boss' true successor actually is. It is, unsurprisingly, Snake who teaches Gene that lesson in a rather fatal manner.

Snake also finds himself fighting two Metal Gear units, RAXA and the Intercontinental Ballistic Metal Gear, with Gene duping Snake into investing his time in the former while he deployed the latter. Both units also have four legs, even though it has been explicitly stated that Metal Gears are bipedal tanks. It doesn't matter: Snake destroys them both.

Ocelot is also seen walking into the CIA and killing the Director of Central Intelligence. He runs off with the US' share of the Legacy, and reveals that he plans on ending The Philosophers and involving himself, along with Major Zero, in a new clandestine group known as The Patriots, which will include Snake as a founding member. They also plan on using the data acquired from Frank Jaeger, the child soldier that was discovered in the tube, to eventually create the genome soldiers that appear in the original Metal Gear Solid.

III. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

IN BRIEF: Snake leaves The Patriots after discovering that Major Zero attempted to clone him, and sets up his own mercenary group in the Caribbean. He's hired by Costa Rica to rid the country of an invading force, fights the nuclear-equipped AI machine Peace Walker, and inadvertently stumbles into a scheme--devised by Major Zero--involving the creation of a Metal Gear.

Kazuhira Miller and Big Boss
Kazuhira Miller and Big Boss

The full story: It's 1974, and Big Boss (although still using the codename Snake) has now parted ways with The Patriots after discovering Major Zero's Les Enfants Terribles project, a scheme designed to produce clones of Big Boss. He's not a fan. Going it alone, Big Boss sets up his own mercenary group, Militaires Sans Frontières, somewhere in the Caribbean.

Snake's deputy, Kazuhira Miller, is met by professor Ramon Galvez Mena and his student Paz Ortega Andrade, who offer MSF a forward base and a helicopter as payment for helping Costa Rica fend off an unknown armed force, suspected to involve the CIA in some way. Snake and Miller suspect Galvez might have ties to the KGB (perhaps his giant red fist gave the game away), who reveals that he was ordered by the Soviets to hire MSF in a bid to rid the area of the CIA, as the Soviets wanted to establish a base in Central America. Snake reluctantly accepts when he is also played a tape recording of The Boss, and says he is taking on the mission because of an impassioned speech from Paz about desiring peace in the region.

Snake allies himself with the local guerrillas to discover whether nuclear weapons are being stored in Costa Rica, and discovers from Sandinista commander Amanda Valenciano Libre that the CIA was planning a coup. Snake then enlists Libre into the MSF. He then heads to a prison in the mountains to discover more about unmanned drones and rescue Chico, a 12-year-old boy who asks Snake to kill him because he confessed during torture. Giving Chico a chance to prove his strength, Snake offers him a place in the ever-growing MSF.

Tipped off about a delivery of nuclear missiles to the Fuerte la Ladera military base, Snake instead encounters Huey Emmerich, who tells him that former CIA director Hot Coldman is planning to launch nuclear strikes with four AI weapons: Pupa, Chrysalis, Cocoon, and the nuclear-equipped Peace Walker itself. Huey, who developed the machines, decides to join the MSF, on the grounds that he doesn't want to see an actual nuclear attack.

Hot Coldman
Hot Coldman

Knowing that Peace Walker must be destroyed, Snake journeys to Coldman's underground base, armed with the knowledge that the AI powering the robot is based off The Boss herself. He doesn't get further than the hangar, when he's met by Coldman, who reveals that he's the mastermind behind the events of Snake Eater, and is sent off for the Metal Gear Solid series' mandatory torture scene, where he gives scientist Dr. Strangelove enough information to complete her programming of The Boss' AI.

Coldman's scheme is to launch the first--and last--nuclear strike of the Cold War, and his target is none other than Mother Base. Snake and Coldman are also joined by Galvez in their final confrontation, who reveals that his real name is Vladimir Alexandrovich Zadornov and that he's been in cahoots with Coldman the entire time. With one small exception: Zadornov plans to run off with Peace Walker and use it to launch a nuclear strike on Cuba, and also he shoots Coldman. As you might expect, though, Snake manages to defeat Peace Walker, apprehend Zadornov, and finally obtain closure from his events in The Boss' death. He is finally ready to take on the name of Big Boss.

Big Boss (aha!) also agrees to the creation of Metal Gear ZEKE as a way of ensuring that MSF could defend against anyone opposed to its ideals of a mercenary nation. By equipping the machine with a nuclear missile, MSF would be a player in nuclear deterrence theory. This Metal Gear would be unmanned, and would be controlled by AI, but Paz secretly installed a cockpit and manual controls by using Zadornov's continued escapes as a diversion.

Paz is actually 24, not 16, it turns out, which totally validates an utterly bizarre scene where you can chase her around a beach while she wears a bikini and then get under a box and, heck, I don't even want to know. She's also working with Major Zero and the Patriots, and told Big Boss that if he refused to rejoin Major Zero, then Metal Gear ZEKE would be used for a nuclear attack on the US. Snake, again, destroys the Metal Gear, and closes the game instructing the MSF that he will soon build a nation free of politics and nation: Outer Heaven. Don't try to ever fight Snake with a Metal Gear is pretty much the main lesson of the entire series.

No Caption Provided

IV. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

All this brings us up nicely to 1975, which is where Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes takes place. While the plot of the game is still relatively unknown, we do know Mother Base will feature, and Paz will once again be a central character to the proceedings.

The Phantom Pain, for the record, is said to take place in 1984, and features Snake waking up from a coma. How does he get into that state? And, more importantly, what happens next?

The only thing that leaves is Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 on the MSX, which feature Big Boss as the primary antagonist. Here the series switches over to Solid Snake, with these original two games paving the way for the Shadow Moses Incident and the iconic Metal Gear Solid. While Big Boss' actions continue to ripple throughout the rest of the series, explaining the history of Solid Snake is another article for another day...

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com


Martin Gaston

Hi! I'm Martin, for some reason or another I have managed to convince the people who run GameSpot that I am actually worth employing. They're probably as angry about it as you are!I live in London, which means I have a funny accent and bad teeth. I'm also quite fat, and my surname makes me sound super French. These are good places to start when you want to describe me to others.I also play a lot of Dota 2, and would love to play Dota 2 with and against you.
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops

Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops

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GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for Centurion-Legio

I don't like how Kojima tried to make the game more appealing to a broader audience with all the fast paced things and the open world, not to mention the bullet-time slow motion element and the enemy marking. Not only that but changed the iconic voice actor that every true MGS fan loves. First he approves of MGR which every dbag associates metal Gear and riden with, now this. That is not what Metal gear was about. I know some of you like it, and that's fine but me, personally, as a Metal gear Fan, don't much like it. I will still give it a try because i might be wrong but i'm sure i won't like it as much as MGS or MGS4

Avatar image for gf61

<< LINK REMOVED >> No one is forcing you to use any of it. Don't like choice play a point A to B shooter. Second he's running an entire organization now. Show everyone how bad ass you are by recording a play through with zero support.

I do hope that one will voice big boss and the other will still voice solid.

Avatar image for Darkside2205

<< LINK REMOVED >> Metal Gear Rising wasn't created by kojima and never claimed to be the same kind of game as the rest of the series. It's more of a spin-off, and was still fun in its own right. the bullet time in ground zeroes is stupid but you can turn it off and it doesn't last long enough to really help you anyway. I thought the open world aspect was pretty awesome, I still had a hard time not being spotted and had to try again several times and I'm no novice when it comes to metal gear. the only thing I don't like about it is its too short, it's basically a glorified demo. What's there is amazing, but there's just not enough there. Imagine if kojima sold the tanker and big shell incidents for mgs2 seperately, it'd would be the same thing.

Avatar image for jharring

"Everything you need to know about Metal Gear"

Nanomachines. It's always nanomachines.

Avatar image for cboye18

I know the main mission will last up to 2 hours and the game in total will be 10 hours or less.....this doesn't justify $40 IMO.

Avatar image for NTM23

I already know pretty much everything I have to know, all I have to know is if it'll be in stores tomorrow so I can pick it up. I played through them recently as well, and it's surprising in just how easy it is to follow it all, and how not-so-confusing they really are if you just pay attention. I either forgot some stuff, or just totally didn't pay enough attention to some details when I played through them multiple times before.

Avatar image for Kinguard73

I thought MGS 1 and 3 best in the series so seeing another Big Boss game makes me feel better since we don't have to deal with the nutso 2 or 4 (is it me or is every even number is a game of insanity more than sanity?) I miss octagon however.... and Mina I think her name was?

Avatar image for NTM23

<< LINK REMOVED >> What? Otacon and Mei Ling? Also, I like all MGS' about the same (except for Portable Ops), so I can't really understand the side of liking one over another.

Avatar image for robbiejones

playing through Legacy now, Pretty amazing games!!

Avatar image for tightwad34

Don't think too much or you will just get more confused. Don't know why it has to be like that, but I guess that's sort of part of the Japanese culture. Still love 'em, though.

Avatar image for phoenix5352

its made by hideo kojima that's enough to know for playing it.it will be mind blowing

Avatar image for tightwad34

<< LINK REMOVED >> If he took a dump and it went on Ebay, how much would it sell for?

Avatar image for LiquidGold

Can't wait to play MGS, such a great game.

Avatar image for theugly773

BTW, just realized something, doesn't the game sort of contradicts it's self? or maybe I have the wrong message. But, didnt the Les Enfants Terribles, happen during the time Big Boss was in a coma? In other words, after GROUND ZEROES. Yet, it is said that the last "straw" betweeen Snake and Zero was the Clonage issue?

Avatar image for crolin88

<< LINK REMOVED >>did you play portable ops? no? well thats when Les Enfants Terribles happens, in 1972 three years BEFORE ground zeroes. come on people do some research.

Avatar image for gaijingamer7

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> I know its pathetic that everyone doesn't have the timeline memorised before posting a comment.

Avatar image for NTM23

<< LINK REMOVED >> Your comment sounds like sarcasm, and yet you liked his comment... The MGS story is less confusing than what you did here, unless it was sincere, or you just liked his comment out of spite. Ahhh, Liquid. Get out of my miiiiind. What? I don't know.

Avatar image for FallenOneX

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> I'm pretty sure that'ts one of the things Kojima himself said was kinda off in his Game Informer interview, along with why other things in the timeline might not really add up.

Avatar image for crolin88

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> or you know the article itself mentions it, or god forbid your too lazy to google it haha

Avatar image for theugly773

Martin Gaston did an amazing article on this. was going to write something similar on my Tumblr. :)

Avatar image for PlatinumPaladin

Was this article meant to make the Metal Gear Solid story easier to follow?

Is it fair to say Portable Ops isn't really all that important in the grand scheme of things? I never could bring myself to finish it.

Avatar image for kvan33

Hot Coldman. Pretty much sums up Kojima's Metal Gear series. Moments of brilliance sprinkled between moments of absolute mind-numbing stupidity.

Avatar image for pickleman2565

*sighs* my head hurts...

Avatar image for tomtomtom1230

Never played the games but hoping to get into them with the new generation. Holy crap have I got a lot of catching up to do. I hope they don't completely exclude new players from the story by expecting you to know everything! :/ The amount of lore there is on MGS is overwhelming and intimidating for a new player like me, to say the least.

Avatar image for mattman127

<< LINK REMOVED >> The lore comes later, each game is kind of it's own unique emotional roller coaster ride.

Avatar image for jmsbond35

<< LINK REMOVED >> I'd recommend MGS3 at at a bare minimum. Since Solid Snake's story is supposedly over, MGS1,2, and 4 aren't required for MGS5. Big Boss' story is told mainly through MGS3 and Peace Walker (kinda). The rest is a whole different side of Big Boss. Pretty quick catching up IMO

Avatar image for theugly773

<< LINK REMOVED >> , it is a bit confusing. but after a few gameplays, you should get it. If you're new to the series, i do recommend playing the games as they came out. If possible, play MGS; portable Ops too.

Avatar image for Bread_or_Decide

I wish they had done Portable Ops as a remake as well.

Avatar image for PlatinumPaladin

<< LINK REMOVED >> Agreed. I found it far too painful playing on the PSP. Peace Walker getting a PS3 release was excellent.

Avatar image for el-minio

Who is new snake?!?!

Avatar image for MJ-X


There is no new snakes there are a total of 4:

1. Naked Snake. (Big Boss)

2. Solid Snake.

3. Liquid Snake.

4. Solidus Snake.

This is a continuation of Big Boss's story from Snake Eater > Portable Ops > Peace Walker.

Avatar image for DanielL5583

<< LINK REMOVED >> Kiefer Sutherland.

Avatar image for el-minio

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> dude, i knew that but there is two snake in game on of them is big boss but who is the other one gray fox, ishmael or he's big boss!

Avatar image for tightwad34

<< LINK REMOVED >> Too easy with a game like this.

Avatar image for mack10

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> There's one Snake. Where did you see the other one?

Avatar image for PlatinumPaladin

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Maybe el-minio is Kojima.

Avatar image for DanielL5583

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> ...You've lost me.

Avatar image for daviz88

nice headline

Avatar image for sakaixx

My PS4 is ready :D

Avatar image for SharpBlades3

I'm just happy that there's a MG game coming out that I *might* actually be ably to finish ;-)

Avatar image for panda0nX

awesome article ^_^

Avatar image for crushbrain

I call him Iroquois plisken

Avatar image for Centurion-Legio

<< LINK REMOVED >> that's Solid Snake...