There are a multitude of reasons Metal Gear Solid is renowned as one of the best video game series, whether it’s the memorable characters, addictive gameplay, its convoluted but brilliant plot, or its general lunacy. Another reason it’s so beloved, though, is its complex villains who present equally impressive challenges. Sure, the series could throw some tried and true formats at the player—hit the glowing limbs or repeat a process three times are classics—but what fun would that be for creator and mastermind Hideo Kojima? No, he has to push the envelope and make ballsy design choices to not only garner attention, but to cement boss battles in the forefront of the players’ minds.
Every entry in the Metal Gear Solid series comes packed with colourful villains rarely devoid of interesting character traits that bring them to life. It’s an integral part of why these encounters are so memorable. Rarely do the boss fights hinge on engaging gameplay, as Kojima clearly understands the connection between emotional investments and memorable battles. This is why Michael Bay films are so lackluster: your characters require a healthy dose of life and eccentricity, something Kojima repeatedly nails out of the park. It almost does the series injustice by limiting this list to only 10 bosses, but it’s a testament to the sheer scope of perpetual quality found within Metal Gear Solid.
So with that in mind, boot up the recently released Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which we purposely excluded from this list, on your console of choice and get in the mood as we count down the cream of the crop.
10 Vulcan Raven, Metal Gear Solid
When players are first introduced to Vulcan Raven, it’s easy to dismiss the walking behemoth as a simpleton hired for his brawn…and that would be a gross misjudgement. The reflective Raven proves to be an intellectual with a penchant for destruction as he first battles Snake within the confines of a tank. It’s the second battle with Raven, however, where he truly shines. The tatted shaman locks himself in a warehouse with Snake in the ultimate battle of strength and endurance. The icy cold weather forces players to use medical aid in order to stop shaking from the cold while running from Raven’s lethal mini gun. It’s a challenging, fulfilling battle that ends on a sombre and reflective note, making it among the best in the series.
9 Gray Fox, Metal Gear Solid
Gray Fox is one of the more memorable characters in the Metal Gear Solid universe, and that’s saying something. The cyborg ninja’s motivations are initially unclear from the outset, making his initial confrontation with Solid Snake a special one. Gray Fox begs for pain but makes it difficult for Snake to inflict any sort of damage as he deflects bullets with his signature katana and uses his stealth ability to hide in the office locale. Snake must use his fists to battle Gray Fox, with the help of some trusty chaff grenades, in what is a slow paced but intense battle between two physical specimens.
8 Sniper Wolf, Metal Gear Solid
Similar to the Vulcan Raven fight, players must endure the harsh cold while battling Sniper Wolf. Unlike Raven, Sniper Wolf does not reveal her location so easily. She blends in the snow with her sniper rifle and stalks Snake from beginning to end. Players must maintain patience and unrelenting concentration if they hope to beat Sniper Wolf, who deals a considerable amount of damage with each shot that blasts through the soft snow. At the time, such a boss fight was unheard of in video games, but as we’ll find out soon, Metal Gear Solid wasn’t quite done implementing sniper rifle battles.
7 Solidus Snake, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Raiden versus Solidus Snake is one of the best moments in Metal Gear Solid—of course, there are almost too many “best moments” in the series. In typical fashion for the series, emotions are high as Raiden is face-to-face with the man who killed his parents and made him a child soldier. Solidus’ motivations aren’t inherently evil as he takes extreme measures in trying to loosen the grip of the Patriots on society. He ultimately fights for freedom, but his history with Raiden and his questionable morals fuel what is an emotional and high-octane sword fight. It’s truly ridiculous, but that’s the magic of Metal Gear Solid.
6 Volgin, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Volgin has always been one of my favourite characters in the Metal Gear Solid series, standing as one of the more under-appreciated villains ever introduced. The electrical manipulating, homosexual psychopath is hell-bent on achieving his goals no matter who stands in his way, and he makes that clear when he attempts to murder his comrade Ocelot for disobeying him in the game’s conclusion. His battle with Big Boss is a spectacle to behold as he uses his powers to fire bullets lodged between his fingers as well as his advanced physical strength. Once Big Boss proves to be a worthy adversary, the battle shifts to some vehicular mayhem as Volgin unleashes the Shagohod, which is essentially a gigantic Metal Gear. When his plans are foiled once more, Volgin displays his resolve as he powers up the dismantled Shagohod with his electrical powers. It’s a lengthy, draining, yet wholly fulfilling boss fight that ranks among the best in the series.
5 Liquid Ocelot, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Liquid Ocelot doesn’t offer the most complex boss battle as much of it comes down to some straightforward hand-to-hand combat. What makes this encounter shine, however, is that it is the culmination of Solid Snake’s timeline, face to face with his twin brother Liquid, in the body of Ocelot, once more. Kojima intelligently plays an audio track from each game in the series that preceded Guns of the Patriots, and the result is an emotional and cinematic experience that few games are capable of matching. What better way to end one of the most memorable and convoluted storylines in gaming than having the protagonist fight his twin brother who’s invaded the body of another iconic villain? That’s what Metal Gear Solid is all about.
4 Liquid Snake, Metal Gear Solid
Liquid Snake is one of the best villains in video games, forget Metal Gear Solid. The first entry in the series remains the most iconic for its wealth of memorable bosses and characters—a trend that continues to this day with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Solid Snake’s twin brother Liquid is a sadistic, complex and intelligent character who cements his place among the video game elite when he reveals he impersonated Snake’s mentor throughout the entire game, which is only a minor plot point in Kojima’s convoluted but glorious story. The boss fight boils down to a hand-to-hand battle atop a Metal Gear, so the dramatics are amped up plenty, making the fight feel both emotional and epic.
3 The End, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
The End remains one of the most referenced and beloved boss battles in gaming. There’s no epic music to ramp up the theatrics and the pace is slowed considerably compared to the rest of the series, but that’s not a criticism. Players control Big Boss in a sandbox environment brimming with lush forestry and hilltops, all the while trying to stalk the elusive The End, an old man who expertly wields a sniper rifle. The result is a sombre and tense battle of will as the two characters blend into the environment and hunt each other for the better part of an hour.
2 Psycho Mantis, Metal Gear Solid
Psycho Mantis shines as one the most memorable bosses in not only Metal Gear Solid, but in video game history. Leave it to the eccentric Kojima to conjure what is widely known as one of the most unique boss fights ever made—he’s continuously referenced in later games, too. Sure, it’s not exactly realistic to have Psycho Mantis scan your saved game files from other video games and willfully rumble your controller, but it’s that sort of lunacy that makes Metal Gear Solid such a treasure in the video game community. And just how do you defeat Psycho Mantis? Well, by plugging your controller into another port of course!
1 The Boss, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Upon defeating The Boss in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, I felt drained and overwhelmed with emotion. Not only did her final exchange with Big Boss involve a heartbreaking reveal, the battle fittingly takes place in a field of white flowers, a beautiful and symbolic aesthetic to conclude the game. Individual pedals float aimlessly in the soft breeze as Big Boss crawls through the white canvas painting it red with blood. It’s a bittersweet final showdown, one that ranks among the best in gaming for its ample emotion and expert design. Leave it to Kojima and Metal Gear Solid to pull off such a feat.