The ritual of a video game series marathon is a classic for anyone fond of a game franchise. There’s no better way to get ready for a new installment than by getting a refresher on that series. I can still recall the first time I replayed the Metal Gear series to get properly hyped for a new entry, Metal Gear Solid 2.

It was late summer 2001 and all I needed to play through was the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear Solid (the older Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake hadn’t even been officially localized yet), plus another hour reading the digital documents that were found in MGS2’s menus.

Those were simpler times. Now that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is out, marathoning the series has become a totally different beast. What makes The Phantom Pain special is how it fully realizes Hideo Kojima’s long-awaited vision of a Metal Gear world where players have nearly unlimited freedom. That, in turn, makes The Phantom Pain like no other Metal Gear before it—of which there are, unfortunately for those hoping to marathon the series, many.

Luckily there are many ways one can marathon through the franchise. I’ve managed to narrow down the best options to four routes. What works for you depends on whether you want to make sense of the overall story, if you come to Metal Gear for the gameplay, or if your time is limited.

This method is chronological. It caters to two audiences: those who want to see how the series’ gameplay has evolved and those lifelong Metal Gear fans who want to relive the sequence of playing the games in the order of their releases. Here’s the order:
  1. Metal Gear
  2. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
  3. Metal Gear Solid
  4. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
  5. Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
  6. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
  7. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
  8. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
  9. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

If you’re a fan of circular storytelling, this would be the recommended order. Moreover, the Metal Gear franchise has recently become a series of two endings, first with the obscene degree of loose ends tied up in MGS4 and now with MGSV taking the series nearly full circle. If the series continues with or without Hideo Kojima, Konami has a ripe opportunity to truly return to the series’ origins with a retelling of the very first Metal Gear but now in an expansive setting inspired by The Phantom Pain.

A variation of The Purist Method, this order simply omits Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake:
  1. Metal Gear Solid
  2. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
  3. Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
  4. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
  5. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
  6. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
  7. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

It jumps straight into the series’ modern era while still preserving the Big Boss/Solid Snake dichotomy. It’s recommended to those who may not enjoy the early games’ limitations.

This my preferred order, which organizes the games based on the chronology of their storylines:
  1. Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
  2. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
  3. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
  4. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
  5. Metal Gear
  6. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
  7. Metal Gear Solid
  8. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
  9. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

There are obvious benefits to starting this series from its narrative beginnings in the early 1960s. It is equally satisfying that finishing this marathon concludes by tying up a ton of loose ends in MGS4’s time setting of 2014. Along with witnessing the evolution of Big Boss and Solid Snake, it’s poignant to watch supporting characters age over time, particularly the transformation of Revolver Ocelot and how the long-term absence of Eva makes her reappearance all the more impactful.

Side note: no Metal Gear marathon can be thoroughly discussed without debating the inclusion of Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. It’s considered non-canonical despite that its concluding plot points effectively tee up key revelations near the end of MGS4. My suggestion is to simply watch the cutscenes on YouTube and spare yourself the gameplay, which has not aged well, not surprising given that it was designed for the PSP handheld system. For the Purist, Essentials, and Saga Methods, Portable Ops’ cutscenes can be viewed after Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence.

Then again…

This method is best recommended to those inexperienced in the series, where the best way to experience The Phantom Pain is to not marathon at all. It’s just a matter of how much context you want after playing the game’s prologue.

If, after playing the The Prologue, you’re dying for an explanation of Ishmael, Ahab, Revolver Ocelot, The Floating Boy, and The Man on Fire, it’s best to stop and then download and read the Metal Gear Solid 4 Database (assuming you have a PlayStation 3). Then read the events in the series as ordered in the database’s Timeline section.

Next, go to YouTube and watch the cutscenes of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. This effectively segues into the events of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, which in itself is a prologue to The Phantom Pain and the last piece of the puzzle.

No matter what method you choose, there’s one more important rule to playing Metal Gear Solid, whether you’re doing the whole series or just saying “screw it” and starting with the newest one: enjoy! It’s one of the weirdest and best game series ever, and there’s nothing else like it out there.

RELATED: Gamer Next Door: Pam and Amelia Play Competitive Shooter ‘Battleborn’