With The Phantom Pain coming soon, we take a look back at Hideo Kojima's iconic Metal Gear saga.

Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is fast approaching, and it seems likely that at the very least, it'll be the last one directed by MGS mastermind, Hideo Kojima. Taking a whole new approach to tactical espionage operations, it features a breathtaking open world that requires you to use vehicles and even a horse  to effectively get around, a more natural threat detection system and a pair of AI sidekicks: mute sniper Quiet and one-eyed wolfdog DD.

For a limited time, you can also take advantage of NVIDIA’s new Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain bundle, which offers a free copy of the game on PC with purchase of a qualifying GeForce GTX graphics card. 

To get you in the mood (or to bring you up to speed if you're not already a Metal Gear fan), here's a brief spin through Metal Gear's 28-year history, from its 8-bit beginnings to Ground Zeroes, with plenty of cardboard boxes along the way. 

Metal Gear, 1987

This is where it all started, on the unlikely platform of the MSX2 home computer. Despite its antiquated appearance, the original game laid the foundation for the rest of the series, with Solid Snake sent to infiltrate the fortified Outer Heaven in order to destroy the eponymous Metal Gear, a walking tank capable of launching nuclear missiles. Originally intended to be more of a straightforward shooting game, the MSX2's limited capabilities inspired Hideo Kojima to create a game based more around stealth, with Snake initially unarmed and forced to avoid capture by hiding and running away if spotted. 

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, 1990

Metal Gear 2 expanded massively upon the original's stealth action, with more sophisticated enemies with a 45-degree field of vision and a wider range of abilities and equipment for Snake, plus a complex storyline based around a global oil crisis, nuclear proliferation and the nature of warfare. Not to be confused with Snake's Revenge, the sequel to the sub-standard NES version of Metal Gear that Kojima has long disowned. 

Metal Gear Solid, 1998

Designed by Hideo Kojima with the intention of creating the best PlayStation game ever, Metal Gear Solid took all the refinements made in Metal Gear 2 and transplanted them into a 3D environment, then introduced what's become a mainstay of the MGS series: lengthy cut scenes. The switch to 3D greatly enhanced the stealth experience, thanks to a third-person camera which automatically adjusts to give you the best view possible, but also features a 2D radar view to let you know where enemies are and which directions they're looking. 

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, 2001

Just when it seemed like Solid Snake and Metal Gear Solid were inseparable, along came Sons of Liberty and everything changed. While you play part of it as Snake, most of the way you're in control of Raiden, an entirely new character introduced by Kojima as a way to show Solid Snake from a different point of view. Sons of Liberty again increased your range of skills, including a new first-person aiming mode and cover system, while also ramping up enemy AI, enabling guards to work in squads to outflank and outwit the player. 

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, 2004

The good news for Snake fans is that in Metal Gear Solid 3, you assume the role of Snake; the bad news is that it's not Solid Snake. This fifth installment in the series – the second one to appear on PlayStation 2 – takes things back in time to 1964 and instead puts you in the boots of Naked Snake, later known as Big Boss, Solid Snake's commander in Metal Gear (and, it turns out, the secret leader of Outer Heaven). With most of the action taking place in Soviet jungles, there's an emphasis on using camouflage, and Snake Eater also features a sophisticated new close combat system.

Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, 2006

The PSP had already featured a couple turn-based Metal Gear titles before this, but Portable Ops was the first to play like a proper Metal Gear Solid game. Again focusing on Naked Snake, Portable Ops takes a squad-based approach, with Snake recruiting a team and putting together the best assortment of specialists for each mission. 

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, 2008

Snake's back! And this time it really is Solid Snake, making his final, geriatric appearance in the Metal Gear Sold series. The first MGS game to appear on PS3, Guns of the Patriots introduces a new over-the-shoulder view and Psyche Meter: stress depletes Snake's Psyche, causing him problems like back pain and difficulty aiming, but he can restore Psyche by eating, drinking and reading, ahem, adult magazines. The game also introduced a robot sidekick, Metal Gear Mk.II.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, 2010

The next Metal Gear Solid game for PSP was the first mobile version directed by Hideo Kojima; he'd only been involved with Portable Ops as a producer. Ditching the squad-based mechanic of Portable Ops, Peace Walker again stars Naked Snake – although he dropped the Naked bit and is now plain Snake – running a mercenary unit in Costa Rica in 1974. It adopts some of MGS4's techniques, including the over-the-shoulder view and close quarters combat, and introduces the Mother Base – an HQ for Snake's army and a research base for new weapons and equipment. 

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, 2013

Raiden's back and now he's a cyborg in this action heavy adventure! Developed by PlatinumGames, creators of Bayonetta and Vanquish, Revengeance is less about stealth – although you can of course hide inside of a cardboard box if you need to – and all about high-octane hacking and slashing, with plenty of combos and counterattacks, plus a free blade mode in which Raiden can slice and dice with precision. If you fancy a change from the usual Metal Gear formula, it's due for release soon on NVIDIA's SHIELD Android TV. 

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, 2014

Bringing us up to date is Ground Zeroes, the first part of Metal Gear Solid V and very much a taste of what's to come in the much larger Phantom Pain. It's a huge revamp of MGS, setting Snake loose in an enormous open world environment over seven missions that can be played in any order you want. While the general aim is the same – get through each level without being detected – the larger levels mean you need to take more care planning your approach and use vehicles to get around.