In spite of, or maybe because of, its many controversial aspects, the game is definitely one of the best ever made
MGS2 is a very different game, and while it still feels similar to its predecessor, the improvements are instantly noticeable. The core gameplay is just as good as it ever was - tactical stealth action where careful planning and imagination are rewarded.
Enemy AI is vastly superior to the original, and enemies no longer spawn infinitely, but a skilled player can even shoot their way out of a sticky situation, but staying out of sight is still recommended. The difficulty level is just right and there's plenty of gameplay variety, keeping the game interesting throughout. The game is also at least twice as long as MGS1, yet all of it was enjoyable. Even the mandatory shooting segments feel better than before, as you can individually target enemies' heads for quick kills or cripple them by shooting their arms or legs.
Compared to other games of its time, MGS2's graphics are gorgeous, despite the overuse of the color orange. The characters are human, but thanks to subtly cartoonish design, avoid falling into the uncanny valley. Voice acting is good, and even the worst pieces of dialogue are acted convincingly. The music is gorgeous too and makes the game sound like a high-budget Hollywood movie, but sadly the soundtrack still doesn't quite compare with MGS1.
The story is definitely something you either love or hate, and there's no denying that the cutscenes and Codec calls are far too long. But still... few other games have made me laugh, cry, cheer and cringe so often. Every character plays an important role and they're all fascinating in their own way, hero or villain. The plot also handles many themes completely unprecedented in video games, such as censorship, the nature of memes and information, mortality, atonement, child soldiers and so on. While most action games outright glorify violence without a second thought, the Metal Gear series is openly pacifistic, while still delivering its message in a package with lots of explosions and sexy characters. The ending, while it may seem like a mess to some, is very thought-provoking and atmospheric, definitely one of the best in video game history.
It's not just that the cutscenes are much longer than necessary - there's also too many of them. For example, you may step into a room, watch a cutscene, walk a few steps, have a largely pointless Codec conversation and watch another cutscene before you an actually play. Most of the game's dialogue is redundant, pointless, unnecessary, filler and did I mention, redundant? Other times, the game is melodramatic beyond belief and scenes that were supposed to make me cry or gasp in shock sometimes made me laugh or roll my eyes. There's also an endless amount of exposition and explaining, which seems to be typical for a Japanese game.
Apart from the opinion-dividing story and characters, MGS2's flaws are minor. The game could have used better controls and camera angles, especially in the mandatory shooting segments, where you can't actually move when firing while in first person, though just the fact that you can do so is an improvement from the previous game.
The Bottom Line
Metal Gear Solid 2 is an original, well-made, challenging and thought-provoking stealth action game. The slight hiccups in game design never manage the ruin the big picture, so as long as a slightly pretentious story doesn't cause problems, the game is definitely something everyone should try at least once.