A comprehensive look at 36 of the greatest video games available on Sony Playstation 2.
- God of War 2
How do you improve on a game that was almost universally hailed as being one of the best action games ever created? You make the sequel bigger and better. With new weapons, more godly powers, and larger levels, God of War II was everything its little brother was and then some. Continuing where the original God of War left off, the second installment in the God of War saga brings Kratos’ one-man vendetta against Mount Olympus to a thrilling cliff-hanger ending that left gamers everywhere clamoring for the third and final chapter (soon to be revealed on the PlayStation 3). Oh, it also features one of the most epic opening levels ever created: an awe-inspiring fight against the Colossus of Rhodes that, in lesser games, would have served as the final boss fight. With expectations high after the success of God of War, new director Corey Barlog and his team had to deliver a masterpiece to live up to the hype. Luckily for PS2 owners, they did just that. God of War II is a PS2 high point.
- Resident Evil 4
Widely regarded as the best game in the series, Resident Evil 4 proved that you can, in fact, take a good thing and make it even better. With Resident Evil 2’s Leon Kennedy back in the lead role, Resident Evil 4 was revolutionary for a number of reasons. The first surprise was the biggest: There were no zombies! That’s right-the Resident Evil franchise was turned on its head when introduced to the Las Plagas, a deadly parasitic life form affecting a small Spanish village. Add in Resident Evil 4’s over-the-shoulder targeting system and heart-stopping quick time events, and you have an instant classic on your hands. This is one of the most important games of the decade, and the PS2 version is a must-own.
- Shadow of the Colossus
The concept of Shadow of the Colossus is so simple, it’s amazing nobody tried it before. In this adventure game, you’ll explore a massive landscape and fight a series of massive bosses. By trimming out the fat of extraneous enemies and other tiresome challenges, the game is able to focus on the greatest parts of any videogame-the boss battles! Shadow of the Colossus is considered a modern-day classic, and when you see the titular Colossi in motion, you’ll instantly understand why.
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
MO< The amazing open-world sandbox gameplay of Grand Theft Auto III made it one of the PS2’s biggest hits. What could possibly be added to the sordid tale of mob crime to make it more appealing? The surprisingly simple answer: a ton of 1980’s nostalgia. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City oozes retro charm, gave its lead character a voice and a personality, and made subtle improvements to the cherished gameplay of the GTA series. Though it was followed by the bigger San Andreas and the prettier GTA IV, many series fans still consider Vice City to be the pinnacle of the Grand Theft Auto series.
An under-appreciated classic, Okami was more of an experience than a game. Featuring an unusual story firmly rooted in Japanese mythology, the player took on the wolf form of the sun goddess Amaterasu in a mission to restore color, life, and prosperity to the world. With breathtaking visuals that appeared painted on your television screen and a gameplay system that blows the concept of “innovation” out of the water, Okami was an all-around masterpiece. Pity it didn’t sell more copies – it’s a classic.
- Final Fantasy XII
The twelfth installment in the world-famous Final Fantasy series was revolutionary for a number of reasons. One was the birth of the Ivalice Alliance – Square Enix’s attempt at creating actual continuity in the Final Fantasy universe. Another was the end to random battles, with the player able to size up a foe before you take ’em on. Lastly? An epic story that spanned the entire world of Ivalice, and over 100 hours of play time. Final Fantasy XII is the series’ grand exit from the PlayStation 2, and it exited in style.
- God of War
An epic narrative, an iconic main character, intense action, and amazing gameplay–that was the golden formula that creator David Jaffe hit upon for the first God of War. Released nearly five years into the PlayStation 2’s lifespan, the first God of War proved that the console still had a lot of life left in its black plastic shell. Recounting the vengeful tale of Kratos, a blood-thirsty Spartan warrior who rebels against the gods who rule from Mount Olympus, God of War was a fantastic game that left a lasting impression on the action genre. The combat was amazing, with a deep combo system, enemies galore, and eye-popping fatality animations that delivered a satisfying and visceral thrill. The game was also unabashedly mature, and its production values and gameplay hold up to this day.
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater / Subsistence
When you’ve experienced the ultimate in modern stealth combat, where else to go but back in time? Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater tells the origin story of Big Boss, the original NES baddie, who bares a striking similarity to Solid Snake. With camouflage-based stealth and survival techniques mixed with the series’ standard combat, Snake Eater is a delightfully delicious new taste of stealth.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Everything in the world grinds to a halt when Grand Theft Auto hits the shelves. GTA: San Andreas was no different, as the series went from the 80s throwback era of Vice City to the present-day hood of San Andreas. No longer a slick ladies man in a nifty blazer, gamers very quickly got introduced to Carl Johnson, a man on a mission to save his hometown. Even without the story to consider, GTA: San Andreas showed its real strength in the customization of your main character. If you want to deck out CJ in awesome threads, you could; if you drove everywhere and crammed him full out fast food, he got fat. GTA: SA was so thug-tastic, it was even generating some wild controversy on the side. Added with almost twice as many vehicles as GTA III, new minigames and the introduction of gang warfare, the game was as in-your-face as it was gritty.
- Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty / Substance
The first PS2 iteration of the amazing Metal Gear saga is often considered the best. With a refinement of the original PS1 hit’s controls, still-amazing graphics, and a memorable cast of characters–including one surprising alternate protagonist–Metal Gear Solid 2 was the ultimate cinematic game experience. The “Substance” re-release added a smorgasbord of side missions and other fun extras.
- Gran Turismo 4
With astonishing customization that allows motorheads to fine-tune their vehicles down to the smallest detail, Gran Turismo 4 added a new level of authenticity to racing games that has yet to be matched. With never-before-seen physics that took into account the weight of your car, the friction of the road, and speed of surrounding vehicles, Gran Turismo 4 wasn’t just a racing game — it was an experience. GT 4 also introduced GT Online mode, which allowed racers from across the world to challenge each other in their customized vehicles via the internet.
- Hitman: Blood Money
Rather than casting you as an uber-killer who solves his problems with a hail of bullets, Blood Money required you to take your time and carefully plot out your hits. Agent 47, the star of the classic Hitman series, had a veritable tool box of devious tricks at his disposal. Missions were open-ended in design, so when pursuing an assassination target, you could barge through the front door with your guns blazing…or you could sneak through a back window and slip some poison into the hapless victim’s dinner. You could stealthily wire a bomb under the mark’s car and detonate it from afar…or climb into a nearby building with a sniper rifle and patiently wait for your target to come into range. It was this sense of choice that has always set the Hitman series apart.
- Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Resurrecting the highly-regarded Prince of Persia series for the PS2 was a risky proposition for Ubisoft. Thankfully, the company created something new and exciting that rightfully claims the throne with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. With acrobatic platforming, fun combat, and a unique “rewind” feature that allows you to turn back time to retry tricky jumps, we could play with the Sands of Time for all eternity. Later games got bogged down with emo histrionics, making Sands of Time the definitive entry…at least, until the next-gen Prince of Persia hits.
A silent protagonist and a scared princess who speaks an unknown tongue must escape a nearly-barren castle filled with uniformly shadowy figures. Somehow, it comes together as one of the most engaging adventures ever. Ico forges such a strong narrative and memorable characters with little dialogue and the simplistic gameplay come together into an unforgettable stylized storybook tale.
- Guitar Hero 2
Guitar Hero II didn’t really change the gameplay of the original. It simply added more of what the fans wanted–more music! With 40-plus music tracks, many of them master tracks, and a slightly easier hammer-on/pull-off system, Guitar Hero II is the most accessible game in the series, recalling a simpler time where you didn’t have to worry about incompatible instruments or exclusive track downloads. The song lineup is slightly better in the first Guitar Hero – consider buying both games.
- Kingdom Hearts 2
The unlikely union between Disney and Square Enix created an instant classic with the first Kingdom Hearts, and when it was time for a sequel, there was nowhere to go but up. Kingdom Hearts II integrated even more of our favorite Disney and Square characters, improved on the game’s battle system, and above all, got rid of those Little Mermaid swimming levels! Kingdom Hearts is a series known for having something for everyone, and there’s just enough magic in this title to make it accessible to even the most jaded, cynical gamer.
- Final Fantasy X-2
Don’t let the tweeny, hyper-sugary Japanese pop music fool you. Final Fantasy X-2 was a vast improvement on its more traditional forerunner, and it was easily one of Square’s most entertaining games by a long shot. Even the random battles were less of a hassle, although most male, red-blooded Final Fantasy fans were probably happy just changing Yuna’s Dresspheres. We never had more fun drooling over the slick graphics, revamped equipment system and sexy ladies’ outfits. Rowr.
- Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal
Choosing between three stellar Ratchet games is a tough task, but we chose the third game, Up Your Arsenal, for its near-perfect blend of action, platforming, and humor. A graphical feat on the PS2, Up Your Arsenal was one of the best-looking games on the console, and its implementation of old-school game elements (we LOVE the 2D Qwark mini-games) make it the complete Ratchet package.
- Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
Jak II was arguably more fun (cue guns and vehicles), but the foundation of the excellent Jak and Daxter series was built on the Precursor Legacy. Naughty Dog — the studio behind Crash Bandicoot — launched its first free-roaming 3D action game with Jak and Daxter, and the game’s stellar graphics and fun platforming gameplay set the stage for an excellent trilogy. Alongside Ratchet & Clank, Jak and Daxter is one of the best original series for the PS2.
- Tekken 5
Whereas every PS1 Tekken game was a bona-fide hit, the series didn’t fare as well on the PS2. Tekken Tag Tournament, a launch title, felt less like a true sequel and more like Tekken 3.5, and Tekken 4 was an aberration in the series that threw away many of the features of the past by including slower gameplay and environments that were walled and tiered. Tekken 5 brought the series back to its roots and nearly perfected the gameplay. With lush matching graphics to boot (the game managed to impress on the PS3, too!), Tekken 5 is one of the best fighting games of all time.
- Devil May Cry
Before Devil May Cry, the action genre was filled with slow, klodgy shooters. Capcom changed all that with the debut of this classic PS2 action game. Devil May Cry made action stylish and cool, with leather-clad Dante using his devastating sword to send enemies airborne and a variety of firearms to keep them up there. Devil May Cry is almost as fun to watch as it is to play, and it’s still the best in the overall Devil May Cry series.
- Twisted Metal Black
After its two previous less-than-stellar incarnations from 989 Studios, Incognito went back to the drawing board for the franchise’s PS2 debut. Luckily for PS2 owners, they created the darkest, most brutal vehicular combat experience to date! Set in its own continuity, Twisted Metal Black was able to revamp the stories behind fan-favorites such as Sweet Tooth, Mr. Grimm and Axel, giving them darker, more disturbing origins. With stunning, fast-placed gameplay that was sure to get your adrenaline pumping, there was no way you could stand idly by and watch a Twisted Metal deathmatch: it was drive or die.
- Burnout 3: Takedown
Burnout is still driving strong, but the series really hit top speed with its third PS2 iteration. In addition to the great racing and crash modes showcased in earlier titles, Burnout 3 added a much deeper championship mode and a cool little feature called the “Aftertouch,” which allows you to control your car, post-crash, in order to take out other racers. Burnout 3 was also the last game in the series based in some semblance of reality, as future titles allowed you to ram into the back of cars going the same direction as you without punishment, which took a lot of the intensity out of the race.
“Jimmy Hopkins-you’re quite the nastiest little boy I’ve ever seen!” These words lead you into the shoes of Bully’s red-headed, trouble-making protagonist, as well as life at Bulworth Academy. Rockstar took its spectacular open-world engine from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and applied it to a private school run by cliques and bullies. As Hopkins, you had the freedom to skateboard around town, play pranks on the faculty, and even participate in mini-games that acted as Jimmy’s school “classes”. With a stellar storyline and Rockstar’s trademark voice acting, Bully was a fantastic sandbox experience with a lot of heart.
- Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening
Devil May Cry 3 was not for casual gamers. After the disappointing sophomore entry in the series, DMC3 was leaner, meaner, and packing more whoop-ass than a bar full of rowdy prison inmates on crack. Dante’s Awakening was probably Capcom’s most over-the-top action game of the era, and just being brutally hard was only the tip of the iceberg. With handguns, sick sword combat, and Dante’s always-exciting demon powers, half the fun was just deciding how to kill your enemies. Long live the night.
- Silent Hill 2
Pyramid Head. Those two words are reason enough for Silent Hill 2 to make this list. Luckily, the rest of the game was damned fine, too. As recent widower James Sunderland, you find yourself in the mysterious village Silent Hill after receiving a strange letter from your late wife. Attacked by vicious, faceless monsters, James’ search for the past turns into a battle for his own future as he must survive against the heart-stopping sights and creatures that roam the streets of Silent Hill-but sometimes, the truth is better left untold…
- TimeSplitters: Future Perfect
What other game allows you to engage in co-op play with a future version of yourself? TimeSplitters: Future Perfect paved new ground for first-person shooters everywhere with its unique time-traveling story and innovative gameplay. One second you’d find yourself wielding a Kruger against a World War II backdrop, and the next you’d be stealthily sneaking around a city of the future, plasma pistol in hand. With downright addictive multiplayer, including a built-in Map Maker, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect was simply revolutionary for its… well, time.
- Onimusha: Warlords
Onimusha was very much like playing an Akira Kurosawa film. In the role of lone swordsman Samanosuke, you must protect a young princess against the forces of evil. The Kurosawa similarities end there, as the forces of evil are represented by breathtaking, demonic beasts. Onimusha’s fast-paced action set against its feudal Japanese backdrop make for an unforgettable experience from the first moment you unsheathe your katana. Think of it as Resident Evil for the sword-loving crowd.
- Lego Star Wars: The Video Game / Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
When Lego Star Wars was first announced, we wrote it off almost instantly. Big mistake. By marrying the greatest space story ever told with the cutesy style of Lego, we were able to enjoy all six of the chapters of George Lucas’ epic without a single line of dialogue being uttered. Considering how Episodes I through III turned out, this is probably a good thing. Lego Star Wars is a real treat, combining item collection, platform jumping, and some surprisingly intense destruction. It’s a must-have for any PS2 owner.
- We Love Katamari
The surprise hit Katamari Damacy featured one other sequel helmed by series creator Keita Takahashi. While the concept of creating a sequel to one of the most original games of all-time seemed counter-intuitive, Takahashi made it work by creating an engrossing story mode that was a love letter to fans of the first game. Not much of what worked in the original was changed, but the addition of crazy new stages, songs, and characters made We Love Katamari the best game in the series.
Black was like playing a Michael Bay movie on steroids. With completely destructible environments, an amazing arsenal of weapons, and “Style Kills” rewarded for suave decapitations, there was no way you couldn’t play this game without feeling like an absolute badass. The revolutionary physics also blew away the competition with real-time debris flying from destroyed buildings and vehicles, plus unmatched explosions that flattened foe and environment alike. The prettiest shooter on the PS2 is also one of the best.
- SOCOM 2: U.S. Navy SEALs
The sequel to the groundbreaking SOCOM was a revolutionary step in team-based strategic shooting, not to mention online console gaming as a whole. Compatible with the PlayStation 2’s USB headset, SOCOM II reinvented what it meant to play as a team when a member of your squad would call for back-up in real time, or sneaking through the jungle with 15 other players all looking for a headshot. While cheaters eventually ruined the online experience for many, players everywhere still carry fond memories from SOCOM II – and we haven’t even mentioned the stellar single-player mode!
- Marvel vs. Capcom 2
Surprisingly, one of the PS1’s biggest weaknesses was 2D games, particularly memory-intensive fighting games. Any fan of the genre who played Capcom’s popular “Vs.” series had to endure horrific load times and the removal of the series’ signature feature–the ability to switch between characters in the middle of a match. Thankfully, the feature was restored in time for the best game in the series to get a picture-perfect port. While we wish the game could have included some sweet online play, the rest of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is amazing enough to make up for it.
- Escape from Monkey Island
You could hear the jaws of adventure fanatics drop all across the country when LucasArt’s Escape from Monkey Island was announced for the PS2. The fourth installment of the Monkey Island franchise was also the first title to take our goofy, but lovable protagonist Guybrush Threepwood into the realm of 3D. With original puzzles, clever writing, and all-around fantastic voice acting, Escape from Monkey Island was an achievement in adventure games, and a nostalgia trip to the days of point-and-click.
- SSX 3
SSX introduced us to the world of extreme arcade snowboarding, SSX Tricky upped the ante with insane new tricks and death-defying tracks, but SSX 3 was the first in the series that truly immersed us in the experience, with an unprecedented amount of character customization and one giant mountain that was ripe for the shredding. It was SSX 3’s attention to detail, such as courses affected by weather in real time, that made the third title in the stellar snowboarding series one to remember.
- Fight Night Round 3
The third title in EA’s stellar Fight Night franchise introduced an innovative new way to experience the thrill of boxing by making use of the dual analog sticks to punch, jab, and block. Fight Night Round 3 also introduced stunning new visuals, and real-time battle damage with swollen eyes, cuts, bruises, and streaming blood. Fight Night Round 3 also allowed the player to generate rivalries with other boxers, creating cinematic experiences during press conferences and weigh-ins, allowing you to believe that you were truly part of the action. Simply put, boxing doesn’t get any better than this deep, sophisticated fighter.