It’s the best-selling home video game console of all time. So yeah, the PlayStation 2 has some good games. But which of them are the best?
We’ve put this list (which is not in any kind of order or ranking) together based on a couple of considerations. Firstly, our own personal favourites from the time, of course. But also, given the fact we’ve got some perspective on the PS2 now, we wanted to acknowledge some special games that defined the PS2 experience, the kinds of games that we maybe only ever got because of the combination of the console’s place in time and its market dominance.
Before we begin, though, please remember to spare us your sob stories. If your favourite PS2 game isn’t here, chin up. Just because we didn’t dig a game—or didn’t think it was good or weird enough to make a list called THE BEST, or felt it was more deserving of going on another platform’s list (Rez, Resident Evil 4, etc)—doesn’t make your own feelings on it somehow invalid!
GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY
There’s a good argument that San Andreas is the better GTA game, in the way that some people like to judge GTA games on map size and number of missions, but that game’s bloat (weight loss? empty desert highways?) counts against it. Vice City, on the other hand, features a world so confident and well-realised that it lingers as a place in your mind long after you’ve put the controller down.
Plus, God damn, that soundtrack.
SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS
Rarely has a game with so little to do done so much. It’s pure video games, jacked into your most important arteries: forget upgrades, NPC chatter, crafting or sidequests. You get a bunch of big monsters on a map then you go and kill them. That’s it. And that one thing is done so well it’s almost perfect.
The reason the PS2 is the best-selling console of all time is because it sold extraordinarily well in Europe. And a big part of that was down to the Singstar series. Americans may scoff, but Singstar did for the PS2 in Europe what the Wii later did everywhere else: convince millions of people with zero interest in fighting, driving or role-playing to go out and buy a home video game console.
It’s such a simple game—sing into a microphone—but it was executed so well and with such style that even the most grizzled party pooper found it hard to resist a turn on the mic.
An explosion, tamed and wedged behind a steering wheel. Burnout 3 was everything Gran Turismo wasn’t, concerned entirely about the sensation of speed and the thrill of...well, smashing into things. Two things it did very, very well.
FINAL FANTASY XII
*checks to see if Jason is around*
This was, and remains, the best Final Fantasy game ever made.
PlayStation consoles will never get an actual Zelda game, but that’s OK! Clover’s masterpiece comes close to matching Nintendo’s series in some areas and then beats it in others, marrying an epic tale (perhaps too epic) with some gorgeous art design.
It’s easy to forget, since most people played this on the Vita, that Persona 4 was originally a PS2 game, first released all the way back in 2008. The fact folks are still discovering it and enjoying the hell out of it so many years later says volumes about its ability to transport you back to your childhood then lock you in until you and your friends have done all the cool shit there is to do.
Na naaa na na na na na na naaaaaaaaa na Karamari Damacy.
Humour, great controls, beautiful visuals, an iconic cover and an asshole dad made this one of the most memorable PS2 games of the generation.
Let’s go back in time. Back before the series moved to Xbox 360/PS3, diluted its offerings with band-specific spin-offs, died an agonizing death then suffered an inglorious return. Let’s remember the first time you plugged this in then played Texas Flood, and lost your mind, because this was a stupid video game with a plastic guitar that somehow made you feel like a rock star.
CHAMPIONS OF NORRATH
An Everquest ARPG for the PS2 that you could play co-op locally or take online? Yeah that’s a good time.
GREGORY HORROR SHOW
This is here for two reasons. One, it’s a fantastic little game in its own right, sitting somehow between “Japanese horror” and “dark British comedy” on the genre spectrum. We’ve also picked it as a standard bearer for a whole slate of games that blossomed on the PS2, mostly from Japanese studios, that were weird little things dealing with weird little niches (Mr. Mosquito was another excellent example).
An otherwise solid military shooter was a sensation because not only did it match the PC crowd with one feature (it had online play!) but it even went past it with the ability to issue voice commands to your units, a feature that other games wouldn’t implement reliably for a long time.
A JRPG classic, Suikoden V is one of the best examples of how the genre’s strong emphasis on stories can help shine through it’s other shortcomings. Because what a story.
METAL GEAR SOLID 3: SUBSISTENCE
Not just one of the best games on the PS2, this do-over (with a better camera) is one of the best games of all time, a highpoint in the series for many fans and an example not just how to do stealth gameplay, but how to reinvigorate a series with a fresh coat of paint.
GRAN TURISMO 4
GT3 might be the game most people remember from this system, since it launched so close to the PS2's release, but GT4 was the better game (and in many ways the pinnacle of the series, given its slide in relevancy today), with a ridiculous number of cars (though not too many) and visuals that went beyond what anyone thought the PS2 would ever be capable of.
GOD OF WAR 2
Probably the best game in the series. Definitely the one that left the most lasting impression at the time of playing it. God of War 2 is a game that marries a watertight combat control system with all the bombast the series is known for.
Manhunt wasn’t just an exercise in grotesque narrative and stealth, it was a test of player’s sanity. You could play it normally, or you could hook up a headset and have Brian Cox—host of the game’s in-universe murder show that you’re a contestant on—chat, berate and whisper into your ear the entire game.
Shame about the sequel :(
SILENT HILL 2
Even a decade on, this is still a case study in how to do video game horror right. Not with jump scares, not with giant musclebound monsters or hordes of zombies, but by laying on a slow, oppressive atmosphere as thick as the fog that surrounds the town.
As good as the Rather & Clank games were, there’s only room for one “furry PlayStation platforming character” on this list, and that honour goes to the second Jak game, which not only blew out the scale of the series, but gave us our first real inkling that the guys at Naughty Dog might be onto something with their whole “write cool video game characters who we care about” thing.
TONY HAWK PRO SKATER 3
The first two games have the more memorable soundtracks, but this is peak Tony Hawk, getting everything about the core experience right before the series went off the deep end in later titles.
PRINCE OF PERSIA SANDS OF TIME
It was a good action game/platformer without the time abilities! But with those abilities, which let players shift time itself around during the middle of combat (or fancy leaps), this became one of the most unique games of its generation.
As brutal as it is funny, God Hand stands alone in a pantheon of its own making. What a way for Clover to go out.
It’s Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto, only in a school, with classes, and an amazing cast of misfits. What it lost in GTA’s scope it made up for with focus and character.
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