The PlayStation 2 was a cultural phenomenon when it launched. Sold out immediately almost everywhere it dropped, the PlayStation 2 heralded the beginning of a new age in video games history, an age wherein video games in the rest of the world would begin to mirror the levels of popularity seen before only in Japan.
Easil the best selling console of all time and probably one of the largest gaming libraries in addition, the PlayStation 2 produced more classics than multiple consoles from some manufacturers.
For many people, the PlayStation 2 was a touchstone experience. It broadened the video game market with its DVD playback feature and it offered not only a huge selection of games but some of the most experimental titles ever seen on a home system. It was like Steam’s indie selection on steroids. Developers were awash in success from pumping out hit games on the PS2 and many decided to take risks we haven’t seen since. Some of them were horrific, such as Manhunt, while others were amazing, like Final Fantasy XI.
One of the first consoles to push online gaming in a big way, the PlayStation 2 did not stray too far from the formula that had made the PlayStation 1 a huge success – a massive library of games, most of which were high-quality, all of which were new or different from what had come before in some way. Unchained from the 1990s era need for extreme and unconcerned for overweening morality like the SNES and Genesis dealt with before, the PS2 could truly explore what gaming as art meant and what that would possibly look like in the future.
Here are the ten best games for the PlayStation 2. Again, not an easy list as the PlayStation 2 library is one of the most massive and deep around. But we feel comfortable in saying these experiences have withstood the test of time and have something to offer players from every era.
10. Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill 2 from Konami is an amazing survival horror game that many might mistake for a Resident Evil clone but would be certainly surprised to find upon first playing that it is anything but an RE clone. SH2 is a deeply psychological game and is also quite disturbing. This is an experience to be had with the lights off and all alone. Terrifying and iconic at the same time, Silent Hill 2 straddles the line between cinematic experience and gameplay that makes this survival horror series so much more delicate and nuanced than the zombiefest that is Resident Evil. This game is amazing to this day and a truly excellent story that is executed almost flawlessly. The soundtrack is the iconic Akira Yamaoka tracks you would expect and the design is quintessential Konami. If you miss the glory days of Konami Silent Hill 2 may just make you that much sadder.
9. Star Wars Battlefront II
The Battlefront series has always courted controversy in one form or the other. Battlefront II’s huge controversy was how good it was. Again, many people don’t expect much from a Star Wars game. After all, there’s so much awful stuff out there it would be hard to imagine that Lucas Arts really cherished this IP for video games. Battlefront II, however, gave fans what they had clamored for for year: Play as a character in the iconic battles from the Star Wars mythos. This trend continues with Battlefront to this day but the beloved aspects we all know and adore were established with Battlefront II. If you want to skip the DLC and loot-boot festival that the current iteration is being maligned for then you could do worse than Battlefront II on the PlayStation 2.
8. Metal Gear Solid II: Sons of Liberty
Metal Gear Solid for the original PlayStation kind of came out of nowhere when it dropped and exploded in everyone’s face back in 1998. Sure, the title was in the works for the failed 3DO console prior to making its way to the PSX and, sure, it was also the sequel to a few popular though somewhat obscure NES and MSX games but no one really knew quite what to expect when Metal Gear Solid first arrived. It not only changed the way we play and expect video games to play, but it also set the industry on a course that impacts the way games are presented even now. Namely, Metal Gear Solid was a thoroughly cinematic experience with solid gameplay overlays. Metal Gear Solid II was everything the original was plus. While the initial shock introduced quickly after the game begins was, for some players, a deal breaker, those that stuck with the game were treated to a video gaming experience unlike any before it – including its forebear. What Metal Gear Solid has done for video games is elevate elements previously considered secondary – story, characters, and cinematic presentation – to the forefront while also keeping the gameplay tight and engaging. Metal Gear Solid II is a case study in how to produce a sequel to a groundbreaking forebear and it executes on every level with marvelous effect.
7. God of War
God of War was most memorable for being a bareknuckle action-heavy gore fest as well as an epic cinematic experience. Think Hollywood action spectacular meets pseudo-snuff film meets over-the-top toxic masculinity and you have something coming close to what God of War was for the PlayStation 2. Not that any of those things were negatives, but rather features of the whole experience. Kratos is not for the weak of stomach nor is he a character that leaves people feeling ambiguously. God of War revels in its presentation and lavishes itself with epic set pieces and over-the-top violence but it is, at its core, a very solid game that is probably one of the best action games to come out for the PlayStation 2.
6. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is Solid Snake in a James Bond-style movie and it’s everything you never knew you wanted but you need in your life. Snake Eater, unburdened by the need to succeed Metal Gear Solid, is more experimental and more fundamental at the same time. The gameplay is classic Metal Gear Solid. The OST and execution are also on par with or surpass Metal Gear Solid II. There’s a certain energy about Metal Gear Solid III that makes it different from the other two and this makes all the difference. Whereas the other two entries deal with high-stakes nonsense, Metal Gear Solid III is immediately a more personal tale and a more revelatory experience in the process. Here we learn who Snake is, what drives him, and what his relationship is with various iconic characters from the series like Big Boss and Revolver Ocelot. Metal Gear Solid III is an immediately more accessible experience for many gamers and it is an essential playthrough for fans of the series.
5. Grand Theft Auto Vice City/ Grand Theft Auto San Andreas/ Grand Theft Auto III
We’re including the triumvirate on this list because they’re all so perfect and so good in their own ways but also so similar in their flawlessness that it would be a shame to leave any off or to take up three entire spaces with this series. Grand Theft Auto truly hit its stride on the PS2. Whether it’s 1980s Miami Vice America as in Vice City or the west coast chaos of San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto on the PS2 provided so much gameplay that players could easily spend much of a year just playing the PS2 entries for this classic series. The gameplay, as with all Grand Theft Auto games, remains relatively unchanged between the entries but the few elements that do change – the cars, the music, the story – are all on parity with one another. Some of the best experiences on the PS2 and easily some of the greatest games of all time, gamers now could only dream of three mainline entries in this series on one console.
4. Final Fantasy X
A mostly linear experience, Final Fantasy X stands out because it is a very cinematic experience – introducing voice acting to the FF series for the first time. The story is engaging and the characters make an indelible impression, especially Tidus, for better or worse. This game’s real draw for fans of RPGs is its amazing party and combat system. Everyone fulfills a roles and everyone has a purpose – something often missing from JRPGs that tout massive casts of characters you will never use in battle. Final Fantasy X not only encourages you to level everyone up, it’s almost a necessity to finish the game. The story was a spiritual exercise and divergent from some of the more “save the world” epics of the past. This world is already devastated and destroyed, you’re just experiencing it. But experiencing it from an outsider’s view allows Tidus insights into the traditions and workings of this strange yet familiar place that will forever change the way the people he meets live. It’s an amazing experience and one that stands the test of time in almost every area – Tidus’ voice acting excepted.
3. Gran Turismo 4
The Gran Turismo series is Sony’s answer to every other racing game out there – and what a retort it is! Known for its photo-realistic graphics and attention to detail in terms of physics and car handling, Gran Turismo 4 is another iteration in a series known for no compromises. Easily a classic and definitely a game worthy of play today, the Gran Turismo series really helped kick off the racing simulation series which had always languished underneath the more ubiquitous arcade racer games of the past.
2. Kingdom Hearts/Kingdom Hearts II
Kingdom Hearts is one of the most beloved RPG series from Square, second or third perhaps to Square’s Final Fantasy and Enix’s Dragon Quest. And it’s not hard to see why. Kingdom Hearts really changed up the JRPG formula, introducing more action-heavy elements that we see in games today like Final Fantasy XV. Adding the classic Disney roster to everything is just an added bonus. These games have an incredibly storyline as well. Really it’s everything you wouldn’t have expected but should have known better since it is a Disney and Square collaboration. Don’t stay away from this series if you’re a fan of JRPGs. Run to the store and get the remastered editions today.
1. Shadow of the Colossus
Sony’s epic Shadow of the Colossus continues the trend of PlayStation 2 games being cinematic experiences. Again, the PlayStation 2 era was a golden age of experimentation and innovation, truly pushing the video game industry to the next level in terms of what a video game could be and what it should be. Shadow of the Colossus, like many games on this list, is available in a remastered version, and that should tell you something. Many of these games on this list are still available today in one way or the other in a retail channel. If you’re looking for something that is iconically PlayStation 2 as well as a beautiful gaming experience, Shadow of the Colossus is easily the best game to have come out of the PS2 era.