- Sony/BI Graphics
The PlayStation 2 still holds the title of the best-selling video game console of all time, with over 150 million units sold in its lifetime.
It managed to stay in production for over a decade, from 2000 until 2013. We took a crack at the impossible task of whittling its massive library down to just 10 of its best platform-exclusive games, but had to eventually expand that roster to 12 so we didn’t hurt too many people’s feelings by excluding something – though we are still almost certainly going to get a slew of angry emails for what we left out.
So, without further ado, here are the 12 best PS2 games of all time:
“Gran Turismo 4”
The “Gran Turismo” franchise has always been a game for people who actually know things about cars, so much so that Jeremy Clarkson, formerly of “Top Gear,” wrote about it in The Sunday Times, saying:
“They’ve even managed to accurately reflect the differences between a Mercedes SL 600 and the Mercedes SL 55, which is hard enough to do in real life. There’s more, too. If you take a banked curve in the Bentley Le Mans car flat out, you’ll be fine. If you back off, even a little bit, you lose the aerodynamic grip and end up spinning. That’s how it is.”
He does lament that the BMW M3 CSL “brakes much better on the road than it does on the screen,” but a video game can’t be perfect, I guess.
But for a game that came out in 2004, “Gran Turismo 4” came pretty close.
“Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus”
Most games strive for hyperrealism, attempting to render every pore and wrinkle on someone’s face, as if you were actually standing in front of them in the real world. It’s a futile pursuit, because the following year, games promise to look even better and more realistic than ever before.
That’s part of what makes the “Sly Cooper” series so great: Rather than try to replicate reality, it puts players in a decidedly Disney-like world, like an interactive Saturday morning cartoon.
That, mixed with the series delightful mix of stealth and platforming challenges, makes “Sly Cooper” a game worth remembering.
At first glance, it’s pretty easy to see why “Okami” had to be included on this list. It has an amazing aesthetic, like a Japanese ink drawing come to life.
In practice, “Okami” plays a lot like “Legend of Zelda,” but its aesthetic is more than just for looks. In place of Link’s items, like the Hookshot or ice arrows, you’ll learn different brushstrokes that modify the game’s world.
At any time, you can freeze the game and actually draw specific patterns on the screen – a slash, for example will damage enemies, a circle will cause the sun to rise, and you can even fill in the gaps on a broken bridge, causing it to be magically repaired.
In short, “Okami” is not only one of the PS2’s most beautiful games, but also one of its most innovative.
“Katamari Damacy” is straight-up weird. There’s no way around it. But that’s what makes it so charming. It’s goofy and quirky and silly, but knowingly so.
Though its gameplay is relatively simple – you basically just roll a giant, sticky ball, collecting objects until it becomes the size of a planet – the appeal of “Katamari Damacy” is bigger than that.
Between its inventive art style, its music that can only be described as a surprisingly catchy cartoon interpretation of jazz, and that impossibly cute icon of your character that always sits in the lower corner of the screen, the seemingly simple moving parts of “Katamari Damacy” add up to something wonderful.
“Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal”
“Ratchet and Clank” has long been one of PlayStation’s best franchises, and its third entry still stands as the series’ best.
It has fun, goofy weapons to choose from, like the Blitz Gun, which shoots a shotgun-like scatter of ammo that arcs like lightning to other enemies, and the Glove of Doom, which unleashes a small army of robots to do your bidding.
That toxic mix of platforming, puzzle solving, and weapon variety is what makes all “Ratchet and Clank” games so fun, but “Up Your Arsenal” was definitely the series’ high point.
- Square Enix
“Kingdom Hearts” seemed like an impossibly magical thing when it came out; “Final Fantasy” and Disney characters? Together? In one game? It was like the equivalent of dumping out a pair of siblings’ mismatched action figures and coming up with a story to link them all together.
Though Japanese RPGs are famous for being narratively incomprehensible, the infusion of the Disney world – and I can’t believe I’m actually writing this – helped ground “Kingdom Hearts” in something familiar and understandable, while also giving the melodramatic world of “Final Fantasy” a bit of much-needed levity.
The mere shreds of logical plot that were present in “Kingdom Hearts” became muddled shortly thereafter in its spin-offs on handheld consoles, but hopefully the forthcoming “Kingdom Hearts 3” – whenever it eventually emerges from development hell – is a return to form for one of the PS2’s best games.
If there’s one bad thing about the “Uncharted” franchise, it’s that it has prevented Naughty Dog from making a sequel to “Jak and Daxter” for PS4.
While a lot of games that attempt to have a sense of humor can often fall prey to low-brow toilet puns, “Jak and Daxter” was always surprisingly good at being funny without being cheap – at least, for the standards of video game writing in 2004.
“Jak 3” managed to build on the strong foundation built by its predecessors, continuing to add fun weapons to Jak’s roster and building out its beautiful, compelling sci-fi/fantasy world.
While it’s a bummer that this franchise has remained dormant for quite awhile, it does live on, in a way, in “The Last of Us.” Early concept art for a “Jak and Daxter” reboot was deemed to be getting too far away from what made “Jak and Daxter” what it was, so the concept’s ties to “Jak and Daxter” were severed and it became something all its own.
Still keeping my fingers crossed for a proper reboot, though.
“Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater”
Though people often argue about the relative merits of “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” and “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater,” the latter is probably the best of the franchise to ever grace the PlayStation 2.
“MGS 3” features the trademark combination of stealth and action that makes the series so great, but it also adds to the formula by introducing wilderness survival mechanics that complicate the otherwise simple task of keeping a character’s health bar up.
Also, “MGS 3” adds an interesting twist to the world’s narrative: Rather than play longtime series protagonist Solid Snake, you play as Naked Snake, who eventually becomes the series’ villain, Big Boss.
And, like other “Metal Gear Solid” games, it features all sorts of quirky, fourth-wall-breaking humor that the series is known for. For example, if a player saves and quits the game in the midst of the final boss and reloads the game a week later, they’ll find that he’s died of old age and will have avoided the whole fight altogether.
“Shadow of the Colossus”
“Shadow of the Colossus” is at once hugely ambitious, but also restrained and minimalist. It shares that quality with “Ico,” another game by the same development studio that also made its way onto this list.
The game is set in a large open world, but there are no random enemies, towns or other people to interact with. Instead, it’s populated entirely by 16 unique monsters that you must kill. In essence, it’s a series of spectacular boss fights, with some of them being the size of mountains.
I won’t spoil the game’s excellent story, but that’s the real reason to play it. Also, it will prepare you for “The Last Guardian,” the developer’s long-awaited next game, which comes out on PS4 in December.
“God Of War 2”
- Sony Santa Monica
“God of War” is an action/adventure series that delights in being gory and gross, but “God of War 2” is really where the series found its legs. The series as a whole reimagines the melodramatic world of Greek gods and goddesses as an action-packed bloodbath for power and revenge, but the series’ sequel expands on everything about what made the first one such a hit.
Unlike so many other action games, “God of War 2” perfectly walks the line between being accessible to newcomers while also offering quite a bit of depth for genre veterans. It’s the kind of game that’s easy to jump into, but hard to master.
And, of course, “God of War” can’t be brought up without mentioning its boss battles. Whether you love or hate their interactive movie-style structure, these so-called “quick-time events” added an amazing sense of scale and spectacle to a game that already had pretty great bones to begin with.
“Final Fantasy X”
- Square Enix
Despite the infamous laugh of its main character, Tidus, “Final Fantasy X” stands as not only one of the best “Final Fantasy” titles of all time, but also one of the best games to ever come to PlayStation 2.
In fact, it was the first game in the history of the franchise to ever receive a direct sequel. Up until then, every game in the series was self-contained, connected only in spirit by their sci-fi/fantasy setting.
Lucky for you, there’s a remastered bundle of both “Final Fantasy X” and “Final Fantasy X-2” available for PS4. Grab it if you have yet to experience either game.
What’s most striking about “Ico” is how much it manages to do with so little.
Unlike so many other adventure games, which feature a solo protagonist against an endless onslaught of enemies, “Ico” is about the relationship and collaboration between two characters.
Rather than complete puzzles alone, Ico must help Yorda through the game’s dangerous environments, helping her cross large chasms and pulling her up over steep ledges. By centering the entire game around keeping Yorda safe and ushering her through the game, you’ll find yourself growing emotionally attached to her well-being in a way that few other games manage to do.
Team Ico’s forthcoming project, “The Last Guardian,” seems to be going for a similar dynamic, this time focusing on a young boy and his massive, cat/bird/dog friend named Trico.