Live in your world, play in ours
At the turn of the century, the PlayStation 2 was the console to own. Not only did it dominate its competitors, outselling some of them into oblivion (RIP Dreamcast), the system continued to be a successful money maker for Sony until it was discontinued in 2012. But the PS2 wasn't only successful because it was a neat piece of hardware--the system had some of the most outstanding and memorable games to ever exist.
With fantastic console exclusives, games sporting some of the best visuals of their time, and a library that was built over a decade, there are a whole lot of amazing titles to consider when putting together a best PS2 games list. But, we've combed through our memories, old gaming collections, and reader suggestions to bring together our definitive list of the must play titles on the system. We have 50 of the best right here, starting with...
In 2006, Criterion Games took a rest from its Burnout series to stamp its mark on the FPS genre with Black. The game wore its gun porn label with pride. The physics were spot-on (for the time), weapons were modeled with painstaking detail, environments disintegrated with every bullet, and the sound design took its audio cues from iconic action films. Moreover, the game's hyper-realistic design immersed you in your very own overblown action flick... even if the main plot was largely forgettable (something about black ops soldiers and the Seventh Wave, we think).
Black was Criterion's love letter to gunplay and a slickly produced take on a saturated genre. Black didn't spawn countless sequels and yearly updates, but for a time in PS2's career it set the FPS world on fire... and then shot it a few more times for good measure.
49. Maximo: Ghosts to Glory
The original Ghost 'n Goblins is considered sacred grounds by old-school gamers, even if many of those old timers have forgotten how nut-kickingly difficult it could get. With 2002's Maximo: Ghosts to Glory, Capcom dared to resurrect the Ghost 'n Goblins in 3D, and much to the joy of 8-bit knights everywhere, it worked. The game wasn't nearly as difficult as its predecessor, but some sections came close. More importantly, Capcom captured Ghosts 'n Goblin's old-school spirit by preserving the nightmarish tone of the original, complete with skeleton warriors, devilish minions, and flying creatures that would attack at very inopportune moments.
Maximo's greatness was owed in part to Japanese manga artist Susumu Matsushita, who reimagined the retro knight as a wide-eyed anime monster slayer. Combined with adventurous levels and a remixed Ghosts 'n Goblins soundtrack by Tommy Tallarico, Maximo delivered a solid action adventure that wore its lineage on its chain-mail sleeve.
48. WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain
The last two decades have seen more than a few wrestling games enter the arena, but few made us mark out more than Yuke's WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain. This 2003 entry beefed up the elements that made WWE SmackDown! Just Bring It! and its followers so popular, while tweaking the series' move systems and character customization options to near perfection. For fans, it was the first game in the series to make modern-day legends like John Cena, Batista, and Rey Mysterio playable characters. It was also the first wrestling game in general to feature Elimination Chamber and Bra and Panties matches--both of which were rousing additions for their own reasons.
WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain innovated the genre. It took all the half-cooked features and experiments introduced in previous PS2 entries and delivered a deeply satisfying WWE sim. The bargain bin may be filled with WWE iterations, but this one deserves a spot behind the case.
47. God Hand
God Hand was the final game to come out of Clover Studio before it was shuttered, and in many ways it was a fitting swan song for the Okami developer. It was quirky, creative, and it left a lasting impression on those who gave it a shot (even if that impression was WTF?!?). God Hand didn't recreate the beat-em-up genre, but it was certainly blessed with director Shinji Mikami's (Resident Evil, Devil May Cry) off-the-wall sensibilities. Aside from the main character Gene, who wielded two massive fists of pure godly rage, it starred lucha libre gorillas, demons named Elvis, and other oddities. It also wielded a liberal dose of wacky humor and slapstick moves, lending a ton of antics to its battle between heaven and earth.
God Hand wasn't a perfect game, but it was one of the more memorable beat-em-ups on the PS2. What's more, as the last title to come from Clover Studio, it honored the passing of a studio that wasn't afraid of flexing its creative muscle.
46. Gitaroo Man
Learning guitar from a talking dog and becoming an intergalactic guitar-wielding hero is the dream of every high schooler, so it was a no brainer on Koei's part to capture this fantasy in the form of Gitaroo Man. The music game starred an outcast named U-1 who learned to rock the Last Gitaroo in an effort to save Planet Gitaroo from certain doom... and it was every bit as radical as the plot implies.
Everything about Gitaroo Man screamed goofy, teenage fun. Each performance was a high-stakes skirmish between good and evil, with you striking notes in various combinations and frequencies to land hits against Gitaroo Man's foes. Presentation wise, Gitaroo Man was a sensory explosion of guitar riffs, eccentric set pieces, and Japanese pop-culture charm. The joy was in rocking out, and saving the world came second.
45. Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil
By the time Klonoa made his first PS2 appearance in 2001, Sony already had a number of platforming stars in its roster. Yet despite the crowded market, this Dream Traveler and his sidekick Popka broke free of the clutter and treated gamers to what critics considered one of the best platformers in the system's library.
Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil looked like a Saturday morning cartoon, fusing 2D platforming with gorgeously animated 3D backdrops. You guided Klonoa through the dream land of Lunatea where he was charged with uniting its kingdoms and saving its priestesses. The game handled like a champ, switching effortlessly from board-riding stages to platforming levels that let you run amok with exciting attacks and abilities. As Rayman Legends and Rayman Origins have revived our love for animated side-scrollers, so too did Klonoa 2 bring that quality of dreamlike platforming to the PS2.
44. Dark Cloud 2
Yes, you remember Dark Cloud. At least, you should. This ingenious hybrid challenged you to be as adept with city design as you were with dungeon crawling. You adopted the role of Max, a resourceful young craftsman who was charged with rebuilding his world by collecting items (geostones) from dungeons and assembling villages piece by piece with help from the local Firbits.
Dark Cloud 2's world-creation system was addictive, to say the least. It's randomly generated dungeons made searching for geostones feel fresh with every visit, and it was easy to lose hours snapping photos and sussing out every last village piece. The game also shipped with an addictive golfing minigame called spheda and a fishing diversion; all in addition to a meaty story. We don't know how we found time to save the world, but we know we had fun doing it.
43. Indigo Prophecy
Before Quantic Dream won accolades for Heavy Rain, the studio cut its teeth on its interactive movie concept with Omikron and this cinematic gem. In it, you assumed the lead role(s) in a paranormal thriller by tapping your way through quick-time events and making meaningful decisions--all the while keeping tabs on your character's mental health, which triggered disastrous effects if left unchecked. The ability to play different characters and wield them to unlock different endings also gave Indigo Prophecy a play-it-again factor that followers of the plot couldn't ignore.
Indigo Prophecy (also known as Fahrenheit) wasn't the first of its kind, but it was one of the most polished. More importantly, it was proof video games were primed to rival film as a mature storytelling medium.
42. Spider-Man 2
There's a reason Spider-Man 2 is a go-to benchmark for Spidey games. For the first time in the Webcrawler's video game career, this 2004 movie adaptation gave Peter Parker the freedom to do what he did best: swing around New York City with reckless abandon while occasionally stopping to perform feats of heroism. Developed by Treyarch (yes, that Treyarch), Spider-Man 2 perfected the art of web-swinging in three-dimensional space--so much so that its well-paced storyline and side missions actually felt like distractions.
Taking off the rose-tinted glasses, it's fair to say the latest batch of Spider-Man games have evolved the series in their own ways. In fact, we named Spider-Man: Web of Shadows our all-time favorite Spider-Man video game. That being said, Spider-Man 2 was something new for its time and remains one of the best Spider-Man games--nay, superhero games--of the sixth generation.
41. Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter
By 2000, the Breath of Fire series was one of the most respected in the JRPG crowd, but it was in danger of growing stale. For its fifth entry, Capcom turned its fate around with a full 3D upgrade and a dramatically different style of play. In place of a sprawling, multi-kingdom epic, Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter tasked you with ascending a series of underground bunkers to escape a post-apocalyptic government. Gameplay was regulated by an intentionally scary system in which your hero died if his "D-Ratio" hit 100%, after which you were returned to the beginning of the game with only gear and character levels intact. This forced-replay encouraged you to unlock new secrets and plot points with every return trip. The introduction of a Positive Encounter and Tactics System (PETS) also gave you more power over who you fought and the conditions of the fight.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter took the time-honored series into a brave new direction. Judged on its own, Dragon Quarter gifted PS2 RPGers a fresh new way to get their fix, and is remembered as one of the most unique additions to the genre.
40. SOCOM II: US Navy Seals
Once upon a time, online multiplayer was considered a bonus, not a "must have." During these dark ages, SOCOM II: US Navy Seals was one of few brave titles that helped PS2's online community take shape. It opened the way for teams of eight to take their fight online over 25 maps--twelve new, 10 from the original SOCOM, and an extra three that were used as bait to buy the Official PlayStation Magazine. It also let allies communicate over a basic in-game chat and for recently deceased players to watch the game in ghost form.
SOCOM II wasn't the first title to come equipped for online play on the PS2, but it helped push the concept forward and blaze a trail for today's modern fragfests. SOCOM II's single-player pulled its own weight, introducing innovative features like the ability to shout voice commands over a headset. SOCOM II wasn't the greatest war game of the PS2 era, but it marched the genre forward and won us over on many fronts.
Before the rise of plastic guitars and bad karaoke, Harmonix rocked consoles with Amplitude. Developed as a sequel to Frequency, the game gave stay-at-home rockstars the opportunity to mash their DualShocks along to 26 of the baddest (which meant good) rock songs of the day, all while participating in an actual game that revolved around "capturing" tracks and racking up scores.
Amplitude presented console owners with a relatively new gametype for its day that was largely only available in arcades. It also refined many of the rhythm game mechanics that would go on to earn Harmonix scads of money with the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises. Say what you will about the genre selling out, but Amplitude was proof Harmonix used to be about the music.
38. Midnight Club 3
Midnight Club 3 was Rockstar's Robin to Polyphony Digital's Batman. It was a flexible, colorful, and fun alternative to the Gran Turismo series, and it was driven by a compelling backstory to boot. Like Gran Turismo, Midnight Club 3 showered love upon gearheads with tons of vehicle types and customization options. Where it set itself apart, however, was in its open world design filled with vibrant locales, interesting characters, and high-octane races around every turn. You weren't just a nameless driver playing with pretty cars. You were an underground racing rockstar who left skid marks across San Diego, Detroit, and Atlanta in pursuit of honor, mad cash, and wicked rides.
An updated version, Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition, released one year later. It featured new vehicles, a larger soundtrack, and the option to race (and create races) in a new locale, Tokyo.
37. The Warriors
When Rockstar announced it was bringing The Warriors out to play for consoles, fans of the movie had their apprehensions. This was The Warriors after all--a movie revered just as much for its unique style as it was for its gut-wrenching violence. Thankfully, Rockstar's affinity for stylized mayhem made it the perfect studio to introduce Rembrandt and his gang bangers to their new digital turf.
What made The Warriors special was the care Rockstar Toronto took in replicating the film's very specific tone. This could have easily been a Final Fight with The Warriors skins, but thanks to excellent voice acting, an authentic soundtrack, engaging cutscenes, and a wealth of criminal activities, it made you feel like you were truly running in the Warriors' world. The love for the film was present in every detail... even if it was covered under a few bodies and a couple pints of blood.
36. SSX Tricky
SSX Tricky is regarded as the [insert name of your country's best snowboarder] of snowboarding games, and it comes by its title honestly. For one, it kicked EA Canada's SSX series into a brand-new gear; and for another, it was just plain awesome. SSX Tricky achieved the nigh-impossible task of transporting the joy of shredding down a mountain into our living rooms. Its courses were exhilarating, its soundtrack was pumping, and its uber move trick system encouraged rookies and vets to keep coming back for "just one more run."
SSX Tricky took the bones of SSX and gave the series the vitality and attitude it so desperately needed. EA has attempted to keep the SSX brand alive since, but few sequels have come close to packing the same punch as this PS2 original.
35. NBA Street Vol. 2
No true PS2 b-baller's collection was complete without the second installment of EA Sports Big's NBA Street series. NBA Street Vol.2 improved upon the original in every way possible while preserving the arcadey three-on-three liveliness that made NBA Street famous to begin with. It gave casual gamers a basketball title they could sink into, and it served hardcore virtual athletes with a nice diversion from the more cut-and-dry basketball simulations.
In short: NBA Street Vol. 2 had game. It also had loads of new moves, fresh tricks, a satisfying be a legend mode, and other worthy attributes. Serious sports players may have turned up their noses at NBA Street's more casual approach to the genre, but those who stuck around were treated to one gratifying basketball game.
34. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
Tactical role-playing games are an acquired taste, but Disgaea: Hour of Darkness' blend of strategic combat, intriguing storytelling, and undeniable charm made this PS2 entry easy to devour.
More than a square-by-square grind, Hour of Darkness placed you in an epic fantasy universe populated by fascinating monsters, intriguing champions, and warring factions. Outside of the intricate combat sequences, one could roam Laharl's Castle, develop armies and debate with the Dark Assembly, or plunder the 100-odd levels of an Item World in search of useful spoils. Disgaea was one of the most ambitious tactics games ever, and its richly detailed world went on to inspire a number of sequels, anime, and manga iterations.
33. The Mark of Kri
Rau Utu may no longer hold as much clout as Kratos, Dante, or other PlayStation 2 champions, but for a brief time in the early aughts, he was one of SCE San Diego Studio's rising stars. His debut in 2002's The Mark of Kri introduced the gaming world to a Polynesian powerhouse and a solid action adventure. The Mark of Kri was a beast in terms of both looks and gameplay, as it offered a polished mix of stealth and combat enriched by an eye-catching Polynesian style.
Is it a stretch to say Kratos wouldn't have existed if it weren't for Rau Utu? Maybe. Then again, SCE San Diego did debut God of War three years after, and the similarities are hard to ignore. We're not saying Kratos is directly related to Rau Utu. However, if the Spartan ever got married, we'd expect to see Rau at the reception.
32. Odin Sphere
Odin Sphere was a game that caught everyone by surprise when it traipsed ever so boldly onto the PS2 in 2007. Equipped with gorgeously animated visuals and characters we actually gave a crap about, it breathed life into the 2D platformer while putting some (then) current-gen titles to shame.
In it, you escorted five travelers along storybook adventures pulled (albeit loosely) from Norse mythology. Each chapter stood out with its own brand of stunning art design and character, and the simple-yet-effective combat made us wish the story never ended. In an era lorded by space marines and dreary wartime simulators, Odin Sphere was a breath of fresh air.
31. Twisted Metal Black
Arriving as the fifth game in David Jaffe's vehicular carnage franchise, Twisted Metal Black had a lot to live up to. So did the team at Incognito Entertainment who were charged with taking over the wheel for the series' PS2 sequel. Thankfully, Incognito housed a number of veterans from original developer SingleTrac (Jaffe included), and the result was a Twisted Metal game that felt deeper, darker, and weightier than those that had come before it.
Taking place inside the bleak confines of Midtown (or so we thought), Twisted Metal Black was a polished demolition-derby title. It fleshed out Twisted Metal's drivers with their own backstories and armed them to the teeth with a wealth of devious weapons and gear. The addition of online multiplayer in Twisted Metal Black: Online gave you the chance to inflict your road rage on the outside world, all but cementing this Twisted Metal chapter as one of the best vehicle combat games in the PS2's garage.
30. Soulcalibur II
Arcade-to-console ports are risky, but Project Soul pulled off its Soulcalibur II's PS2 translation with nary a scratch. Considered one of the tightest, prettiest, and most fluid fighters of its day (and even today by some), the sequel improved on everything its Soul Blade and Soulcalbur predecessors did right, while introducing new faces, weapons, modes, upgraded visuals, and a substantial weapon master side quest.
Part of our love for Soulcalibur II stems from the fact that this was the series' first appearance on a PlayStation console. True, Soul Blade made the leap from arcades to the PlayStation in the mid-'90s, but the first actual "Soulcalibur" could only be enjoyed at home with a Dreamcast. By the time SoulCalibur II expanded the series' reach to other consoles, both hardcore and casual fighting fans were eager to enjoy their arcade favorite on the PS2, and Project Soul did not disappoint.
29. Viewtiful Joe
Screenshots and trailers don't do Viewtiful Joe justice. As we remember it, Clover Studio's beat-em-up was an adrenaline-laced, action-packed, style-soaked feast for the video gaming senses that couldn't be captured in a single frame. Then again, it's possible we're exaggerating, but Viewtiful Joe has that effect.
The side-scrolling adventure starred the aforementioned Joe who became a cel-shaded superhero after being sucked into the movies and imbued with special VFX powers that allowed him to wield cinematic special effects in battle. From space stations to submarines, Joe brawled his way through a string of lively set pieces to thwart evil and rescue his lady friend. The game played like a comic book turned up to 11, and its mix of hectic action, bombastic soundtrack, and intense VFX combat painted it with an over-the-top style all its own.
You may recognize Psychonauts from every Overlooked Games You Need to Play article ever written; but believe us when we say Psychonauts is a sorely overlooked game you really need to play.
Starring the psychically gifted Razputin Raz Aquato, it sent you packing to the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp where you ventured into the minds (and nightmares) of its offbeat residents. From dodging neon bulls to playing a life-sized board game and smashing up an underwater city, every level in Psychonauts played by its own insanely creative rules. Combining Double Fine's warped sense of humor, rebel game design, and knack for writing memorable characters, Psychonauts was a shining example of what the studio could produce when left alone with its imagination and a modest budget.
27. Katamari Damacy
The quintessentially quirky Katamari Damacy proved that wacky, distinctly Japanese games with relatively low budgets (under $1 million) could succeed in the US both commercially and critically. The public's warm embrace of the original Katamari, a surprise gem sold as a $20 budget title, led to not only several higher-priced sequels, but also paved the way for publishers to take more chances on localizing other oddball titles.
Katamari's brilliance is in the elegant simplicity of its gameplay, coupled with the vibrant chaos of its visuals. You use both analog sticks to roll a sticky ball around collecting as much stuff as you can, and the bigger the ball gets, the bigger the stuff it can pick up. Crucially, there's an abundance of really cool junk to roll up--lots of real-life, tantalizingly exotic, Japanophilia-inducing consumer goods, plus adorably blocky people, farm animals, planets and the like. In short, it's a joyous celebration of silliness with a simple yet totally novel concept that's highly addictive, all set to one of the greatest, jazziest soundtracks in gaming history.
26. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner
Mech-style combat is like pufferfish fugu sushi: a Japanese concept thats awesome when done right and noxious when done wrong. Luckily, Zone of the Enders falls into the former category, and the second entry in the series was massive mech fighting at its finest. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is what you get when you take some of the greatest minds behind Metal Gear Solid and let them run wild: a retina-searing, laser-filled battle royale amongst giant robots.
Piloting the Gundam-sized Jehuty was a breeze, thanks to tight controls and the kind of handling that the Dual Shock was made for. The games story and characters mightve been a touch too melodramatic, but weve got a soft spot for Dingos stereotypical anime angst. Battles with other Orbital Frames were astonishing affairs, with lasers, rockets, and gargantuan sabers flying every which way, and the combat never fell into Dynasty Warriors levels of repetition. Its the first time we remember feeling empowered while piloting a mech, instead of encumbered.
It's hard to slot Rez into any one category, but if pressed to assign it a label we'd go with Rave Sim Rail Shooter (or Ravelooter for short). Produced by Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Space Channel 5, Lumines), Rez made its soundtrack an extension of its gameplay, empowering you to become an intergalactic DJ whose every action in Rez's stylized computer environment enhances and alters the game's music. This synthesis of audio and gameplay could have easily been a mess of shoddy combat and grating dance music, but the experiment worked splendidly, creating one of the most psychedelic shooters for the console.
Rez was later released in HD form for download on PS3 and Xbox 360. A prequel of sorts, Child of Eden, was also developed by Mizuguchi as a proof of concept for Microsoft's Kinect peripheral, and later again for Sony's own PS Move. The Rez family offspring did well by this Ravelooter classic, but neither reached the same heights of innovation as this trippy PS2/Dreamcast classic.
24. Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution
Virtua Fighter 4 brought Sega's mega-popular arcade fighter to the PS2 like a roundhouse kick to our collective faces. Still considered one of the best fighters in its class, Yu Suzuki's sequel delivered the excellent multiplayer combat its arcade brethren had been known for while tweaking the movesets from previous Virtua Fighters to produce an even more fluid and inviting combat experience. It was everything PS2 fighting fans were waiting for, and for the first time in the history of the franchise, they didn't have to find an arcade to enjoy it.
One year later, Sega released Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, a version which added further improvements including refined graphics, better AI (based on real-world players), new fighters, and a quest mode which let you punch through the ranks and unlock a slew of customization gear. For many years, this was the fighting game true fans of the genre went to first.
Of all the games that have weathered firestorms of controversy, its hard to imagine one that deserved it less than Bully did. Instead of being the Columbine simulator some kooks expected, the story revolves around a tough kid trying to survive in a boarding school filled with sadistic brats.
Bully did an expert job of taking Grand Theft Autos free-roaming mentality and using it to create an incredibly compelling, character-driven game about being trapped in a hostile school environment. It also helped that, unlike most real kids who are the targets of bullies, protagonist Jimmy Hopkins was a gruff bruiser with a boxers fists and superhuman stamina, which allowed for uniquely fun situations, like beating up the entire football team at once. It wasnt GTA, but in some ways it was a lot more enjoyable.
22. Tony Hawks Pro Skater 4
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 is a sentimental favorite, and we acknowledge that. It did not, however, come in the wake of the PS2 Broadband Modem, and it was still confined to the Two-Minute Rule. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 struck the perfect balance between the sublime gameplay of its predecessors and the series' eventual descent into Hot Topic Mallpunk Hell.
Let's recap: It introduced free-skate mode, which allowed you to explore the terrain before committing to any challenges. It introduced grind and lip extensions to complement the revert (introduced in THPS3) and the manual (unveiled in THPS2), which were arguably some of the finest tools to stretch out big combos to date. And it was the first Tony Hawk game that PS2 players could jump online with in an official capacity on launch day. Rather than focus on the series' decline, look back fondly on its finest moment.
21. Burnout 3: Takedown
For many, this is the crowning entry in Burnouts legacy. By the third time out, Criterion Games had distilled hyper-aggressive driving to its absolute apex, and added features like Crashbreakers and Takedowns, which now make up the very essence of how most people see the series at large. To this day, Takedown still stands as the best selling and highest-scoring Burnout game, and thats saying a lot for a franchise as beloved and well received as this one.
Burnout 3: Takedown offered more online features too. Whereas the previous game had only bothered with piecemeal leaderboards (solely on Xbox Live), new owner EA cleared a hefty chunk of its server space for a ballistic online experience few traditional racing games had received up to that point. We probably dont have to tell this to those who reveled in the ridiculously awesome Road Rage events; a handful of you were still playing it right up until EA finally shut down the servers nearly six years post-release.
20. Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
Back when Jak was mute and Daxter was more peppy than annoying, this action adventure platformer was the Mario 64 that the PS2 desperately needed. Instead of shunning item fetching, it perfected it, with a bevy of adorable doodads strewn throughout each level. Snagging each Precursor Orb was just as satisfying as earning one of Mario's stars, and Daxters end zone-style celebrations made it all the sweeter.
Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy doesnt try to get overly fancy with level design, offering the typical snow, lava, and jungle worlds, but they were so eye-pleasing that we barely noticed. With a silky smooth frame rate and a striking use of color, the kid-friendly aesthetic was no less captivating for adults. The animations were also full of character: Wed argue that the ground pound animation is the best of all time, and Crash Bandicoots trademark spin looked even better on Jak. The sequels ended up walking a very different path, but Jak and Daxter's debut paved the way for greats like Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper.
19. Gran Turismo 4
Painfully close to reality, the Gran Turismo series is known for its attention to details, including a mountain of licensed autos, finely tuned race physics, and blisteringly tough license tests. Gran Turismo 4 has over 700 cars to choose from, each a near-perfect representation of their real-life counterpart, and each able to be tuned to perfection.
With stellar graphics and fantastically realistic driving, GT4 is a dream come true for car fans. If you're interested in driving your own car in locations you'd never visit, or driving your dream car around a lap, this game definitely has the ability to scratch the automotive itch that you might not know you have.
18. Guitar Hero II
Hot on the heels of Guitar Heros unexpected 2005 success came a sequel that--while it didnt add much to the first games formula--managed to refine it into something good enough to make us want to buy a second freaking plastic guitar. Featuring many more songs, Guitar Hero II also introduced more characters, a more focused career mode, and a ton of cool secrets to find.
More importantly, GH2 also added the ability to play cooperatively with a second player, instead of competitively, with one playing lead guitar and the other playing rhythm or bass. This set an important precedent that would eventually encourage developer Harmonix (and many others) to think big and create multi-instrument games, like Rock Band, that encourage team play. This cool idea, which eventually became a really cool, room-filling idea, makes Guitar Hero II more than just an awesome sequel; it was also a big jump forward for music games in general.
17. Beyond Good & Evil
Although few people gave it a try, a game as ambitious as Beyond Good & Evil should be appreciated by every gamer, even if some of those ambitions fell short. Its playstyle was similar to the Zelda series, and the story followed Jade on her search for answers in the fog of war. It dealt with themes that were especially timely in the paranoid, post-9/11 world, as Jade was a photojournalist for an underground network countering the massive propaganda machine of her planets occupiers--who, it turned out, were secretly in league with their supposed enemies.
Though it got a tad predictable by the end, BG&E put a focus on creativity that few AAA games before it had, and the gameplay backed it up almost all the way. Even if its reach slightly exceeded its grasp, BG&E proved that deeper themes can be tackled by games, even if it isnt always popular.
16. Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal
If any franchise proved that it was possible to stay awesome while pumping out yearly sequels, it was Ratchet & Clank. Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal continued the bigger, better, more approach established by the previous years Going Commando, introducing weapons that could now be upgraded four times instead of once, a bigger universe to explore, and the first appearance of Ratchets creepy robot nemesis, Dr. Nefarious. It also featured a bigger, more friendly role for idiot superhero/villain Captain Qwark, including side-scrolling side missions that took place inside the raygun-toting lunks comic-book adventures.
Of course, all that stuff is secondary next to the addition that really secured Up Your Arsenals place in history: online play. The actual game modes werent really anything online shooters hadnt done before, but going head-to-head against other players with Ratchets weapons, abilities, and level design was a totally unique experience. And while online play came back in Ratchet: Deadlocked, it was Up Your Arsenal that managed to sustain an online community right up until the servers were finally shut down.
15. Kingdom Hearts II
Kingdom Hearts is a series that really shouldnt have worked. Mixing the melodramatic world of Final Fantasy with the cheery family fun of Disney should have been a train wreck. Instead it ended up being one of the most successful new franchises of the PS2 era, and its action RPG gameplay still holds up, particularly in the PS2 sequel.
Kingdom Hearts II resumed Soras search for his friends, and as always hes assisted by Disney stars like Donald and Goofy. Sora explores worlds old and new, including some based on Steamboat Willy and TRON. Meanwhile, the combat was enriched by the additions of dual Keyblades, the Drive Gauge, and the much-improved Gummi Ship segments. Even when the plot makes little sense, KH2s gameplay kept us satisfied until the story stopped being confusing.
14. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
Sucker Punch was on to something with Sly Cooper & The Thievious Raccoonus. But it was in 2004's Sly 2: Band of Thieves that the developer struck pay dirt with the right combination of still-hot Ocean's Eleven zeitgeist, cel-shaded art design, and Saturday morning cartoon fun. It all added up to one of the most outstanding platformers to hit the PS2.
While Ratchet & Clank combined bombastic weapons and big fun, and Jak implemented some tough-as-nails platforming, Sucker Punch took the essentials and distilled them into a game that was fun and charming for both young gamers and their parents. Sly 2 marks a genuine high point not only for the series, but for the 3D platforming genre.
13. Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition
Roaring back from the disappointing sequel that was Devil May Cry 2, DMC3 gave fans a prequel starring a younger, wilder, more shirtless version of Dante who could use multiple fighting styles and clobber enemies with a deadly guitar. In addition to its over-the-top combat besting DMC2's in many ways, it also explored the relationship between half-demon Dante and his less good-natured (but better-dressed) brother, Vergil, as they battled over the fate of the monstrous Temen-ni-gru tower.
It was also crazy challenging, to the point that its uncompromising difficulty--actually ratcheted up for the US version--was one of the primary criticisms leveled against it. But the fact that so many powered through that difficulty was a testament to just how amazing it was.
12. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
By 2003, Prince of Persia was a name barely remembered by most gamers, and after the embarrassing attempt at relevance that was Prince of Persia 3D, it seemed the series was truly dead. But when the franchises creator, Jordan Mechner, returned to the series with the great development team at Ubisoft Montreal, the Prince was reinvigorated. Not only did the reinvented Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time turn puzzle platforming on its head, but it did so with fine storytelling and real imagination.
Starting with the exploration-based platforming gameplay made famous by the Tomb Raider series, PoP took it to a new level of intricacy, as precise, sharp controls made going from wall-run to jump to roll to climb to wall-run a breeze. Even if you were tripped up by the touchy 3D camera, you could easily rewind back 20 seconds or so and give it another shot. This really softened the blow of the trial and error inherent in the genre, and it kept you hooked, sticking around to clear just one more room and the series of challenging jumps that lay within. The entire trilogy was a beautiful, violent, and occasionally heart-wrenching saga, but PoP has never climbed quite this high again.
11. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
For years, Dragon Quest was said to be as big in Japan as Final Fantasy was in the states, but publisher Enix made little attempt to advertise (or even release) the series in the west. When Enix merged with Square and shipped Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, it was the first time many in the US got a taste of what Dragon Quest had to offer. And what a taste it was.
DQ8 told the story of an evil jester, Dhoulmagus, who cast a curse on Trodain castle, turning the king into a troll, the princess into a horse, and the remainder of the inhabitants into plants. "The Hero" is the only one left unharmed, and after being approached by the king, sets off on an old-fashioned JRPG adventure. With amazing, traditional gameplay, wonderful visuals, and a stellar plot (that, admittedly, went on for about 20 hours too long), Dragon Quest VIII ended up being one of the best RPGs on the system. And considering the system was known for its RPGs, that's pretty big.
10. Silent Hill 2
Nearly 10 years and a handful of sequels later, Silent Hill 2 is still easily the best in the Silent Hill series. It has nearly everything you could ask for in a psychological horror game: an unrelentingly suspenseful atmosphere, disturbingly grotesque enemies and imagery, and a mature and nuanced story that surpasses 98 percent of Hollywood's horror/suspense movies. It manages to deliver all the scares of the horror genre while still maintaining intelligent and often subtle themes about love, personal guilt, and misogyny. Not many games have touched on as many taboo topics as Silent Hill 2, from child abuse to mental illness, while still somehow never seeming in poor taste.
Silent Hill 2 also introduced us to the iconic Pyramid Head, who's like Michael Myers times 10 with a huge medieval torture device permanently welded to his head. Pyramid Head is actually a manifestation of protagonist James Sunderland's subconscious, but that only makes it that much creepier that a seemingly normal guy on the surface could create something so horrific. And just as James is trapped with his choices, Silent Hill 2 sticks with you even after you're done playing--radio static never quite sounds the same again.
Ico's a weirdly haunting game that can provoke strong emotions from those who play it. Theres fear, of course--its hard not to get a little creeped out by the smoky phantoms that periodically crawl out of the shadows to menace you--but Ico was also one of the first games to trigger a protective instinct in its players. Many have strong memories of working with a frail girl named Yorda to escape from the sprawling temple.
Ico isnt on this list just because its unusual or emotional, though; it was also an immensely rewarding game. Every twist of the temples crumbling, alien architecture offered new opportunities to experiment and new ways to puzzle out how, exactly, you could help Yorda--who was nowhere near as agile as Ico--get clear of the current obstacle before smoke-monsters showed up to snatch her away. (Also, beating up those monsters with Icos occasionally fiery club was oddly satisfying). Icos a true classic, and the fact that it happened so early in the PS2s lifespan was a testament to just how great the following years would be.
In spite of the fact that everyone agrees The Legend of Zelda is one of the best franchises of all time, surprisingly few games have tried to imitate it with any success. And its even more rare when that same imitator is as good as the originator, but thats what happened with the too beautiful to live Okami.
Set in feudal Japan with cel-shaded art created in broad strokes, Okami tells the tale of wolf god Amaterasu coming to Earth to save it from the rebirth of the wicked ancient gods. The Zelda-inspired gameplay gets a twist as the woodblock art style is infused into the gameplay whenever you pause the action and draw on the screen to use Amaterasu's special abilities. Still a uniquely gorgeous release with the gameplay to back it up, Okami is an adventure we never want to forget.
7. Resident Evil 4
Whenever Resident Evil 4 comes up in a list, the focus is always on how it revitalized the series with its lack of true zombies, the innovation of its over-the-shoulder cam, and blah, blah, blah. Lets focus on the really important part: The game was just fla-out fun to play. Its manual aiming mechanic (with an actual laser-pointer reticle) made shooting angry villagers in the face so much more satisfying than the combat in earlier Resident Evils. Lets not forget the never-gets-old melee combo attacks which let you shoot a guy in the kneecap and then roundhouse him into a crowd of angry infected.
It influenced nearly every third-person shooter that came after it, but when we think back on it, we dont focus on mechanics so much as take time to grin and remember moments like when all the villagers were storming that farm house, or fighting regenerators. In the end that's what makes it worth playing no matter what the system.
6. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
Shin Megami Tensei had a memorable era on the PS2, with stellar series entries like Digital Devil Saga, Nocturne, and Devil Summoner on Sonys system. Out of all those strong titles, Persona 4 took both the series, and the RPG genre, in exciting new directions.
Persona 4 expertly blended exploring dungeons filled with eccentric monsters and relationship building minigames as your character lived out a semester of high school. Unlike the high fantasy of other JRPGs, Persona is grounded, its focus being insular and examining what dark secrets are hiding within everyone. That unique feel and focus on mature storytelling made Persona one of our favorite series of the last decade.
5. God of War II
After God of Wars smash debut in 2005, everyone sort of figured that any sequel would show up on the PS3. No dice. Two years after most of us had counted the PS2 out, God of War II came storming in with action that was bigger, bloodier, fiercer and--surprisingly--better looking, with no visible toll taken on the PS2s practically ancient hardware.
God of War II also introduced a handful of cool new powers and abilities, with Kratos now able to swing, Indiana Jones-style, from grapple points, and eventually glide using a pair of wings stolen from Icarus. And like God of War before it, it took us on a thrilling, vicious tear through ancient Greeces most dismemberable monsters, with some of the most satisfyingly gory combat on any console.
4. Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X stands out not only because it was the first Final Fantasy on PS2 (and its graphics still hold up to scrutiny today), but because it continued the FF tradition of blending equal parts reinvention and tradition in a way that nearly all fans of the series adored. The game had its share of minor missteps which seem almost endearing today (Wakka and Tidus are nobody's favorites, not to mention Blitzball), but its seamless blend of new and old still felt magical.
The beloved Active Time Battle system was transformed into the Conditional Turn-Based Battle system, ditching the real-time aspect in favor of completely strategic turn-based combat that was still no less intense than its predecessors. Add to that Tidus and Yuna's heartbreaking romance and a shocking (if somewhat convoluted) twist near the end, and FFX was truly worthy of bringing the series into a new generation.
3. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Vice City managed to be stellar in spite of just tacking on a few significant improvements to GTA III, but Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas widened GTAs focus like no other game in the series. You didnt just have a city to explore--you had an entire state, complete with little towns and long, mostly empty stretches of wilderness that were rife with interesting geography to drive over. You werent just some Mafia errand boy--you were Carl CJ Johnson, a fully realized character with a family, a personality, and the need to exercise and eat (and to bulk up or slim down accordingly).
More than just a crime game, this was a full-on criminal-fantasy simulator that began with petty turf wars on the streets of Los Santos and eventually reached the bizarre heights of stealing a jetpack from an Area 51 stand-in on the orders of a CIA drug pusher. GTA hasnt done anything quite this ambitious since; in fact, its hard to think of any other game that has. This was the high-water mark for one of the PS2s most defining series, making it easily worthy of ranking high on this list.
2. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Metal Gear Solid 2 was one of the most divisive games of all time, but the next Metal Gear Solid didnt have any such problems. A 1960s-set sequel starring Solid Snakes near-identical father, Naked Snake (aka Big Boss), Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was a unique step forward for the series.
Not content to stay indoors any longer, it moved the action into a vast jungle. The setting forced you to manage your camouflage, kill animals for food, and heal your wounds with field surgery. The stealth gameplay was top-notch, as was the emotionally wrenching story built around unforgettable boss fights. For all those reasons and more, Snake Eater is arguably yet to be overshadowed by any subsequent MGS sequel.
1. Shadow of the Colosus
Shadow of the Colossus looks so empty at first glance. Players are dropped into an wide open world thats devoid of almost any living thing, theres very little spoken dialogue, and virtually no enemies beyond the 16 giants youre tasked with destroying. Why is such a barren game met with universal acclaim and named the best game on an amazing console like the PS2?
Because the game creates such an extraordinarily deep experience with those few elements. Shadow of the Colossus tells a story less through words than through gameplay, where the each fight against a Colossus is a mystery to be solved, one that slowly builds the tragic narrative with each clever use of the simple gameplay mechanics in the brilliantly realized world. More than any other entry on this list, SotC shows how a game can tell a story unlike any other form of media. And its a story that every gamer should experience at least once.
What do you think?
Obviously not every game could make the list--there are only so many games that can be labeled the absolute best. We're sure that some of you have games you think should have been added, cut, or rearranged, so let us know in the comments below what you would change about our list of the best PS2 games of all time.