If you’ve been much of a console gamer over the last 10 years, odds are you probably owned a PlayStation 2 at some point. Initially regarded as a too-expensive curiosity (and later as underpowered next to its Nintendo- and Microsoft-created competition), the PS2 quickly became the gold standard of console gaming, as well as the best-selling console of all time. Nearly all of the last generation’s best games appeared on PS2 first, if not exclusively, and it introduced millions of us to the exciting world of DVDs.
Next week, as many of you may already be aware, marks the 10-year anniversary of the PS2’s North American release on Oct. 26, 2000. So to celebrate a bit before the event, we’re recognizing the 10 greatest games of each year in a weeklong series of list articles, beginning today with the PS2’s release in 2000, and ending with the PS3’s rise to prominence in 2007.
(And because the PS2’s 2000 run lasted just over two months, we’re rolling today’s entry together with 2001so as not to have to write about its entire launch-window library.)
10. Madden NFL 2001
Madden is one of the year’s best games every year. So why single out this version? Simple: this is the season the series made its PlayStation 2 debut, simultaneously taking a huge evolutionary step, selling the expensive console to mainstream gamers who didn’t know their SSX from their Tekken, and giving the PS2 a huge weapon in the console war of the time.
Graphically, it was gorgeous. One of only a few PS2 launch games whose developers had figured out the PS2’s powerful, but difficult-to-program internal hardware, this was the first version of Madden that could truly be mistaken for a television broadcast at first glance. It did play a bit more slowly and sim-like than the competition, but that was because it was so much deeper. Madden 2001 made all other football games seem arcade-shallow by comparison – because they were.
Above: Sure, it’s shabby by today’s 1080p standards, but 10 years ago, this was eye-popping
Speaking of competition, Madden 2001 demolished not only Sony’s own NFL GameDay 2001, which arrived on PS2 buggy and broken, but NFL 2K1, one of the flagship titles on the competing Dreamcast console. Today, it’s hard to believe this even mattered, but at the time it was a heated rivalry. And when Madden showed up in such dominating form on PS2 after snubbing Dreamcast entirely? Let’s just say it didn’t take a Vegas bookie to see this fight was going to end in an early knockout.
When the PS2 first launched, even a lot of early adopters weren’t quite sure what to make of it; some of the launch games looked impressive, sure, but how many of them actually justified the PS2’s then-monstrous $299 price tag? Over the ensuing weeks, a few prominent titles earned recognition, like Tekken Tag Tournament, Dynasty Warriors 2 and Fantavision. But there was only one that was consistently singled out and praised by critics as THE must-play launch game, and that was SSX.
Playing like a cross between Tony Hawk and WipeOut, SSX’s stunt-heavy snowboard races nailed the controls while delivering tons of shortcuts, ways to mess with opponents and opportunities to catch ridiculously huge air before following up an elaborate aerial stunt with a pipe grind and then using turbo boost to blast past your rivals. It was amazing, especially by 2000 standards. It also didn’t hurt that it took better advantage of the PS2’s then-impressive capabilities than most other launch titles, with huge, seamless levels, tons of colorful special effects and a badass soundtrack that added immeasurably to the fun. More than any other game, SSX defined the PS2’s first few months.
8. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
The anticipation for a sequel to Metal Gear Solid was already huge on its own, but when the MGS2 trailer was first shown at E3 in 2000, it was enough to sell millions of gamers on the then-unreleased PS2. The graphics looked amazing, with production values never before seen in gaming, and it still holds up today. Just the hint of what auteur Hideo Kojima could do with the new system, as shown in a short but incredibly dense demo that was packaged with Zone of the Enders, sent fans into a frenzy.
Of course when Kojima actually did create something strange, new, and unique to gaming, not everyone was on board. In spite of Sons of Liberty’s undeniable quality, when Snake is replaced early on as the lead by pretty boy Raiden, it was a real surprise that many didn’t appreciate. And late in the game, the once-quirky, philosophical asides became huge tangents with intricate plotlines that turned off a chunk of the audience. But those that stuck with it and were able to follow Kojima’s winding road ended with one of the brightest gems the PS2 had to offer, and a must-play for anyone out to take on the old straw man of “are games art?”