The best PS2 games are essential plays. When the PlayStation 2 landed in 2000, Sony was riding high off of the success of the PS1 and had set its sights on dominating the entire video game industry. It wasn't long before Sega was forced to exit the home console business entirely, and the less said about Nintendo's GameCube sales the better.
The truth is, there's a reason the PS2 is considered the best-selling video game console of all-time – it's because of that incredible library of available games. It's a varied and diverse group that helped shape the way that we play today, including some of the best action, open world, role-playing, and stealth games ever made. So, let's get into it: Here's our pick of the 25 best PS2 games ever made.
For more definitive rankings of Sony PlayStation games throughout the years:
Best PS2 Games, Ranked
25. SOCOM 2: US Navy Seals
Developer: Zipper Interactive
Zipper Interactive did a fine job bringing third-person tactical shooting to the PS2 with the original SOCOM: US Navy Seals, but this sequel improved on just about every aspect of it. The single-player experience featured better AI, more varied objectives, and additional weaponry over the course of its 12 missions. However, those that experienced it back in the day know that the real fun was to be had online, as it was one of the best-networked experiences available on Sony’s console. The servers are offline now, but a LAN option is available for the truly dedicated.
24. OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast
Developer: Sumo Digital
Sega AM2’s driving game is a simple thing – you just need to drive wonderful Ferrari cars through absolutely beautiful scenery, taking advantage of one of gaming’s most satisfying drift mechanics as you go. That was all there was to it in the arcade but Sumo Digital’s conversion adds so much more through the Coast 2 Coast mode, with all sorts of driving challenges to keep you busy. If you like arcade racing games, you won’t find many that are as joyous as this, and it’s worth picking up for the PS2 as licensing issues saw later digital releases get de-listed.
23. Gradius V
If you don’t feel like the PS2 is retro yet, this game might make you think twice. Just imagine the kind of cosmic alignment that would be required to get Konami to publish a boxed, retail shoot-’em-up developed by Treasure in today’s market. It’s a shame, because this is a superb continuation of a classic gaming series, with great graphics and some inventive new ways to use the Option drones that have always been a staple of the series. It’s a decidedly old-school experience and one that is an essential purchase for any fan of the genre.
22. Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution
After a good showing with its first release of Virtua Fighter 4, Sega’s updated version smoothed out the graphics, added a couple of extra fighters and topped it off with substantial single-player content. The result was a truly top-class game, whether you were beating your friends down or facing off against foes in the virtual arcades of Quest mode, based on real-life pro players. This series has a reputation for being impenetrable, but that’s not really justified – it’s very simple to learn, with just three main buttons and one of the best tutorial modes of its time.
21. Dragon Quest 8: Journey Of The Cursed King
Developer: Level 5
There’s something very comforting about the PS2’s only major Dragon Quest game. As befitting a game from the quintessential Japanese RPG series, it remains an expression of the core of the genre, and it was a perfect introduction for European players who got this as their first official game in the series. It’s a simple game, and even by the standards of the series, it has a straightforward plot. But there’s a value in being brilliant at the basics, and this game nails that in every aspect, from Akira Toriyama’s attractive cel-shaded character designs to the top-notch localization.
20. Gran Turismo 4
Developer: Polyphony Digital
If you wanted your racing games on the more realistic side, Gran Turismo 4 was way ahead of the rest of the console pack in its day. Polyphony Digital didn’t try to do anything particularly new or clever with the game and focused on improving the things that had made the series so popular to begin with. With over 700 cars and more than 50 tracks to race on, Gran Turismo 4 is a game of truly mammoth proportions and one that looked absolutely phenomenal. The new B-Spec racing management mode was a fine addition to the on track action too.
19. Tony Hawk’s Underground
You’ve got to give Neversoft credit – given how popular its skateboarding series was, it would have been easy to simply put out another formulaic entry. Instead, the team took a gamble and pushed the series in a bold new direction, incorporating a more free-roaming style of play and a substantial story element that hadn’t existed in previous games. While the game was clearly at its best when you were on your board, the ability to walk around and pick up challenges on the fly refreshed a series that was potentially in danger of becoming a little bit stale.
18. Kingdom Hearts
Smashing the beloved characters of Disney together with one of the most popular Japanese RPG series was bound to create some sort of fandom explosion, and it did just that – Kingdom Hearts still has very passionate fans today. Of course, there’s no instant answer to how such a crossover should play, so Square did what it knew best and came up with this brilliantly presented and overall rather excellent action RPG. It’s a delight to see Mickey and Donald visiting worlds like Agrabah and Halloween Town, as well as interacting with the likes of Tidus and Cloud from Final Fantasy.
17. Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal
Developer: Insomniac Games
The Tyhrranoids are attacking Veldin, and Ratchet’s not going to stand for seeing his home planet besieged! However, he quickly discovers that there’s more to this invasion than meets the eye, chiefly because of the manipulations of Dr. Nefarious. The first two games in this series were both excellent, but it’s the extra polish and large range of weapons that earns the third game in the trilogy its place on this list. By this point, the balance between platforming and shooting has definitely tipped in favor of the latter, but when it looks and plays like a dream, who’s complaining?
16. Katamari Damacy
The King Of All Cosmos got drunk and broke the sky, and now it’s your job to go down to Earth and fix it. How? By rolling up objects into progressively larger balls, which are launched into space to create new stars. Obviously. The core action of accumulating larger and larger objects, from batteries to boats, is very satisfying indeed – but just as much fun comes from the game’s oddball sense of character. The King is an absolute hoot, and the deliberately low-polygon look to the game’s colorful graphics gives the whole thing a very surreal atmosphere from start to finish.
15. SSX Tricky
Developer: EA Canada
The first game in EA’s snowboarding series was a much-needed highlight of the PS2’s underwhelming launch line-up, but the sequel made it wholly redundant. The original game’s courses were all remixed and a couple of extra ones were added for good measure, while the showboating became even more outlandish with the addition of new Uber tricks. Beyond that, everything that players loved about the first game made the cut the second time around, be it the vibrant characters or the boisterous racing action. The fact that it’s still in the conversation for best snowboarding game ever says it all, really.
Harmonix was making great music games long before it struck plastic instrument gold with the Guitar Hero series, and Amplitude is a great example of that. This sequel to the extremely underrated Frequency tasked you with trying to get a song to auto-play by successfully playing certain sections of notes, across up to six instruments. This frantic juggling act was enhanced greatly by the eclectic soundtrack, taking in the likes of David Bowie, Run DMC, Blink-182, Slipknot, and Garbage. Although the remake for PS3 and PS4 is out there, we think it’s hard to top the musical selection here.
Developer: Clover Studios
Capcom’s short-lived Clover Studio put out some great games, and Ōkami is one of the very best. This game puts players in control of Amaterasu, a sun goddess in wolf form whose goal is to save the land from darkness. This is arguably the closest thing to The Legend Of Zelda series that Sony’s console has, and it gives Nintendo’s classics a run for their money. The game’s unique visual style, inspired by classical Japanese artwork, gave it a cult appeal that ultimately saw the game converted to many other platforms despite the disappointing sales of the PS2 original.
12. Jak And Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
Developer: Naughty Dog
Having achieved great success on the PS1 with Crash Bandicoot, Naughty Dog decided to do something new for the next generation, and this was the result. Jak & Daxter is exactly the kind of collect-’em-up platformer that had been very popular in the previous generation but had the kind of open 3D environments that those older machines just couldn’t have achieved. Of course, it still featured the polished game design we’ve grown to expect from Naughty Dog, and the charismatic characters were expertly brought to life in the game’s plentiful in-engine cutscenes. It’s worth noting that the sequels are quite different.
11. Beyond Good & Evil
Tragically overlooked at the time of its release in 2003, this action-adventure has since come to be recognized as an excellent game that just didn’t quite get the sales push it needed. You play as Jade, whose planet is under assault from the DomZ – alien creatures that kill or enslave other creatures that they encounter. After being sought out by resistance forces, she finds herself uncovering the true nature of the DomZ. While the game design was perfectly good, what really stood out for the time was the quality of the storytelling as well as Jade’s appealing character.
10. Burnout 3: Takedown
Developer: Criterion Games
Criterion’s first two Burnout games were great arcade racers, but their spectacular crashes were always something to avoid. This third game managed to correct that injustice by making combat a key part of the racing. Nothing was off-limits – you could slam your rivals into walls, run them into oncoming traffic or even drop down on them from above, all in the name of winning a race. It was incredibly fast and graphically spectacular, of course, but the cathartic release of aggression was always the highlight for us – and if that ever got boring, you could always cause carnage in the Crash Junctions.
9. Devil May Cry
Getting the hack-and-slash right in 3D was something that developers struggled with for a long time, and Capcom was arguably the first to achieve it with this early classic for the PS2. Dante’s first outing was originally conceived as a new direction for Resident Evil, but the game design became an original project incorporating a mixture of gunplay and close-range sword fighting, with emphasis on stringing together stylish combinations of attacks. The action is as smooth as the combos, and the game immediately established Dante as one of Capcom’s most beloved characters. Be sure to check out the third game too.
Developer: Team Ico
Frequently cited in tedious discussions on the artistic merit of videogames, Fumito Ueda’s directorial debut is great regardless of how you classify it. Ico’s basic design takes a lot from the likes of Prince Of Persia, with a mixture of platforming, puzzles and combat at the heart of the action. Ico’s unique feature is that its titular character is tasked with the protection of a captive girl named Yorda, whose difficulty in traversing the environment is a key part of the game’s puzzles. A full game escort mission might sound like the worst thing ever, but trust us – this one’s worth it.
7. Final Fantasy 10
The city of Zanarkand has been attacked by Sin, and suddenly, our hero Tidus finds himself in the world of Spira. With no idea what’s going on, the talented Blitzball player sets out to discover what happened and prevent it from happening again, meeting plenty of friends along the way. Final Fantasy 10 wasn’t a radical gameplay evolution but made revolutionary changes to the presentation of the series. For the first time, it was possible to explore fully 3D environments, and key cutscenes featured both detailed real-time character models and the introduction of full voice acting, drawing you into the story.
6. God Of War
Developer: Sony Santa Monica
Our first introduction to Kratos has held up very well over time, and feels especially good now that the series has moved on from its original Greek mythology theme “Small” is not a word in the vocabulary of this classic brawler – absolutely everything is dialed up to eleven, from the detail of the scenery and dramatic musical score to the size of the bosses and of course the level of violence on display. Kratos will pluck the wings from smaller enemies and plunge the Blades of Chaos deep into larger foes, often as part of some wonderfully choreographed QTE sequences.
5. Silent Hill 2
Developer: Team Silent
While the original PlayStation game was great, it was Silent Hill 2 that really established the series as a major name in survival horror. Instead of revisiting the first game’s cast, new protagonist James visits the town after receiving a letter from his wife – who died three years prior to the start of the game. Pyramid Head is rightly recognized as one of gaming’s most iconic monsters, but what really sets Konami’s sequel apart from other games in the genre is that it focuses on psychological horror rather than gore, and tackles some pretty taboo themes in ways that videogames rarely approach.
4. Resident Evil 4
After years of tank controls and fixed camera angles, the Resident Evil series desperately needed some fresh ideas, and Capcom delivered them at just the right time. That started with getting rid of the zombies – Los Ganados were clever, cooperative and they could even use weapons. Worse yet, the over-the-shoulder perspective meant that you were much closer to the action. The game was a disgusting treat to behold, and the action-packed QTE scenes meant that you could never entirely relax. The switch to a more action-oriented approach to the series was a huge success and influenced countless other games.
3. Shadow Of The Colossus
Developer: Team Ico
Few games can ever really be described as solemn, but those of you that have experienced this legendary game will know why we use it here. Taking down the majestic giants of Shadow Of The Colossus is a task that never feels quite right, as satisfying as it can be to work out how to do it, and that mood is frequently reinforced with periods of silence and the ever-present desaturated color palette. The PS2 often struggles to keep itself together while running this, so you may wish to look at the PS3 remaster and PS4 remake, but the impact here is undeniable.
2. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
After annoying some players by making Raiden the protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2, this sequel set things right by shifting to the Sixties and following the more outwardly familiar character Naked Snake. Like the previous games in the series, Metal Gear Solid 3 emphasizes stealth over combat and is packed with clever touches – you can let a boss literally die of old age – but differentiated itself by placing a heavier emphasis on survival, as you have to manage Snake’s hunger and tend to injuries. The later Subsistence edition is improved with full camera control and a range of extras.
1. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Developer: Rockstar North
Having dominated the open-world scene since Grand Theft Auto 3 took the series into 3D, San Andreas felt like a victory lap for Rockstar North. The early Nineties setting and fictional state of San Andreas (comprised of takes on Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas) was the ideal backdrop for a tale of corrupt cops and gang warfare. The game was a technical triumph too, with an enormous map, new gang warfare features, and extensive customization. Though it was recalled over the unused Hot Coffee minigame, San Andreas sold 17.33 million copies and is the console’s best-selling game.
If you're passionate about retro gaming or just want to learn more about it, then you should check out Retro Gamer. Retro Gamer is the world's longest-running magazine dedicated to classic games, and you can find out more about it at at Magazines Direct (opens in new tab)