The PlayStation 2 is still the best-selling console ever made, and the best PS2 games show why. The PS2 was one of those consoles that seemed to have a game for everyone’s tastes, no matter how mainstream or obscure. Whether you were looking for early online gaming experiences or super casual fun with novelty controllers, the sheer popularity of the PS2 meant that a developer somewhere had you covered.
Of course, that dominance and variety led to an almighty library of games, from Grand Theft Auto’s revolutionary early 3D entries to the hotly anticipated Metal Gear Solid sequels. This was a console where the colorful, bombastic SSX Tricky felt perfectly at home alongside the artistic ambition of Shadow Of The Colossus and even the true horror of Silent Hill 2. From pioneering original projects to sequels that surpassed all expectations, the PS2 truly did have it all, so read on for our picks of the best games from perhaps the greatest gaming system of all time.
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25. SOCOM 2: US Navy Seals
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
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
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
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
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.
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