It’s time to go back to the joys of the noughties without having to worry about accidentally listening to Avril Lavigne’s Sk8er Boi, or ponder whether to go and see The Return of the King again in the cinema because you won’t get to see it again for approximately 6 years because of home release schedules. Debuting all the way back in 2000 - yes, yes, you’re old, we know - the PS2 ushered in a true golden age for Sony.
Big, bold games from Rockstar such as Manhunt, GTA: San Andreas and Canis Canem Edit ruled the roost, while Capcom’s staggering survival horror onslaught continued with Resident Evil: Code Veronica X. The excellent news is that you don’t have to dig out your PS2 and cry over seas of HDMI converters to relive these glory days. A PS2 Classics section exists happily on the PlayStation Store to scratch your nostalgic itch without any time travel. Just think of the jet lag you’re avoiding. Here are the best PS2 games on PS4 to watch out for.
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The Matrix pulled it off in silver screen form in 1999 but the birth of Bullet Time in games is the sole responsibility of a certain Max Payne. Decades ahead of its time, this is a gritty cinematic shooter with a noir script so noir you’ll be talking like you smoke fifty a day in no time. Before he got all bald and wore bright shirts, Mr Payne’s origins story is all about clearing his name and solving the mystery of the murder of his family so if you want to know where it all began, you’ll need to dive into this shooter. Maybe a slo-mo landing won’t hurt as much?
Canis Canem Edit
Hastily changed from its original title of ‘Bully’, Rockstar’s Canis Canem Edit is what happens when you mix GTA with school. Sure, you can’t drive or shoot a gun per se but you can ride a bike and new kid Jimmy Hopkins is a wince-inducingly wicked shot with his slingshot. As Jimmy you’ll need to go to class at Bullworth Academy, learn chemistry, and, oh yeah, deal with the random acts of extreme violence doled out by young teenagers. It’s oddly compelling stuff and the combat especially impresses as it evolves. And hey, if you get bored of going to class all the time, you can just shove other teenagers into bins. Yeah. Be that kid.
Maybe it’s not as bad as it used to be, you’ll ask yourself. Maybe it’s not as grim, unrelenting, dark and existentially depressing. Oh no. It is. But that doesn’t mean Rockstar’s controversial Manhunt is any less important to play and experience. Crafting the ultimate snuff movie is never going to be pleasant and playing as James Earl Cash, an ex-death row prisoner, this is an exercise in horrifying violence. Stalk your victims in desolate corridors and watch in real horror as the perspective switches to a fuzzy handheld camera that forces you to watch life drain away. The visuals might be pushing it now but Manhunt is still a searing piece of work and you’ll definitely have to watch cartoons afterwards.
Well you could buy them separately but why would you do that when GTA 3, GTA: Vice City, and GTA: San Andreas are all available in one beautiful package of everything brilliant about the PS2 era? It’s not exactly cheap for all three but once you’ve invested once, you’ll be free to roam across Liberty City, explore the neon glory of Vice City in the 80s, and journey across the urban sprawl that is San Andreas, eating as much Cluckin’ Bell as you can. There’s a magic to all three of these games but especially San Andreas, which paved the way for every open world to come. Play it and weep about where all your spare time has gone.
Jak and Daxter Collection
Some of us are old enough for Crash Bandicoot to have shaped our formative PlayStation memories but for a different generation it was all about Naughty Dog’s Jak and Daxter series. Incredibly this collection for PS4 includes the original, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, Jak 2: Renegade, Jak 3, and Jak X: Combat Racing. No matter which is your favourite, this collection is like wiring colourful platforming adventures straight into your brain. And we’ll save you the stress of remembering exactly what kind of creature Daxter is. He’s an ottsel, a perfect cross between an otter and a weasel.
Ever wondered what David Cage did before Heavy Rain? While not Quantic Dream’s debut game, Fahrenheit was the first to test out Cage’s interactive cinema element where your choices meant the difference between life and death. Prepare to exercise those thumbs as Fahrenheit ignores your favourite face buttons and instead focuses on swivelling the analogue sticks to solve a series of grim crimes taking place across New York. Are people really being possessed and forced to kill other people? It’s time to find out and test your reflexes at the same time.
Originally developed as Resident Evil 3 for the Sega Saturn, Capcom’s Code Veronica X takes place a mere three months after Resi 2. A true sequel that follows up the destruction of the poor, unfortunate Raccoon City, Code Veronica X pops you into the very capable boots of Clare Redfield and her brother Chris as they take on Umbrella once again. Trivia of note includes the fact that Coder Veronica X was the first in the biohazardous franchise to make the most of 3D real time environments instead of the prerendered offerings of the first two games. You might not care when you’re stressed and popping monster noggins while manipulating tank controls, right enough.
It turns out that if you were afraid of something in 2004, it’ll still manage to terrify you utterly even if you have learned useful skills like how to change a plug, or have children since then. Forbidden Siren, known only as Siren outside of the West, is a Japanese horror so sweaty palm-inducing even looking back is enough to invoke nightmares. Those brave enough will explore the village of Hanuda, solving puzzles and attempting to avoid ghosts known as Shibito. Hide, sneak and hold your breath. It’s not going to be pretty.
Red Dead Revolver
If you want to see where it all began for Red Dead Redemption, look no further than this 2004 western. Journeying back to the 1880s, Red Dead Revolver plunges you into a sprawling western narrative with sharp shooting a plenty and more The Good, the Bad and the Ugly references than you can shake a dusty stetson at. Following bounty hunter Red on a mission to avenge the death of his parents - yes, it’s always got to involve death - this lacks the slick polish of Red Dead Redemption but is essential if you want to see where the franchise began.
Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits
Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits tells the tale of two brothers on opposite sides of a battle between monsters and humans. The half-monster brother, having been raised by humans, seeks to destroy his own kind, while the human sibling aims to rule the beasts and conquer humanity. A tale of love, loss, and redemption. You know, JRPG stuff.
There aren't too many games that scratch that Actraiser itch, but Dark Cloud comes pretty darn close. Part action-RPG, part world-building sim, Dark Cloud lets you explore dungeons, fight a variety of beasts, and rebuild the world's towns to their former glory. Some parts of it haven't aged all that well, and its biggest issues were fixed in its sequel, but Dark Cloud still represents one of the most interesting genre mash-ups out there.
Dark Cloud 2
The sequel to Dark Cloud brings with it a host of improvements and new experiences. Build and tinker with your gear and weapons to defeat enemies, re-create a damaged world, and enjoy the slick new cel-shaded visuals. This is the Dark Cloud game you've been looking for.
FantaVision puts you at the heart of massive fireworks shows from around the globe. It's not just for show though: similar to match-three type puzzle games, you'll select color combinations to create bigger, longer, more beautiful explosion chains. Fun fact: FantaVision was originally intended not as a game, but a tech demo. When it launched alongside the PS2, it was heralded for its (at the time) awe-inspiring graphics.
The Mark of Kri
Mark of Kri feels like playing through a dark Disney film. The game's striking blend of Polynesian and Central American aesthetics with a smooth, cartoonish style belie its brutal combat. Before God of War or the Batman: Arkham series, this game introduced a unique method for fighting multiple enemies at once in which individual buttons are assigned to specific enemies. And while Mark of Kri doesn't enjoy the success of those other games, it's more than worthy of this re-release.
PaRappa the Rapper 2
You know how it is being a famous rapper. One day you're learning how to kick, punch, block, the next you're winning a lifetime supply's worth of noodles and breaking up with your girlfriend. In this catchy rhythm game, you'll use dope beats and sick rhymes (acceptable lingo in Parappa's world) to learn romantic karate, complete military boot camp, become a hairdresser, face down the nefarious Noodle Syndicate, and win back the love of your life. You know. The usual.
Level-5's PS2 swan-song didn't garner a whole lot of attention when it came out in the West, mainly because it released underneath the shadow of Final Fantasy 12 and the PlayStation 3's launch. Luckily the PS4 is giving this underrated gem a second shot, as it's one hell of an action-RPG with a brilliant art design and deep combat.
Star Wars: Bounty Hunter
Take control of Jango Fett, father of the infamous Boba Fett, as he hunts a Dark Jedi across the stars. The Star Wars prequels may not have had a lot going for them, but their existence at least let us live out the fantasy of being one of the galaxy's most feared adversaries.
Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter
Despite the word "Starfighter" right there in the title, your battles won't be limited to space in this game. As Adi Gallia, you're tasked with using a prototype starfighter to hunt down Count Dooku and his Separatist followers across multiple worlds, fighting over land, sea, and planets.
Star Wars: Racer Revenge
The Star Wars prequels were guilty of many crimes against fans, but at least they gave us podracing - an ultra high-speed, dangerous competition loved by law-abiding citizens and gangster slugs alike. Racer Revenge is the sequel to Episode I: Racer, taking place eight years after the events of The Phantom Menace. But really, you're not here for the story - you're here to go fast and wreck stuff.
Twisted Metal: Black
Twisted Metal: Black is perhaps the greatest car combat game ever made, and it hit PS2 a long time ago. Building off of its predecessors in smart ways, while crafting interesting stories for its darkly comic cast of characters and amping up the vehicular carnage level, Twisted Metal: Black remains fun, even today.
War of the Monsters
There aren't too many games out there that let you control a giant monster, let alone over a dozen, but War of the Monsters taps into that part of our brains that just can't get enough of Godzilla or Ray Harryhausen flicks. Pick one of a handful of monster movie homages and do battle against other monsters and the might of the United States military in fully destructible environments. Even this long after its release, there's still nothing quite like it.