Get ready to feel old: The PlayStation 2, one of gaming’s most iconic consoles, has officially turned 20. This might depress those who hate time’s constant march forward, but for everyone else, it’s a chance to look back on some of the console’s best titles. To that end, here are the 10 best PS2 games to play for its 20th anniversary.
Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy still holds a special place in many a gamer’s hearts, and for good reason.
Set to the tale of a young man/elf/humanoid traveling in search of a cure for his friend’s transformation into an Otsel, this early-era PS2 game set players loose in a world full of sprawling jungles, ancient temples and massive fortresses.
Each location held a metric ton of collectibles to track down, secrets to uncover and bosses to defeat, hidden behind platforming and puzzles ranging from simple to dastardly.
Not only that, but it was all connected in an almost seamless manner (for the time, at least). Players could see locations they’d travel to in the distance, and feel a sense of accomplishment once their journey finally took them to a point that seemed so far away hours ago.
It was, and is, a true testament to what games could and would be like. And, as an added bonus, it’s only a few hours long, making it easy to hop back into to revisit its glory.
Silent Hill 2
Survival Horror had a slew of strong showings during the PS2 era, but few gained the fame and accolades Silent Hill 2 has.
Its haunting atmosphere of a town shrouded in an oppressive fog, and its story of a widower coming to such a place in search of his dead wife, captivated players with ease. It made them want to know who, or what, was behind the odd happenings around them, and the game drew them further and further into its web until all was revealed masterfully.
Not only that, but it actually managed to scare players without relying on cheap gimmicks and jump scares. A glimpse of a strange creature in the distance only for it to vanish; the slow realization that other inhabitants of the town aren’t out to help you; and the looming question of what really brought James to Silent Hill all hung in the air, building a sense of dread.
It was a new kind of horror game, and one that still doesn’t have many contemporaries to this day. It may be harder to track down than most other titles on this list, but those who put in the time to get it will find the effort more than worth it.
Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal
Of Sony’s three mascot franchises from the PS2 era, Ratchet & Clank was arguably the most popular, and Up Your Arsenal sealed that distinction with a vengeance.
Capping off the original Ratchet & Clank trilogy, the game saw most every aspect of the series honed to a fine point. Platforming and puzzle-solving was difficult, but rewarding in what players got out of their efforts.
The gunplay was likewise tight and responsive, with weapons that felt like they had the right amount of cartoonish kick, and there was a wide variety of wacky and zany weapons to choose from.
Even the story was notably improved over past entries, giving depth and development to most every character from Ratchet and Clank to fan favorites like Captain Quark.
It captured and improved everything great about the series, and with a modest run time of a dozen or so hours, it’s super easy to go back and re-experience a title that encapsulated one of the PS2 era’s best titles.
Shadow of the Colossus
It may seem obvious at this point, but Shadow of the Colossus remains one of the most monumental games to come out on the PS2.
The game starts off slow, providing players with the simple premise of hunting down a scant number of towering Colossi who roam around a forbidden land to revive their dead partner.
The sheer spectacle of fighting against beings towering hundreds of feet above the main character is a marvel in itself, acting as a testament to what could be done in games at the time.
However, as the story progresses, players are forced to question their actions. Should they really be killing these Colossi when most of them seem peaceful? Are they doing the right thing by bringing back their loved one? And what will be unleashed if they succeed?
It’s an experience that has earned its distinction as a video game elevating the medium to art, and with a fairly brief run time, there are few better titles to return to for its original console’s anniversary.
Sly 2: Band of Thieves
Rounding out the trio of mascot franchises on the PS2 is the Sly Cooper franchise, and its second entry, Sly 2: Band of Thieves, stands as its high point.
Following the events of the first game, the titular Sly and his friends, Bentley and Murray, are out to destroy the remaining pieces of Clockwerk, the first game’s antagonist and relentless hunter of Sly’s family. However, a new gang has been gathering the parts, and it’s up to the gang to stop them before they can revive Clockwerk for their own intentions.
The set-up alone was enough to hook fans of the first game, but Band of thieves took it even further by pushing every element of the series to the next level.
Levels provided more creativity and variety, offering new types of puzzles to overcome and enemies to maneuver around to reach goals. Murray and Bentley were likewise given more prominent roles in the game, offering new play-styles and tools to implement into any given heist they were a part of.
It all came together into a distilled and perfected version of the Sly Cooper series, and while it may not get the recognition of the Jak or Ratchet & Clank series, it’s still well worth a look by anyone who wants to see what made the PS2 era great.
Before indie games took the mainstream by storm with their quirky ideas and concepts, there was Katamari Damacy.
Where other games offered deep and complex plots to bring players into the fold, Katamari Damacy instead gave them a simple task: Roll a magic ball around the game world, picking up debris, humans, buildings and whatever else will stick to it to make a giant object that will please your father.
It was simple, and incredibly strange, but also cathartic and addictive. One could spend hours rolling their ball across the game’s maps, collecting objects until their ball towered above the mountains and cities.
Not to mention, it had some of the best presentation around. Its bright and vibrant colors; papercraft art style that looked like it was out of a storybook; and uplifting music all made it a must-play, whether players were out to play something different or just wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
It’s still a testament to how creative games of the PS2 era could be, and even if players only have a moment, it’s worth finding a copy and popping it in from time to time.
God of War
While the latest God of War may have been lauded for its departure from the original series’ design, there’s still something to be said for the original God of War.
Launched a few years into the rise of the character-driven hack and slash genre, the game put players into the role of Kratos, a servant of the God of War Ares, who is out to break free from his servitude. To that end, he’ll slaughter anything and everything that gets in his way; which, as a result of the foe he’s targeting, turns out to be a heaping helping of monsters out of Greek mythology.
What follows is a bloody, violent action extravaganza full of dismemberment, tragedy and a fair few epic confrontations. And yet, at the same time, the story weaves a tale worthy of being called a greek tragedy, lending credence to Kratos’ journey and his violent tendencies.
It’s a bit rough around the edges, and for those who like Kratos’ more recent personality, it’ll be like looking back on someone’s edgy middle school photos. All the same though, it’s an iconic title in the PS2 library, and well worth going back to for a glimpse at what was, and is, a legendary game.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Grand Theft Auto saw a slew of games released on the PS2, but none had the enticing glitz, glam and excess of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
Whereas Grand Theft Auto III and San Andreas both offered their own iconic slants on real-world cities and culture, Vice City felt the most natural in how it crafted an ’80s-centric, crime-filled world for players to run amok in.
Its sun-soaked streets and tropical locals; gaudy clothing and vehicle designs; and over-the-top heists and criminal ventures all paid homage to the decade it was set in, while also lampooning it in a way Grand Theft Auto would eventually become famous for.
Of course, players might have missed some of this on their first playthroughs, seeing as how it was easier than ever to rampage through the world and sew chaos either with whatever one could get their hands on or with a bevy of different cheat codes.
It’s still a blast to go back to even today, and is sure to bring back fond memories of days spent playing it on one’s trusty PS2.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
The original Metal Gear Solid was one of the titles that made the original PlayStation a must-own, so it’s no surprise Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater did the same for the PS2.
A prequel to the first two games, MGS 3 put players in the role of the Big Boss before he became a villain. Tasked with tracking down defectors in possession of nuclear armaments, he must implement the same techniques Solid Snake used to sneak, shoot and fight his way through compounds in order to complete his mission.
This was a blast to do, as the game had taken gameplay elements from the MGS series’ first two titles and polished them to a fine sheen, all while applying a retro aesthetic and motif to them. In place of stealth suits, there was camouflage that had to be changed by hand. Instead of rations, Snake had to hunt down his own food in the wild.
And that’s to say nothing of the story. While it still went off in some strange directions – as all Hideo Kojima games are inclined to do – it still weaved a tragic tale of betrayal, duty and remembrance. As a result, it stuck with players long after they finished playing, and cemented the title as one which set a new high point for storytelling in video games.
It remains a title worthy of this distinction to this day, and is an easy go-to if you’d like to revisit one of the best entries in the PS2 catalog.
Final Fantasy X
The PS2 era was a renaissance for the JRPG genre, and standing at the front of the pack was Final Fantasy X.
Its tale of a man torn from his world and thrown into another, and his eventual joining up with a party of adventurers intent on stopping a world-ravaging entity, was classic JRPG fodder. And yet, it was told with tact and grace that drew players in for the entirety of its 50-hour story.
It’s worth noting, though, that the game also offered some hefty improvements over past entries. Features we take for granted today, like full voice acting for characters in cutscenes and more realistic-looking character models, were on full display, pushing the Final Fantasy series and JRPG genre forward in new and interesting ways.
Granted, some elements – like the turn-based combat – remained in place, but even they were honed to a fine point and made getting to the story bits and revelations a breeze.
It was, and is, one of the best JRPGs fro the PS2 era, and even if it may take some time to get through, it’s the perfect way to celebrate the console it was released on.