The PlayStation 2 was the first home console with graphics that made people stop and say: “Wow, that looks real.” Of course, video game visuals have drastically improved since the PS2 launched in 2000, but at the time, Sony’s second home console made it seem like we were living in the future. All that additional processing power allowed developers to create larger, more ambitious games over the PS2’s six-year lifecycle. You could argue though that the PS2 lived much longer than to the birth of the PS3 in 2006, considering PS2 consoles were still manufactured in Japan through 2012.
Given that stat, it’s no surprise that the PS2 is the most successful video game console of all time, moving a whopping 158 million units worldwide. The PS2’s unprecedented success also meant that new games came out in droves. There were hundreds of legitimately good games for PS2, which makes narrowing that list down to the absolute essentials a daunting task. We’ve tried to do just that here. Separated by genre, here are our picks for the best PS2 games of all time.
‘Resident Evil 4’
One of the greatest action games of all time, Resident Evil 4 created a new blueprint for the popular horror series. You played as Leon Kennedy, a police officer tasked with rescuing the President’s daughter from a terrifying cult. While some longtime fans weren’t all too pleased with the turn to action-oriented gameplay with far fewer jump scares, you’d be hard pressed to name a better third-person shooter from the PS2 era.
Running down hordes of zombies, monsters, and impressive bosses always provided a thrill. With limited ammo available, you always had to make your shots count.RE4’s environments and the non-linearity of their setup, offered tantalizing reasons to revisit RE4 after you reached the credits. The Resident Evil series has since gone back to its horror roots with Resident Evil 7, but RE4 will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Read our full Resident Evil 7 review
‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time really came out of left field. While the previous two entries in the series were well-received, no one could’ve expected The Sands of Time to change the game. With a mighty assist from the Prince’s dagger, The Sands of Time quickly became one of the best PS2 action-platformers upon launch in 2003.
The Prince’s dagger wielded a nifty ability that allowed you to rewind time. This came in handy for tough jumps and when falling in battle. You could even freeze enemies in place. The Sands of Time also told a great story, featured innovative puzzle sequences, and excellent level design.
Viewtiful Joe brought a comic book to life. Created by Hideki Kamiya, Viewtiful Joe follows Joe, an unassuming guy who suddenly finds himself in Movieland in a fight to preserve the universe.
Fashioned as a side-scrolling beat ’em up, Viewtiful Joe stood out for its comic book art style, where panels of a comic book became scenes that you could play. Viewtiful Joe‘s arresting art style still looks great 15 years later. If only the franchise would get a revival. Imagine Viewtiful Joe on Nintendo Switch. Sounds perfect to us.
‘Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening’
Third time’s the charm, as they say. Devil May Cry was great. Devil May Cry 2 was not so great. Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening was exquisite. A prequel to the original, Dante’s Awakening showed off the frayed relationship between Dante and his brother Vergil in all its messy glory. Devil May Cry 3 stood out for its superb gameplay.
Though you can call it a hack and slash, DMC3 had more nuance than your ordinary button masher. Especially because it proved to be very challenging, requiring players to string together pretty combos in order to stay alive. Packed full of brooding attitude and great music to help you get in your combat groove, DMC3 remains an action game classic today, and it influenced plenty of games in its genre in the years after its release.
‘God of War’
Sure, 2018’s God of War is easily the best entry in the Sony series, but let’s not forget about 2005’s God of War, one of the most impressive action games of the era. God of War introduced us to Kratos and a world steeped in Greek mythology.
Featuring colossal boss fights and the ridiculously cool Blades of Chaos, God of War was action game bliss. The puzzles and platforming sequences weren’t too shabby either. God of War jumpstarted one of Sony’s most well-known series. Though it hasn’t aged as well as some other PS2 games, in 2005, it was awesome.
Read our full God of War review
‘Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty’
It’s hard to find a more ambitious game on PS2 than Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Developed by Konami and led by renowned creator Hideo Kojima, Sons of Liberty tried to touch on a wide array of lofty and complicated themes, including some post-truth politics that happen to be present today.
Once again, you play as Solid Snake, sneaking your way through a multitude of areas, inching closer and closer to uncovering a grand conspiracy that spreads worldwide. Though sometimes confusing and overwritten, Sons of Liberty is commonly referred to as one of the greatest games of all time. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was also superb, but we give the nod to Sons of Liberty here.
‘Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’
During the PS2 era, no game franchise stirred more controversy than Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto. From the free reign it gave players to murder anyone they saw to its sexual themes and more, Grand Theft Auto was the main target for those who thought video games negatively affected teens. That didn’t stop Grand Theft Auto: Vice City from becoming one of the best-selling games on PS2. And for good reason.
Set in an open world based off of Miami, Vice City featured engaging missions, tons of side content, and an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to its open world. Though Grand Theft Auto III had already successfully turned the franchise into a 3D open world game, Vice City refined the formula, making it one of the greatest experiences to be had on the PS2.
‘Socom II U.S. Navy Seals’
A tactical third-person shooter, Socom II U.S. Navy Seals is the game we remember most when we think about online multiplayer on PS2. The platform wasn’t especially known for online features, but Socom II became a well-known online staple thanks to its riveting team-based gameplay.
Socom II also had a great single player campaign featuring 12 large missions that took players all across the world. Socom II is a relic of early online shooters today, but it’s an important game to consider when thinking about the history of team-oriented shooters.
‘Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow’
Sam Fisher’s second espionage adventure featured numerous critical improvements over the already great original. For starters, enemy AI was smarter and detection wasn’t nearly as wonky, making for a more realistic experience of sneaking past and taking down enemies.
The story, set in 2006, sent Fisher to East Timor to a growing militia. Once again, the story was a tightly wound political thriller with high stakes. In terms of stealth-action games on PS2, Pandora Tomorrow and the other Splinter Cell games were unmatched.