The best PS2 games of all time

The PlayStation 2 is somewhat of a forgotten console, especially since there have been two (and almost three) upgraded consoles since then. However, if you’ve been gaming for a long time, you still remember what this retro console was like. 

Two decades later, there are still plenty of PS2 games that you can purchase if you’re interested in enjoying a little bit of nostalgia or taking a break from the hype of recent games.

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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.

Action

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 and 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-linear 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

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 literally 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 had excellent level design.

Viewtiful Joe

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 and 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 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. It has 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 jump-started 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.

Adventure

Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus is arguably the greatest game to grace the PS2. Developed by SIE Japan and Team ICO, and directed by Fumito Ueda, Shadow of the Colossus followed Wander, a young man who comes to a strange land to resurrect a young girl named Mono. To do so, he must travel by horseback to the locations of sixteen Colossi. And slay them one by one.

Each Colossus is simply marvelous in scope and demeanor. You had to climb their massive bodies, find their weak points, and destroy them with your trusty sword. While these boss fights were the main means of gameplay, Shadow of the Colossus excelled on an atmospheric level, too. The gorgeous world provided a breathtaking adventure to embark on. PlayStation 4 owners were reminded of how stunning of an achievement this game was when an HD remake landed on the console back in 2018.

Okami

okami screenshot capcom

Clover Studio’s Okami launched in the final months of the PlayStation 2 era to critical acclaim. However, sales for the game never took off and Clover shut its doors shortly after launch. What a shame, too, because the gorgeous cel-shaded tour through Japanese folklore was one of the very best adventure games for PS2.

Playing as a white wolf, you progressed through the game in a similar fashion to 3D The Legend of Zelda games. While no game quite captures the magic of The Legend of Zelda, Okami came incredibly close. Thankfully, the game has since been remastered for Xbox One, PS4, and Switch, breathing new life into this essential adventure.

Ico

Before Shadow of Colossus came Ico, another masterpiece from the mind of Fumito Ueda. In Ico, the eponymous boy is thrown inside an abandoned fortress because the people of the village believe his horns, which he was born with, would curse the village. Once inside the supposedly abandoned place, Ico finds Yorda, a princess whose mother wants to sacrifice to live forever.

What ensues is an escape attempt in which Ico guides the princess through the fortress to safety. Filled with smart puzzles and shadow creatures that jump from the floor and walls to try and contain Yorda, Ico is engaging to play. Like Shadow of the Colossus, though, Ico stood out for its atmosphere, which created feelings of melancholy, hope, and wonder all in the span of a few moments.

Silent Hill 2

Silent Hill 2 took players back to the eponymous town in the successor, but not a direct sequel, to the Konami game that helped define the horror genre. In Silent Hill 2, James Sunderland goes to the town three years after his wife’s death after getting a letter alluding to the fact that she may not be dead after all. Naturally, things don’t go as planned, and the town soon makes James and the player controlling him a bit mad in the head. Silent Hill 2 masterfully injected its special brand of psychological horror into the town, making you wonder what was real and what was just a figment of your tortured mind.

Fighting

SoulCalibur II

SoulCalibur II, the first entry in the series to grace a Sony console, featured better graphics, gameplay, and more game modes than the original and rapidly became a bestseller following its 2002 launch. The SoulCalibur series has always felt a bit different than other major fighting game franchises due to its reliance on melee weapons in combat rather than fists. SoulCalibur II added much-needed improvements to defense and counters, creating a balanced fighting experience that favored skill over button mashing.

First-person shooters

TimeSplitters 2

TimeSplitters 2 let you and your friends mow down the Gingerbread Man, Undead Priests, Monkeys, and a clown named Stumpy. Do we need to back up its inclusion on this list? Seriously, though, if you wanted to play a fast-paced, zany FPS, TimeSplitters 2 was your best option.

Featuring a dazzling set of fun guns, great mechanics, and cool maps, the multiplayer was good for long couch sessions with friends and family. The single-player campaign was also over-the-top and delightful.

Music

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero turned all of us into make-believe rock stars. Released in 2005, the game came bundled with a plastic replica of a Gibson guitar with five face buttons. Little did we know that it would become one of the most popular franchises and party games of an era.

As far as rhythm games go, Guitar Hero is arguably the best ever. Honing your skills to be able to play hard and expert tracks, which utilized all five buttons was endlessly entertaining. Regardless of how silly it made you look while playing, mastering a song on expert felt like a true triumph.

Platformers

Psychonauts

Psychonauts 2

From the mind of Tim Schafer, Psychonauts starred Raz, a young boy with psychic abilities. While at a summer camp learning to become a psychic spy alongside other gifted children, Raz discovers everything is not as it seems.

Featuring a unique, cartoonish art style that only Double Fine Productions could come up with, Psychonauts oozed peculiar appeal. The writing was charming, the world design was varied and surprising, and the platforming sequences and powers were a joy. The long-awaited sequel, Psychonauts 2, is expected to arrive sometime this year.

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal

Insomniac Games’ Ratchet & Clank series was one of the best franchises on PS2. Following the interstellar adventures of the Lombax Ratchet and his pal robot Clank, the series was never short on great action, platforming, and humor. Ahem, Up Your Arsenal.

The third entry in the series gets the nod here because everything that made Ratchet & Clank great — awesome guns, killer gadgets, sweet set pieces — even better. Unlike some other popular PS2 franchises, Ratchet & Clank offered fun for the whole family.

Jak II

While Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy had a relatively small scope, Jak II wildly expanded on Naughty Dog’s platforming series. Jak II was set in a fairly large open world, gave our hero guns, and let him commandeer any hover car he pleased. Yes, Naughty Dog turned Jak and Daxter into a family-friendly version of Grand Theft Auto in some ways.

Haven City, the main setting of the game, was a dystopia filled with interesting characters and activities. The solid platforming sections and humor from the original returned as well. The Jak series is universally great, but Jak II was by the best one. The HD remaster of Jak II is available on both PS3 and PS4.

Katamari Damacy

The quirkiest game on this list, Katamari Damacy followed a young celestial prince in his pursuit of rolling up all the contents of Earth to rebuild the moon and the stars. His father, King of All Cosmos, accidentally destroyed these important things while drunk. Whoops. The gameplay simply revolved around picking up progressively larger items, from shoes to pets to homes to clouds.

With a catchy soundtrack and a premise so relaxing that it puts you in a calming trance, Katamari Damacy was more than just a strange Japanese game; it was one of the best platformer-puzzlers to roll onto PS2. A remastered edition, Katamari Damacy Reroll, is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves

Sly 2: Band of Thieves rounds out the excellent trio of cartoonish platformers — Ratchet & Clank, Jak and Daxter, and Sly Cooper — that won over our hearts on PS2. While Ratchet and Jak were more similar to one another, Sly Cooper relied on stealth rather than going in guns blazing.

The main new addition to Band of thieves, the best PS2 entry, was the ability to play as Bentley and Murray in addition to Sly. Each character had their own unique skill set that changed the way you had to approach a level, all of which were more open than in the original. More lighthearted than your average stealth game, Sly 2: Band of Thieves held laughs, charm, and excellent stealth mechanics that rivaled the more “serious” stealth games of the time.

Racing

Gran Turismo 4

The premier racing sim for Sony consoles since the original PlayStation, Gran Turismo 4 was easily one of the most impressive games on PS2. Not only did it feature a dizzying number of tracks and cars, but it went as far as to care about the tiniest technical details such as the rubber on tires wearing out. Gran Turismo 4 firmly fell in the “serious” racing sim category, so it wasn’t for everyone but if you wanted to feel like a true race car driver, there was no better option on PS2.

Burnout 3: Takedown

The polar opposite of Gran Turismo, the Burnout series was all about high octane stunts, crashes, and over-the-top racing mechanics. Burnout 3: Takedown, we’d argue, has a higher fun factor than just about any racing game — ever. This is in large part due to its eponymous mode which let you play a sort of battle royale with cars.

In Takedown matches, your goal was to ram other cars until they were heaps of metal, all the while flying at speeds of over 100mph. It was almost too fun, especially when you played with friends. Burnout 3 had a ton of different single-player challenges, from traditional races to stunt challenges and more, all of which kept us playing Takedown long after its launch.

Role-playing

Final Fantasy X

The first Final Fantasy game for PS2, Final Fantasy X revised the rules of the classic role-playing franchise to great success. The active time battle system was replaced with a more traditional turn-based system and the upgrade system was significantly overhauled with a skill tree.

You played as Tidus, a Blitzball star who watches his hometown get destroyed by the evil entity known as Sin. Tidus then finds himself on a journey in Spira to take down Sin alongside Yuna, a summoner, and several other party members. A massive game, Final Fantasy X featured great boss fights, a well-written story, and wonderful cutscenes. Final Fantasy X has since been remastered for every PlayStation platform, and it’s every bit as great today as it was in 2001.

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

Dragon Quest VIII

The Dragon Quest series has never fully caught on outside of Japan. That’s a shame because the franchise is home to some of the best JRPG experiences you can play. And Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is arguably the best the series has to offer. As the first DQ game to be fully made in 3D, Journey of the Cursed King was rendered in gorgeous, cel-shaded graphics that still look good today.

You played as a nameless hero who joins up with others to defeat a terrible evil. None of the DQ games have especially awesome stories to tell, but Journey of the Cursed King had great environments to explore, a wide variety of enemies, and an addictive progression system. It was incredibly easy to sink 100 hours into DQVIII. If you missed out, you can pick up the excellent 3DS port.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4

Persona 4 is the newest game on this list, as it actually launched on PS2 nearly two years after the PlayStation 3 launched. Persona 4 was part regular RPG, part teenage dating simulator. You played as a high school student in the Japanese countryside. A portion of the game takes place in the real world, while the other part happens in the TV World, a strange place where you and your friends could harness the power of Persona.

Like each Shin Megami Tensei game before it, Persona 4 took a few hours to really get going, but when it clicks, good luck pulling yourself away from your TV. This gargantuan RPG can take more than 100 hours to complete, but each minute spent in Persona 4 is time well spent. The story was deep and engaging, the characters came to life, and the highly varied gameplay always delighted. Persona 4 grew in popularity when it launched on Vita as Persona 4 Golden. If you don’t have the means to play either version, though, we heartily recommend checking out Persona 5.

Kingdom Hearts

Kingdom Hearts was built off a truly bizarre premise: Disney mashed up with Final Fantasy. Strangely, though, Kingdom Hearts worked. You played as Sora, accompanied by Donald Duck and Goofy, on a mission to rid a bevy of worlds from the Heartless. You visited classic Disney worlds inhabited by characters such as Tarzan, Jack Skellington, Hercules, Alice, Aladdin, and many more.

While the action RPG combat wasn’t always the best, the world-building, music, and story elevated Kingdom Hearts into one of the most memorable PS2 games. If you haven’t played Kingdom Hearts before, you can pick up the entire collection on PS4 — or you can go ahead and jump right into  Kingdom Hearts 3.

Sports

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 changed the super successful franchise for the better. In previous entries, you had a set amount of time to complete objectives in a contained level. In THPS4, you were unleashed into a much larger set of levels, free to roam as you please, picking up challenges from fellow skaters on the map at your convenience. The change fundamentally altered how the experience played.

The skateboarding gameplay, which let you chain together ridiculous combos, was also improved in THPS4. Though THPS is now a franchise of the past, we would love to somehow replay THPS4 on current generation consoles. It likely will never happen due to music licensing, but at least we’ll always have fond memories.

SSX 3

What happened to all the extreme sports games? Just like THPS, EA’s SSX series fell by the wayside after enjoying a good run in the PS2 era. The third entry in the franchise, SSX 3, was by far the best. SSX 3 moved the snowboarding sim to an open world, giving players the freedom to roam similar to THPS4.

The single-player campaign saw players progressively unlock new parts of the mountain by completing races and stunt challenges. SSX 3 also had a pretty great couch multiplayer. While not always realistic, SSX 3 made the extreme sport of snowboarding constantly entertaining.

NBA Street Vol. 2

EA’s NBA Street series revived the arcade basketball magic seen in NBA Jam. But it did more than that by adding street ball mechanics and tricks to increase the number of wild stunts you could perform on the court. It wasn’t just about sky-high dunks; NBA Street featured fancy dribble and passing mechanics, too.

NBA Street Vol. 2 is our pick here because of its awesome Be a Legend mode that saw you create a baller and work your way through a lengthy campaign that took through different courts across the world.

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