It all started in the year 2000. One of the best gaming consoles ever launched with titles like Evergrace, Gungriffon, Armored Core 2, and Eternal Ring. From then until its lifespan ended in 2013, the PlayStation 2 delighted players with a vast library of expertly crafted games, brought to life by brilliant minds and hardworking hands.
Sure, the PS2 had its missteps (looking at you, Little Britain: The Video Game and 25 to Life), but let’s not waste our lives looking at the negatives. Instead, we’re here to break down the best PS2 games that showcase the console’s strengths. In a time before online multiplayer ran rampant, we were treated to deep stories, engaging characters, and solid gameplay that didn’t need to be enhanced with online purchases.
Wait. Do you hear that? Yeah, that’s the nostalgia train coming.
The Best PS2 Games
15. Soulcalibur II
Developer: Project Soul Publisher: Namco
Four years after the chronicles of the Soul Edge culminated in the creation of Nightmare, Soulcalibur II returns familiar fighters to 3D arenas to duke it out with series newcomers. Arguably the height of the series, Soulcalibur II was a technical improvement over its predecessors without having to sacrifice the core of the series.
Improved controls made the fighting more fluid and added several new elements, including arena walls and the three-tiered Soul Charge system. The result is a solid fighter that relies on the diversity of its fighters and not some throwaway gimmicks. The best part of Soulcalibur II is its roster, which features a menagerie of characters like Ivy and her sword-whip, the hulking Nightmare, the swashbuckling Cervantes, and Voldo the contortionist.
For the PS2 version, players could stomp through the arenas as Heihachi Mishima from the Tekken series, who joins the ancestor of Tekken’s Yoshimitsu.
Developer: Double Fine Productions Publisher: Majesco Entertainment
Put Tim Schafer and the team at Double Fine Productions in charge of something, and you can bet the end product will be nothing short of whimsical. Psychonauts, however, goes beyond whimsy for a world that’s equal parts fascinating and horrifying.
As Razputin “Raz’ Aquato, players get to see the interior of the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, a government facility used to train children with psychic powers. Throughout this fanciful tale, Raz slowly begins to unlock his true potential, bringing him closer to his goal of becoming a Psychonaut, or an elite evil-fighting agent.
It may not have initially sold well, but Psychonauts went on to become a cult classic, with fans clamoring for a sequel for years. A sequel that, thankfully, was revealed during the 2015 The Game Awards and is sure to grace a future list of the best PS4 games.
13. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal Publisher: Ubisoft
It took a few entries for the Splinter Cell series to realize its true potential. Chaos Theory, the game that made it a trilogy, found the middle ground between punishingly difficult and accessible. Though it still wasn’t quite as easy to pick up and play as its rival, Metal Gear Solid, Chaos Theory sacrificed some of its difficult gameplay and intricate stealth for a larger audience.
The addition of noise meters, altered AI alert statuses, close-quarter combat, and a slew of new gadgets balances Splinter Cell without sacrificing its core gameplay that fans of the series have loved since the original. Competitive multiplayer returns from Pandora Tomorrow, but Chaos Theory adds a cooperative mode that tests the PS2’s system link capabilities. For the most part, it worked.
In Chaos Theory, Sam Fisher returns as the protagonist and is still expertly brought to life by Michael Ironside. While the story is the expected cliche narrative of a global conflict tackled by one skilled soldier, that doesn’t take away from the whole experience of Chaos Theory.
Developer: Naughty Dog Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
The same studio that brought you the drama of The Last of Us and the heart and adventure of Uncharted is also responsible for a popular PS2 title featuring a cartoon duo. Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy may not be some heart-wrenching tale, but the journey of Jak and his best friend-turned-ottsel (an otter and weasel hybrid) earns its spot among other great PS2 titles.
After proving it could handle platforming with the Crash Bandicoot series, Naughty Dog returned to the genre with the open-world format of Jak and Daxter. The result is a surprising experience that does a lot with its gameplay to keep things fresh from beginning to end. Like so many 3D, open-world platformers, Jak and Daxter features an assortment of quest-giving NPCs and unlockable powerups to drive the game froward.
The experience is amplified with Naughty Dog’s grasp on storytelling and character development, which may be a weird combination to shine in a game featuring a talking otter-weasel.
11. Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal
Developer: Insomniac Games Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Cartoon duos were a popular sub-genre during the PS2 era, and with good reason. While Naughty Dog was finding success with Jak and Daxter, Insomniac Games delivered Ratchet & Clank a year later. While the first two entries were enjoyable and full of hilarious content, the third game in the series fine-tuned everything to near perfection.
Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal puts a heavy focus on combat with an assortment of 20 different upgradable weapons. While platforming segments have been reduced, they don’t feel like an afterthought and Up Your Arsenal still feels like a balanced hybrid of the action and platforming. While the Jak & Daxter series has a bit more of an engaging story, Up Your Arsenal features tighter gameplay, action-packed combat, and an online multiplayer component.
As a testament to the range of video game developers, Up Your Arsenal was developed by the same studio that brought us Resistance: Fall of Man, Sunset Overdrive, and Marvel’s Spider-Man, three games that share so little (if anything) in common.
10. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal Publisher: Ubisoft
In a way, Prince of Persia feels like a precursor to Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series. The mix of parkour and combat is very much in line with the skills of the Assassin’s Guild. The only thing they’re missing? A dagger that can rewind time.
The Sands of Time follows an unnamed prince who gets his hands on the Dagger of Time and is subsequently thrust into a battle against an army of sand monsters. The prince engages his enemies using his parkour abilities for combat that’s more acrobatic and less about taking on foe head on. There are many fun aspects to The Sands of Time, but all of them are overshadowed by the ability to manipulate time. It comes in handy when you slip up on platforming segments, approach a large enemy in the wrong way, or to pass a complex puzzle.
The Sands of Time spawned three sequels, but none of them could quite match the fun and adventure of the original.
Every generation has its staple fast-paced, nonsensical first-person shooter. It either tanks or, like TimeSplitters, garners a “best of…” badge and a cult following. It’s hard not to love a game where the main villain brings death and destruction not through big weapons and brute force, but by altering the course of history.
Battling against an alien race known as the TimeSplitters, Sergeant Cortez is sent spiraling through time in this successful sequel to the original TimeSplitters. It’s hard to decide which is more fun – the gameplay or the different settings that serve as the battleground. Whenever Cortez jumps into a different time period, he takes on a suitable persona and has access to a new assortment of weapons.
The firefights are varied and feature a little something for everyone. In one period, you may be sniping enemies from afar while in another you’re battling zombies in close-quartered dungeons. The result is a fun PS2 first-person shooter that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Developer: Clover Studio Publisher: Capcom
On the surface, Okami sounds like some stuck up artsy game that appeals to such a small audience, but this vibrant tale of Japanese mythology is a must-play for anyone with a PS2. Or a PS3, Xbox One, PC, or Switch, as it’s been ported often as a high-definition remaster.
Taking control of the white wolf Amaterasu, players explore a world brought to life through cel-shading and watercolors. Okami fuses platforming, action, and puzzle solving to create a game that feels so very different from anything else you’ve played. At first glance, it may appear to be very flowery and maybe a little too strange for the average person, but there is plenty to this PS2 classic that will appeal to players of all types.
Along with action-packed combat, players have control of the “Celestial Brush.” All of Okami is a canvas that players can use the Celestial Brush to manipulate. Used during combat and to solve puzzles, the brush is just another layer of the game’s unique and fantastical gameplay.
7. Kingdom Hearts 2
Developer: Square Enix Publisher: Square Enix
Three years after Square Enix joined forces with Disney for an action role-playing adventure, the studio returned with a game that expanded upon the lore and mechanics of its predecessor. Kingdom Hearts 2 is the ideal sequel, where bigger (and more) most certainly is better. With retooled combat, a long list of new abilities, and all-new worlds, Kingdom Hearts 2 took what worked about the original and expanded upon it.
Sora, Donald, and Goofy return after a long introductory segment to continue their quest to find King Mickey and Sora’s friend, Riku. Along with hordes of the Heartless, their path is impeded by members of Organization XIII, a group of cloaked figures that don’t really make sense until you play later prequels of the series.
Square Enix’s signature storytelling seamlessly works with many of Disney’s memorable characters, though some, like Jack Sparrow, can feel completely out of place. It’s easy to overlook the awkwardness of the Pirates of the Caribbean cast, especially when you’re treated to classic Disney material like Steamboat Mickey. Ultimately, Kingdom Hearts 2 squeezes ahead of its predecessor with more content and smoother controls to land on this list of the best PS2 titles.
Did Dante always have his rock ‘n roll attitude? When did his feud with his brother, Virgil, start? Was he always wearing that bitchin’ red jacket? All these questions and more lingered on our minds for two entries of the Devil May Cry series. Then, Dante’s Awakening emerged from Capcom’s studios and filled the void with answers.
Oh, it also delivered one of the tightest Devil May Cry experiences, surpassed only by the more recent Devil May Cry 5 – and even that’s debatable. Dante’s Awakening helped the series find its true potential, especially after the lackluster sequel that feels more like a weird spin-off. Playing as a young Dante, players get to witness the birth of the smart-mouthed demon slayer.
A stronger story, tighter controls, slightly increased difficulty, and a new assortment of weapons help Dante’s Awakening stand out among the trilogy and earn it praise from fans and critics. The game gave Dante more heart and personality than its predecessors and helped flesh out his character and the universe surrounding him to make way for successive games.
5. Silent Hill 2
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo Publisher: Konami
Konami turned the survival horror genre on its head with the release of Silent Hill. The pacing, tone, and relative powerlessness of the protagonist all melded together to make players feel uneasy and helpless. Silent Hill 2 expands upon that, featuring a stronger story, more memorable creations of the damned town, and better controls.
James Sunderland travels to the foggy town of Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his wife. His dead wife. Things only get stranger from there as he encounters sexy demon nurses, pyramid-headed sadists, and other grotesque horrors. Silent Hill 2 was the game that really embedded how twisted the series was, with themes of sexual frustration and guilt driving the madness surrounding James.
Silent Hill 2 released in the wake of the Resident Evil trilogy, but tackles survival horror in a completely different fashion. The result is a unique game that has yet to be matched in all of the ways it excels.
4. God of War II
Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studios Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
When you think of titles that warrant being on a “best of PS2 games” list, what do you think of? An engaging story and solid gameplay? Fleshed out characters and gripping conflicts? How about brutal violence that is somehow excellently written into the story as to not seem gratuitous and pointless?
Of course, Kratos’ rage-filled journey started in the original God of War, but God of War II upped the stakes, turned the violence up a notch, and delivered a story so rich, you somehow feel sympathetic for the murderous Spartan warrior.
God of War II is fast-paced and ruthless. Tearing through Olympian gods and the scourge of Greek mythology has never – and will never again – be so much fun.
Developer: SCE Japan Studio/Team Ico Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
I could go on about how the camera angles can completely derail your fight against the towering Colossi, but that would be doing the rest of this beautiful game disservice. If you’re familiar with Team Ico’s work, one look at the art style of Shadow of the Colossus will tell you this is the development team at its best.
The tragic story is framed by nothing but epic boss battles as you cut and stab your way through 16 brutes. The variety of Colossi is the real draw of Shadow of the Colossus, as each one requires a completely different approach. It’s so hard not to get caught up in the visuals of the titans and the world around you, which can often make your battles longer than necessary.
For a game that features only 16 enemies, Shadow of the Colossus does a great job of keeping the player’s attention. The real motivation to press forward is finding out how the development team would be able to match the grandeur of the Colossi you’ve already killed.
2. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Japan Publisher: Konami Corporation
When it comes to the Metal Gear Solid series, it doesn’t get better than this. Guns of the Patriots and The Phantom Pain tried, but Snake Eater was Hideo Kojima at his best. As entertaining as the original was, watching Big Boss come to life through the tragedies that befell Naked Snake gave us the most emotional storyline of the Metal Gear series.
Snake Eater wasn’t just better in terms of story, either. New gameplay elements such as dynamic camouflage, injuries that can slow down Snake, close-quarters combat, and more open environments led to a game that was far more advanced and engaging than its predecessors. Where the series once relied heavily on its story to propel somewhat shallow gameplay, Snake Eater was a solid mix of both.
Having access to the resources he needed, Kojima was able to create a game that carried his signature style, from quirky bosses like the centenarian sniper to emotional moments that have been ingrained as part of gaming history.
1. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Developer: Rockstar North Publisher: Rockstar
Even with one of the most frustrating and arguably impossible side missions, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas continues to be a PlayStation 2 classic. It’s not the side missions that draw us to the Grand Theft Auto series, it’s the heartfelt story and the sympathetic characters.
We kid, of course. Not that San Andreas’ story isn’t any good, because it’s one of the best the series has seen. It’s just that Grand Theft Auto has always been about the gameplay. Sure, we’ll play through the story, enjoy listening to Samuel L. Jackson voice a corrupt cop, and even muscle through some of the more difficult missions, but we do that mostly to unlock the entire map.
That’s right. If you’re old enough and grew up with the PS2 classic, you remember that access to the full map was denied until later missions. That was just how it was, so we enjoyed wreaking havoc in what sliver of San Andreas we had access to until we could focus again on progressing Carl “CJ” Johnson’s story.
San Andreas used as much of the PS2’s resources as it could to deliver a large game, robust with civilians to run over, cars to smash, and weapons to tinker with. The game also featured stats that essentially let you customize your version of CJ. You could make him fat and ugly, skinny and a master behind the wheel, or even a slightly muscular weapon’s expert with high stamina. By eating, driving, training at the gym, and more, you can alter these miscellaneous stats for a more involved experience.
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