15 years. That’s how long the PlayStation 2, the most successful console ever made, has been around. The PS2 wasn’t just important for games, Sony were massively influential in making DVD the film format of choice by slyly slipping a DVD player into millions of homes too, much like they’ve did again with Blu-ray and the PS3. The games are what mattered though. Here’s our list of the Top 15 titles we felt were amongst the most important. Of course, some tough choices had to be made, but that’s how strong 15 years of PS2 really was. PS3 and Xbox 360 didn’t get close to those numbers, but with the PS4 already at 20 million, maybe Sony fancy their chances. Here we go then, in order of release year…
1: Grand Theft Auto III (2001)
The one that changed everything. The leap into a living, breathing 3D city from the old bird’s-eye-view made GTA a place we’d spend months exploring in a never-ending crime-spree. The freedom GTAIII offered hadn’t been seen before and the range of side-missions, collectibles and Rockstar’s trademark humour and storytelling kept gamers glued to their screens well into the new year. Even now players would be able to load up the game and remember every street of the game as if they had actually lived there. Vice City might be the seminal title and San Andreas was bigger and packed with even more variety, but GTAIII will always be remembered as a true trendsetter.
2: Final Fantasy X (2001)
Thanks to last year’s excellent Final Fantasy X HD Remaster, you can snap up this classic on your PS3 and Vita today. This title marked the first time the series used voice actors and it’s still one of the deepest RPG experiences around with a story and gameplay elements that outclass more recent entries in the series by an embarrassing distance.
3: Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (2001)
One of the first great action platformer games on the PS2 that wowed gamers with vibrant visuals and a huge gaming world that didn’t require a single loading screen if you decided to run from one end to the other. The platforming was razor-sharp and the action throughout was a fine display of early brilliance from developers, Naughty Dog, who went on to make the Uncharted games on PS3. The series lost its way after this fantastic opener as it tried to move into Ratchet & Clank’s territory by adding guns to the mix and strangely dull city environments. I wouldn’t say no to a reboot though.
4: Devil May Cry (2001)
This super-stylish gun n’ swords action title oddly enough started off as a Resident Evil game, but it soon became clear to the developers that they’d created a new breed of animal. A PS2 star was born in the silver-haired half devil / half-human, Dante. Sure, he was cocky, arrogant and completely in love with himself but when you’re uppercutting demons with a five foot blade and making them dance mid-air with a storm of bullets, you can damn well afford to be. DMC was a huge boot up the backside for the action genre which has been used as a template ever since.
5: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2002)
Hideo Kojima bravely removed Snake as the main hero of the game and replaced him with the Emo-before-his-time, Raiden. Apart from the blonde fop, this was an incredible game. The plot was gripping throughout even if the ending needed a few viewings before making sense. The boss fights were insane, ranging from fat bombers on roller-blades to harrier jets and multiple Metal Gears. Fantastic replay value was added with the ability to sneak up on every patrolling soldier in the game and steal their dog tags which showed how MGS2 could not be beaten for stealthy shenanigans. It was a benchmark title graphically too with some well rendered cutscenes and fine detail for everything from the weather effects on the tanker to the tiny writing on the side of a tranquilliser dart.
6: Ico (2002)
What? Not Shadow of the Colossus? Ico gets the edge for being such a well-received, but even more underselling cult classic. Copies became rare, until Sony finally gave in and re-released it years later. The simple tale of a boy abandoned in a castle, turns into an emotional, game-long, escort mission as players had to protect the ethereal girl, Yorda. You’d have to take her hand and lead her around the castle and catch her when she’d fall short in a jump, developing a bond unlike anything in other games. She’d get distracted by butterflies while you’d be holding on for dear life to a windmill sail and would be attacked by black shadowy creatures when left alone. The two can’t understand each other but this is still regarded as one of the finest examples of emotional gaming as players would try to protect Yorda to the end. All this wouldn’t matter though if the game didn’t also have excellent platforming and puzzle sections throughout and a desolate atmosphere created through the audio design. The gaming community is holding its breath in eager anticipation for the next game from the creators in The Last Guardian, but it’s been through development hell to say the least and may never see the light of day.
7: Kingdom Hearts (2002)
A Square Enix action-RPG that uses Final Fantasy characters in different Disney movie worlds as you play alongside Donald Duck and Goofy. On paper it sounds like madness, but what followed were two of the greatest RPG experiences on the PS2. The series has gone off the rails a little with the bizarrely named spinoffs on the Nintendo handhelds, but the third game proper is set to land next year and we can’t wait. Be sure to pick up the HD remasters on the PS3 to get up-to-date.
8: Soul Calibur II (2002)
The PS2 was spoilt for choice with quality fighting games. Dead or Alive 2, Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, WWE Smackdown, Tekken 5 and so on. But Soul Calibur II made the biggest difference by stuffing the game with content and extra modes. The huge amount of challenge battles in the game vastly outweighed the time spent fighting through the brief campaign options. The character roster was richly varied too and newbs could enjoy button bashing, while technical fighters could dig in and find glorious amounts of depth for skilled play.
9: Burnout 3: Takedown (2004)
Cranking the carmageddon up to 11, Burnout 3 let racers get away with more crashes than ever in this street racing gem. The inclusion of ‘Aftertouch’ meant that after a crash of your own you could guide your flying wreckage in slow-motion into any other racer who might be about to zoom past. The car combat really came into its own with racers now able to barge other cars off the road in glorious takedown moves. The speed the racing operated at once you touched that boost button was epic beyond belief. Burnout Paradise may have been a great online game for messing around together but the racing in an open city, which relied on you being able to read sat-nav and navigate traffic at 200mph, was so poor compared to the tracks in games in Burnout 3 that were designed perfectly for speed, drifting and utter carnage.
10: Pro Evolution Soccer 4 (2004)
Pro Evo was the dominant favourite of critics everywhere on PS2 and forced the FIFA series to re-invent itself for PS3. Tides have turned since, but last year’s Pro Evo is seen as something of a return to form. Pro Evo 4 remains the benchmark though and is still enormously playable today, I challenge you to find a game with more rewarding screamers than this one. Let’s face it, who didn’t lose months to the Master League too?
11: Timesplitters: Future Perfect (2005)
One of the finest names in console multiplayer history goes online and in many ways has yet be beaten. The huge array of weapons, fun characters and ready-made or user-created maps meant this was an incredible experience, the likes of which still have not been seen since on the PS3 or PS4. Even the stat-tracking leaderboards have yet to be matched; time spent aiming, headshots, time on a specific map, the list goes on. It was devastating when developers Free Radical went under. Crytek (of Crysis fame) now own the name, and have allowed a group of PC modders to start work on a PC remake of the series, called Timesplitters Rewind.
12: Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves (2005)
This is perhaps the only platforming series on PS2 that started out great and got incredibly better each time, with the third game culminating in a blend of gameplay styles including platforming, stealth, aerial combat, puzzles, open-world environments, racing and more, all wrapped up in a delicious cel-shaded style with an engrossing narrative packed with interesting characters.
13: Black (2006)
For many, Black was the seminal shooter of the PS2. The game pushed the console to its limits and provided some of most furious action the black behemoth had ever seen as bullets ripped apart levels in one of the console’s loudest games ever. Criterion never went back to FPS games after this as they concentrated on their racing games. That’s how you drop the mic.
14: Okami (2007)
The last cult classic on the PS2, and possibly the best of the lot. This beautiful looking game had you playing as Amaterasu, a god in wolf-form trying to save medieval Japan from seemingly every malevolent god and evil spirit that ever stalked the pages of Japanese mythology. The colour was drained from all affected areas, with it returning in epic flourishes when you cleansed the land with the aid of the Celestial Brush which allowed players to draw items into the world or attack enemies. Everything from cherry-tree blossoms, bridges and bombs could be sketched in. It was a huge adventure with several false endings, which seemed to grant your silent wish for it to just keep going.
15: God of War II (2007)
This was a testament of how far the PS2 had come. Even with the next-generation consoles kicking in the door. Jaws were hitting the floor for the last hurrah on Sony’s black-boxed beauty as Kratos tore his way through Ancient Greece in his blood-soaked quest for revenge. The combat was inspired and a visual delight as the infamous chained blades whirled around some of the grandest scenes ever witnessed on the PS2. Missed it? Check out the HD re-release on PS3 or get down to your nearest pre-owned gaming store.
That’s the list then. A few honourable mentions of a few names that didn’t quite make it: Onimusha 2 and 3, Dragon Quest VIII, Max Payne, Silent Hill 2, Freedom Fighters, Primal, Gran Turismo 3, Tony Hawk’s 4, Resident Evil 4, Ratchet & Clank (series), Kya: Dark Lineage, Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, Beyond Good & Evil, XIII and Medal of Honor: Frontline.