At the turn of the century, the PlayStation 2 was the console to own. Not only did it dominate its competitors, outselling some of them into oblivion (RIP Dreamcast), but the system continued to be a successful money maker for Sony until it was discontinued in 2012. The PS2 wasn’t only successful because it was a neat piece of hardware, though; the system had some of the most outstanding and memorable games to ever exist.
With fantastic console exclusives, games sporting some of the best visuals of their time, and birthplace of iconic franchises, there are a whole lot of amazing titles to consider when putting together a best PS2 games list. But, we’ve combed through our memories, old gaming collections, and reader suggestions to bring together our definitive list of the must play titles on the system. We have 25 of the best right here, starting with…
25. Dark Cloud 2
Yes, you remember Dark Cloud. At least, you should. This ingenious hybrid challenged you to be as adept with city design as you were with dungeon crawling. You adopted the role of Max, a resourceful young craftsman who was charged with rebuilding his world by collecting items (geostones) from dungeons and assembling villages piece by piece with help from the local Firbits.
Dark Cloud 2’s world-creation system was addictive, to say the least. It’s randomly generated dungeons made searching for geostones feel fresh with every visit, and it was easy to lose hours snapping photos and sussing out every last village piece. The game also shipped with an addictive golfing minigame called spheda and a fishing diversion; all in addition to a meaty story. We don’t know how we found time to save the world, but we know we had fun doing it.
24. Soulcalibur 2
Arcade-to-console ports are risky, but Project Soul pulled off Soulcalibur 2’s PS2 translation with nary a scratch. Considered one of the tightest, prettiest, and most fluid fighters of its day (and even today by some), the sequel improved on everything its Soul Blade and Soulcalibur predecessors did right, while introducing new faces, weapons, modes, upgraded visuals, and a substantial weapon master side quest.
Part of our love for Soulcalibur 2 stems from the fact that this was the series’ first appearance on a PlayStation console. True, Soul Blade made the leap from arcades to the PlayStation in the mid-’90s, but the first actual “Soulcalibur” could only be enjoyed at home with a Dreamcast. By the time SoulCalibur 2 expanded the series’ reach to other consoles, both hardcore and casual fighting fans were eager to enjoy their arcade favourite on the PS2, and Project Soul did not disappoint.
23. Kingdom Hearts 2
Kingdom Hearts is a series that really shouldn’t have worked. Mixing the melodramatic world of Final Fantasy with the cheery family fun of Disney should have been a train wreck. Instead it ended up being one of the most successful new franchises of the PS2 era, and its action RPG gameplay still holds up, particularly in the PS2 sequel.
Kingdom Hearts 2 resumed Sora’s search for his friends, and as always he’s assisted by Disney stars like Donald and Goofy. Sora explores worlds old and new, including some based on Steamboat Willy and TRON. Meanwhile, the combat was enriched by the additions of dual Keyblades, the Drive Gauge, and the much-improved Gummi Ship segments. Even when the plot makes little sense, KH2s gameplay kept us satisfied until the story stopped being confusing.
22. SSX Tricky
SSX Tricky is regarded as the [insert name of your country’s best snowboarder] of snowboarding games, and it comes by its title honestly. For one, it kicked EA Canada’s SSX series into a brand-new gear; and for another, it was just plain awesome. SSX Tricky achieved the nigh-impossible task of transporting the joy of shredding down a mountain into our living rooms. Its courses were exhilarating, its soundtrack was pumping, and its uber move trick system encouraged rookies and vets to keep coming back for “just one more run”.
SSX Tricky took the bones of SSX and gave the series the vitality and attitude it so desperately needed. EA has attempted to keep the SSX brand alive since, but few sequels have come close to packing the same punch as this PS2 original.
21. SOCOM 2: US Navy Seals
Once upon a time, online multiplayer was considered a bonus, not a “must have.” During these dark ages, SOCOM 2: US Navy Seals was one of few brave titles that helped PS2’s online community take shape. It opened the way for teams of eight to take their fight online over 25 maps – twelve new, 10 from the original SOCOM, and an extra three that were used as bait to buy the Official PlayStation Magazine. It also let allies communicate over a basic in-game chat and for recently deceased players to watch the game in ghost form.
SOCOM 2 wasn’t the first title to come equipped for online play on the PS2, but it helped push the concept forward and blaze a trail for today’s modern fragfests. SOCOM 2’s single-player pulled its own weight, introducing innovative features like the ability to shout voice commands over a headset. SOCOM 2 wasn’t the greatest war game of the PS2 era, but it marched the genre forward and won us over on many fronts.
You may recognize Psychonauts from every ‘Overlooked Games You Need to Play’ article ever written; but believe us when we say Psychonauts is a sorely overlooked game you really need to play.
Starring the psychically gifted Razputin Raz Aquato, it sent you packing to the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp where you ventured into the minds (and nightmares) of its offbeat residents. From dodging neon bulls to playing a life-sized board game and smashing up an underwater city, every level in Psychonauts played by its own insanely creative rules. Combining Double Fine’s warped sense of humour, rebel game design, and knack for writing memorable characters, Psychonauts was a shining example of what the studio could produce when left alone with its imagination and a modest budget.
19. Katamari Damacy
The quintessentially quirky Katamari Damacy proved that wacky, distinctly Japanese games with relatively low budgets (under $1 million) could succeed in the US both commercially and critically. The public’s warm embrace of the original Katamari, a surprise gem sold as a $20 budget title, led to not only several higher-priced sequels, but also paved the way for publishers to take more chances on localising other oddball titles.
Katamari’s brilliance is in the elegant simplicity of its gameplay, coupled with the vibrant chaos of its visuals. You use both analog sticks to roll a sticky ball around collecting as much stuff as you can, and the bigger the ball gets, the bigger the stuff it can pick up. Crucially, there’s an abundance of really cool junk to roll up–lots of real-life, tantalisingly exotic, Japanophilia-inducing consumer goods, plus adorably blocky people, farm animals, planets and the like. In short, it’s a joyous celebration of silliness with a simple yet totally novel concept that’s highly addictive, all set to one of the greatest, jazziest soundtracks in gaming history.
18. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 is a sentimental favorite, and we acknowledge that. It did not, however, come in the wake of the PS2 Broadband Modem, and it was still confined to the Two-Minute Rule. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 struck the perfect balance between the sublime gameplay of its predecessors and the series’ eventual descent into Hot Topic Mallpunk ****.
Let’s recap: It introduced free-skate mode, which allowed you to explore the terrain before committing to any challenges. It introduced grind and lip extensions to complement the revert (introduced in THPS3) and the manual (unveiled in THPS2), which were arguably some of the finest tools to stretch out big combos to date. And it was the first Tony Hawk game that PS2 players could jump online with in an official capacity on launch day. Rather than focus on the series’ decline, look back fondly on its finest moment.
Of all the games that have weathered firestorms of controversy, its hard to imagine one that deserved it less than Bully did. It did an expert job of taking Grand Theft Auto’s free-roaming mentality and using it to create an incredibly compelling, character-driven game about being trapped in a hostile school environment. It also helped that, unlike most real kids who are the targets of bullies, protagonist Jimmy Hopkins was a gruff bruiser with a boxers fists and superhuman stamina, which allowed for uniquely fun situations, like beating up the entire football team at once. It wasn’t GTA, but in some ways it was a lot more enjoyable.
16. Burnout 3: Takedown
For many, this is the crowning entry in Burnouts legacy. By the third time out, Criterion Games had distilled hyper-aggressive driving to its absolute apex, and added features like Crashbreakers and Takedowns, which now make up the very essence of how most people see the series at large. To this day, Takedown still stands as the best selling and highest-scoring Burnout game, and thats saying a lot for a franchise as beloved and well received as this one.
Burnout 3: Takedown offered more online features too. Whereas the previous game had only bothered with piecemeal leaderboards (solely on Xbox Live), new owner EA cleared a hefty chunk of its server space for a ballistic online experience few traditional racing games had received up to that point. We probably don’t have to tell this to those who revelled in the ridiculously awesome Road Rage events; a handful of you were still playing it right up until EA finally shut down the servers nearly six years post-release.