Clocked

The best PS2 games of all time: 15 games that defined a generation

The PS2 is the best-selling console of all time, largely due to its fantastic library of games. We took it upon ourselves to trawl through the annals of history and create a definitive list of the best PS2 games of all time.

If you think getting your hands on a PS5 is difficult, pull up a chair and let me tell you about the console apocalypse of the PS2. Just kidding – it wasn’t that bad. In many ways it was actually a golden era in video game history, with many of the best PS2 games now rightfully recognised as some of the most important titles ever.

A great number of the current generation’s most celebrated games are either direct sequels to, or share a close ancestor with, a title from the PS2. The console’s powerful new hardware was instrumental in giving developers the tools to create immersive experiences of a scale that dwarfed anything that came before.

best ps2 games
Image: GTA: Vice City / Rockstar Games

This new technology was used to tell increasingly complex stories, helping to establish Sony’s reputation for groundbreaking single player games. This focus on narrative, as well as gameplay mechanics that supported that goal, has meant many of the best PS2 games have aged remarkably well.

So without further pause, let’s journey back through time and explore the games of yesteryear that left a lasting mark on the industry. Here’s our list, in no particular order, of the best PS2 games of all time.

Resident Evil 4

Coming at a time when Capcom’s iconic Resident Evil series needed a shot in the arm, Resident Evil 4 delivered in a big way. With the divisive Resident Evil 3: Nemesis still fresh in many gamer’s minds, it was beginning to look like the staple of the survival horror genre had grown stale and complacent.

The development team realised this and, in a risky move, took the game in a more action-orientated direction. Importantly though, they managed to do this without negatively impacting the scares that Resident Evil fans demand. It was so damn good, and fondly remembered, that Capcom is reportedly having trouble remaking it for the next-gen.

One of the best PS2 games ever, one of the best horror games ever.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

The legend of Hideo Kojima starts proper with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Sure, with the original Metal Gear Solid he managed to create what is widely regarded as one of the most influential video games ever, but it wasn’t until MGS2 that he began to let his mad genius hang out like an alcoholic’s beer gut. That alone warrants its place on this list of best PS2 games.

The narrative scope was wider, the action set-pieces more grand, and the stealthy gameplay: revolutionary. The only thing to complain about was that you didn’t get to play as series’ hero Solid Snake that much – which make no mistake, fans did complain about.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

I’m going to do my best to not include too many series double-ups on this list, but it’s already proving difficult. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City snakes in just ahead of Grand Theft Auto III because, quite simply, it has more charm. And more polish. And let’s be real, the ’80s just kind of slap.

GTA III was undoubtedly more groundbreaking, and probably influential too – I can still remember staring at screenshots of the game’s city rendered in 3D in complete disbelief. But this is a list of the best PS2 games, not the most influential. And Vice City is a better time.

Devil May Cry

Devil May Cry took Capcom’s experience working in the horror domain and channeled it into a completely different type of game. The combat is fast as hell, combining an anime-influenced style with the sort of gunfighting you’d see in The Matrix.

So while the world might creep you out, you’ll be too busy committing brutal acts of violence to get scared. To be honest, it isn’t for everyone, and feels more dated than many of the games on this list. Nonetheless, it’s an important reminder that the best PS2 games wouldn’t necessarily all fly in today’s market.

God of War 2

The God of War series started life as some of the best PS2 games available. In fact, considering when God of War 2 came out, it isn’t unreasonable to think of it as the final swansong of the PS2. You know, those games that make you wonder how a new console could possibly offer much more (silly in retrospect, but I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of such romanticism).

God of War 2 is still a brutal, addictive, exhilarating, and cinematic experience after all these years. Although, the series reboot on PS4 has done such an incredible job raising the series’ emotional stakes that the past games do feel slightly edgy in their own kind of way.

SSX

SSX did for snow sports what Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater did for skateboarding. It was a generous offering that gave gamers multiple different game modes, focusing on a combination of speedy racing and gravity-defying tricks.

It was the perfect game to play with friends, and even had the potential to appeal to people outside the usual gaming community. Basically it was a blast for everyone, and one of the best PS2 games to bring out a party.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3

And no, don’t worry, I’m not about to include fuckin’ SSX in a list of best PS2 games without also including a Tony Hawk’s title. I know what’s going on here, I’m a professional.

I could try and explain why this game deserves a place, but if you need me to explain Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater to you then you need more than a list: you need to get out from underneath your rock. You skateboard, do tricks, and listen to awesome tunes. It’s rad.

Okami

Okami is a different matter altogether – an overlooked masterpiece that never quite found its audience. The game itself is a beautifully illustrated adventure inspired by Japanese mythology and The Legend of Zelda. The art style is unique, at least in the world of video games, mimicking the appearance of traditional Japanese ink wash painting.

You play as the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu, in the form of a white wolf, who is on a quest to save the world from darkness. Widely regarded as not only one of the best PS2 games, but hugely important in the debate surrounding video games as works of art.

Final Fantasy X

Few video games provide value like the Final Fantasy series. Gigantic in size and scope, and invariably containing swords that could also be described that way. While Final Fantasy X doesn’t depart significantly from the series’ hallmarks, the PS2’s hardware enabled more of the game’s unique world to be fully realised.

If you compare the character models of Final Fantasy VII for example, in all their pygmy glory, with those of X, you will understand what I’m getting at. By finally be able to show the extent of their imaginations, the developers were able to elevate their formula, and as a result created one of the very best PS2 games.

Shadow of the Colossus

I could just as easily have placed ICO on this list, but I’ve gone with Shadow of the Colossus because I believe it has more staying power. It’s the type of game that once you’ve played it, there is no going back. At a glance it is the tale of a young man on a quest to save a woman from a mysterious affliction (aka death). Relatively passé stuff, communicated in a way that is anything but.

The game creates a tonal tapestry of mystery, majesty, and awe that had previously been reserved for awards-caliber cinema. Similarly, the way that gameplay mechanics are used to build tension surrounding boss fights, as well as during them, is fantastic.

Shadow of the Colossus also possesses one of the great narrative twists, on which I refuse to say a word more. Play this game on any console you can find it.

Twisted Metal: Black

Cars aren’t really my thing and, as this list is indicative of, neither are racing games. On the other hand, destroying cars is something I can get down with, and let’s be clear: no game before or after Twisted Metal: Black has done it better.

You pick a character from the game’s cast of heinous outlaws, psychopaths, and tortured souls to compete in a bizarre tournament of vehicular combat. Its nasty, it’s dark, it’s chaotic, and above all else, its really, really fun to play with friends. A true classic that, surprisingly, still holds its title as best in show 20 years after its initial release.

Silent Hill 2

The Resident Evil games (other than RE7) generally have just enough humour and self-awareness to soften their nasty horror-filled interior. Which, rather importantly, makes it feel like they care about your wellbeing – as if they want to give you a cute smirk to go with your anxiety stricken heart.

Silent Hill, on the other hand, wants to fuck you up. They don’t care if you like it, and as far as I’m concerned Pyramid Head is perfect proof of this – a monster so putrid and abhorrent and nightmarish and horrid and…ok, breathe.

As I was saying, Silent Hill is one of the best PS2 games ever. If you really aren’t into sleep that much.

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal

The dynamic duo of meat and machine began their journey on the PS2 and, unsurprisingly given their series’ continued success, it started with a fantastic bang. Up Your Arsenal is the third instalment, but is arguably even better than the original.

A classic platformer/adventure hybrid that has just the right amount of potty-mouthed humour – you know, rude enough that the kids will giggle uncontrollably, yet clever enough the parents will too. It’s a fun game that, despite a lot of fierce competition in a crowded genre, is worthy of its place alongside the best PS2 games.

Kingdom Hearts 2

The original Disney mash-up that brought some of your favourite childhood characters into the realm of video games. Well, at least in terms of a video game worth playing.

The way that Square managed to craft such a thrilling a game around this concept is masterful, a true lesson in collaborative worldbuilding. How you feel about it will largely depend on your affection for the source material, but even aside from that, it has a really solid implementation of the mechanics the developers pioneered in the Final Fantasy games.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

I said I would try not to do it, and I did. But you can’t make list of the best PS2 games and leave out either Metal Gear Solid title. The series is synonymous with Sony’s consoles, and the success of both have been partially tied together for some time.

Snake Eater is, in a number of ways, the odd one out in the Metal Gear Solid series. Its outdoor environments, vintage setting, complicated story, and gameplay tweaks broke new ground for the series, as well as the console itself.

Well there you have it; 15 of the best PS2 games, that despite their age, still have a lot to offer. If, however, you are looking for something a little more recent, feel free to check out our regularly updated Best New Games section.