Publisher: Activision O2 / Developer: Neversoft
Release Date: 30th Oct 2001 (USA)
/ 30th Nov 2001 (UK/EU)
The Tony Hawk series of games truly dominated the early 2000s. It’s no wonder – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 tops the list of the most critically acclaimed PS1 games, so it makes sense that Pro Skater 3 followed suit on the PS2. Here, developer Neversoft expanded upon what it built before by adding further ways to extend combos with the revert trick, creating a massively addicting way to kickflip and grind through stages inspired by a dozen real-world locales. Add a 20-song soundtrack packed with popular artists from that time (anyone else remember Alien Ant Farm?) and tie-in characters such as Darth-Maul to unlock, and you’ve got unquestionably one of the best video games ever made.
Publisher: Capcom / Developer: Clover Studio
Release Date: 19th Sep 2006 (USA)
/ 9th Feb 2007 (UK/EU)
Deeply inspired by Japanese folklore and presented in an eye-catching, painterly art-style, Okami was one of the most unique games to grace the PS2. As Sun-goddess Amaterasu takes the form of a white wolf to restore Nippon from Orochi’s curse, the story quickly expands to include bigger threats and many mystical locales. Ōkami’s defining feature was the Celestial Brush. By pressing R1, you paused and brought up a canvas to paint on. This mechanic featured heavily in all aspects of the game – from puzzles, fighting, to even having a major role to play in the narrative. Truly, much like a ukiyo-e painting, Ōkami was quite unique.
Publisher: Electronic Arts / Developer: Criterion Games
Release Date: 8th Sep 2004 (USA)
/ 10th Sep 2004 (UK/EU)
We miss Burnout. Few games provided more adrenaline-laced mayhem per second than Burnout 3: Takedown, especially way back on the PS2. Unlike other racers, rear-ending, side-swiping, and t-boning your opponents was actively encouraged with slo-mo cameras showing their Coupe and Muscle cars smashing into oncoming traffic and twirling through the air after being forced into concrete dividers. Takedowns on other cars awarded more boost to go even faster, creating an endlessly entertaining and destructive gameplay loop. Burnout 3, in some ways, served as an antithesis to other racing games that favoured realism and technical detail; here, totalling other cars took precedence, roping in many who otherwise wouldn’t play a racing game.
Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Level-5
Release Date: 15th Nov 2005 (USA)
/ 13th Apr 2006 (UK/EU)
Many cite Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King as both the pinnacle of the illustrious franchise and the best JRPG on the PlayStation 2. While many might argue against the latter point, it’s hard to deny the first. Focusing on just four playable characters, including the legitimately funny reformed thief Yangus and the anime-waifu bait Jessica, Dragon Quest VIII told a straightforward tale to break a curse placed upon a king by the court-jester Dhoulmagus (with an evil name like that, they probably should’ve saw it coming). Dragon Quest’s tried-and-true turn-based battles are here in full, and so are over 200 colourful monsters to slay. The eighth iteration didn’t come paired with any significant thrills, but instead distilled the addictive formula the series is known for down into a concise perfection that holds up almost two decades later.
Publisher: Capcom / Developer: Capcom
Release Date: 25th Oct 2005 (USA)
/ 4th Nov 2005 (UK/EU)
Resident Evil 4 signalled the best-selling franchise and PlayStation mainstay’s shift from survival horror to action-heavy shooter. In our opinion, Resident Evil 4 straddled the line between both worlds, providing a genuinely unnerving romp through rural Spain while making the intense fights against a mysterious, zombified cult more engaging with a visceral combat system inspired by third-person shooters. By fighting through ruined villages, battling against massive lake monsters, and exploring haunting castles, protagonist Leon Kennedy’s attempts to rescue the US President's daughter from said cult feature enough Resident Evil lore and absurdity to please fans both old and new. There’s a reason why Capcom ported Resident Evil 4 to just about every console imaginable and has a remake planned for sometime in 2023 – it’s that good.
Publisher: Capcom / Developer: Capcom
Release Date: 24th Jan 2006 (USA)
/ 25th Sep 2006 (UK/EU)
Devil May Cry epitomised the edgy stylishness of the early 2000s with its action-heavy gameplay. At that time, there wasn’t a single frosted-tipped teenage boy that didn’t want to play as a demon hunter with a massive sword and a couple of pistols. Mowing down the zombie-like Marionettes and grotesque Nobodies, fighting for ‘Stylish’ rank in each mission, dodging and attacking in perfect sync to the gothic-meets-techno soundtrack, was a mixture we’d never seen done before. Devil May Cry 3 is the zenith of the PS2 trilogy, and made several innovations of the genre that inspired later combo-heavy action games on the PS2 and elsewhere – making Dante’s quest one of the most influential games on the system. The Special Edition made a wonderful game even better.
Publisher: Rockstar / Developer: Rockstar North
Release Date: 26th Oct 2004 (USA)
/ 29th Oct 2004 (UK/EU)
There isn’t a console generation since the late '90s that hasn’t had a Grand Theft Auto rake in both accolades and sales like any one of the series’ protagonists raking in cash selling drugs. In the case of the PS2, it had three of them: Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas. Of these, we give the edge to San Andreas with its much more realised sandbox. There was nothing quite like it: high-speed police chases and gang shootouts throughout Los Santos and San Fierro, skydiving from helicopters and skyscrapers, and – our personal favourite – jetpacking across the massive map. We’d argue that San Andreas marked a maturation of GTA’s open-world design as it manages to hold up quite comparably to Grand Theft Auto IV and even V.
Publisher: RedOctane / Developer: Harmonix
Release Date: 7th Nov 2005 (USA)
/ 7th Apr 2006 (UK/EU)
Guitar Hero – the game that took the niche rhythm genre and brought it face-melting levels of popularity. No other game defined music tastes more than Guitar Hero did (yes, even moreso than Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater), and no other game brought people together after school and on weekends to jam out on plastic guitars to the likes of Symphony of Destruction and No One Knows. It kicked off a decade of a rhythm game golden age that fizzled out as if someone unplugged an amp mid-set, yet at the time of its release, it was the de-facto greatest game the genre had seen, and even now we’d make a strong argument that this PS2 classic still stands tall as one of the best.
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Treasure
Release Date: 14th Sep 2004 (USA)
/ 8th Oct 2004 (UK/EU)
Gradius V received a little bit of flack for its crushing difficulty and lack of standout innovations to the shoot ‘em up genre when it was released, yet now nearly two decades removed, we can’t name other shmups much better than it. Gradius V aged like fine wine, allowing us to appreciate the sweaty-palmed, controller-squeezing gameplay more than we did then. A wealth of customisation options – which power-ups to bring into each stage, editing weapon combinations, difficulty modifiers – paired with co-op play make this a complete shmup no fan of the genre should have missed then and should find a way to play now.
Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 17th Dec 2001 (USA)
/ 24th May 2002 (UK/EU)
The tenth entry to the legendary series stands tall as one of its best, and definitely the best on the PS2. Tidus’s expansive, epic journey impressed just about everyone back in 2001, proving that Final Fantasy could innovate and thrive on a new console. The Sphere Grid, for its time, revolutionised how JRPGs dished out experience and allowed you to customise characters; gone were static level-ups seen in past games, now you could prioritise the attributes and skills you wanted for each character. Want to make Yuna, traditionally a white mage healer, into a physical attacker? We wouldn’t recommend it, but Final Fantasy X gave you that freedom, which in turn made the bosses (especially all those ultra-difficult hidden bosses) more rewarding to defeat. We haven’t even mentioned the awesome summon animations or Blitzball. FFX just did so much right we can’t cover it in a single paragraph.
Publisher: Rockstar / Developer: Rockstar Vancouver
Release Date: 17th Oct 2006 (USA)
/ 25th Oct 2006 (UK/EU)
Likely the most underrated title on this list, Bully was and is a masterpiece that everyone should experience (and desperately needs a modern remake). As Jimmy Hopkins works his way up the social cliques of Bullworth – Jocks, Nerds, Preppies, etc. – to put a stop to rampant bullying, Bully tells a surprisingly mature story way ahead of its time despite the subject matter. Rockstar Vancouver learned from Bully’s car-stealing cousin and included a healthy amount of open-worldness to go along with some novel missions. We also loved how Jimmy could unlock more abilities based on how well he did in certain classes, such as the Stink Bombs obtained from completing Chemistry 2. It’s a shame a sequel never materialised.
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Kojima Productions
Release Date: 17th Nov 2004 (USA)
/ 4th Mar 2005 (UK/EU)
Award-winning espionage adventures directed by Hideo Kojima were synonymous with Sony consoles from the PS1 onward. Of course, the PS2 was no different, having two: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. While Sons of Liberty has every right to make this list, we have to go with Snake Eater, as many consider it the pinnacle of the storied franchise. A prequel to the original Metal Gear, it traded the cold and grey military compounds of previous games for a Soviet jungle seen through a sepia-filter. Playing as Naked Snake who – spoilers – would later in the timeline become the complicated villain Big Boss offered more revelations than fans could shake a cardboard box at, and the stealth-action gameplay had never felt so fluid in an MGS game or otherwise.
Publisher: SCEI / Developer: Bandai Namco
Release Date: 21st Sep 2004 (USA)
Describing Katamari Damacy and why it ranks as one of the PS2’s best games is a difficult task. The Prince – the son of the King of the Cosmos – must roll a magical ball called a katamari across the Earth to collect materials so his father can recreate celestial bodies throughout the universe. Make sense? This amounted to a puzzle game where you, as The Prince, had to roll the katamari into bigger and bigger shapes for larger objects to stick, all within a time limit. A jazz-inspired soundtrack helped Katamari Damacy to feel both zen-like and chaotic at the same time. When Namco released it back in 2004, it such an absurd title surprised everyone by garnering a cult following in both Japan and western territories, thus spawning an entire Katamari franchise.
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Team Silent
Release Date: 24th Sep 2001 (USA)
/ 23rd Nov 2001 (UK/EU)
We couldn’t let a list of PS2 games go without the most psychologically terrifying game to release on the platform. Silent Hill 2 took everything that made the original on the PS1 great and amplified the horror. Foggy streets that provided both atmosphere and obscured terrible monsters just out of view? Check. Light-and-dark mechanics, such as not being able to read maps without a light source, that added a constant layer of tension? Check. A roster of freakish monsters protagonist James Sunderland detected before he saw them through bursts of static from a radio? Also check. The second entry introduced us to the Pyramid Heads, the most iconic monster from the series, that still make appearances at cosplay conventions and halloween parties. There’s many reasons why fans of the Silent Hill series clamour for another entry to this very day.
Publisher: Namco / Developer: Namco
Release Date: 25th Jul 2001 (USA)
If you missed out on playing Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil on the PS2, you’re in luck – a collection of these superb platforming games was released this year as the Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series on all modern consoles. Praised for tight, simple gameplay, Klonoa 2 provided everything you could ever want from a platformer, especially considering pure 2D platforming titles were the one genre the PS2 lagged behind in. Its 3D backgrounds impressed just about everyone at the time and so did its soundtrack, and Klonoa’s use of Wind Bullets to grab enemies and double jump off them to reach other areas added a nice layer to the otherwise straightforward levels. It’s a shame that it wasn’t as commercially successful as it was critically, yet Klonoa 2 more than earned its spot on this list.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment / Developer: Insomniac Games
Release Date: 2nd Nov 2004 (USA)
/ 2nd Nov 2004 (UK/EU)
Before Insomniac Games’ soft-reboot with 2016’s Ratchet and Clank, the series earned a reputation of being a combat-heavy platformer with an edgy sense of humour – you needn’t look further than the title of 2004’s Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal to see what we mean. As the third entry in the space-faring series, Ratchet and Clank teamed up once again with an ever-expanding arsenal of weapons with multiple levels of upgrades on a quest to stop Dr. Nefarious from using the Bioliberator to turn all organic life into robots. The plot wasn’t why you played Ratchet and Clank then and it isn’t now. It was those awesome weapons – including personal favourites the Suck Cannon and the ubiquitous RY3NO – and mowing down dozens upon dozens of robots and aliens with them that made it one of the most enjoyable and humorous experiences on the PS2.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment / Developer: Team Ico
Release Date: 18th Oct 2005 (USA)
No other game on the PS2 impressed both critics and players alike with its masterful game design than Shadow of the Colossus. As protagonist Wander sought out 16 massive Colossi to slay with the eventual goal of reawakening a maiden from a curse, small design choices, such as holding Wander’s sword aloft to reflect sunlight in the direction of the next Colossi, added so much ambience that otherwise would’ve been lost with a regular quest marker. Each Colossi functioned as both level, puzzle, and boss fight; even reaching them in the game’s relatively open-world was a puzzle in itself. After their defeat, Shadow of the Colossus pressed upon us a sense of loss and sadness at the death of these massive creatures that still resonates with us today.
Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 28th Mar 2006 (USA)
/ 29th Sep 2006 (UK/EU)
No one saw the first Kingdom Hearts coming. If you told us Square would collaborate with The Walt Disney Company to make an action role-playing game, we’d have thought you as unhinged as Kefka. We give the follow-up, Kingdom Hearts II, the edge over its predecessor if only because the Disney-themed worlds we explored with protagonists Sora, Goofy, and Donald Duck were much more realised with many gameplay hitches ironed out. We have fond memories of our trio of heroes becoming literal animals in the Lion King world and of the expanded Halloween Town from The Nightmare Before Christmas. We didn’t really understand the plot then and with about seventeen (give or take) spinoffs we don’t think we ever will, but that doesn’t diminish the impact gaming’s most surprising collaboration has had on the medium since the PS2.
Publisher: Namco / Developer: Namco
Release Date: 27th Aug 2003 (USA)
/ 26th Sep 2003 (UK/EU)
While the other two versions of Soulcalibur II on the GameCube and Xbox received cooler guest characters than the PS2 version, that doesn’t diminish the fact that this was – arguably – the best fighter on a console brimming with them. This entry introduced many to the Soulcalibur series and its weapon-focused brawls. Plenty of upgrades over its predecessor, such as more fluid sidestepping to avoid attacks, kept it competitive with the likes of Tekken. A dozen weapons for each character added a thorough amount of customisability, altering everything from damage outputs to the ability to drain an opponent’s health. With over 20 characters, including dread pirate Cervantes, the ninja Taki, and Heihachi from Tekken on the PS2, Soulcalibur II scratched every itch a fighting game fan could ever want.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment / Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio
Release Date: 22nd Mar 2005 (USA)
/ 8th Jul 2005 (UK/EU)
Santa Monica Studio’s violent, ever-present console seller got its start on the PS2 with the first God of War. Equal parts violent and cinematic, this was where we were first introduced to Kratos and his quest for revenge against Ares for orchestrating the murder of his family by his own hand. God of War combined a perfect blend of combo-heavy action, puzzles, and platforming as Kratos fought his way through Athens, the Underworld, and rode the back of Cronos (of whom he’d brutally kill in a later game). We love it for its unabashed immaturity and grotesquery (impaling the Hydra on a ship’s mast, anyone?), and for how this first entry formed the foundation for what would later become one of Sony’s blockbuster, must-play series.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment / Developer: Polyphony Digital
Release Date: 22nd Feb 2005 (USA)
/ 9th Mar 2005 (UK/EU)
The Gran Turismo series is widely regarded as one of the finest racing franchises of all time, and it really hit its stride on PS2. Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec laid the foundations, but this sequel took things to an entirely new level, presenting PS2 owners with a level of depth and realism that some assumed simply wasn't possible on Sony's console. Slick, well-presented and boasting the kind of longevity some RPGs can't challenge, Gran Turismo 4 is a masterpiece.
The PlayStation 2's release date was 4th March 2000 in its native Japan. It would be released in North America on 26th October 2000 and in Europe on 24th November 2000.
Around 4376 games were officially released on PS2 during its lifetime.
Sony stopped production of the PS2 on 28th December 2012 in Japan and on 4th January 2013 worldwide.
Yes, the PS2 is the world's best-selling games console, with a staggering 158.70 million units sold, as of January 4th, 2013.