The best PlayStation 2 games of all time
We’ve put our thumbs to the test to pick the very best PlayStation 2 titles that should be in your retro collection.
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The best PlayStation 2 games in Australia
- Best PlayStation 2 game overall: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
- Best PlayStation 2 game - Action adventure: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
- Best PlayStation 2 game - Racing: Burnout 3 Takedown
- Best PlayStation 2 game - RPG: Final Fantasy XII
- Best PlayStation 2 game - Fighting: Soul Calibur II
- Best PlayStation 2 game - Sports: Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3
- Best PlayStation 2 game - Puzzle: Super Bust-A-Move
Sony followed up the PlayStation 1, which was a cultural phenomenon with the even more widely anticipated and hyped PlayStation 2 in 2000, but it did take some time to develop a really first-class library of titles.
The PS2 era saw Sony refine its visual modelling technology, so those earlier PS1 games with chunky rectangular polygons gave way to more smoothed-out visuals. We've come a long way since then in console technology, all the way up to today's PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, but the PS2 is one of those turning-the-corner moments where visuals started to more closely resemble real life.
While the visuals are dated, there's a lot of richness in the PS2's back library, and its relatively-recent status among the retro crowd means that it's also possible to pick up the best of the PS2's library for a relatively minimal cost. Here's our picks for the best of the best that absolutely must be in your PS2 retro games library
It's nearly impossible to overstate the impact that Sony's original PlayStation had in the mid to late 1990s. The company went from "that Walkman company that tried to build a CD-ROM drive for Nintendo" to a true gaming powerhouse if you were within the gaming scene, but it's the PlayStation's impact on wider popular culture that was truly remarkable. Gaming stepped well and truly outside of the space of dedicated gamers and into the broader world, helped along by what was a significant technology switch towards 3D modelled visuals.
The PlayStation 1 era also saw the birth of many of the most popular PlayStation-exclusive titles, many of which have absolutely stood the test of time. If you're looking back at the games of your youth, building out a retro games collection or simply curious about gaming history, here's the very best that Sony's 32-bit wonder had to offer.
How did we pick this list?
We've used widely available review metrics, such as those at Metacritic and other sources, as well as our own extensive experience with the PS2 library to come up with our selection of the best PS2 games.
Best PlayStation 2 game overall: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Why we chose it
If there's one contribution to gaming that the PS2 brought us that's had more impact than any other, it's open-world sandbox games epitomised by the Grand Theft Auto series. Of the three titles that saw release on the PS2, it's the middle child, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City that stands up the best with a compact city design that avoids the bloat of the larger San Andreas map, while adding a lot of detail not found in Grand Theft Auto 3. Combine that with a smart satirical take on the 80s crime excesses and a sweet soundtrack, and you've got a game that's both of its time and wonderfully timeless.
Best PlayStation 2 game - Action adventure: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Why we chose it
Action adventures is the toughest category for the PS2 because there are some excellent contenders, and titles like Resident Evil 4, Devil May Cry, Shadow of the Colossus, God of War and many others were considered, as was Vice City's sequel, GTA: San Andreas.
Still, Rockstar's 2002 epic ode to the excesses of the 1980s remains our pick – backed by many critical reviews of the time that recognised its brilliance – because it codifies that GTA gameplay in a world map that's entirely free of bloat and yet somehow still packed with countless little moments of emergent gameplay, in-jokes and an amazing soundtrack to listen to while you cause criminal mayhem in a neon-tinged suit.
Best PlayStation 2 game - Racing: Burnout 3 Takedown
Why we chose it
The battle for best racing game on the PS2 is particularly pitched, with Sony's own Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec nearly taking the top position – and well worth it if you're after more of a simulation style – but it was overtaken at the last corner by Criterion's incredibly entertaining Burnout 3: Takedown. There simply isn't a game on the PS2 that captures the sense of speed of Burnout 3 – and arguably, even Burnout Paradise doesn't manage the mix of races, crashes and outright mayhem to quite the same high level.
Best PlayStation 2 game - RPG: Final Fantasy XII
Why we chose it
As a Japanese-produced console, the PlayStation 2 is home to a large array of RPGs, although not all of them got English-language translations. Given the popularity of Final Fantasy that was never going to befall Final Fantasy XII.
Years later, it's still a must-play title with a rich narrative wrapped around a changed up combat system that dropped random battles for real-world encounters, along with a complex licence board to let you totally personalise your chosen characters. Add in some of the best visual designs on the PS2 and a stunning score, and you've got one of the all-time classic RPGs.
Best PlayStation 1 game - Fighting: Soul Calibur II
Why we chose it
The PlayStation 2's preeminent status as the most popular console of its era means that it's particularly rich with competitive fighting games, whether your taste runs to traditional 2D fare or 3D modelled games. Namco's update to Soul Calibur still stands out among the pack thanks to its fluid visuals and gameplay that utterly cracks that "easy to pick up, hard to master" barrier that makes so many games unsuitable for newer players. It's also a good pick if you're not always playing with other gamers because its weapon master mode is a great way to while away a few fun hours as well.
Best PlayStation 2 game - Sports: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3
Why we chose it
Sports titles are all too rapidly the fodder of bargain bins with their focus on yearly releases, but not always. WWE's Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain almost took our top sports prize for its fun gameplay and creativity, but it can't match up to the critical acclaim that Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 still commands.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 was the last of the classic Tony Hawk games to focus on a two-minute timer, and while the sequels show an interesting time capsule of that early millennia Jackass-obsessed culture, they're not as tightly focused or as fun as finding all those gaps, lines and nearly-but-not-quite-impossible stunts. Of the PS2 library, it's also noticeable that Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 has the single highest aggregate score of any PS2 game.
Best PlayStation 2 game - Puzzle: Super Bust-A-Move
Why we chose it
Puzzle games were not the PS2's strong suit, although there's some great fare to be had, from Lumines Plus through various Tetris efforts and even Devil Dice sequel Bombastic to consider. Still, if you crave puzzling action for both single and multiplayer fun, it's hard to look past Super Bust-A-Move, the PS2 version of Taito's Bubble-Bobble. Just don't try to think too hard about why there's a baby on the game's cover – I've still got no idea 21 years after it first came out!
Buying PlayStation 2 games
What to consider when buying PlayStation 2 games:
- Full games cost more than discs or box-only games: PS2 games shipped in plastic cases with reasonable durability, but that doesn't mean that everyone treated them well. As such, you'll pay more for a fully boxed game with minty-fresh instructions than you will for one that looks like it spent five years face down in a puddle of beer or a disc-only version of a game for that matter. That's especially true for press-only "Promo" copies, which are pretty plentiful in retro game sales.
- What are you playing them on? Sony's backwards compatibility for the PS2 is a little weird. Early PS3 consoles included pretty much full PS2 backwards compatibility for disc-based games, but not later revisions, and not the PS4 or PS5 at all. However, Sony's made a pretty penny over the years selling digital-only versions of a lot of PS2 classics through the PlayStation Store.
- Region-locking considerations: The PlayStation 2 library is region locked depending on your console of choice, and there can be some speed differences between the PAL and NTSC versions of specific games, too. Over the years, there's been a fair degree of hacking on the platform to open it up a little, although some of the methods to do so can get a little convoluted.
Best products chosen
- Our picks are based on price, game ratings, availability and user and professional reviews.
- The writer has 30+ years of game-collecting and curating experience.
- The products on this list are chosen by our editorial team and are not selected based on commercial relationships.
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