The 10 most iconic PlayStation 2 games, ranked

Revisiting a few retro classics on the PlayStation 2

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Throughout the thirteen-year-long lifespan of the PlayStation 2, from 2000 to 2013, we saw the release of many enormously-successful and beloved titles. While several of these titles have resurfaced in recent years, in the form of remasters, remakes, and re-imaginings, it’s worthwhile diving back in time to appreciate them in their original glory. As with any list, there are many other excellent candidates worth checking out, but for those looking to experience (or re-experience) what the PlayStation 2 has to offer, these entries are a good place to start.

Image via MobyGames

10. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3

When it comes to skateboarding games, and by extension, the skateboarding scene in general, few names have reached the same level of international popularity as Tony Hawk. Developed by Neversoft, and published by Activision, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3, on the PlayStation 2, built upon the formula previously established by earlier Tony Hawk games.

Among the many other new additions was the Hidden Combo system, which greatly expanded players’ ability to create and pull off complex trick combos for additional rewards. Its online multiplayer capabilities, while a bit rudimentary by today’s standards, were also a notable first for the series. Despite the title now being old enough to drink as well as skate, it still stands the test of time as one of the greatest skateboarding games of all time.

Image via MobyGames

9. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

It’s hard not to find yourself swept away at times, like you’re in a desert wind, by this aged PlayStation 2 classic. Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time combines several popular game mechanics of the time, and repackages them in slightly unorthodox ways.

Its excellent parkour and platforming mechanics, complimented by the game’s unique time manipulation mechanics, grant a combined richness and complexity that help the game stand out from its contemporaries, both then and now. The fleshed-out combat system allows players more freedom with which to respond to enemy attacks, while still visually appearing as a fluid dance of blow and counter-blow.

With a remake now in development at Ubisoft, there’s no better time for new and existing players to dive back into this original classic.

Spider-Man 2 PS2 box art
Image via MobyGames

8. Spider-Man 2

With all eyes currently on the upcoming Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, in development at Insomniac Games, it’s easy to forget the wall-crawler’s earlier PS2 title of the same name. Based loosely on the 2004 film of the same name, Spider-Man 2 gave players the free rein to explore the questionably-rendered New York City landscape, performing heroic deeds both great and small, and of course, delivering pizza. Even your friendly neighborhood superhero needs to pay the rent.

While Treyarch has, in more recent years, built up mainstream appeal through its work on the Call of Duty franchise, particularly the Call of Duty Black Ops series, most fans would probably concede that its earlier work on the console releases of Spider-Man 2 was spectacular, even amazing. The web-swinging mechanics in particular received praise for their fluidity. This system would later go on to inspire future developers, including Insomniac, who expanded and enhanced this system with improved realism and additional functionality. Peter Parker’s legacy would live on in both future games and internet memes alike.

Gauntlet Dark Legacy PS2 cover
Image via MobyGames

7. Gauntlet: Dark Legacy

While many modern players have at least passing familiarity with Activision Blizzard’s Diablo franchise and other, more recent major AAA entries in the action RPG genre, it’s comparatively easy to overlook older retro titles that once dominated the industry, such as Midway’s Gauntlet: Dark Legacy. Dark Legacy acts as both a remaster of, and an expansion to, the original retro arcade and console game. Among the slew of added content were both new levels and character types for the player to unlock, as well as enhanced 3D graphics.

With simple but entertaining puzzles, a satisfying combat system with a ton of purchasable upgrades and one-use items, and challenging boss fights, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy remains a great solo or local co-op experience to this day. Also, anyone who hasn’t yet experienced the twisted irony of hearing the ever-present narrator announce: “Red Dwarf needs food badly!”, only for said player to grab two cherries hovering over the ground, and be met with: “Red Dwarf is greedy”, has really been missing out.

Image via MobyGames

6. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2

For those who feel that simply cutting in and out of traffic, or pulling off clever drifts, are too mundane, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 attempts to satisfy that heightened craving for danger and destruction. The gimmick behind this particular Need For Speed title is inferred in the name itself. Instead of just pitting yourself against normal NPC racers, now you have a fully-equipped police department intensely eager to put an end to your flagrantly law-evading ways.

Hot Pursuit 2 follows on the heels of 1998’s Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit, introducing vastly improved graphics, a reworked pursuit system, (where the police would gradually roll out spike traps, helicopters, and other units in response to the player’s increasing aggression,) and a wide assortment of new customizable vehicles for the player to unlock. One of the only downsides to the PlayStation 2 port is the absence of the Career Mode. However, while notable, this is but a slight disappointment, compared with the self-evident childish fun one can have smashing through police cars and pulling off ridiculous maneuvers left and right.

Image via Sony Interactive Entertainment

5. God of War

It’s easy to forget that, before fatherhood and the associated “Boy!” memes were introduced in Santa Monica Studios’ soft reboot of the franchise in 2018, Kratos first smashed his way onto the worldwide stage during the PlayStation 2’s lifespan, in 2005’s seminal God of War. The plot behind the original God of War is fairly straightforward: For reasons of his own, Kratos decides to take vengeance on the gods of Olympus, and may the best man (himself) win.

The hack-and-slash formula works well here, as does the often excessive brutality of Kratos’ attacks. He is the stereotypical no-nonsense protagonist who knows exactly what he wants, and doesn’t particularly care how large a body count he leaves in his wake along the way. If the player can get past the inherent over-the-top absurdity present throughout the narrative, it can be an absolutely divine experience.

Image via MobyGames

4. Star Wars: Battlefront II

Of all the Star Wars games that have been released over the past 40 or so years, few indeed have come close to matching the thrills of playing as any one of several classic legacy characters, on a vast number of iconic exotic locales. While its story campaign still holds up fairly well even by today’s standards, it’s the multiplayer experience that largely defines Battlefront II’s legacy.

The sequel introduced many new features, such as online multiplayer support for up to 32 concurrent players, an overhauled AI system for friendly and hostile bots, and more. Its popular “Heroes vs Villains” mode even allowed players the opportunity to put some of the galaxy’s most notable characters in team deathmatches against one another. It’s hard to say no to a Star Wars game that allows Boba Fett, Yoda, Darth Vader, and Mace Windu to brawl openly in a public street.

Bully PlayStation 2 port
Image via MobyGames

3. Bully

With Grand Theft Auto V, and its associated Grand Theft Auto Online component, continually racking in mountains of cash that would make even Scrooge McDuck envious, it’s easy to overlook some of Rockstar Games’ prior works, as is the case with Bully. Everything about it, from its story, to its world design, feels deliberately small in scale. (Almost small enough to fit into a school locker.) When contrasted with the sprawling vistas and adrenaline-pumping action of other Rockstar franchises like Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption, it can be hard to associate the quieter, mundane world of Bully with these giants.

Bully puts the player in the shoes of protagonist Jimmy Hopkins, as he attends Bullworth Academy, a fictitious satirical interpretation of elitist private schools in the northeast US region. In traditional Rockstar fashion, you have a ton of comedic cliches and tropes on display. The alcoholic and depressed English teacher, the creepy Gym teacher, the strict Math teacher, etc., all overseen by a pompous principal who definitely doesn’t take a liking to you at the start of the game. (“You will keep your nose clean, boy, or I shall clean it myself!”)

While the combat and navigation controls are a bit janky, the story, characters, and charming satirical humor manage to hold this game together as an underrated gem that stands the test of time.

GTA San Andreas PlayStation 2 screenshot
Image via Rockstar Games

2. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

When compiling any “Best of” retro games list involving sixth-generation consoles such as the PlayStation 2, it’s almost impossible not to mention Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. While its name has been dragged through the mud recently, owing to Rockstar’s disastrous remaster bundle Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy, its generational influence remains uncontested.

With an art style that pops out at the player, a crew of iconic characters spouting quotable lines, and a world that was not only open, but also felt alive, it’s hard not to appreciate how much Rockstar Games was able to pull off here, given the technological limitations of the time. So if you’ve not yet played through this classic, go buy yourself “a number six with extra dip”, before sitting back and causing some destruction.

Resident Evil 2 PlayStation 2
Image via Capcom

1. Resident Evil 4

“Where’s everyone going? Bingo?” – Leon Kennedy

While Leon’s cliche observational humor might occasionally tread into the area of dad jokes and general embarrassment, it can indirectly be a welcome distraction at times, as the player navigates the treacherous world of Resident Evil 4. Gone are the generic zombies looking to just scratch or bite you. Present instead are eerie axe-wielding psychopathic villagers and other, worse fiends best left undescribed.

Resident Evil 4 acts as a soft reboot for the franchise, placing a heavier emphasis on action, specifically combat. That said, a smart player quickly learns when to hold their ground, when to walk away, and when to run. While this fourth entry in the main series offers a reasonable degree of difficulty for both new and experienced players, the mostly-linear structure makes it unlikely you’ll ever find yourself too far off the correct path.

With a remake little more than two months away, players will soon have the opportunity to jump into a reimagined adaptation of this beloved horror classic.

Daniel Lenois
When not writing pieces for Destructoid and other sites, Daniel enjoys playing videogames, discovering narrative plot holes in books, films, and shows, and planning small getaway trips where unexpected adventures will likely ensue.