The PlayStation 2 sold over 150 million units, making it the most successful home console ever. It’s been 20 years since the PS2 first launched in Japan on March 4, 2000. The console easily dominated its competitors with the size of its software library, and it got a huge boost from the fact that it was also an affordable DVD player back when such a thing was hard to find.
Today, the TechRadar team salutes the PS2 with memories from some of our favorite games of the console’s long lifespan. Enjoy.
GTA 3 and the creation of open world games
GTA 1 and 2 were controversial top-down open world games that had a particularly big following in the UK. GTA 3, the series’ first PS2 entry, was absurdly ambitious: it translated the same mechanics of car theft, gunfights and exploring an entire city into 3D without sacrificing anything. Its New York-inspired Liberty City setting was unprecedented in detail, from the authentic sound design as you walk the streets to the variety of NPCs found in the world. It had an entire selection of radio stations that you could tune in to. It was breathtaking for the time, and enormously influential.
Every open world game used GTA 3 as a template – and still does. Without it, the last 20 years of games would’ve been very different. Subsequent entries Vice City and San Andreas upped the scale and detail of the world, adding licensed music to the radio stations and all-star voice casts. What a coup, looking back, that the PS2 had this first 3D game exclusively for a year before Xbox owners got their turn. – Samuel Roberts
SSX Tricky and getting the highest score
When I was at university, a competition was born in my house. This competition consumed us, turned us against each other, and enraged anyone who wasn’t involved. We needed to break one million points in the trick challenge of SSX Tricky’s Garibaldi level.
Any game that takes its title and a good chunk of its mechanics from a Run-DMC track is going to sit well in a hall of fame. Tricky was the peak of the SSX series, with oh so-simple-controls and incredibly satisfying snowboarding. There’s nothing quite like maxing out your Tricky meter with some sweet showboating Uber moves, or the crushing realization that you’ve made a grave timing mistake with your chosen animation.
It’s this elation, frenzy and mystery that has kept SSX Tricky in my life over the years – from its first introduction in 2001, all the way to those weeks of obsessively perfecting the optimal Garibaldi run in 2017 (side note: we did it, and it was historic). – Tabitha Baker
Spider-Man 2’s web-swinging
Summer 2004 was a formative time for me – the release of Spider-Man 2 in theaters kicked off a lifelong love of superhero comics and movie, as I’m sure it did for a lot of people, and somehow there was a great tie-in game to go with it. Treyarch’s Spider-Man 2 took Peter Parker into the open world genre, and while every level that took you indoors was pretty bad, patrolling the city as Spidey never lost its appeal.
Players’ patience might’ve been tested by the rote open world sidequests, like fetching balloons for kids, but Treyarch nailed the web-swinging through a convincingly rendered New York City. The PS4’s Spider-Man game is essentially a spiritual successor to this 2004 classic. – Samuel Roberts
Kingdom Hearts’ fusion of Disney and Final Fantasy
Later Kingdom Hearts games spoiled the formula by furthering nonsensical lore that made the series impenetrable, despite the fact that the series features popular Disney characters and settings. The first entry in this action RPG series, though, was far simpler. Journeying between Disney worlds with Donald Duck and Goofy in your Lego-style spaceship, you played as Sora, a boy swept far from his home on a remote island.
You then play a key role in stories from classic Disney movies, teaming up with guest characters like Tarzan and Aladdin to take on villains from the films. The first one felt like it was really on to something, and the second entry on PS2 vastly improved the combat – but it also dumped a load of characters into the story that made the game slightly harder to enjoy. The series’ issues escalated from there, but the fact that people are still invested in these games almost two decades later demonstrates their enduring appeal. – Samuel Roberts
Ico and Shadow of the Colossus introducing players to a new type of game
These games, from the same developer at the now-defunct Team Ico, marked a lot of players’ first encounter with games that infused their stories with genuinely emotional moments, and they didn’t resemble anything else on the market at the time.
In Ico, you play as an exiled child who tries to protect a mysterious girl, Yorda, from shadowy figures. In Shadow of the Colossus, you play a man who wants to bring a mysterious woman back from a comatose state at any cost – and slaying unknowably strange creatures that wander a forbidden land is the price he decides to pay.
Both would influence countless indie games in years to come. Their world-building is incredible, inviting you to speculate about what led to the scenarios in each game, and how they ultimately connect. They’ve both aged incredibly well, and Shadow of the Colossus is available on PS4, too. – Samuel Roberts
Silent Hill 2 and making horror personal
“In my restless dreams, I see that town…” The first Silent Hill laid the survival horror series’ uncanny foundations, but it was Silent Hill 2 that gave mesleepless nights thanks to its powerful, personal storytelling. Pyramid Head, dragging his Great Knife, was one of the most chilling antagonists to grace the PS2, but nothing in Silent Hill 2 was simply scary for the sake of it – there was a reason behind every deformed, twisted creature if you could stand to look closely enough, and ask the unsettling question ‘Why?’
The game’s real horror was the way it bred uncertainty, offering fragments of plot and context, and leaving you to assemble a picture of rage, guilt and fear. A gut-wrenching masterpiece that few titles since have matched. – Cat Ellis
Star Wars Battlefront 2, which even non-Star Wars fans could enjoy
I’ve never cared for the Star Wars franchise, but one exception is the original Battlefront games, particularly number two. The battles were pure mayhem, with spaceships, tanks and laser beams flying all over the place, and it was the same kind of fun that draws me to the Battlefield games now.
The campaign modes may not have been hugely inspiring, but the Galactic Conquest mode offered a decent amount of fun, bringing some level of strategy to the shooting (which is great for someone who prefers tactical-style shooters). Having two people spend hours on a push-and-pull campaign like that was a viable alternative to a proper story mode. – Tom Bedford
God of War 2 proving that hardware limitations mean nothing
The first God of War was an incredibly impressive game for its time, but it was its ultra-violent follow-up, God of War 2, which really blew my mind. Arriving in 2007, an incredible seven years after the PS2 launched, the sheer scale of the game made me stare at my aging console in disbelief.
The opening level, which involves scaling and battling the huge Colossus of Rhodes was an incredible statement of intent from SCE Santa Monica Studio. The player was dropped right into the thick of the action, and the cinematic battle with the giant statue left many of us wondering what kind of witchcraft had been performed to get this game running on seven-year old technology.
By that point the PS2 had already secured its reputation as the best games console ever made, so the fact that it was able to put out a game of this quality in its remaining years is a real testament to just how good the PS2 was. What a way to go out. – Matt Hanson
Following a divisive, short and disappointing sequel in MGS2, the 2004 prequel MGS3 took us to the jungle in the ’60s where the dense lore of the series couldn’t really hurt it. Instead, the change of setting gives the story a refreshingly simple feel – we’re instead controlling the man who would become Big Boss, Solid Snake’s genetic progenitor, as he confronts his old mentor out in the Soviet-controlled wilderness.
The choice of location allows the developers to give Metal Gear’s stealth systems an overhaul, letting you wear camouflage to avoid being spotted by enemies. It even introduced survival mechanics, letting you catch and eat animals found in the environment to restore Snake’s health.
With an absolute gut punch of an ending, this was one of the PS2’s best games, even if it never generated the hype that its predecessor did. – Samuel Roberts
Persona 4 becoming a late-generation phenomenon
Over nine years after release, the PS2 was still getting great new games. 2009’s Persona 4, a continuation of the Atlus-developed RPG series that combines combat-filled dungeons with life sim-style narrative sections, took the larger Shin Megami Tensei series to the next level in terms of its US and European popularity.
You can still get Persona 4 on PSN via the PS3, if you’ve got one of those kicking around. But the PS Vita version is probably the way to go these days. – Samuel Roberts
Final Fantasy continuing its golden age
Final Fantasy’s peak arguably came on the PSone with entries 7, 8 and 9, but the PS2 era was probably more significant in retrospect. Each of the three mainline entries were wildly different from one another: Final Fantasy 10 introduced voice acting and kept the turn-based combat from past entries, FF11 was a full-blown MMO and FF12 was a complex RPG that asked you to program your party members to do the fighting for you.
On PS2, we also saw the series’ first direct sequel in Final Fantasy 10-2, which marked a turning point for the number of spin-offs we’d see based on past entries in the future. – Samuel Roberts