The best PlayStation 2 games: celebrating the 20th anniversary

Our writers have come together to celebrate the PlayStation 2's 20th birthday by discussing their favourite classics.

multiple writers
13th March 2020
Credit: IGDB
On 4th March, the PlayStation 2 turned 20 years old - it was a beloved console, home to many classics, from the evolution of platformers to the introduction of console shooters. Hell, some of these titles are still receiving sequels to this day. Now, to mark this occasion, our writers have come together to share their favourites from one of the most iconic gaming platforms to date.

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal (2004)

Written by George Bell

As the first game I ever played to completion, Ratchet and Clank 3 is something that I can’t help but think about when someone brings up the PlayStation 2 or my childhood in general.

The assortment of weapons and gadgets was enough to make any nerd swoon.

As with any game in the series, the assortment of weapons and gadgets was enough to make any nerd swoon. And to make it even better they all have an assortment of upgrades that kept me playing in pursuit of a more powerful arsenal. To top it all off there were a bunch of different armors for Ratchet that you could unlock which don’t just look cool but also provide some bonuses. It even includes a 2D platforming game within certain parts of the story (game-ception!)

Basically Ratchet & Clank 3 is crammed full of content, with wacky enemies to defeat and a fun story to accompany the action. If you never played it, I’m truly sorry for how bad your childhood must have been.

Dynasty Warriors 5 (2005)

Written by Gaming Editor Alex Darbyshire

One of my favourite games on the PlayStation 2 was by no means the best one. In many ways, Dynasty Warriors 5 is probably one of the least imaginative, most iterative games on the system - maybe even the universe.

The amount of unlockable content is impressive, with dozens of characters, mounts and special abilities to unlock.

What this historical hack and slash title does have going for it is a unique setting and one of the most hardcore, stylised soundtracks of the generation. Dynasty Warriors 5 is based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, an exaggeration of an already slightly exaggerated 14th-century novel. The results were not the best, narratively speaking.

The story or ‘Musou’ mode allows one to not only select which of these kingdoms they want to lead to victory but also which officer they wish to play as. The amount of unlockable content is impressive, with dozens of characters, mounts and special abilities to unlock, as well as some new game modes, too. It speaks to the almost forgotten design philosophy of cramming hack and slash games with unlocks. Seriously, the replay value of DW5 is not to be sniffed at.

While it’s not the best example of either, I also feel that Dynasty Warriors 5 showcased some of the trends that defined the PS2’s lifetime. Like all Dynasty Warriors games, 5 sports an intense pre-rendered cutscene that holds up surprisingly well fifteen years on. Does it accurately represent the gameplay? Definitely not. Well, except for the part where a janky-looking player character kills hundreds of identical, equally janky soldiers.

The gameplay had yet to approach its peak in the franchise, but the combo system and varied level designs on offer definitely did the job of keeping things interesting. Hell, at eight years old I played it for hours and hours and love it to this day - that has to count for something. Nostalgia, you say? Never met him.

Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (2001)

Written by Gaming Editor James Troughton

The PlayStation 2 era is one of the best so it’s a fitting home to one of the best platformers of all-time: Ratchet & Clank. The illustrious George Bell has the second installment covered, so I picked another top-10 worthy jump-and-punch explorer, Jak and Daxter.

Jak and Daxter is a game for the achievement hunters out there.

From a story that’s set in motion by a mysterious cliffhanger to some of the most beautiful visuals in the console’s expansive library, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy is a masterpiece. Not only does it have a diverse range of levels, it also sports a great variety of enemies and a stunning log of collectibles that are fun to nab and useful to have.

The narrative is fairly simple: you are a chosen one of sorts, and your friend falls into some dark, magical goo that transforms them into a furry little friend, creating a duo that rivals Ratchet and Clank for being the most iconic on the platform. It’s no surprise that Naughty Dog worked in close proximity to Insomniac, given how similar the experience is, albeit with a little bit more fluidity than the original Ratchet & Clank and a helluva lot more reward-value in its treasure hunting. The platforming is also vastly superior, unlike its sequel, Jak II, as it focuses entirely on the fun of jumping.

Related: The future of Jak and Daxter: top 3 ways to continue the series

It’s not often that ‘100%’-ing a game is without tedious portions, but Jak and Daxter is a game for the achievement hunters out there which isn’t too surprising given how enjoyable Crash Bandicoot was to platinum. Naughty Dog’s spiritual successor captures the charm of its predecessor, but it also builds on their pre-existing IP in many ways, improving in storytelling, visuals, platforming and every other aspect under the sun.

Star Wars: Battlefront II (2005)

Written by former Culture Editor Alex Moore

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… The year is 2005. A game has just been released for the humble PS2 which would revolutionise what players could expect from a Star Wars video game, and from the genre of shooters.

[Battlefront 2 allowed] players to unleash the true power of the force.

Whilst keeping true to the formula of the first, Battlefront II gave gamers a multitude of new ways to vanquish one  another. Alongside a campaign (something notably absent from EA’s reboot) players could now take to the skies in their favourite fighters in epic space battles, engaging in frantic dogfights or choosing to take down massive enemy cruisers from within.

However, the biggest change was the ability to play as a wide number of heroes from across the Star Wars saga, allowing players to unleash the true power of the force.

Related: Ewoks join Battlefront II in Age of Rebellion update

Despite many of these features having been incorporated into the newer Battlefront games, their troubled launches and legacies highlight a change in the attitude of the industry since 2005. Plagued by game-breaking pay-to-win microtransactions and a severe lack of content upon launch, the modern games are emblematic of the toxic turn the AAA industry has taken over the last two decades. Battlefront II for the PS2 is an icon of a simpler time, when developers would finish a game before releasing it – and didn’t even expect players to pay as much as the game again for the missing content disguised as DLC.

Scooby-Doo: Night of 100 Frights (2002)

Written by Film Editor Lucy Lillystone

Anyone who knows me knows that I ‘m not a gamer in the slightest. However, during my childhood, I was a proud owner of a PS2 with many, many cool games… Bratz: Rock Angels, Rayman: Raving Rabbids, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie and of course, the Scooby-Doo games. My favourite by far was Scooby-Doo: Night of 100 Frights.

The graphics of the game were also brilliant for the era, capturing the mystery, eeriness and general atmosphere of the show itself.

Every single time I got home from school, I'd throw my bag down and switch the console on, ready to hop on the back of Shaggy's car as he'd shout "Hey Scoob?" for the 100th time that week: it was so goddamn hard for 8-year-old me to complete that level. The game basically took over my life but in a good kind of way.

Playing as Scooby definitely had its perks as you got to go around eating Scooby snacks and digging for treasure. Also, Scooby in a football helmet ramming his head into things was brilliant in every single way. Maybe that's where my love for violence in films stemmed from… thank you Scooby-Doo: Night of 100 Frights

While the Mystic Manor level was unique in its own right, every level presented a different experience. With dungeons, hedge mazes, graveyards, and mansions, there was always something new to complete - boredom was nudged to the sidelines.

The graphics of the game were also brilliant for the era, capturing the mystery, eeriness and general atmosphere of the show itself. The game was true to the franchise (even if Shaggy's voice was a bit annoying) with the inclusion of the Mystery Machine and a fearful Scooby-Doo. Even the groovy music stayed true to the tone of the show.

Related: Zoinks! Scooby-Doo Reboot: What Do We Know?

If I were to play this game again now, I'd be a lot better at it than eight-year-old me and would most likely see more of its flaws. Nevertheless, it stands as one of the best games I played as a child and I'll never forget coming home and spending hours wandering around mansions eating Scooby Snacks.

Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

Written by Gaming Editor George Boatfield

When I think back to my childhood of playing on PS2, numerous games come to mind, Ratchet and Clank being the big one. So while George Bell is doing a cracking job covering that one, I've decided to instead take a look at a game that was first-experienced by my all-grown-up self: Shadow of the Colossus.

Without the sheer novelty of the average mascot platformer, subtle themes can rise to the surface.

Colossus uses its signature boss fights to punctuate the otherwise slow-paced gameplay of wandering through open fields. Without the sheer novelty of the average mascot platformer, subtle themes can rise to the surface alongside the majestic task of defeating sixteen colossi.

It's serendipitous that, on the month of the twentieth anniversary of the PS2, it is Shadow of the Colossus that has been chosen as one of the free PS Plus games for March. This is the remastered version, which is as much of a feat of technology as the PS2 original and deserved to be experienced by anyone with access to a PS4.

Dog's Life (2003)

Written by Culture Editor Charlotte Boulton

When I was younger, I lived and breathed animals, especially dogs. I read an entire book of dog breeds cover to cover and regularly asked my parents to buy me the Your Dog magazine, despite never breaking through their resolute decision of “no dogs.” So, imagine my childhood delight as one Christmas, I opened up Dog’s Life, a PS2 classic where you get to be a dog.

These critics have never known the pure joy of being a dog-loving kid.

Dog’s Life was released in 2003, which would have made me six or seven years old when it came out (a very scary thought). It was actually quite a rare game in the end and marks one of Frontier Development’s (Rollercoaster Tycoon, Planet Zoo, etc) wackiest creations.

Critics may say that it was an underfunded, underwhelming game with glitches galore and limited gameplay but clearly, these critics have never known the pure joy of being a dog-loving kid. You get to step into the shoes (or paws?) of Jake, a wise-cracking foxhound who just wants to save his girlfriend Daisy from the evil dog-catchers.

There’s ‘Smellovision’ – not to be confused with Batman’s detective vision in the Arkham series – where you collect smells to win prizes and have competitions with other dogs, and if you win, like some kind of growing hive-mind parasite, you can control that dog to complete a task. You collect bones and travel through a semi-open world, all whilst having a blast.

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