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With around 155 million units sold, the PlayStation 2 is the most successful home video games console of all time. First released in Japan in March 2000, the US in October of the same year and Europe in November, Sony’s successor to its original PlayStation console (102 million sales, not too shabby at all) was a global hit unlike any system to come before it. And its popularity was powered first and foremost by an amazing line-up of games.
Ask social media what the greatest of all the (over 3,800!) games released for the PS2 is and you’ll receive a raft of extremely varied replies ranging from cult curios to mainstream titans and everything in between. I did just that, and responses included the guaranteed post-pub bangers of SSX 3 and Burnout 3: Takedown, the quirky rhythm action of Gitaroo Man and a handful of Ratchet & Clank platformers, rail shooter Rez and the colourful rush of Katamari Damacy, the artful introspection of Ico and the evergreen horrors of Silent Hill 2. A lot of ground covered, and a lot of very different experiences to consider.
But how, exactly, can we land at a categorical greatest game of all time, for the PlayStation 2 - itself, perhaps, the greatest games console of all time? (That’s another argument entirely, mind.) Well, here’s one way: we look at ranked lists from around the internet, from established games media outlets and YouTube channels, and we check Metacritic’s aggregated list for the highest-rated reviews for the console. We crunch those numbers, assign scores for each top five position - five for number one, one for number five, simple - and see what we end up with. It’s a system! And it is, indeed, the system we’re using today.
So, the ranked lists we’ve looked at: IGN, Gamesradar+, Complex, US Gamer, Shortlist, Retro Dodo, WatchMojo, Metal Jesus Rocks, Game Informer, and Metacritic’s simple list of the highest-scoring PS2 games. Other lists are available but for this process we have only used ranked ones - so yes, here’s GAMINGbible’s own piece on the PS2’s unforgettable games, but we didn’t number the entries, so we’re not using it in this G.O.A.T. equation. And no, we’re not bothering with a top ten, or even a top five. Don’t bore us, get to the chorus - let’s see the top three.
Shadow of the Colossus is one of those experiences that, if you play it once and it connects with you, it’s practically assured a place in your personal greatest games of all time list. A lonely, meditative adventure through an open world notable for its lack of distractions, its committed vision of emptiness (although, that is as determined by the hardware as the creative influence of director Fumito Ueda, who we profiled here), it follows a horse-mounted protagonist as he slays a series of gigantic creatures in the hopes of reviving a girl. The plot, while thin, delivers a mighty twist - but it’s not the story that people really remember Shadow of the Colossus for. It’s all about its mood, its powerful sense of place, the towering beasts that give the game its name and the puzzle-like methods needed to overcome them. Challenging, sophisticated and special, SOTC was remade for PlayStation 4 in 2018, so there’s no need to have an old PS2 still wired up to your tellybox to enjoy this one in 2022, even if the two games aren’t quite the same.
Decisions were made with Metal Gear Solid 2 - most notably, the switch to a new protagonist in the form of Raiden, with the original Metal Gear Solid’s Solid Snake character resigned to something of an… introductory performance. And those decisions, yeah, they didn’t go down brilliantly with every admirer of Hideo Kojima’s stealth-action series, did they. But for MGS3, the director and company went back to basics in a fashion, while also adding plenty of freshness to the mix to produce what might be the high watermark of the entire Metal Gear Solid series. A prequel set over 40 years before the first Metal Gear Solid, Snake Eater brings Naked Snake aka Big Boss to the fore as our playable hero, arms him with camouflage capabilities and a new up-close-and-personal combat system, and sets us loose in an alternative-world Cold War. Yes, the cutscenes do rather drag on, but the moment-to-moment play here is tense, exciting and completely enrapturing, even if it’s lost some of its visual flair. An expanded version of the game, Subsistence, added an online element, but it’s the slow-and-steady solo campaign where Snake Eater’s definitive highs can still be found today.
There’s no argument against the fact that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - the third 3D GTA game to come out on the PS2 after the third main entry and Vice City - feels decidedly stiff and janky, incredibly imprecise and, well, not all that much fun to play today. We’ve been spoiled by almost two decades of third-person open-world refinements. But at the time, let me tell you: San Andreas felt like a one-way ticket to Los Angeles, a game where you could feel the heat reflecting off the pavem… off the sidewalks, and hear the hum of the traffic like it was all around you, not sputtering out of crappy 14” telly speakers. It was a destination as much as a game, a virtual world close enough to our own to properly live a second life in, for as long as its missions lasted. What helped this sense of immersion further was the game’s plotline, which riffed on a handful of real-world events like the LA Riots of 1992 - the same year the game is set in. It’s a shame that the bungled release of 2021’s Definitive Edition soured San Andreas’ reputation for newcomers, who’ll have come to the high-def remaster expecting the classic so many articles and videos have spoken of, only to receive a wildly sub-par release plagued by bugs and mangled character and environment models. Keep an eye on Rockstar’s patches for it, though, as this is a classic that they need to do right for a new generation.
Featured Image Credit: Nikita Kostrykin via Unsplash, Konami, Rockstar Games
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