The Top 5 PlayStation 2 Games According to Critics

MSG2 Top PlayStation cover

This week’s top five will resonate with most of our readers. With 158 million units sold (world wide), the PlayStation 2 was once in a lifetime phenomenon that most of us owned.

Today we travel back in time to analyze the games that Metacritic ranked as the top PlayStation 2 games in existence.

5. Grand Theft Auto San Andreas (2004) – Metascore: 95

GTA San Andreas Top PlayStation 2 games

Before Grand Theft Auto V, there was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. GTA’s third PS2 entry sold a whooping 27.5 million (17 million on the PS2) copies (the all time PS2’s best seller), and continued the unprecedented growth of the massive open world series.

San Andreas was bigger, better, and more engaging than previous GTA games. Role-Playing Game elements made this open world classic a repayable beast of epic proportions. Restrictions (you could now go on and underwater), and the elimination of loading screens (in between regions) helped GTA San Andreas’ world feel like a cohesive (if ‘realistic’) world in which to live in, and well…carry out your hidden crime fantasies.

By 2004, many critics praised the game as the “Defining” piece of software for the PS2, and the game’s incredible sense of freedom made it an unrivaled playground (that some still say wasn’t surpassed until GTAV came around) for gamers everywhere.

A game this large, on the limited PS2 hardware, did have some drawbacks. SA faults lie mainly its lacking visuals, but this didn’t stop it from attaining all kinds of critical accolades and unparalleled (at the time) commercial success.

GTA’s early PlayStation 2’s timed exclusivity is one of the reasons why Sony’s machine became such a success during the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube generation.

NER’s take on the game’s ranking: I will admit, I wasn’t into Grand Theft Auto at the time (I was more of a Morrowind kind of dude). I did have both Vice City and San Andreas, but the muddy, and blurry graphics really kept me from playing more than 20 hours of each game.

That said, I was subscribed to GMR, Game Informer and Electronic Gaming Monthly at the time. I wasn’t oblivious to how big of a techinical achievement San Andreas had been for the PS2. The game was a true sand-box playground experience for gamers at the time.

So yes, I will agree that the game belongs within this top 5 list, even if it wasn’t my cup of tea. When different critics get together and agree on a game (thus the 95 global score), the general critical consensus is (99.9 percent of time) right about the game in question.

4. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001) – Metascore: 96

Metal Gear Solid 2 Top PlayStation 2 Games

The previous Metal Gear Solid (on PlayStation) was a seminal moment for gaming. It is generally considered by many as one of the greatest PS1 games of all time. Needless to say, Konami and Hideo Kojima had a lot to live up to when they announced the game’s sequel for the PlayStation 2.

The game more than lived up to the expectations by the delivering one of the first true ‘Next-Gen’ experiences on the PS2. MSG2 is a game that visually put Sony’s machine firmly above the top of the Dreamcast’s best looking games, and more importantly a 2001 holiday season title that helped to temper Microsoft’s revolutionary launch title for its new Xbox, Halo: Combat Evolved.

Ultra realistic visuals, incredible weather (rain) effects, and amazing character models made MGS2 the perfect early technical showcase for the PlayStation 2.

A convoluted story (that tuned some people off), coupled with brilliant stealth gameplay made the game an instant hit amongst critics, and a resounding commercial success with more than 7 million units sold in the game’s lifetime.

NER’s take on the game’s ranking: For those not alive, or too young to remember Metal Gear Solid 2’s massive press coverage before its release, it is important to understand the context in which this game was released.

First, the PlayStation 2, successful as it was, had one of the worst launch lineups ever. For about a year (from Nov. 2000-Nov. 2001) the Dreamcast was unquestionably a better choice for gamers, as it had a larger library of games, and many of these were better than most of the PS2’s unimpressive lineup of titles.

Thus, Sony really milked trailers, and screenshots of Kojima’s masterpiece for months in order to build hype for the game, and its new system.

Adding that to that, The Gamecube and the Xbox were just around the corner. Both of these systems were more (in Xbox’s case much more) powerful than the PlayStation 2. The Gamecube’s best game was Rogue Squadron, but the Xbox had a real genre (and industry) defining launch game in Halo: Combat Evolved.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty showed, or at least gave the impression that the PS2 was not in over its head (in terms of hardware power) against Microsoft’s behemoth of a machine.

It (MGS2’s existence) might not have mattered in the grand scope of things, Sony had a big lead (in consoles sold) by the time that Microsoft launched its Xbox, but the game was an incredible technical achievement nonetheless.

At the time, games like MGS2 gave the impression that the PS2 wasn’t “outgunned” by the Xbox (even it if was) in terms of hardware power. I am sure that MG2 helped move a lot of PS2 units in the 2001 holiday season.

In my opinion, MSG2 is the second best game in the series. I can’t really complain about the game’s placement on the list (though I would have preferred MGS3 to be placed here instead).

3. Resident Evil 4 (2005) – Metascore: 96

Resident Evil 4 PS2

Resident Evil 4, is perhaps, the most acclaimed Resident Evil title ever. It was a revolutionary action-adventure “survival horror” title when it first launched on the Gamecube.

While the traditional Resident Evil formula wasn’t broken, as games like Code Veronica and Resident Evil Zero had been well received, Capcom felt that the series, with its Tank controls, and fixed camera angles had grown stale.

Resident Evil 4 completely overhauled the series’ formula. Instead of following the established design conventions, the game turned into more of an action game, with an (at the time) revolutionary behind the shoulder camera angle that allowed for both “tense” moments, and incredible shooting precision.

New gameplay and camera design, coupled with different (more dangerous) type of infected enemies, gigantic bosses, and a graphics engine that allowed for ‘photo realistic’ 3-D graphics Resident Evil 4 took the world by storm.

The PlayStation 2 release includes bonus content not found in the original Gamecube version, but it also looks (visually) worse. Still, that didn’t stop critics from scoring the game highly, and its sales from taking off.

NER’s take on the game’s ranking: Resident Evil 4 is my favorite RE game, and it was a ‘one of kind’ experience…on the Gamecube. I understand that most people who played the game on the PS2 did not have the opportunity to play the game on the GC.

However, I did play it on the Gamecube first, and the PS2 version of the game played like a muddier downgraded version of the original game. The PS2 didn’t have the horse power to render the game as masterfully as the Gamecube had done months prior to its PS2 release.

Therefore, I would argue that while the game deserves a place amongst the PS2’s top ten or top fifteen games, I also feel that Shadow of the Colossus, or even God of War were more deserving of a spot here within the top five.

2. Grand Theft Auto III (2001) – Metascore: 97

GTA3 Top PlayStation 2 Games

No game did more in ensuring the PlayStation 2’s massive early sales lead over the yet to be launched Nintendo Gamecube, and Microsoft Xbox than Grand Theft Auto III.

The game was a critical hit, and an unexpected cultural phenomenon. With 14.5 million units sold (8 million on PS2), it can’t be stressed enough how influential and consequential it was in establishing the PS2 as the king of home consoles right from the early days of 2001.

Praised for its size, freedom, and innovation, GTA III was an experience unlike any other at the time of its release. Ocarina of Time might have gotten the 3-D open world “right” first in 1998, but GTAIII made it bigger, and more “commercially” viable in 2001, and in the process turned the GTA franchise into one of the world’s most popular brands in gaming and entertainment.

NER’s take on the game’s ranking: If we are to gauge a game on impact (in terms of influence on the industry), then yes, GTA III might as well be number one on this list.

However, the irony in all this is that GTA III was largely unrefined. The game allowed for an, at the time, unprecedented amount of freedom in exploration and interaction within a game world, but it was also very unpolished.

Aiming was tough, even the character movement felt clunky, and in all honesty, the game looked like (please pardon the upcoming expression) crap. But it was revolutionary, and fun nonetheless.

A bigger irony is that GTA III is the antithesis of Shenmue, and at the same time, exactly the type of game that Shenmue needed to be in order to save the Dreamcast.

Games are supposed to facilitate an escape from reality, and to be playgrounds for doing things that we wouldn’t (or couldn’t) do in real life. GTA III, bland visuals and unrefined systems aside, allowed players to do just that, and it was a massive hit thanks to it.

Influential? Yes, indeed! The 2nd Greatest PS2 game of all time? Highly debatable in my opinion.

1. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 (2001) – Metascore: 97

Tony Hawk 3 PS2

The year 2001 still figured within the era of the “X games” prime in popularity. So, it is not surprising to find THPS3 here. After all, the previous game had earned the same spot on the previous Sony system.

The ability further extend combos, “next gen” graphics, and an over all refinement of the Tony Hawk gameplay systems, made the series’ 3rd iteration a hit, and another early influential title within the PS2’s game lineup.

NER’s take on the game’s ranking: Again, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 is a product of its time. Skateboarding was all the rage, and we were still in the early period of 3-D gaming. A well made, responsive game based on a popular sport like THPS3 would do well with critics and commercially within this context.

Still, I can’t sit here, and say: “I am in full agreement with the critics that THPS3 is the greatest PlayStation 2 game of all time”. I can’t because I feel that both God of War games on PS2 were better experiences, and I feel that Shadow of the Colossus was a real masterpiece in the system. Even MSG3, I feel is more deserving than THPS3. But that’s just me.

THPS3 did present a powerful refinement of the previous game, and major visual upgrade, and even online play. It was a blast to play, and within the context of its era it is excusable that critics were likely very impressed with the game.

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By Samuel Rivera

An avid video game player and book reader, Samuel has been playing video games for the last 31 years. He has played nearly every PS1 JRPG known to man, and loves Ocarina of Time more than any other game.