The North American release of the PlayStation 2 occurred 12 years ago last Friday. In honor of the birthday of the revolutionary console that is still being produced today, I’m dedicating today’s top five list to my personal favorite PS2 games.
Like many of you, the PS2 holds a special place in my heart. Even though I’m more of an Xbox guy nowadays, no amount of fanboy dedication can ever sway me from my love of the beautiful system that is the PlayStation 2. So, without further ado, here’s my list of the top five PlayStation 2 games.
Disclaimer: This list is a top five of the games I played during the last console generation, before the PS3 and Xbox 360 were out. As a result, this list doesn’t contain necessarily the “best” games in the PS2’s library; it is merely a reflection of the games I played as a kid, the ones I loved the most, and the ones that will always hold a special place in my memory.
Number 5: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
I’m not really sure why this game struck such an emotional chord with me, because, to be frank, the game wasn’t perfect. While it received good reviews and commercial success, it’s not what anyone would call revolutionary. However, it was still important enough to me as a player that I still recall my time with it today.
In The Sands of Time, you play as the prince of Persia who wields the Dagger of Time. Using it, the player has the power to freeze enemies in time, move incredibly fast while everything else moves normally, and, best of all, reverse time if you die. At the time, this concept was pretty sweet, and it proved to be even better in action. While it sucked to fall to your death from a misstep or falling off a cliff, it always brought a smile to my face to rewind time to just before my untimely demise.
What really stuck with me, however, was the incredible final scene that mimics the beginning. The prince starts out The Sands of Time by narrating how “time is like an ocean” rather than a river. He tells you, the player, to sit and listen to his tale, and then the game begins. As the prince travels through Persia, trying his best to put down the evil Vizier who wants to control the Sands of Time to become immortal, he meets Princess Farah, who joins the prince in a mutual partnership. By the game’s conclusion, however, the prince is forced to revert time back all the way to before the original narration. He finds Princess Farah, but because time had been reversed, she doesn’t remember experiencing anything the prince is telling her and thinks he’s mad.
The prince offers what little proof he has: a secret word Farah knows but hadn’t told anyone except for the prince during their adventures. He leaves her with the knowledge that he was telling the truth after all, and the game ends, leaving the player guessing as to what happens next. Prince of Persia did what no other game had done to me in years: It made me think, and that’s why it made my list.
Number 4: Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
Ah, Jak and Daxter, the story of a silent, brooding, elf-like hero and his loudmouthed furball friend on a quest to save the planet’s four sages from the evil Gol and Maia Acheron who want to flood the world with the mysterious liquid known as Dark Eco. What a journey this game was. When I picked this game up, I instantly fell in love with the open level design, hilarious characters, blooming colors, and solid gameplay. It was cartoonish and simple, but it was a blast.
The original Jak and Daxter was the first (and last) game I completed 100% (I collected every Precursor Orb and Power Cell) without the Internet’s help, which is a testament to how addicting and enjoyable it really was. I’ve beaten it multiple times, and each playthrough was just as good as the last because the game doesn’t seem to age. While the sequels Jak II and Jak 3 took the series in a different and often criticized direction, no one can say the original game was less than incredible.
Number 3: TimeSplitters 2
I remember the day I rented this game. A friend was coming over Friday night–for a sleepover, naturally–so my mom took me to the local video store to rent a game. As she was losing her patience as I scanned over every single title in the PlayStation 2 section, I eventually settled with the game with the big space marine on the cover. I had no idea what I was getting in to.
TimeSplitters 2 features a lackluster story that can be beaten in a single session, but don’t let that fool you; this title was perhaps the most rewarding game I played on the the PS2. The story places you in the big boots of Sergeant Cortez as you travel through time to collect time crystals that were used by the evil race known as the TimeSplitters to unwind the course of human history, leading to Earth’s downfall. Each level places you in the body of a new character from the setting and time period you travel to. As you beat each level, you grow closer to overthrowing the TimeSplitters’ plan, until you reach the game’s conclusion, which I won’t spoil here.
Where the game shines, however, is in its Arcade (multiplayer) and Challenge Modes. In Challenge Mode, players are given crazy objectives, such as to destroy a certain number of glass windows with a brick or to shoot a number of heads off of zombies, and upon completion are given a medal based on how well you did. Better medals unlock more characters (like a gingerbread man or a monkey) and cheats for your game that you can use in Arcade Mode. The game always offered players something new to unlock, a challenge to beat, or a medal to perfect. Even though I liked the sequel TimeSplitters: Future Perfect even more than TS2 because of its endless replay value and hilarious gameplay, TimeSplitters 2 earns its place as my number three PS2 game for beginning me on my journey of years of TimeSplitters enjoyment.
Number 2: Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando
I can’t count how many times I’ve beaten Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, the critically and commercially acclaimed sequel to the original Ratchet & Clank. I would estimate I’ve explored the Bogon galaxy with the furry Lombax and his robot pal at least 30 times, and I’ve cherished every adventure.
Going Commando took what was already an incredible idea and made it only better. Taking the platformer and the third-person shooter and combining them into one, developer Insomniac Games created a hybrid genre that I simply fell in love with. Featuring a slew of weapons, brilliant writing, fun RPG elements, and the biggest replay value in any game I’ve ever played, Going Commando was a treat to play again and again. The best part was that after you beat the final boss, you had the option to restart the game in Challenge Mode (which would be New Game+ today) which carried all your weapons and money over to a new game, but made it harder. You could do this over and over again, resulting in maxed out weapons and more money than you knew what to do with. Simply put, Going Commando was an addicting game that left me a slave to its desires, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Number 1: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Where does one begin with the Metal Gear Solid franchise? It’s hard to say, considering the sheer complexity of its interweaving storyline, but a good place to start is with Snake Eater, the third console entry in the series and the first chronological game in the story. And what a story it is.
If I were to take time explaining the plot of MGS3, you’d be here all day. For those that have played Hideo Kojima’s successful series, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Featuring dozens of characters, triple-crossing, political gibberish, and cutscenes that can sometimes span over an hour, the story is nothing short of confusing. But that’s only after your first few playthroughs. After beating each game in the series at least a couple times, I’ve begun to unweave the tangled tale in my mind to the point of it being coherent. And it’s something each gamer should experience for themselves.
But the story alone isn’t what makes MGS3 so amazing, although it is a big part of it. Kojima’s franchise featured what he called “tactical espionage action,” and that promise of true stealth gameplay felt completed upon the release of Snake Eater. It’s possible to beat the game without killing a single enemy, and the game has consequences for your actions. In one memorable scene, Naked Snake walks down a shallow creek haunted by the spirits of those you’ve killed throughout the game. The more lives you’ve ended, the more spirits you have to avoid as you shuffle through the water.
Metal Gear Solid is a series I try to make time to play through at least once every couple years because I love the story and gameplay so much, but Snake Eater is definately my favorite. Maybe it’s the jungle setting rather than the urban one. Maybe it’s the “love” story between Naked Snake and EVA. Perhaps it’s because Young Ocelot is just such a great character. Maybe it’s the final boss fight, arguably one of the greatest boss fights in video game history. Whatever the reason, MGS3 is a game I always come back to with fond memories in my head.
And there you have it: my personal top five PS2 games. What are yours?