The PlayStation 2 might be the most prolific console in gaming history with a whopping 2519 games released.
Even I think that number is high.
Coming out of the game industry’s awkward teenage years that included early experiments in 3D and weird 2.5D mixtures, the PS2 was the flagship console during a golden age of gaming when 3D finally stopped looking terrible (mostly), and game studios were popping out of the woodwork.
So. Many. Games.
Here are the best PS2 games you’ve never heard of, in no particular order.
1. Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy
A third-person shooter from Midway, Psi-Ops has surprisingly good graphics for a PS2 game.
Amnesia-stricken protagonist Nick Scryer must shoot his way through terrorists and spies, aided by his new psychic abilities.
Telekinesis, pyrokinesis, and mind control are just a few of the goodies the player can progressively unlock, and he / she had better get good with them, because the guns become much less effective later in the game. Fans are still waiting for a sequel.
2. God Hand
This 2006 street fighting game was famously directed by Resident Evil director / producer Shinji Mikami.
Over a hundred moves can be performed via context-sensitive buttons and multiple attacks can be linked together to form powerful combos.
The player also gets a shiny, spiffy “God Reel” they can save moves to. Moves from the reel can be paid for with Roulette Orbs the player collects and can be expanded with Skull Cards, another collectible.
God hand is one of those polarizing games that got some extremely mixed reviews. Either you love it or you hate it.
Famed anime artist Yasuhiro Nightow created the character designs for this third-person shooter.
Very combat-focused, the player trades between gunplay and hand-to-hand combat. The player has a life bar that features rechargeable shields, similar to the Halo games.
Stringing long series of combo attacks together is important, as it unlocks new moves and weapons the player can whip out.
Aside from the fast action, the main appeal of Gungrave is the stylish, anime-inspired art, characters, animations, and backgrounds.
It even spawned its own cartoon series later on.
Critics of the game are quick to point to its short length and shallow gameplay as reason why great art isn’t always enough.
4. The Suffering
A survival horror shooter, The Suffering plays as both a first-person and third-person shooter, depending on the player’s choice.
Main character Torque finds himself on death row for his family’s murder, a crime he can’t remember committing.
Actions throughout the game affect Torque’s morality level, nudging him towards one of three possible endings.
Disfigured enemies resemble the monsters of Silent Hill and represent different execution methods one might see in a prison.
Also released for Xbox and PC, The Suffering received good reviews from both critics and fans.
The only game developed by Bungie West before its closure, this anime-styled, third-person action game relies heavily on unarmed combat.
Only one weapon can be carried at a time and ammunition is hard to come by, so be prepared to kick, punch, and throw your way to unlocking more powerful moves and combos.
Set in a futurist dystopia, the game allows the player to freely explore its 14 environments between fight sequences.
Far from a perfect game, Oni was praised for its animations (it was one of the first to use interpolation of key frames), fighting moves, and overall combat.
6. Beyond Good & Evil
Despite surprisingly high reviews, Beyond Good & Evil was not a hit at the stores.
A Ubisoft-developed action-adventure, it’s been compared with both the Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy series.
Jade is an investigative reporter (and expert martial artist, because “why not?”) who stealthily moves through the environment by running, jumping, climbing, pushing objects, and using walls for cover.
The player will need to solve puzzles, employ help from colorful NPCs and get some creative use out of a camera to reach the end of this engaging storyline.
In 2005, Double Fine created Psychonauts, a cartoonish 3D platformer that initially focuses on running and jumping, but gradually incorporates psychic powers like telekinesis and invisibility.
Abilities are unlocked and upgraded either by completing story missions or finding collectible arrowheads scattered throughout the environment.
The game is set in a fictional summer camp where main character Raz is attempting to train his psychic abilities to become a “Psychonaut”, but the story is a ton more complicated than this, with lots of twists and turns.
In 2011, Double Fine secured the rights from the original publisher, Majesco, and has since released steam and iOS version of the game, far surpassing the original PS2 sales.
8. Indigo Prophecy
Also known as Fahrenheit, this adventure game takes an unusual approach to controls. While the left analog stick dictates character movement, the right stick is used to specify which actions he should take.
What kind of actions? Depends on the situation.
The protagonist, Lucas, can interact with his environment in interesting and surprising ways.
Combat is handled via quick-time events (similar to Shenmue) and conversations follow multiple choice branches (similar to Mass Effect).
Like you might have guessed, Indigo is all about the story. The 2,000-page script leads the player through a deep narrative with multiple endings.
The game has seen several re-releases on PC, Xbox 360, and PS4.
9. Gregory Horror Show
Inspired by the cartoon of the same name, Gregory Horror Show is technically a survival horror game based on its play mechanics, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the graphics.
Blocky, cube-headed cartoon characters inhabit the hotel the player is trapped in.
In order to escape Gregory’s apparently haunted place of business, the player must collect soul bottles from the various hotel guests, while avoiding encounters with angry guests who want their stolen items back.
Stealth plays a big part in the game, and as the player collects more bottles the number of aggravated guests increases.
An excellent use of cell-shaded graphics, Killer7 plays like an on-rails shooter, only allowing the player to proceed forward or backward along a pre-determined path.
Puzzle-solving allows the player to switch between the seven members of an assassin squad, choosing the correct member to overcome certain obstacles.
Combat takes place in first-person mode, allowing the player to aim and fire from their current position, dealing area-specific damage to enemies’ bodies for tactical results.
Players and reviewers loved both the story and art direction, but had mixed feelings about the control scheme and depth of gameplay.
2003’s Killswitch is noteworthy for pioneering the duck-and-cover control system, later popularized by more famous third-person shooters like Gears of War, Mass Effect, and Uncharted.
It seems like coming in second has its rewards.
Aside from its novel shooting mechanics, it’s a fairly paint-by-numbers action game. Fans loved the gun action at the time, but its popularity didn’t catch fire.
Critics blame the repetitive mechanics, short length, and basic gameplay.
12. Deus Ex: The Conspiracy
A famously groundbreaking cross-genre hybrid, Deus Ex was a PC hit that was later ported to the PlayStation 2 as “Deus Ex: The Conspiracy”.
Clearly influenced by lead designer Warren Spector’s time working on the System Shock series, the game allows the player to customize and upgrade their character with nanotechnology, providing a combination of physical, stealth, and shooting skills.
Mixing elements of both first-person shooters and role-playing games, Deus Ex made a major impact on game design we still see the ripples of today.
13. The Mark of Kri
The distinction of Mark of Kri is its refreshing visual style, combining cartoonish animation, Polynesian-influenced fantasy, and violent fights.
Essentially a combat game, it has the player take control of Rau Utu, a warrior on a journey of honor, revenge, and destiny.
Mark of Kri was hailed for its fun factor, stealth mechanics, imaginative environments, and fluid animation.
14. Contra: Shattered Soldier
Shattered Soldier shows what the power of the PS2 can do for 2D gameplay and makes me wonder if the game industry made the jump to 3D too soon.
Technically a 2.5D game, the shooting action retains the classic side-scrolling and platforming aspects of the original series while rendering characters and environments with 3D models.
Seen from a distance, the blocky models and blurry textures PS2-era graphics are cut to a minimum and what’s left is brilliant lighting, a fiery particle show, and the thrill of blowing stuff up while firing as many bullets as humanly possible.
15. Persona 3
An anime-styled JRPG, Persona 3 takes place in a high school attended by the silent and unnamed protagonist. During the day portion of the day-night cycle, the hero is free to engage in activities like academics and social interactions.
A major game mechanic is the idea of Personas, creatures possessing different strengths and traits that can be customized and summoned at will.
During the night, the player is transported to Tartarus, a beast-ridden labyrinth that exists outside of time.
Battles take place in a turn-based party system that should be familiar to fans of the genre.
Also in typical JRPG form, the story is a complicated mesh of science, paranormal, magic, and teenagers.
16. Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven
A ninja-themed action-stealth game, Tenchu features two main, playable characters, but tells its story from completely different perspectives depending on which you choose.
While the gameplay emphasis is definitely on sneaking and silence, the game also features a complex fighting system and some gruesome execution kills.
Fans loved the free-roaming mission environments, play control, and clever arsenal of ninja weapons.
17. Shadow of Rome
A Capcom-made reimagining of the assassination of Julius Caesar, Shadow of Rome is replete with everything you’d want from a Roman action game, including gladiator fights, chariot races, enormous weapons, archery, and even a tiger fight.
Step into the sandals of centurion Agrippa, whose father has been accused of the murder.
While Agrippa enters a tournament to save his father from execution, Caesar’s nephew, Octavianus, sets out to uncover the truth about his uncle’s killers.
The game received a lot of praise for its brutal and enjoyable action sections, but Octavianus’s stealth missions were widely criticized as poorly designed and clumsy.
When the franchise was abandoned, a sequel was already in development, which was then re-purposed as the first Dead Rising game.
18. Robot Alchemic Drive (RAD)
Also known as Gigantic Drive, RAD puts the player in charge of a Meganite, a giant remotely-controlled robotic mech, doing battle against invading aliens.
Each of the three selectable mechs has multiple forms and modes it can switch to, including the use of blades and mallets, and even transforming into a tank or plane.
Highly influenced by the giant robot cartoons of the 70’s and 80’s, RAD got plenty of rave reviews from fans and critics alike, who loved the overall fun factor and the novelty of controlling a giant robot.
Similar to the Tempest series of arcade games, Rez is a fast-paced geometric shooter in which the player travels along a predetermined path through a surreal environment, blasting enemies as they appear.
The difference is that Rez doesn’t allow the player to move their character, but instead features a player-controlled targeting cursor with a lock-on system that lets the player select up to eight enemies at a time to be destroyed by missiles the player’s avatar fires in a queue.
Each successful hit triggers a musical note or drum sample to play, creating melody and beat combinations.
Later levels become a cacophony of sound, creating fast-paced drum ’n’ bass style electronica.
Rez has since been ported to several other, newer platforms with support for high resolution graphics and sound, including Rez HD on Xbox 360 and Rez Infinite for PC and PlayStation 4.
20. Drakan: The Ancients’ Gates
The second entry in the Drakan series, Ancients’ Gates is a third-person action-adventure-RPG.
Roughly half the game takes place on the back of a giant, red, flying dragon, while the other half has the player controlling Rynn, a skilled swordswoman and adventurer.
A large portion of the game involves exploration and item gathering, while combat sequences are evenly divided between the three-dimensional aerial movement and fiery breath of Arokh, and the third-person sword combat of Rynn.
The game garnered almost universally-positive reviews from fans and critics, specifically calling out the game’s outstanding graphics, story, and dragon-riding gameplay.
Journey to an Antarctic research station to investigate a plague that’s mutating scientists into… wait for it… disfigured, homicidal monsters.
In classic survival horror fashion, ammo is limited and enemies take a lot of bullets to go down.
Running away is going to be your new best friend.
Aside from taking damage to his health, the main character can also take infection damage, raising the count of harmful bacteria in his body.
When infection hits 100%, you’d better find a bio bed to knock it back down, or you’ll be joining the monsters yourself soon.
Strong comparisons to Resident Evil and John Carpenter’s The Thing are fairly common.
Speaking of which…
22. The Thing
A sequel to the original pioneer of snowy, isolated science horror, The Thing for PS2 is really more of a third-person shooter.
The player can zoom in to first-person mode for more accurate shooting, but they can’t move around while doing so.
What makes The Thing stand out from other TPS games are the companion and fear-trust systems. The player can be joined by as many as three NPCs during the game.
NPCs have different classes, like soldier, medic, and engineer, all of which have different stats and different ways to help out.
If you’ve seen the movie, then you’ll know that anyone can be a Thing, and you’d better make sure your buddies don’t suspect you. You can gain their trust by protecting them, healing them, giving them ammo, or taking a blood test to prove you’re human.
Shooting your teammates, taking their ammo, and other uncool actions will raise their fear level, possibly leading to murders, suicides, and heart attacks.
Also, don’t get too cozy around your partners. Remember, anyone could be a Thing…
23. The Getaway
A GTA-inspired open-world, third-person London crime drama, The Getaway attempts to recreate the look and feel of British gangster movies like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Defying many of the common game conventions of the time, Getaway tries to present a cinema-like experience with very few immersion-breaking elements like on-screen displays and in-game hints.
London is recreated in surprising detail – the game was actually delayed two years because the city wasn’t finished!
Despite all this, The Getaway got mostly mediocre marks from reviewers and players.
24. The Warriors
Based on a 1979 film about street gangs, The Warriors is a Rockstar-developed game that mixes street fighting and adventure in a recreation of New York.
Progress through missions by fighting, stealing, spraying graffiti, framing up dirty cops, and occasionally running away.
While the game failed to make a mark a huge as some of Rockstar’s other games, critics and fans loved the atmosphere, the fan service done to the source material, and the deep combat system.
Hailed as the best-looking FPS of its day, Black send Sergeant First Class Jack Kellar into Chechnya, Russia, and Ingushetia to take down terrorist cell Seventh Wave.
A very straight-forward FPS, Black only allows the player to carry two weapons at a time (similar to Halo).
The game delivers intense visual effects, booming sound, and fast action.
Black’s short length and lack of any multiplayer modes hurt it in the long-run, however.
Third-person action horror game Primal debuted in 2003, featuring two playable characters.
Players can switch between Jen Tate, a student thrust into a supernatural world of demons, and Scree, her gargoyle companion.
Each character has unique abilities – Jen transforms into a powerful demon form, and Scree transforms into a… statue.
Primal attempts a cinematic presentation, with an involving and complex story, seamless environments, and incredibly detailed character models (for the time).
This may have also been the game’s downfall, unfortunately – critics of the game complain that interaction with the environment is limited to specific cues, and almost every event seems to be pre-scripted.
A horror FPS, Darkwatch mixes supernatural, steampunk, and wild west themes for an interesting cultural collage of carnage.
Jericho Cross, vampire gunfighter, is a member of the Darkwatch – ironically, a guild of vampire hunters.
Jericho employs a variety of vampiric powers throughout his shoot-fest, including blood shields, double jumps, heat vision, and more. The player can survive during daylight hours, but the extra powers fade out.
The game is considered one of the best shooters on the PS2 and original Xbox.
28. Predator: Concrete Jungle
Critics hated Concrete Jungle. Players loved it.
Featuring a highly-detailed Predator model, this third-person action game lets the player step into Predator-vision, wiping out gang members in New Way City to recover stolen Predator technology.
There’s a huge split on opinion with this one, with some people pointing out the lackluster graphics, confusing story, and clunky play control.
Hardcore Predator fans love the immersion, stealth mechanics, and integration of Predator abilities from the films.
29. Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks
An action-adventure game set in the Mortal Kombat universe?
Unlike the popular tournament games of the series, Shaolin Monks features a multidirectional combat system for street fights against waves of thugs.
Fighting elements from the main series are brought in, such as combos and fatalities.
Choose between Liu Kang and Kung Lao to fight through a story that bridges the gap between the events of Mortal Kombat 1 and 2.
30. Manhunt 2
Arguably Rockstar’s most controversial franchise, if not their most popular one, the Manhunt series sees the player performing a series of brutal and gory stealth executions.
The sequel puts you in the role of Daniel Lamb, an escaped mental patient trying to uncover his lost memories.
Players were originally rewarded for the most gruesome and creative murders, which led to the game receiving an “adults only” rating from the ESRB.
In order to get the game onto North American consoles, Rockstar applied a blur filter to the gory sections and removed the rating system.
The PC version is still the only uncensored version commercially available.