Following up from Favourite Games On… PS1, I feel it’s only natural I do one on its successor, the PlayStation 2. Now, I’m sure many would disagree, but in my opinion the PlayStation 2 is the best console that’s been released to date overall. Why?
It was the most powerful console at its time of release. It was slightly outdone by the Xbox (and maybe also the GameCube, I’m not 100% on that), but they came later. It was more powerful than the previously-released Dreamcast though, which while far from bad, had a lot of dodgy-looking games.
Everyone says “quantity over quality”. In console perspective, this could be applied to the quality of the majority of Wii games compared to how many there are. But PS2 had both. Sure, it was subject to a lot of shovelware – it’s the best-selling console of all time, go figure – but it had an absolute ton of amazing games. This was further boosted by the excellent PS1 back catalogue, nearly entirely compatible with PS2. Even the old controllers and memory cards were compatible. While I love PS3, it really did drop the ball here – controllers weren’t happening at all, memory card data was only transferable with a £12 adaptor, and only earlier PS3 models play PS1+2 games (many of which either didn’t work or were faulty, such as the popular Ratchet and Clank series which ran at about 5FPS before crashing entirely).
Thanks to the huge quality game selection, this blog entry will probably end up long. I’ll probably forget some too. For that reason, I’ll bundle series of games into one “point”, then for points I have of particular instalments, I’ll go there afterwards.
Anyway, let’s get to it!
Insomniac and Naughty Dog are two companies that have consistently created amongst the best exclusive PlayStation games around. For the PS2 era, Insomniac dropped the Spyro the Dragon series to create Ratchet & Clank, a Lombax (made-up animal with long furry ears, a cute face and a less-cute blood lust) and a little robot that doubled up as a jetpack/hoverpack combo. It was my favourite platformer series on the console (Psychonauts, more on that lower down, isn’t a series). Platforming games are amongst my favourites anyway, so I fondly love R&C. The only weak R&C in my opinion is Gladiator/Deadlocked – it was a tad too enclosed, though still enjoyable for a while. R&C is the only series by Insomniac or Naughty Dog that they’ve kept making across a generation too – Naughty Dog currently make the spectacular Uncharted games for PS3. For the PS2 though, they made…
While Insomniac was establishing the new series, Naughty Dog were doing exactly the same. They left Crash Bandicoot to die at the hands of other developers (though one of the PS2-era games was okay, see later) and created Jak & Daxter. This was a very unique-feeling series, and one that underwent a huge evolution between the first and second instalments. Basically, Jak and Daxter are two friends, but Daxter has been turned into a lizard-like creature. As with R&C, you control Jak while Daxter is a generally-passive character, who pops up for the odd segment but normally sits on Jak’s shoulders and makes amusing remarks. The first game in the series was a bright, vibrant platformer made up of seamlessly-joined, interesting levels. Jak II introduced a city setting and gave Jak guns! It made the two games very different but both very fun. Jak 3 advanced the idea of II, putting you instead in a wasteland city setting… before throwing you back to the city of Jak II, war-torn and burning down.
Disappointingly, it seems like the Jak & Daxter series is pretty much forgotten – the original trilogy is a stunning threesome of games I would happily recommend to anybody. While R&C were slightly stronger, J&D has that fantastic “feel” – mixed with the storyline that beautifully closes itself completely at the end of Jak 3, and the evolutions the game kept undergoing, they’re brilliant in their own right. A couple of years ago it had the obligatory second-hand-developer okay-but-not-fantastic sequel, which was pretty much ignored and thrown straight into bargain bins. I’ve not played that game yet but the reviews do not fare well. Jak X is more noteworthy, as it was made by Naughty Dog. It’s essentially to J&D as Crash Team Racing was to Crash Bandicoot – a strong, fun kart racer featuring all the popular characters.
There’s not a series that’s gone from niche to popular quite as swiftly as Grand Theft Auto did. It is now one of the most popular game series there is, thanks to its depth-filled, living sandbox world in which you can do missions, OR wander around the city doing odd jobs or just pissing around. Grand Theft Auto III, the first 3D entry, spawned countless copies of the GTA formula, most to all of which are plainly not as good. The “GTAIII” trilogy, the three games listed above, make up one of the finest sets of games out there. All long, challenging, with beautiful worlds, a variety of missions with interesting storylines, memorable characters and landmarks, and extras that boost up how long you’ll spend on them, this trilogy was flat-out brilliant.
Each has its strengths, too. GTAIII was the last of the series to include a mostly-original soundtrack. Vice City and up featured 100% licensed tracks. While that’s fine, III’s soundtrack was unique to the game – it was also fantastic, and I’m really disappointed there’s no official way to buy it in a CD set or download. Vice City, set in the titular city, was based on Miami and set in the 1980s, so its feel was unmatched. It’s beautiful to see, beautiful to explore, and all in all the best-designed location. And San Andreas had the scale. Five times the size of Vice City, San Andreas is not one city, but an entire US state made up of three cities, a massive farmland/field/forest expanse complete with farms, tractors and the appropriate country radio, and an equally-massive desert. While not quite as dense as Vice City was, the sheer length of the story mode, the interesting and huge area (exploring it was, for me, 100 hours of gameplay, at least, easily), and everything else it did bigger than its predecessors, make San Andreas a fabulous game.
While not my favourite racing series (it hasn’t been since Burnout stole my heart), Gran Turismo is inarguably a very high-up series of games. Favouring realism (sans crashes) over arcade gaming, it’s any gearhead’s dream game. You buy a cheap car with your starting money, use it in some simple races to make cash, use that to get a better car, etc. Once you’ve got a good car, you can instead plow the money into tuning it up in a multitude of ways to make it faster, better-handling – whatever you desire. A large number of tracks and different vehicles (while 3 actually had less than 2, 4 made up for it by shooting the numbers into orbit), and a plethora of modes and races, made both of the main games during the PS2 era long-lasting and great fun. I include GT: Concept purely because I have fond memories of the day I blew the £25 I’d got from my parents as a reward for doing well in my Year 6 SATs on it. It wasn’t a bad game, it was just short, a la the “Prologue” instalments of GT the creators seem to be desperate to release to make some pre-money.
Ape Escape on the PlayStation 1 was stellar – probably my favourite platformer on the system, and would unquestionably be if I disregarded the Spyro series. Therefore, I had to get Ape Escape 2 and 3 when they respectively came out for the newer system. Good move. While they’re not as fresh as the original was, I defy anyone that loved AE to not love its sequels too. Ape Escape 2 added a few slightly needless items, such as a big-ass magnet you could use to move metal blocks. Ape Escape 3 ditched the new weaponry and instead added a “morph” system, where different unlocked morph costumes gave you temporary extra abilities. Neither of these were particularly necessary additions to Ape Escape, but neither were game-breakers either, and as I say, more Ape Escape is good Ape Escape. Ape Escape 4 is supposedly in production – if it disappears, I’ll be sad.
Another series which has a supposedly-in-production fourth instalment, though TimeSplitters’ is a little more doubtful. Which sucks, as TimeSplitters 2 and 3 are, without a shadow of doubt, my reigning favourite FPS games of all time. Why? Because they’re different. I’ve played all four of the current latest Call of Duty games, and to be completely honest, they all felt like the same game. I’m sure fans could argue with me on that, but I don’t give a shit. The majority of the other newest FPS games are exactly the same. The Medal of Honor reboot, Killzone 2 and 3, Halo (all except that crappy RTS spinoff), they all, to me, look almost exactly the same. TimeSplitters was funny. No, scratch that. TimeSplitters was hilarious. Funny story, funny characters, funny dialogue. A ton of variety thanks to the story’s gimmick basically throwing you wherever in time, and in location, Free Radical wanted you. Fantastic multiplayer. An array of challenges and arcade modes. You could also play the story in co-op mode.
TimeSplitters was a tad weak – the story didn’t exist and of course twin-stick shooters were a new idea. But its sequel was nigh-on perfect. Future Perfect broke a couple of things, namely the lack of any passive segments in co-op (it was more like one-player story mode, plus someone else randomly dumped in), the control scheme, and the lack of extra segments to story mode if you played on a harder difficulty. But where it broke things, it added things with a more engaging story mode – the story itself could, as I’ve discussed with mates in the past – easily be a movie, and the levels themselves are more interesting.
Please, Crytek UK. Finish TimeSplitters 4. Until it’s out, I’m hoping next month’s Duke Nukem Forever can provide my fix of non-yawn FPS-ness. Failing that, I’ll try the recent Bulletstorm.
In the PS2 era, James Bond got it good. Two strong FPSes, Agent Under Fire and Nightfire (not included in my list purely because I didn’t, until recently, get to play it), followed by two arguably stronger TPSes in Everything or Nothing and From Russia with Love. EoN is, in my opinion, most noteworthy – it’s essentially an unreleased James Bond story in film form. It even has a surprisingly good theme tune!
If it’s of interest, Agent Under Fire was the first PS2 game I ever played. I can very vaguely picture the booth I played it in, and I believe it was in Norwich, in its Big W store (which became Woolworths… which then became dead. Sad face). I didn’t own it and properly play it until later, but it was still bloody good fun. I also have good memories of when I got From Russia With Love – it was during a 2006 holiday with a good friend that, though I lost contact with, I recently found again! Had a good chat with him 🙂
The PlayStation 1 era had the Tony Hawk series. The PlayStation 3 era has the Skate series. PS2, however, had no clear extreme sport winner for me. It was the time when Tony Hawk games were still good, not attempting to one-up Skate’s “realism” formula by packing in a plastic board and making the game sluggish, linear and boring. It was the time some developers that were trying to mimic Hawk’s successes were doing it well (see Aggressive Inline and Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX 2 lower down). But it was also the era of SSX.
SSX took realism and shot it out of a cannon. SSX didn’t care. It’s a snowboarding game that ramps the arcade aspect, the OTTness, and the outright fun, up to 10 or 11 depending on how much you like Spinal Tap. Its levels are interesting as hell, something most people hadn’t nailed given the need to have the majority of it as snow. It’s one of those dealies that’s easy to pick up, hard to master, but if you’re playing split screen, it’s also one of those games people won’t care that much if they lose. They’re still having a blast.
SSX Tricky was essentially the original with tweaked levels and other minor differences. SSX was a launch title so it was nice to have the updates and corrections. SSX3 dropped all the old levels and replaced them with one huge mountain made up of several courses. While it meant the loss of the more extreme levels like Tokyo Megaplex (see link on “interesting as hell”), it kept the amazing format, tightened and improved the control system to near-perfection, and the fact you could spend half an hour on a single, unbroken downhill slope made that half an hour amazing fun. On Tour was a slight dip in quality as it slapped in all the crappy graffiti and “cool/rad/etc” crap I’ve come to despite given how much it appears in games nowadays, but it was still a tightly honed, well designed game that was great fun to play. Rock on, SSX Deadly Descents. I await your challenge to Skate 3!
While another series that fell to an ever-increasing need to add grungy bullshit, Tony Hawk’s games in this era were always strong. Tony Hawk’s Skateboarding and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (a confusing jump for Europe – I’m aware THS was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater elsewhere) took a frankly weak genre of the PS1 era and turned it into a fantastic, addictive pair of games. The first two PS2 entries, Pro Skater 3 and 4, continued this with yet more interesting levels. Pro Skater 4 was the first to ditch the career mode format of 1-3 in favour of a “hunt for goals, but do it in your own time”. This made THPS4 the first game with a personally-enjoyable career mode.
Tony Hawk’s Underground added walking and an actual story to the entire game, something no Tony Hawk’s game has done well since. Behind perhaps THPS2, and not behind it from a purely game-quality-today perspective, this makes Underground my favourite in the series. It was interesting to play through, had some amazing, truly memorable levels, had a fantastic level creation mode, and a plethora of new features. THPS2 was an advancement but instead took stylings and characters (including Phil Margera and Wee Man) from Jackass. The story wasn’t as there, more just appearing as a weak excuse to go wherever, and the game was silly, but still strong.
American Wasteland was the same, but better to me. Pretty much every challenge you did involved taking some arbitrary object; this was then all collected in one massive empty plot. The more challenges you did, the more “American Wasteland” turned into a massive, enjoyable skatepark. By the end of the game, the rest of the levels meant nothing. The makeshift park was where the fun lied. It’s also the first to be notable for joining all levels seamlessly, albeit in a weak way – long, skatable corridors where the game would slightly chuggily unload the previous level and load the next one hidden from your view. (American Wasteland also added bikes, though only the trailer linked above reminded me of this – they were forgettable.)
The Tony Hawk series had a couple of decent PS3 outings in Project 8 and Proving Ground, but Black Box introduced Skate and quickly stole its crown. As previously mentioned, this was where a plastic skateboard peripheral was introduced to Hawk’s games. RIP, series.
Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX 2
An extreme BMX game shouldn’t work. The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater spinoff, Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX, disproved this, though it was not as fun as its skateboarding friend. But, for me, Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX 2 was the game that made BMXing a fun in-game activity. (It’s also the only BMXing game I like to date – and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get much competition any time soon.) Its huge levels, great soundtrack (who woulda thought Ozzy Osbourne and Sum 41 would work on the same playlist?), strong engine and fantastic for the time level editor (one day we’ll get a skating level editor akin to LBP/MNR‘s editor. One day) made the game a keeper and a laster. If only they’d included split screen free ride!
FreQuency & Amplitude
Before Guitar Hero I/II and the Rock Band series, Harmonix were… well, still doing music games. But they were a lot different, and a lot more original (Guitar Freaks anyone?). FreQuency and Amplitude gave you eight or so paths. Each represented one instrument in the track you choose to play. As you’re moving up the paths, you will see little dots on the paths fly past you, either on the left, centre or right of the path. When they hit your ship, you hit a corresponding button (square, triangle, circle or L1, R1, R2) to “play” it. Play all the dots in two bars and that path is auto-completed for the next 14 bars. At that point, hit left or right and you move into a different instrument.
This was a highly, highly addictive format in its own right. But then, you could also make remixes of the songs. You get the same tunnel, but instead you loop around eight bars of the song, and choose when to progress to the next eight. There are also no dots – you place your own and this makes the music. Given it was a time when I couldn’t afford new games, I think I made around 50 FreQuency remixes. It really was that addictive.
Both games lasted ages, but neither game sold well and there’s not been a sequel to the series since, sadly. They’re a little tricky to find nowadays, though eBay usually has them at not-too-extortionate prices. If you have a PS2 on hand, and even a remote interest in music games, for the love of god, try these two games!
Along with FreQuency and Amplitude, Gitaroo Man makes up my trio of rhythm games that were cracking to play but undersold. This one is completely different, and difficult to describe, so here’s a video. With a Japanese vibe, music that will lodge itself in your brain for ages, and a sharp, evil difficulty curve that still makes you want to try again anyway, Gitaroo Man is another great game.
Most people that like Final Fantasy seem to believe VII was the best in the series. Some of those same people will attack anyone that says otherwise. Now, as a not-too-big RPG fan, FFVII, and all the other instalments on PS1 and below, kinda bored me. They were okay, don’t get me wrong. But eh. For some weird reason, Final Fantasy X didn’t have that effect. I actually played through the entire game, and while there were certain RPGish things that annoyed me – random encounters being the major one – I loved it. The story was strong, the original soundtrack was one of the best I’ve heard, and the game was just flat-out beautiful.
Final Fantasy XII I didn’t like quite as much. I just didn’t get into the story at all. I also have no idea what’s going on with the battle system, and what it’s trying to be. I loved the removal of random encounters though – the fact you can actually see the enemies, and run around the bastards, made me a very happy person. But the meh-ity I got from XII hasn’t left me yet – I bought Final Fantasy XIII half a year ago for Xbox 360, and I haven’t bothered playing it yet.
I hate that this gets on the list. I don’t know why (oh hang on, yes I do, Sonic is shoddy). But Sonic Heroes was, for me, actually just a bit fun. The music was godawful, Tails and Knuckles were their usual crap self, and whoever voices Sonic needs to hit puberty, but the levels were colourful and fun, the stupid player-swapping was minimal, and it seemed to be slightly better-designed than the Dreamcast Sonic Adventure titles (which were still okay, but nothing more).
The Burnout series is one that started off okay, but as it progressed, grew up and up. Burnout Paradise is without a shadow of doubt my favourite Generation 7 driving game, and come to think of it, probably my all-time favourite too.
I still remember playing the original – an everyday arcade racer, until you crash. Cue the car contorting in slow-motion, flying tens of feet into the air. The problem with the game was that the crashes were awesome, but lost you races. You had to avoid the coolest aspect of the game! Burnout 2, the first one I personally owned, introduced things like Crash Mode, which actually rewarded you for crashing. That isn’t where the game got its best though – that lies with the next instalment, Takedown. In Burnout 3, you could take out and crash enemies by ramming them into other cars, walls, or by T-boning or even landing on them. It took a fun game and made it a blast. Revenge was even better, with tighter, far-better-designed levels, “traffic-checking” – the ability to shoot pedestrian vehicles smaller than yours into your opponents, and more ways of taking other people down. Ace, ace game, and would’ve been my favourite PS2 multiplayer game had Mashed not been invented (see below).
Pro Evolution Soccer Series
Games: Pro Evolution Soccer 3, Pro Evolution Soccer 6
I’m not big on football/soccer games. Never have been, doubt I ever will be. But, for multiplayer fun, you can’t go wrong with a quick PES match. They’re great, as they’re short fun, BUT if you buy an outdated version, they’re cheap as heck. In no other genre would you see a year-old game sold for £5. Instalments 3 and 6 are the two I had for PS2, both barely different from each other but both good fun and cheap to buy.
This is one of the other games capitalising off of Tony Hawk’s success that pulled it off well. Aggressive Inline is an extreme rollerblading simulator – far more fun than it sounds – with a strong engine, massive and varied levels, and a ton of fun to be had. It didn’t sell very well (perhaps because of its premise), which is a damn shame. As well as the levels being large, there’s a ton to do in the game. The career mode gives you numerous interesting tasks to complete in each level, some of which permanently deform it (example – one in the first level where you have to grind two chains holding up a boulder in a movie set – doing it breaks the chains, sending the boulder rolling down a pipe and smashing into a wall).
This is a game that was far more fun than it had any right to be. From first impressions anyone would think it looked like any other crappy 3D platformer slash CGI movie tie-in. It’s actually got a weird amount of depth, is interesting throughout (if a bit naff), and its killer feature – a co-op mode. Get two people co-operatively playing Shrek 2 and you’ll be amazed how fun it is. As a heads-up, you can often get brand new copies of Shrek 2, mostly on GameCube, off eBay for a few quid.
As a Rockstar-published game I always expect the game to be good, but they often then exceed my expectations and turn out to be great. The Warriors, and Bully (see under this entry), are two instances of that. Based off the equally good 1970s film (the game is actually predominantly a prequel to it), The Warriors sees you as part of a gang gaining prominence over other gangs in New York. Much of the game is kicking the crap out of your enemies, but there’s looting and rioting, exploration, and even some stealth, which is weaker than, say, Metal Gear Solid, but not bad either. You can replay missions, which is great as some of them stand out. You get to hang out in the Warriors’ HQ between missions, where you can gain skill, slap around fellow Warriors for the heck of it, go exploring, or play a great Final Fight-esque side-on beat-em-up minigame.
Bully / Canis Canem Edit
Bully (or “Canis Canem Edit” in Europe), is one of my two favourite games of all time, along with Psychonauts, listed below. Another Rockstar title, this takes the GTA formula and applies it to a school setting. While familiar due to the GTA-ness, Bully is simultaneously one of the most unique real-world-like games I’ve ever played.
Set inside a school, every mission in the first part of the game is what you’d expect. A hilarious panty raid mission which sees you climbing up a trellis into the girls’ dormitory, sneaking around stealing undergarments and hiding in cupboards and behind doors to ensure you’re not caught. A fairground in which you can actually ride on the rides, or participate in events. Some addictive minigames in arcade cabinets, such as Con-Sumo, starring a hungry sumo wrestler that goes around eating fish and battering enemies. A plethora of side-missions and hidden items with associated rewards – finding all 100 hidden blue rubber bands gets you a rubber band ball weapon that’s great fun to use. You can skateboard. You can unlock a go-kart and use it to drive around the entire place. You can snog girls. Hell, you can snog guys!
The game’s natural progression is always impressive though. Throughout the first chapter you’re confined to the school. It’s a huge campus and there’s a ton to do, though at the end of the chapter you’re kinda hoping you’re not going to be locked in for the whole game (though it feels like it). Then huzzah, Chapter 2 hits and you’re allowed out! What you then see, more and more as you go from chapter to chapter, is a huge city made up of all the areas that no other game seems to get right. A peaceful residential district with limited traffic, flowers everywhere, the works. A somewhat broken-down industrial/lower life area, with huge factories and slums. It’s rich in exploration potential. As you play through the game, missions become less schoolboy and more bringing down maniacs – the fun keeps branching and branching, to a satisfying climax and subsequent chapter where you can simply clear everything up to hit 100% completion.
And that’s why it’s my joint all-time favourite game. It feels amazing. It looks amazing. It plays amazing. I want a sequel. Now!
Aaaand here’s my other favourite game. Psychonauts is the definition of original. Set in a colourful psychic camp, you’re being trained to hone your powers for good. Powers like telekinesis or setting shit on fire. The camp is the “overworld”, providing a huge area for exploration with shops, characters, and plenty to do. But then there are the main levels. This is where the game goes genius.
Levels are actually people’s minds. You use a little door to go into people’s minds. That level is based on the person’s characteristics, career, preferences, things like that. The tutorial level is in a teacher’s brain – he of course thinks up an obstacle course. And, as a guy dressed up in army captain clothing, the level is very war-ish. There are so many perfect levels it’s difficult to say. One sees you go into the mind of a postman. In the best mission of the game and my favourite single mission of all time (second would probably be Three Leaf Clover from Grand Theft Auto IV, not that that’s relevant!), The Milkman Conspiracy, you move around a twisting, turning city (the postman is insane so his mind is twisted!), gravity never staying in one place, gathering items so you can pretend to be in certain occupations for a number of guards that will only let you past under these circumstances.
Another fantastic mission puts you in the mind of a general. The level is akin to one of those strategy board games where the layout is hexagonal and you can move certain spaces each turn. The level is literally this, but you can switch between large (so you can move pieces), and small (where you actually explore the board game world as if it were real, including enemies and suchforth that don’t/can’t hurt you in your large mode).
I love this game so much, I must have bought it for ten people now over Steam just because I want the word spread. Tim Schafer’s made some excellent games in his time – Brutal Legend and Stacking of recent, and Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango of the past – but Psychonauts, in my opinion, is the best thing he’s done.
Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis
I’m not a fan of management simulators. I didn’t mind Theme Hospital and The Sims, and I enjoyed Theme Park World, but for the most part they don’t click (I can enjoy them most if I cheat for free money/no consequences so I can just be creative – the inclusion of an infinite money cheat in SimCity 3000 but not its sequel SimCity 4, is the sole reason I prefer the earlier game). But Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, I could get into. It’s essentially a “build a Jurassic Park theme park” game.
Do I know exactly why I liked it so much? Nope. But it was bloody good fun, and well made!
As mentioned above, The Sims was one of the few management sims I get along with. Again, most enjoyable with cheats, the PS2 version of the original The Sims was second for me only to the PC version of the same game, which of course is more receptive to patches that give me infinite money. The PS2 version has a nice story mode, though.
The Simpsons haven’t had it good with games. Having played Bart vs the Space Mutants on both Commodore 64 and NES, I can deduce it is a bad game. The only pre-PS1 Simpsons game I ever liked was some arcade version I barely remember in which I believe I went around as Marge hitting people with a vacuum cleaner. I quite enjoyed The Simpsons Wrestling on PS1, though it was rubbish.
But the PS2 didn’t have it too bad. Two pretty good Simpsons games, only split by the godawful Simpsons Skateboarding. Road Rage was a ripoff of Crazy Taxi – Crazy Taxi (see below) was awesome, and Road Rage was a competent ripoff with Simpsons characters, so it was a funny game to play. Hit and Run was a Simpsons take on GTA. This one actually had its own merits – interesting missions GTA wouldn’t touch with a bargepole, a lot of good content, and all-in-all was pretty fun. Yeah, it was flawed, but it wasn’t bad at all. Given the state of older Simpsons games, things could be much worse.
Mashed: Fully Loaded
Best multiplayer game ever. I’m starting my thoughts on this game with that. Like Micro Machines but more realistic, more brutal, and more hilarious, Mashed sees you on one of many great racing circuits, not going for laps, but for getting far enough ahead of your opponent and/or being the last car alive. Weapons dotted around let you shoot, blow up, or mine opponents, unleash a dazzling flash, set oil slicks underneath you which will mostly affect people on the next lap, or fire shotgun shots out of both sides of your car. You can also take people out by sideswiping them off the edge of a levels or just stuck behind something as you drive far enough ahead.
Levels are varied and often complex, but the best level is arguably the simplest. Basically two straights of solid ice joined with a couple of snowy 180 degree turns, Polar Wharf sees you trying to ram the heck out of your opponents… or if they’re doing it to you, braking or generally messing with your acceleration so they eliminate themselves. It’s addictive and intense, enhanced by the more people you can get to play it – four-player Mashed is hours of fun. It’s one of the games that I still play today with friends, and one I can thoroughly recommend to anyone looking for a multiplayer blast.
A brilliantly original arcade game from Sega, I originally played Crazy Taxi on Dreamcast at a 1999 motorshow in Birmingham. I still remember picture-perfectly trying to grapple with the then-new-to-me Dreamcast controller! This was the first game I owned for PlayStation 2 as well, so it’s a double dose of pleasant memories. Although I wish there was a no-time-limit mode – something they never added after three main instalments (I have Crazy Taxi 3 for Xbox and there ain’t one there, anyway) – it’s addictive and demands speed to keep your run going as long as possible, picking people up, haring across shortcuts and dodging traffic to get them there, then picking up the closest next person and repeating. It’s out on various DLC platforms for current consoles, so if you’re intrigued by what I’ve said I highly recommend you give it a try.
I have no idea what made me get SingStar Party for Christmas 200? (probably 2004, not sure). Perhaps it was how I got EyeToy Play the year before and it wasn’t good – I needed a Christmas peripheral that was fun. I actually rather liked SSP though! I’m not a good singer but I seem to have just enough not-tone-deafness to be able to ace particular songs on it. Perhaps most notably, I was very good very quickly at Tiffany – I Think We’re Alone Now. And Scissor Sisters – Take Your Mama. Sigh, I wish my voice was deeper!
Though I’m currently a big fan of the WWE programmes (Raw, SmackDown, NXT and Tough Enough) and the PPVs, back in the PS2 era I had no access to them. I occasionally caught episodes at a friend’s house, but without the broadband to see them over the ‘net, or the Sky to see them when they were broadcast, I couldn’t watch them. It didn’t stop me loving the games in PS2 era though, which advanced from good to great. Just Bring It is the only entry in the series to date that allowed 8-player matches, oddly, while SvR2006 had a highly addictive GM mode that hasn’t been seen since. 2006 was also the last game in the series to use a control scheme established with the original PS1 title WWF SmackDown!. 2007 and onwards used a system which was evil to get used to, but much more intuitive once used to it.
Metal Gear Solid 4 took the series to a new level of good, but 2 and 3 were still excellent games. Dubbed “Tactical Espionage Action”, the series reinvented the stealth genre, creating a tense but gripping set of games with a complex storyline, numerous characters, and now-(in)famous long cutscenes giving the entire game meaning. As long as you’re not the kind of person that can’t live without shooting something every five seconds, you’ll enjoy the heck out of all of the Metal Gear Solid games (if you’ve not played them yet but want to, consider going through them in order – it’s not necessary but MGS4 is even more epic than it was before if you “get” it all). I know I did!
Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex
For most people, Crash Bandicoot died somewhere between Crash 3: Warped, the last Naughty Dog platforming instalment, and Crash Bash, the final PS1 instalment which was not a Naughty Dog game, but was so genuine it felt like it. It’s easy to forget The Wrath of Cortex, by Traveller’s Tales, the first PS2 instalment and the first platforming Crash game not to be made by ND. To be honest, I wouldn’t’ve known that if I hadn’t had the TT icon shown instead of a wild ND logo animation normally shown with the games. The Wrath of Cortex was pretty darn good.
It may not quite have been as tight or as original as the PS1 versions, and the bosses in the game are outright evil, but The Wrath of Cortex was more than worthy of the Crash title. Interesting levels, some of which introduce new ways of playing (the hamster ball is great fun), and the fact it wasn’t broken, meant that for any Crash Bandicoot fan, this should have gone over just fine. I’ve heard the follow up, Crash Twinsanity, was on the same level as TWoC, though I’ve not played that yet so I cannot pass judgment.
Another game that screams originality, in Katamari Damacy and its followups you control a big sticky ball going around “picking up” any item that’s smaller than the ball itself. As you pick up items, the ball of course gets bigger, so you can roll up more and more items. Some stages see you going from a metre in depth, to picking up islands, to entire continents, to rolling around in space and picking up the Earth itself, all in one mostly-seamless size transition.
While difficult, and with a control system that requires a lot of getting used to, the Katamari games are addictive as all hell, and the more you get into them, the easier it seems to get. Very, very cool. If you ever see a Katamari game, I definitely recommend you give it a shot.
One of two psychic action games released coincidentally near to one another (the other being Psi Ops, which I own but have yet to play), Second Sight was a diversion from TimeSplitters creator Free Radical – a much better diversion than TS-killing son of a bitch PS3 game “Haze” was. Second Sight saw you as an insane guy with psychic powers breaking out of a mental hospital with said powers – why shoot a guard when you can make him float, or make a computer float and fire it at him? An original game, though imperfect execution meant it was time they could have spent making a new TimeSplitters. But, grudges aside (which I will reserve for Haze), it was a strong, interesting game.
A spiritual predecessor to the better-selling PS3 exclusive “Heavy Rain“, Fahrenheit (“Indigo Prophecy” in the US) was a game in which you played multiple characters, including an insane man who, through weird flashes would murder people, then suddenly wake up and realise what he’d done, and a policeman looking for that same person. The game was played with a gesture-based system Heavy Rain inherited, in which actions such as opening a door were done by moving one or both analogue sticks to mimic the appropriate action.
It was mainly set in real time, so it was scary as hell when, for example, you hadn’t found and cleaned all the bloody spots in your apartment then suddenly the cops were knocking on your door demanding entry. That was perhaps the game’s only flaw – the lack of “triggering” of things like said cop entry meant you often had to replay the same segment, perfecting your routine so you could properly progress (it wasn’t like Heavy Rain, where screwing up actually altered the ending instead of forcing you to replay stuff).
I got this around the time I got my PS3 – I can’t remember if I got it just before or just after, though I think it was just before because I seem to remember the dilemma of having to revert to the PS2 to continue playing the game. Anyways, Cold Winter is a bloody FPS game, well-made but one of those games that undersold quite harshly. It cost me £5 brand new and I don’t think it was that old. It had an interesting system where you could combine collected junk into more useful items, such as battery, clumps of plastic and suchforth into C4, but for the most part was your everyday FPS. Strong game though, with interesting settings and enough to keep it apart from the stampede of identikit war shooters that still run rampant today.
Probably my favourite WipEout game – I never got into (or tried to get into) the PlayStation 1 instalments, and WipEout HD + Fury for PS3 were good but short and a little limited. Fusion had an immense soundtrack (I will always love BT – Smartbomb), great graphics for the time (which still aren’t bad), and was addictive and fun.
Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie
You’d never normally associate movie tie-ins with good games. This game isn’t just good, it holds a particular merit which is even more surprising for a tie-in. It’s the most atmospheric and immersive PS2 game I know. It has no HUD – the few guns you have just run out whenever the hell they feel like it, and health is represented by that “heartbeat + black and white screen = low health, regeneration for high health” system many games seem to be going for nowadays (though at the time it wasn’t common). It was a first person game, though rarely a shooter – most of the time you were running through the jungle, away from dinosaurs of vastly varying sizes, occasionally finding a spear to chuck at something or light on fire first.
While most first-person games aren’t all that scary since you can shoot something the minute you see it, getting chased in King Kong by a dinosaur your size, with its evil face and sharp teeth, was legitimately terrifying. And don’t get me started on the goddamn T-rexes.
Mixed in with the first person sections were third person bits where you played as King Kong. These felt like a different game altogether – gone was the immersion, but in its place were some great fun segments where you powerfully bounded from platform to vines, into the face of a T-rex. A minute or so of beating the crap out of it then Kong sits on its body, takes each of its jaws into a furry hand and breaks the bastard’s jaws. It felt cruel, but you felt genuinely in power when doing it.
I’d bundle this with FreQuency, Amplitude and Gitaroo Man in the Underplayed Rhythm Action games, but it’s not really rhythm action. Rez is an odd, odd shooter, which uses music and visual effect to suck you in. It’s a game that demands you play it in the dark, with quality headphones on – it’s less of a good game, more of a fascinating experience. Recommended though.
Interestingly, some countries bundled the game with a “vibration controller”, that essentially pulsed to the game music and actions. Guess what someone did with that!
Lego Star Wars
In a time when any game plastered with Lego or Star Wars was probably crap (there are a couple of exceptions but the majority of the games fit the rule), the idea of a Lego Star Wars was mind-blowing. It should have been bad. It wasn’t. It was a mind-bogglingly decent game, which while suited for children mainly, I have to admit I rather enjoyed (and played through fully) myself.
A fantastic way to silence kids for hours on end then, but at the same time not only an enjoyable for all experience, also a way-paver for a slew of equally good Lego games based on other popular franchises like Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean.
True Crime: Streets of LA
One of many GTA clones, True Crime: Streets of LA was admittedly somewhat passable. The story mode was alright, and the levelling up based on whatever fighting style you desired was interesting, but its major fault was the city itself. A watered-down version of real-life LA (but just as large), True Crime’s setting was repetitive and very easy to get lost in thanks to the lack of landmarks or anything else that would allow you to pinpoint exactly where you were (something GTA got 100% right).
My favourite part of True Crime, oddly, is some of the weird glitches! Hitting cars in certain ways could send them skyrocketing into the air. There was a pool of water on one of the very edges of the map that was exploitable as all hell – driving cars into it could have them float, fly, sink, or sink and eject Nick, the protagonist, into the air. Pushing pedestrians or other cars would do the same.
The other fun aspect was the ability to search any pedestrian you wanted. Some would have drugs, others may have weapons. If you find something, you can cuff them and push them to the floor. Not the longest bit of entertainment in the world but good for quarter of an hour of giggling now and then.
State of Emergency
I believe this was the first Rockstar-published PS2 game. I may have been wrong. Either way, it was the first majorly controversial title on the system. Essentially, you go around a mall teeming with rioting people, kicking the crap out of bad guys. A special goal will occasionally rotate and have you do different things for extra points, such as using particular props in your slaughterfest. It actually follows a similar point system to Crazy Taxi – it’s time limited, but doing goals and killing the right people adds to your time. An expert could go on forever.
Like other mall massacre games such as Dead Rising 1 and 2, State of Emergency quickly grew boring, but a day or so later and you’d be wanting another go at it. A pretty good game, if somewhat one dimensional.
Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly
Crash Bandicoot had it pretty good with his first second-developer PS2 title. Spyro the Dragon, whose PS1 games I prefer to Crash’s, didn’t have it quite as good. Enter the Dragonfly is buggy, plagued with evil loading times, and not too well designed. So why does it make my list?
I adored Spyro. Literally adored him. I’ve played through his PS1 outings multiple times, with Spyro 2 and 3 being two of the only games I’ve 100%ed. And I loved doing it. The game was as close to perfect as any PS1 series was capable of getting. So, despite its flaws, imperfections, and annoyances, I still liked Enter the Dragonfly. It was more Spyro. It’s also one of the last games to resemble Spyro in his earlier days – the reboot changed stuff and I just can’t bear to see Spyro killed like this any more.
An underplayed pair of games, even I only got to discover Destroy All Humans because a friend took the plunge and bought it. What I discovered was a very fun alien simulator, in which you can use alienish powers to attack… or probe… people. You can ride a UFO and do your dirty deeds from inside that as well. Destroy All Humans 2 didn’t add much, but it was a second helping of fun so I never complained about it. Sadly, the third instalment, Path of the Furon, a PS3 and Xbox 360 game, was utter crap – glitchy, unfunny, and handled by a different developer – and buried the series.
Yu-Gi-Oh!: Duelists of the Roses
Back in school year 8 (age 12-13), Yu-Gi-Oh! cards were a temporary fad. I maintain it was only because those of us that bought into the franchise were sad that the meteoric rise of Pokémon cards had an equally meteoric fall when every school banned them. I never actually bought a pack of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, I was a dick – a friend gave me a few cards, one of which was a first edition dealie. I used a mixture of cunning and fibbing to trade up until I had enough to sell for £75 when the fad died down.
One success the series had (the animé was shite) was the gaming that came out of it. I’ve played three of them – Duelists of the Roses for PS2, Forbidden Memories for PS1, and some World Championship game on GameBoy Advance. Forbidden Memories was and is my favourite, but Duelists of the Roses was also a highlight due to how different it is. It isn’t just a translation of the card game, it actually gives it more of a board game feel… and gives you 3D monster fighting to enjoy.
Even now, when I couldn’t give a flaming fart about Yu-Gi-Oh! or its trading cards (which aren’t half as good as Pokémon cards, by the way), I can still boot up one of the games and enjoy it.
Metal Arms: Glitch in the System
The “underplayed, awesome game” pile increases. This one flopped majorly, yet is one of the strongest PS2 games I know, which is the saddest thing. Metal Arms: Glitch in the System shares a couple of traits with Ratchet & Clank, but for the most part is a highly entertaining third-person game, with a variety of weaponry and powers to explore and enjoy, amusing enemies and dialogue, and in general a heck of a lot of fun to be had. It also had an ace up its sleeve in the multiplayer mode, which, if you could get other people to actually play the damn game, was yet more amazing fun.
I’ll end the list with a platformer that is genuinely funny – Whiplash. You play as some sort of raccoony-squirrel thing. I should research this, but that takes effort. Your sidekick is a talking rabbit which can talk (you can’t). Now, not only is said rabbit your sidekick… he’s also your weaponry. You are essentially escapees of a horrendous plant that attempts to fuse animals. You two are chained together and due for fusion, but break out. To attack people, being the bigger animal, you swing that rabbit right into the head, stomach, goolies, whatever you want of the people. You can also use the poor sod as a circuit breaker or a path-clearer. A commentator, who the rabbit dubs as “that guy from the movie trailers”, will communicate with the two runaway animals and give them clues and ways to go.
Anyway, that’s my exhaustive, yet probably still incomplete (my memory fails me), list of PS2 games I’ve loved over my ten years or so of owning one. If you haven’t owned a PS2 yet, it is honestly a perfect time to get one now. They’re very cheap to pick up (any car boot sale will likely have several people selling PS2s at around the £10/$15 mark, and I wouldn’t anticipate a commercial game retailer like GAME or Game Spot to be selling them for any more than £20/$30, still well worth it). The games are even cheaper, with tons of them going for £1 second hand wherever you look – and since the PS2 is still an active console – just – game retailers still sell their games. If you don’t mind Wii graphics (or heck, even HD console users shouldn’t give a shit – if you do, stop being so shallow) then the PS2 will suit you fine.
I am yet to foresee a day when I’ll stop playing mine.
Disclaimer: All linked YouTube videos remain property of their respective owners. Not all linked videos are of the PS2 versions of the games, though in these cases a similarly specced system – PC, Xbox or GameCube – footage was used instead and represents little to no difference to the PS2 version. Also, people need to stop dubbing crap music over gameplay footage. Seriously, it’s horrendous.