The PlayStation 2 was one of the most successful consoles ever released and subsequently has one of the most expansive libraries of games for a console to date. Any genre imaginable was covered and then some. There were so many games released for the PlayStation 2 that some of the best titles passed gamers by without them even catching a whiff that they were dedicating their time to lesser deserving games. This list is an attempt at the impossible; trying to narrow down some of the most underrated games for the PlayStation 2 out of a list of almost 2000. I'm sure that a title or two, probably your favorite, will not make the list and for that, you will threaten to make every subsequent day of my life a swirling vortex of misery and woe.
Well, go ahead and try. I'll probably be too busy remembering the greatness of these games to take much notice really. When it comes down to it, gamers will always think of their favorite little-known game as under-appreciated or unknown, and it will no doubt cause them to grind their teeth every time they read a list like this. Regardless of your choice of super rare, Japanese import only puzzle/cooking sim that no one seems to know about, the twenty games below are undoubtedly some of the shiniest unplayed gems in the PlayStation 2 library. So hand me a controller —no not the Mad Catz one, do I look like your little brother?— and lets co-op through 20 PS2 Games That Are Criminally Underrated.
Ah, the Tenchu series, one of the greatest ninja video game franchises ever made. A critical hit on the original PlayStation, the first Tenchu game, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, put gamers in the role of Rikimaru or Ayame as they battle against corruption and a demonic sorcerer. The Tenchu series never really changed up the story after that: Wrath of Heaven provides another sorcerer and a slew of his lackeys to carve up and dive back into the shadows before being discovered. Based around stealth and overly bloody executions, Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven was a serious blast to play. Sneaking was fun, decapitating a guard and grappling hooking onto a nearby roof before being discovered was satisfying, and the game was pretty to look at to boot.
The game also featured a handful of multiplayer modes, including deathmatch and co-op. Few things are as satisfying as cutting down a few enemy guards and then facing off against your best friend in a backflipping, shuriken tossing ninja fight.
One of the strangest games ever released, Killer 7 is the brainchild of the infamously bizarre SUDA 51 and developed by Grasshopper Manufacture. Player’s control an elite group of assassins called the killer7 (not a typo, that’s how it’s spelled in-game), who are actually seven embodiments of the same man. Each persona has a different set of weapons and is able to be switched from the pause menu on the fly.
Gameplay is a bit odd; you walk around the environment from a third-person perspective on rails, meaning that you can’t freely explore, and switch into first-person when engaged in combat. You fight Heaven Smiles; neon colored mutants that come in a variety of forms and colors. Although the control scheme and nonsensical story may throw some gamers off, the style and mechanics of the game have made it a cult classic.
A foray into the Ancient Roman gladiator lifestyle, Shadow of Rome was released by Capcom in 2005, sailing under the radar of many. The game follows a lone gladiator as he fights through all the classic gladiatorial combat you’d expect, from epic one on one matches, to taking down archers perched on the back of an elephant. The story was largely passable, something about a Roman general and saving his father, but where the game really shined was the bloody, brutal combat.
Even bare fist fighting resulted in pools of blood spilled, and an engaging combo system kept combat fresh and entertaining. Your gladiator was also largely customizable with different armor, helmets, and weapons, so you could easily live out your gladiatorial fantasies. Sadly, it seems that gladiator fights are an untapped market as far as video games go. Luckily for those of us who want to try and be Russell Crowe, Shadow of Rome exists.
Seemingly at the top of every “under appreciated games” list that has ever been written, Beyond Good & Evil is an adventure game released by Ubisoft in 2003. Due to its release in a saturated market, focus on stealth photography, and strange cast of characters, the title snuck under the radar for most gamers, fading into obscurity despite extremely positive reviews.
Following Jade and Pey’j, a human photojournalist and boar-like humanoid who acts as Jade’s “uncle, respectively, members of an underground resistance, players’ must use Jade’s camera to uncover the secret behind the suppressive government on the mining planet of Hillys. Through a combination of combat, stealth, and photography, Jade is able to uncover the threat of an alien race that feeds on the population of the planet and is covertly supported by the government. The game’s combat is tight and fun, the stealth elements are well paced, and the storyline is exquisite for a video game in general.
One of the stranger games released on the PlayStation 2, RAD: Robotic Alchemic Drive is a game that allows you to fight giant robots and monsters in a Japanese city with all the flair and destruction of a Kaiju movie. Gamers take the roll of one of three operators who they move around the city in order to get the best viewpoint on the action before switching to their massive fighting robots to take on a variety of (somewhat), recycled monsters.
Unimaginative monster design aside, RAD’s gameplay really shines. Using the left and right analog sticks to control the robots arms, and the shoulder buttons to control its feet, gives a real sense of gravity to controlling a giant robot. They lumber slowly through the city, wind up massive haymakers, and crack monsters so hard that they fly backwards, destroying blocks of the city in a single fall. Plus, standing atop a skyscraper and unexpectedly having your robot come toppling through it never gets old.
Following on the heels of the original Dark Cloud’s success, Dark Cloud 2 follows the formula of the first game but improves on it in almost every way. While the first game followed a singular character and his quest to rebuild every town to the specifications of its inhabitants, Dark Cloud 2 is an expansive game, to say the least. Players can switch between three different characters while they fight through dungeons, each with their own abilities and weapons. The city building aspect is also present again, making rearranging cities and towns to the inhabitants, or your, specifications fun and engaging.
Dark Cloud 2 really stands out though because of its inventing element. You can take a picture of virtually any object in the game, giving you a blueprint. By combining blueprints, you can create new inventions, whether they’re custom parts for the robot character/mount, or weapons and weapon upgrades. The number of inventions you can create is truly staggering, meaning that gamers’ have to invest substantial time if they want to fill out the list.
A trippy rails shooter that allows you to make house music while you blast through a super network in an attempt to stop the self-initiated shutdown sequence of a sentient AI. If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. Relatively unknown when it was initially released, Rez has reached cult status in today’s gaming world.
Although the gameplay is basic; lock on, drag the cursor, and shoot as many enemies as possible, the sound and visuals are what really set Rez apart. The graphics are bright and busy as gamers control a hacker and blast everything that moves. The soundtrack is a mix of bumping techno music that bleeds effortlessly into the environment as building throb to the bass, and enemies pulsate to the beat. The player also makes music; blasting enemies creates a variety of tones that go along with the already stellar music. The psychedelic design and music make the game as trippy as it is captivating.
One of the strangest games ever made, Mr. Mosquito is a game that has you playing as…what else, a mosquito. Tasked with sucking the blood of the Yamada family, gameplay consists of buzzing around different levels and sucking the blood of a different family member. While trying to remain undetected, Mr. Mosquito has to seek out a certain point on said family member’s body in order to suck blood. You suck blood while rotating the right analog stick and trying to keep the family member unaware of your presence. If you are discovered, it usually results in a one hit death by smacking. If you’re discovered before you’re able to land and begin sucking, you enter battle mode with the family member. You then have to hit pressure points to calm them, allowing you to retry your approach undetected.
This game was bizarre, to say the least. Although weird in concept, it was really a fun time, especially because of the healthy injection of stereotypical Japanese wackiness present in the game. In addition, you got to watch relationships develop between the members of the Yamada family, all from a perspective that has since been visited in gaming.
Perhaps the finest platformer on the PlayStation 2, Klonoa 2: Lunateas Veil slipped by largely unnoticed when it was released in 2001, despite universally glowing reviews.
The story follows Klonoa, a self-described “cabbit” that is dropped into the dream world of Lunatea where he must help Lolo to become a priestess by ringing a bunch of bells scattered all over the place and avoiding an ex-priestess turned pirate (which is a totally logical career transition). Recyclable story aside, the platforming in Klonoa 2 is unrivaled, even to this day. Many environments have cutaways that allow Klonoa to travel multiple different paths that all end in one of the many expertly crafted boss battles. Excellent level and enemy design, colorful cartoony graphics, and tight controls all make Klonoa 2 one of the greatest platformers on the PlayStation 2, and I’d argue of all time.
Player’s are dropped into the role of Rynn, a female warrior with a dragon sidekick that she can ride. The game is a foray into large open world fantasy with a dark twist. For the PlayStation 2 era, the open world is largely inspired, full of secret areas, and side quests that could fill up any gamers calendar easily.
Combat is quite fun too; with a large arsenal of different melee and ranged weapons, an intuitive combat system where Rynn could stab in any direction that an enemy may be facing, and a spell casting system that required drawing signs manually in the air, it rarely gets boring. The open world is expertly crafted, from the largest city to the tiniest villages. Dungeons are also well done and provide a great stage to show off the original and creative creature design. Plus, you can slay a giant chicken and loot its sizable golden egg.
One of the earliest horror titles for the PlayStation 2, Extermination follows a team of U.S. Marines dispatched to a secret Antarctic base to investigate a distress call that requested the bombing of the base. Let's take a second here: who the hell keeps making these calls in video games?
“Sir, the base in Antarctica has called for a nuke to be dropped on their position. All attempts to contact them have been unsuccessful; all we get are animalistic grunts and wet squishing noises. Oh, and what sounds like people screaming. A lot of that actually.”
“Hmm…tell Alpha Team they fly out in one hour.”
Regardless, Extermination is a heck of a good time: sharp shooting mechanics, a fun and wacky story (with cut scenes that were slowed down or sped up to match the mouth synch with the audio!), and creative monsters all make the experience a memorable one. The game also had player’s battling against an “Infection Meter,” which monitored the amount that the protagonist has been affected by the infection in the base. If the infection meter reaches 100%, the protagonist partially transforms into one of the monsters, has 60% of their usual health, and takes damage from pretty much anything. Paired with a battery pack that was used to open doors a limited number of times and needed to be charged at only a few stations throughout the game, Extermination still remains one of the most difficult survival horror games ever conceived.
Taking place in a haunted prison badly in need of an exorcism, The Suffering was a third-person action game that put players in the jumpsuit of a recently escaped inmate that must traverse the horrors that have been let loose on an unsuspecting prison population. The shooting is tight and satisfying, and monster design is original and creative enough to actually provide a few scares along the way. The game is set on an island that was once used as an insane asylum run by Dr. Killjoy, the most cliché name that anyone could ever think of for a crazy doctor. Essentially the island is inherently evil, meaning that everything is out to kill you, all the time.
The game also had multiple endings based on a few moral choices you had to make throughout the game and allowed you to turn into a berserk monster that could rip packs of enemies apart with ease. The brutal set pieces and the fact that it was based on Eastern State Penitentiary, an abandoned prison in Pennsylvania (a documentary about the prison was included with the game), mean that the game’s unique brand of psychological horror is still memorable today.
A stealth/action game with a tribal vibe, The Mark of Kri was a brutal good time. Graphics were cartoony but action was extremely violent; in wasn’t out of place to see gallons of blood and severed limbs flying through the air as you cut through a camp of enemies as the games protagonist. Stealth gameplay is the focus, which comes with some of the best stealth kills ever featured in a video game.
The fighting system assigns each enemy to a corresponding button and enemies must be dealt with tactfully if you want to survive. Player’s were able to send the protagonist’s bird ahead to scout locations before you made a move, making it fun to plan stealth maneuverers through densely packed enemy hideouts. The games cartoony style mixed with its over the top violence made it one of the most memorable action titles on the PlayStation 2 that no one played.
A third person action game, Giants: Citizen Kabuto was full of style and wit. The game is played from three different perspectives on an island that is drifting through space. The Meccaryns, a race of heavily armored, jet pack toting soldiers with British accents, the Sea Reapers, am amphibious humanoid spell casters that can use bows and swords, and the Kabuto, a towering green death machine that pretty much eats everything and everyone, make up the cast of races.
All the races are fun to play for their own reasons, as each race has different abilities and weaknesses that breathe life into each campaign. Jetpacking around and blasting enemies as a Meccaryn, swimming like a dolphin through the game world’s many bodies of water as a Sea Reaper, and destroying literally everything with the Kabuto all offer their own brand of strategy and fun. Missions are varied and entertaining, and the whole game also has a resounding wry wit that emanates through the storytelling, making the game worthwhile to play just to see what happens.
If Driver had a tryst with a dark British Grand Theft Auto, The Getaway was a load of fun and extremely mature. The game featured a variety of realistically rendered cars and an accurate in-game London to shoot and drive all over. The first half of the story follows Mark Hammond, a recently released gang member who witnesses his wife’s murder and his son’s kidnapping. Vowing revenge, he hunts down those responsible. The second half of the game follows disgraced police officer Frank Carter trying to bring down one of the in-game gangs. The dichotomy between the two protagonists made the game interesting and kept the story fresh.
Even though driving and shooting could be wonky at times, albeit very satisfying, the game truly shines in its storytelling. The game was very mature and gritty, with writing that can hold a flame to the British crime movies that inspired it. To this day, I still can’t decipher half of what they’re saying without the aid of subtitles.
Based on John Carpenter’s classic 1982 horror flick of the same name, The Thing took the concept of an alien that could assume anyone’s identity and ran with it. Picking up exactly where the movie ended, The Thing follows a rescue team sent out to investigate an Antarctic base that has stopped responding to communications. As those who have seen the movie know, the team finds the base destroyed and signs that alien life may have been discovered. The first few hours of the game are pretty quiet; shoot a few runt enemies, explore a few buildings, navigate the snow-covered wastes … and then things go absolutely ape shit.
A typical third-person shooter, the game is made infinitely memorable by the fact that your crew can actually be aliens. You monitor your team through a “trust” system, basically, your team members watch each other and you to make sure that you aren’t doing anything suspicious. Hang back during a firefight while your team takes the brunt of the damage? They may think you’re collaborating with the aliens and begin to trust you less and less, until they inevitably attack you. The game also had an item to test the blood of teammates; if the test is positive, they would transform into a humanoid terror before your eyes, sending the team scattering and fighting desperately to survive.
Heralded as Sony’s Zelda killer, Okami is a wonderful game, bordering on the verge of masterwork. Gamers play as the goddess of the sun in the form of a white wolf, who is tasked with bringing peace to a land inhabited by monsters under the control of a multi-headed being named Orochi. The game has a beautiful, and I mean beautiful, art style that feels like you’re playing a watercolor painting. It’s one of the prettiest games, if not the prettiest, released on the PlayStation 2.
In addition to the beautiful visual style, the game is a blast to play. Characters are well fleshed out, and really breath life into a game that’s already bursting at the seems with it. Gameplay consists of adventuring and fighting, the latter requiring the use of a “celestial brush,” one of the main components that makes the game such a standout gem. Players can freeze the game and use the celestial brush to do a variety of things that effect the game world. In Okami, drawing a bridge will let you across a raging river, and players could change the time of day by drawing a sun in the sky or cut enemies in half with a simple slash. Unfortunately, not enough gamers experienced the joy of Okami before developer Clover Studios closed their doors indefinitely.
When it comes to games about aerial warfare, few hold a flame to the Ace Combat series. The games consistently capture the intense, adrenaline-fueled pace of explosive aerial dogfights and the white-knuckle precision required in bombing ground targets. As far as I’m concerned, there is no better entry in the franchise than Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies. The game tells the story of a young boy whose life is suddenly interrupted by a massive war and the enemy pilots inhabiting his town. The story is told through cut scenes with excellent voice acting and animation. The story is unique and heartbreaking; diving into the humanity on both sides of the line in warfare.
Gameplay is tight and exciting, dogfights are loud, fast affairs, bombing ground targets is harrowing, and boss fights, especially the ones against the opposing team of ace pilots, are excellent. The whole game is a joy to play and shouldn’t be missed by aviation fanatics or the average gamer.
Easily one of the greatest beat-em’-ups of all time, and easily the best movie tie-in video game ever, it pains me how many of my fellow gamer’s have never played The Warriors. Expanding on the 1979 movie of the same name, the story follows the gang The Warriors as they struggle to come up in a crime dominated 1970s New York. While expanding on the movie's already excellent story, you can expect to spray paint rival gang territory, jack car stereos out of parked cars, and bop your way through a plethora of rival gangs who all have their own style and feel.
Aside from the excellent story missions, the game features a wide variety of side missions, mini-games, and flashback missions that help to reinforce the backstories of the characters that we only got a tiny taste of in the film. In fact, I’d venture to say that the game is such a crucial companion to the movie that they should be packaged together. Plus, once you beat the majority of the main missions, you unlock a Warriors arcade mini-game in the same vein as Streets of Rage or River City Ransom, essentially adding another game that could have stood strongly on its own.
Freedom Fighters explores a nightmare scenario for many Americans: what if Russia invaded the U.S. and won? The game follows a ragtag group of guerrilla fighters dead set on toppling the newly installed Russian regime. The game featured cut scenes in the form of broadcasts from a Russian News Channel (that you eventually raid and take over), that really lent an eerie reality to the whole game.
Gameplay consists of run and cover shooting, while managing a squad of resistance fighters to help aid you in your fight against the red menace. The shooting felt excellent, missions were well constructed, and the game had a chillingly good score. It also features one of the best beginnings to a video game, as you avoid the rubble from tumbling skyscrapers as Russian attack helicopters turn the city into a war zone and shock troops parachute onto nearby rooftops.