Twenty years. That’s a hell of a long time. What was happening in 2000?
We’d just had the millennium and the whole Y2K fiasco. The Nokia 3310 launched to an enamoured reception (and some still retain charge to this day). Our gaming world was blessed with the arrival of The Sims.
And most importantly of all, my hometown was immortalised with the introduction of Ali G.
I was just turning seven years old when best console ever was announced, and recall the stars in my eyes. I’d already been introduced to gaming years prior in the form of the PS1 and Sega Megadrive, but this was a whole new world.
I don’t need to talk it up too much, I’ll let the near 160 million units sold speak for itself. This console was a game changer, quite literally. It transitioned into retro status some time ago, and the twenty year milestone is an impressive one, especially considering the console still sits below some gamers’ televisions.
Without further ado, what follows is a breakdown of my top five PlayStation 2 games, the titles that caused a budding hobby to explode into a full-blown passion.
As always – beware of spoilers!
1. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Konami, 2004)
I’ve had a very on-off relationship with Metal Gear Solid. The original release completely eluded me, and I only briefly touched upon MGS2 as part of a later re-release. When I picked up a PS3, I didn’t really pay much attention to Guns of the Patriots.
Snake Eater however, was an entirely different story. I first played the stealth/tactical/action epic soon after its launch in 2004, and I fell in love with it. I’m not sure what it did so perfectly for me to go head over heels for it, but it was something powerful. The characters, voice acting, story, graphics, engine… The puzzle pieced together so cleanly that I simply couldn’t resist.
For its time, Snake Eater was advanced. It took players on an incredible journey from humid jungles to sprawling industrial complexes, and from craggy mountainous terrain to dense forests. The boss fights were deeply memorable and varied, each one more bizarre than the last. In fact, even the smaller mechanics were memorable, such as healing injuries, eating and stamina management, and interacting with camouflage.
I’d go on to buy Snake Eater multiple times, on the PS2 (again), the Xbox 360, PS Vita and 3DS. And yes, each playthrough was just as good as the others.
2. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Rockstar, 2004)
This had to be on the list, didn’t it? You could not have a top five PlayStation 2 games list and not include the stunning behemoth that was San Andreas. Strangely, San Andreas is only the 20th best selling game of all time, and sold 78% less copies than the most recent iteration, GTA V. In my mind, it’s one of the best selling games of all time, without question.
Coincidentally, San Andreas was the first ever game I got the day it launched, in October 2004. When was the last time I played it? Probably around a week ago! I’ve owned San Andreas more times than I can accurately remember, across more or less every format it was ever released on!
The story of Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson and Co was so compelling to players everywhere, and for a lot of gamers it revealed a world they never thought possible. Admittedly this is an easy win for me when it comes to games – if you have a large, accessible world, I’m sold. However, it’s how you populate that world that matters, and San Andreas didn’t disappoint.
I don’t think I’ll put this game down for the final time for years to come yet. It’s installed on my phone and I can run around Los Santos, San Fierro or Las Venturas with a mere moment’s notice. I can transition back to Grove Street, fight against the man, and redeem myself among my gangsta brethren.
What more could you want from a game?
3. The Sims 2: Castaway (EA, 2007)
I recently posted an article celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Sims, and in that I discuss my love for Castaway. This standalone expansion launched in 2007 and I was quick to snap it up, owing chiefly to my existing love for the life simulation extravaganza. I’d played The Sims, Bustin’ Out, The Sims 2, Pets, Urbz… I couldn’t get enough.
However, Castaway was a different kettle of fish entirely. Upon launching, the gamer was treated to the immediate removal of the ever-present neighbourhoods and houses. Gone were the furniture stores and need to enrol on a career path. The bills had vanished, you didn’t have to worry about impressing your peers, and your mother wasn’t there to nag you.
You were marooned on a lush, tropical island, and life was finally good.
Here’s the first point of success: the world was open. You were free to explore, with The Sims 2’s patented ‘direct control’ mechanic. The next win: building. You didn’t buy what you wanted, but scavenged, grew, chopped and hunted for it. How about the social aspects? You don’t need friends, you have primate companions!
It was seriously quirky, innovative, and best of all – it felt like an adventure!
4. Conflict: Global Storm (Pivotal Games, 2005)
I pulled a little sneaky on ya!
The Conflict franchise wasn’t ever met with critical acclaim, but for a youngster with a deep love for military games, it scratched an itch. The franchise itself wasn’t all that long lived, with a window of just six years from the first launch to the last. In that window, a total of five games were released, transitioning from the Gulf War, to Vietnam, then from a ‘global conflict’, to only God knows where.
Global Storm fits at the latter end of this development window, and is – in my opinion – the only one worthy of any kind of praise. Now, it’s not just the game itself that ensures a position in this list, but also how I played it. This was one of the first titles I ever played cooperatively. My uncle and I would spend hours at a time enveloped in the Global Storm world, playing as tactically as we possibly could.
We went from mission to mission, frantically battling, sabotaging and rescuing our way around the planet. It was likely an experience that would facilitate an early interest in multiplayer gaming that would come to fruition a few years later.
And after all, the game did tick those boxes. The levels were quite open to exploration, there were multiple approaches, the combat was fun and the story engrossing. I mean, I did log some serious hours, which is a key point to deserving my recognition. So, while it’s not a big seller or a triple A title, I feel it deserves a place on my list.
5. Scarface: The World is Yours (Radical, 2006)
Oh look, another open world shooter.
Yes, I understand that there’s a bit of a trend with my favourite titles, but what can I say – I like what I like!
I’d never seen the Scarface movie before picking up the game, so I didn’t really understand the change to canon or the true importance of Tony Montana’s ‘survival’ in the opening scenes. What I did understand was that this was very much a ‘big boy’s’ game, and I was going to enjoy every minute I played.
I found the world of Miami (and the outlying islands) to be an incredibly immersive one. There was no limit to the exploration opportunities, and the environment was littered with constant side content to keep the game running. The story was studded with comedy, drama and action, and although rudimentary, the combat was entertaining.
As I took control of this psychotic, shrewd and merciless drug lord, I strengthened my love for the open-world third person shooter. My word, did this game do it well. In Scarface, the objective was to reclaim your criminal empire. You had a sprawling mansion to upgrade and customise, businesses to manage, drugs to run and gangs to battle.
It was so cool – like a Vice City that had been kicked in the nuts and stuffed with cocaine. It was eighties through and through, from the loud suits to the classic pop and rock soundtrack. I did end up watching the film a short time later, and marvelled at how perfectly it had been recreated. The likeness of the characters, the setting, the feel of Scarface – it was all perfect.
Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy (Midway, 2004)
This game was awesome, no doubt. Unfortunately, it was also really difficult, and early-gaming-years me struggled to get through the story. Imagine Control, but you’re a soldier forced to adopt mind powers against your will and fight your way to freedom.
You could use telekinesis, mind control, pyrokinesis and ‘forward viewing’ to accomplish your missions, and this early-life PS2 release actually managed to do it quite well. The physics were great, which is a real win for a console that didn’t have the best technology behind it.
Killzone (Guerilla Games, 2004)
PlayStation fans worldwide will instantly recognise Killzone as the shooter that has transitioned across every console release from the PS2 to the PS4. The original was an incredible title, with a story that was unbeatable at the time. Although the series became shaky toward the end (especially with Shadowfall) the opening release was an extremely strong title that I would replay at any time, no question.
Urban Chaos: Riot Response (Rocksteady, 2006)
The spiritual successor to the PS1’s Urban Chaos, Riot Response put the player in control of a police-slash-fire-slash-medic character, fighting from a first person perspective. It was a pretty fantastic experience, as the graphics and mechanics were genuinely next-level.
You’d battle your way through a precarious burning building and tangle with psychotic, death-defying enemies to achieve your goal. That was a standard day on the force, as – equipped with an indestructible shield – you kicked ass across Union City to quash violent, erupting riots. Nice.