With a whopping 155 million consoles sold, the PlayStation 2 is comfortably the most successful home video game system of all time. As you might expect, this rampant commercial popularity spawned an incredible volume of software, with over 3,800 different titles released during its lifespan.
Picking just 10 of those is harder than you might think, but we've gone ahead and attempted the impossible regardless. Below you'll find some of the best games to ever see the light of day on the PS2 – or any other home console, for that matter.
Konami's Gradius series pre-dates the PlayStation family of consoles by quite a few years, but by the time the PS2 appeared it was very much out of fashion – as were vertically-scrolling shooters in general, in fact.
Konami farmed out development of this sequel to Japanese codeshop Treasure, best known for the sublime Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga, and the results were nothing short of stunning. This is comfortably one of the best entries in the entire Gradius lineage, and perhaps one of the most accomplished arcade shmups of all time. Not only does it boast superb 2.5D visuals, but it also showcases an amazing soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakimoto, best known for his work on the Final Fantasy series.
Gran Turismo 4
Gran Turismo has been Sony's flagship racing series ever since the first game blew everyone away on the 32-bit PlayStation, and by the time the fourth game arrived on the PS2 in 2004, the console was arguably on its last legs and the PS3 was just around the corner.
Some might have argued that shifting development to the more powerful machine would have been a better idea, but Sony and developer Polyphony Digital knew that the PS2's gigantic install base would give the racer its best chance of commercial success, and they were right. Gran Turismo 4 shone despite the age of its host hardware, cramming in 700 cars and over 50 circuits to race them on, as well as utilising cutting-edge graphics and physics engines that spared no expense in the pursuit of realism – apart from the fact that vehicle damage was still off the table.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Grand Theft Auto III is credited as the game that transformed the series into the behemoth we know and love today, but it was San Andreas which really took the concept to the next level, allowing players to run riot in a sprawling state filled with vehicles to steal and people to interact with.
With sales of over 27 million, it remains the most commercially successful PS2 game of all time, and while subsequent sequels have certainly evolved the idea, San Andreas is still considered to be one of the finest video games ever made and a highlight of the Grand Theft Auto series.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of the Patriots marked the series debut on the PlayStation 2, but its often bizarre storyline alienated a lot of fans. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was therefore something of a soft reboot for the franchise.
It went back in time to the 1960s and placed the player in the boots of the original (Naked) Snake, from which Solid Snake would be cloned. Set deep in the Russian jungle, and boasting a camouflage mechanic which made the stealth sections even more interesting, Metal Gear Solid 3's defining moments come during its cutscenes, which are some of the most powerful ever seen in Konami's popular series.
Widely regarded as the best entry in the whole franchise, Metal Gear Solid 3 was later republished with additional features as Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, and would be ported to the Nintendo 3DS under the title Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D.
If you're looking to support the 'video games as art' debate then ICO is the title to win the argument. Created by Fumito Ueda – who would produce the equally striking Shadow of the Colossus and The Last Guardian for PS2 and PS4 respectively – ICO is as minimalist as it's possible to get with a video game.
You play the role of a young boy cast out from his village for possessing bizarre horns on his head; he's locked inside a seemingly abandoned fortress only to discover a young girl with a deadly secret. With little hand-holding and hardly any dialogue, you have to guide the girl out of the castle while avoiding shadow-like enemies and solving various puzzles. Often referred to as a masterpiece, ICO is an essential purchase for any gamer, not just those interested in the legacy of the PS2.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Jordan Mechner's original Prince of Persia is considered to be a seminal work in the platforming genre, offering silky-smooth animation based on actual human movement. This 2003 reboot leaves behind technical wizardry to offer a 3D adventure of surprising depth and playability.
At the centre of the game is the Dagger of Time, an artifact that grants the player the power to rewind time. Falling from a high ledge is no longer a fatal error; using the dagger you can return to the point before you made the mistake. This mechanic has been used in many games since – including racing titles – but the Sands of Time was the release which introduced it to a wider audience, and that's why it's so fascinating to play today.
A final hurrah for the aging PlayStation 2 hardware, Odin Sphere boasts gorgeous hand-drawn 2D visuals and a massive branching storyline, which sees the player assuming control of several different characters, each with their own backstory and objective.
Mixing side-scrolling action with RPG mechanics, Odin Sphere was widely praised upon release in 2007 for its lush presentation and gorgeous music, the latter courtesy of Hitoshi Sakimoto. A remake was released on the PS3, PS4 and PS Vita in 2016, called Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, which remedied some of the minor complaints levelled at the original. Whichever version you decide to play, you're in for a visual treat.
Final Fantasy XII
The PlayStation family has enjoyed a strong bond with Square Enix's Final Fantasy series, and 2001's Final Fantasy X ranks as one of the most hyped PS2 releases. However, it's Final Fantasy XII that represents the zenith of the franchise on the system.
By the time it arrived on the market in 2006, Square Enix's developers had mastered the hardware and the result was a massive RPG adventure that came with more than its fair share of innovations, including an overhauled battle system and a sprawling open world. A remastered version is due for release on the PlayStation 4 in July this year.
Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening
After the trailblazing original and the rather disappointing sequel, Devil May Cry 3 came as a real revelation. Depicting the adventures of a younger Dante, it gave to player access to four different combat styles as well as his signature 'Devil Trigger' power, which unlocks his potential as a half-demon.
With its focus on stylish action and bombastic music, Devil May Cry 3 is a feast for the eyes and ears, but it's the tight combat which really keeps you coming back for more; chaining together massive combo attacks is all part of the appeal. A 2006 remaster added another character and re-jigged the difficulty, but the 2008 PS3 and Xbox 360 sequel failed to reach quite the same dizzying heights.
Burnout 3: Takedown
Criterion's famous smash 'em up driving series Burnout made quite an impression with its first two outings, but it was this third instalment that really refined the formula. Freshly purchased by Electronic Arts, Criterion benefitted from an increased budget and access to a wide range of music tracks from proper recording artists, all of which made the game feel incredibly polished.
The new 'takedown' mechanic creates some amazing slow-motion crashes, making the combat element of the game even more appealing.