The PS1 was popular – but following its release in 2000, the Sony PlayStation 2 blew its predecessor out of the water and went on to become the best-selling console of all time. If you’re not familiar with this legendary gaming device, here’s a look at the history, specifications, games, and modern availability of the PlayStation 2.
A Brief History Of The PS2
Sony began working on the PlayStation 2 around late 1994, right when the PS1 was released. Development continued all the way to its initial release in March 2000, one year after the first public announcement.
As part of the sixth generation of consoles, the PS2 was initially marketed as a competitor to Sega’s Dreamcast (itself a console with a fairly popular launch). In time, however, its real competition would be Nintendo’s Gamecube and Microsoft’s first console, the Xbox.
The PS2 sold out almost immediately at its launch price of $299, making over $250 million on the very first day. Part of this was the console’s backwards compatibility – many PS1 games and the PS1’s controller were compatible with the PS2. Also, built-in functionality as a DVD player (for about the same price as a standalone unit) helped it enter the home theatre market.
After Sega decided to stop selling the Dreamcast, the PS2 was the only real choice on the market for several months. While the Gamecube and the Xbox were theoretically ‘better’ (the Gamecube was cheaper and the Xbox was definitely more powerful), Sony went into the 2001 holiday season with several major titles that continued to attract customers in droves.
Soon after, Sony dropped the retail price to $199 to match the Gamecube, then furthered its dominance by setting up internet play to compete with Microsoft’s Xbox Live system.
In 2004, Sony released the ‘slim’ PS2, which became the dominant version of the console until production was discontinued worldwide in January 2013. New games continued to be released for some time afterwards, and the general lack of hardware upgrades during this time means the PlayStation 2 lasted far longer than many other consoles.
The central processor of the PS2 is the R5900-based Emotion Engine, a 299 MHz processor designed by Sony specifically to support the PS2’s requirements. A built-in Image Processing Unit allows for both DVDs and Full Motion Videos on game discs to be played, while gaming is supported by connections allowing up to 6,000 MIPS (million instructions per second).
Meanwhile, the improved graphics of the PS2 are supported by a graphics processing unit capable of drawing up to 75 million polygons per second. This was far more than most games could make full use of – even today, some of the PS2’s games look astoundingly good.
Another boon was the inclusion of DVD read-write compatibility. Back on the PlayStation 1, games were limited to 650 megabytes or so by the size of the discs. It was possible to get around this with multiple-disc games, but that wasn’t always effective. The PS2 allowed for both DVD5 (4.7 Gigabytes) and later DVD9 (8.5 Gigabytes) on a single disc, giving developers more than ten times as much space to work with.
(For comparison, the PS3 moved to 25 Gigabyte discs – three times more space was certainly a help for the PS2’s successor, but it wasn’t nearly as big of a jump as the previous generation.)
If there’s one area where the PS2 is a little lacking, it’s the memory cards. Official memory cards (to store game saves) were limited to 8 Megabytes. This is more than enough space to store data for several games, but many people with larger collections were forced to juggle multiple memory cards and occasionally delete saves they’d rather have kept.
Third-party manufacturers made larger memory cards, but these were infamously vulnerable to corruption and loss of data.
The Best PS2 Games
Now that you know more about the history and technology of the PS2, let’s take a look at the best PS2 games (as judged by their sales).
The #1 PS2 game of all time is Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which sold about 17.33 million copies. It’s also the top franchise of the PS2, with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City at #4 on the list (9.61 million copies) and Grand Theft Auto III at #5 (7.9 million copies). San Andreas is considered to be one of the most notable video games ever sold, offering a strong mix of music, gameplay, and story content.
It’s also one of the more controversial titles, thanks to the inclusion of a hidden sex scene (usually referred to as “Hot Coffee”). In a rare move, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) retroactively changed the rating of the title to Adults Only, causing many retailers to pull the title from their shelves per store policies. The publisher later released a version of the game without the hidden content, restoring its ‘Mature’ rating and allowing mass sales to continue.
#2 on the list is Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec (14.89 million copies), a driving simulator that built off of the extreme popularity of the franchise on the PS1. It was followed about three years later by the #3 title on this list, Gran Turismo 4 (11.76 million copies). The fact that the top five games came from just two franchises shows how important brands are for games.
#6 on the list is Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (7 million copies), another sequel to a top-selling PS1 game. It remains one of the best-selling games of all time, with a story centering around the titular Sons of Liberty. After kidnapping the President of the United States, the Sons of Liberty threaten to destroy a massive ocean cleaning facility unless people met their demands.
As with Metal Gear Solid, Sons of Liberty heavily emphasizes stealth and tactics instead of rushing through and shooting everything.
#7 on the list of best-selling titles is Final Fantasy X (6.6 million copies), the tenth main game in Square Enix’s long-running franchise. Featuring completely three-dimensional areas, extensive voice acting, and revamped game mechanics, FFX was solid mechanically – but even stronger with its story and themes.
FFX follows the story of Tidus, a famous Blitzball athlete as he’s dropped into another world when his home is destroyed. He soon joins a pilgrimage to stop Sin, the creature that demolished his home, only to realize that saving the world isn’t nearly so easy.
#8 on the list is Tekken 5 (6 million copies) – yet another sequel in a popular franchise. If you see a pattern here, you’re not wrong. As the only fighting game in the Top 10, Tekken 5 hosted tournaments and allowed people to continue building their skills.
#9 is another entry in the Final Fantasy franchise – Final Fantasy XII. This title was an even bigger departure from the norm than its predecessor, featuring a robust auto-battle system and an expansive licensing system to learn skills and gain equipment. While told from the perspective of common citizen Vaan, the true center of the story is Princess Ashe, who seeks to save her homeland of Dalmasca from annexation.
#10 on our list is almost Final Fantasy – but not quite. Developed as a crossover between Square Enix (the creator of Final Fantasy) and Disney, Kingdom Hearts is a bold crossover franchise featuring famous characters like Donald Duck, Goofy, and numerous Disney heroes and villains.
PlayStation 2 In The Modern Day
While some people choose to use PS2 roms to get quick access to the games, this really isn’t necessary.
New, unsealed units of the PS2 console normally run for several hundred dollars, but many used consoles are available for less than $50. Most of these are still in good condition – and with few moving parts and pieces, even a used unit should work fine for many years.
Games are, likewise, rather easy to come by. While prices vary depending on the title, many games are available for $10 or less if you want physical copies. Sony has offered some online support on the PS3 and PS4, with notable titles including Grand Theft Auto and Star Wars available for download. The PS3 has a significantly larger library of PS2 classics, making it a better choice if you want to download a lot of them.
Memory cards and controllers are a little harder to come by. This isn’t an issue for downloaded titles as long as your newer console still works, but old memory cards may not be reliable. Unless you want to risk losing dozens of hours in a game, try to find a new memory card (preferably manufactured by Sony). Used memory cards just aren’t worth it.
Similarly, get a new PS2 controller if you’re buying the console. You may have to buy it separately, but it’s worth investing in a new one if you want to play more than two or three games on the most popular console of all time.