The PlayStation 2 was a defining era for Sony, and while it’s often forgotten, thanks to a lack of compatibility with modern consoles and the fact that 3D graphics of the time haven’t aged well, there’s no doubting the important legacy of the PS2. You only have to look at the console’s lineup to see just how important it really was. Devil May Cry debuted in this era. Grand Theft Auto 3 invented the open world genre of games, and solidified its legacy with Vice City and San Andreas. Larger than life characters like Ratchet & Clank, Jax & Daxter and Sly Cooper also burst onto the scene with the PlayStation 2.
It remains one of the most important gaming eras – and it’s equally important to represent this legacy well as Sony begins the roll-out of the all-new PlayStation Plus service. Changes to this subscription mean that those with the highest membership tier will gain access to classic PlayStation One, 2 and PSP era games.
With that in mind, these are the games that are absolutely essential to include on the service.
Note: Where games have already been remastered or surpassed by modern entries, they have been struck from contention. What follows is a list of the most deserving games that haven’t been given the attention or love they deserve.
Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII
Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII was widely derided when it launched for PlayStation 2 in 2006, and seemed to put a stopper on the Final Fantasy career of hybrid shapeshifter Vincent Valentine (he’s only rarely appeared in Final Fantasy tie-ins since). But look past the flaws of the game – sluggish controls and a murky world – and you’ll find a strong story featuring one of Square Enix’s most underrated characters. It’s a little bit Devil May Cry, and a little bit classic JRPG – and while it is a bit janky, it certainly does justice to the third-person shooter genre.
It may lean a little bit too heavily into mid-2000s emo grunge, but the game’s personality really shines in every grim chapter. Valentine makes for a great protagonist, and his array of weapons and abilities comes in very handy as you face down goons and soldiers in heavy combat. Sure, it was a bit ambitious for its era, but it’s also a great part of the Final Fantasy series, and deserves more love on a service like PlayStation Plus. – Leah J. Williams
Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly
Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly might be the ugliest game of the PlayStation 2 and GameCube era, with blocky character models, ugly locales, and a poor colour palette that makes the action look blurry. It also runs like piss – frame rate drops are extremely common, running through the world is laggy and makes the game stall, and each world is riddled with bugs that impede progress. And yet – it deserves a spot on PlayStation Plus.
If anything, this would satisfy the curiosity of many who wondered if Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly was just too advanced for the consoles it appeared on. Looking beyond its flaws – which, admittedly, are many – this game is a curious chapter in Spyro history worth remembering in the wake of successful Spyro Reignited Trilogy.
When the game worked, it featured a number of fun new worlds and activities that paid homage to everything that came before – making it a great mishmash of old and new. While the execution was extremely poor, there’s hope that a modern port could tweak some of the issues with this game and help it reclaim its important place in Spyro lore. – Leah J. Williams
It’s hard to pick a favourite Tekken game for the simple fact that they’re all pretty darn good. But Tekken 4 came as close to perfection as you can get, with a balanced fighter that featured a well-designed mix of intriguing story and leg-crunching battles. Jin Kazama came into his own in this franchise entry, effectively stealing the reins of the franchise from his father, Kazuya Mishima. This was for the good of the entire franchise, as Kazuya slipped into a delightfully sinister role as the main Tekken villain.
Tekken 4 is also notable for expanding the lore of Tekken via the Tekken Force mini-game mode, and via a twisting story that was told throughout the game’s main battles. It also introduced a number of fan-favourite fighters, including Christie Monteiro, Steve Fox, Marduk, and Combot. While changes to the game’s combat system caused controversy amongst its most hardcore fans, this remains a unique, shining entry in the Tekken franchise, and the game most worth including in all-new PlayStation Plus. – Leah J. Williams
Ape Escape 3
Ape Escape 3 continued the ape-catching formula of the original titles, with shiny new graphics and a fresh batch of crazy monkeys. While Ape Escape 2 has actually been ported to PlayStation 4 and 5, this sequel hasn’t yet made its way to modern consoles – and that’s an absolute shame. The entire Ape Escape series is a real joy, and combines unique gameplay mechanics with sleek gadgets and puzzle-filled exploration.
This entry is helmed by brand new protagonists, but it largely functions the same as its predecessors – you play as a young child tasked with catching loose monkeys in a variety of sci-fi and fantasy locales. Beyond standard gameplay, this entry is also notable for featuring a cheeky Metal Gear Solid mini-game where players control ‘Pipo Snake’, a monkey who’s sent on a mission to rescue the real Snake and destroy a Metal Gear. It’s just part of what makes this wacky sequel so great. – Leah J. Williams
The Bouncer is not a fantastic game, and is known as one of Squaresoft’s misfires – but the style and gameplay of this title had such an impact on later Square Enix games that it represents an important part of PlayStation 2 era gaming history. As with other PlayStation 2 games, it was held back by middling controls and a camera that’s barely under control – but The Bouncer represented an important step for the console in both video game graphics and storytelling.
Rather than being a straight action fighter, this title is actually more of a hybrid video game/film, with plenty of cutscenes that take players through an ‘edgy’ early 2000s era story about three bouncers working in a cyberpunk city. This game was certainly overshadowed by every Square game that followed it, but it’s an important footnote in the company’s history, and contains a lot of elements that would later go on to be used in Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy. – Leah J. Williams
The Simpsons: Hit & Run
If you grew up in the early 2000s, there’s a high chance you’ve heard of The Simpsons: Hit & Run. If you didn’t own a copy yourself, you knew a friend who loved it – or even a cousin. It was an absolute phenomena during its era, thanks to a variety of factors. For one thing, it was a loving recreation of The Simpsons in a time when tie-ins were typically reliant on name value alone, rather than quality. Its developers also chose to base it on the equally-excellent Grand Theft Auto series, translating this franchise’s mechanics into a fun, colourful and mostly kid-friendly world.
This title was not a PlayStation 2 exclusive game – but regardless, it deserves a place in the PlayStation Plus library. No single game had such a firm grip on young kids in the early 2000s, and it’s not just nostalgia that makes it good. This title is extremely well-made, and boasts graphics that still look fantastic today. They’re a great representation of what the PlayStation 2 was capable of. While licensing rights may be an issue, this game certainly deserves inclusion. – Leah J. Williams
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
As with The Simpsons: Hit & Run, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is a tie-in game that released on multiple consoles – but it’s a real gem that still holds up today. Rather than being based on any one film or TV show, this adaptation of the Hulk story is actually based directly on the Paul Jenkins and Peter David runs on The Incredible Hulk comics – some of the best stories ever told.
Even years on, this game remains one of the best Marvel adaptations of all time, thanks to its brilliant plot and city-smashing gameplay that gives players a real sense of freedom.
As the Hulk, players are able to crush anything in this world, with environments being highly breakable. Every wall or surface is also climbable, meaning players can roam anywhere they please between major story missions. This game was an early example of what open worlds could do for gaming, and it remains an important milestone in the genre. While it’s certainly looking dated now, this game went on to inspire countless others, and should rightfully be celebrated for everything it’s done for modern video games. – Leah J. Williams
Silent Hill 2
Where the first Silent Hill paved the way for psychological horror games, Silent Hill 2 adorned it with beautiful cobblestones and tasteful landscaping. Concepts originally born out of technical limitations of the original game on the PlayStation One were weaponised with the PlayStation 2’s newfound capacity for more realistic graphical rendering, the blocky fog now a swirling ominous mist that hid untold mysteries.
Silent Hill 2 is regarded as the peak of the series, and one of the first real high points in the horror game genre, thanks to its excellent worldbuilding and storytelling. Protagonist James is drawn to the town of Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his dead wife, and subsequently goes on an ominous journey to find her, uncovering the sinister occult nature of the town along the way.
It’s a game that was held in incredibly high artistic regard during the PlayStation 2 era. It had a strong focus on its aesthetic – it had no HUD, which was unheard of at the time – and this was backed by engaging survival combat mechanics. Its plot touched on taboo topics, and never spelt things out completely, playing in symbolism and metaphor, which was also unique. It was a mature game in many respects, taking inspiration from the three great Davids of cinema: Cronenberg, Lynch, and Fincher.
Unfortunately, publisher Konami has utterly trivialised the legacy of Silent Hill in the past decade. Silent Hill 2 did get a remaster in 2012, but it was riddled with bugs, poor upgrade decisions, and a contentious new voice cast. Konami has also trivialised the iconic Pyramid Head creature, originally a manifestation of James’ guilt, and turned it into a ubiquitous marketing mascot – much to the grief of the series creator.
All of this is to say that Silent Hill 2 is something that deserves to be experienced and preserved in its original form. Do the Silent Hill fans of the world a solid, Sony. Because Konami sure won’t. – Edmond Tran
If you were around for the golden age of rhythm action games in the 2000s, one of the developers you probably hold in high regard is INiS, responsible for the excellent
The story follows U-1, a little kid who discovers he has the powers of a legendary Gitaroo warrior, and with his talking dog Puma in tow, he goes on to battle a series of alien bosses in a phenomenal series of guitar battles that span a choice selection of musical genres, including funk, blues, reggae, glam, drum and bass – it’s incredible. The gameplay is more involved than Parappa, split into sequences where you manipulate the analog stick to shred your guitar, and button recognition sequences where you block enemy attacks. But its biggest strength is, of course, the soundtrack, which remains an absolute killer even 20 years later.
Gitaroo Man unfortunately came out in an era where Japanese games were seen as incredibly niche in the West, so its English release was only produced in incredibly limited quantities. It got a PSP re-release years later; that version is also rare, with both fetching around AU $100 on eBay today.
And so, Gitaroo Man is one of those PS2 gems that basically no-one played. It’s the perfect candidate to get a second life with the PlayStation Plus service. Please, Sony. Please. – Edmond Tran
The all-new PlayStation Plus service is set to launch on 22 June 2022 in Australia. To find out more about pricing and subscription models, head to our explainer here.