It's the PlayStation 2's anniversary! 19 years ago, Sony crushed Sega's dreams of remaining in the console hardware business and released it's Emotion Engine-powered juggernaut. The PS2 would go on to sell over 150 million units and it remains to this day the highest selling console of all time. However, when the system was first released, it came out with 29 games. None of these games really stood out as being amazing and the system was successful solely on its DVD capabilities and brand loyalty. That said, some of the games weren't that bad. So let's take a look back at the 10 best games that launched with the PlayStation 2.
Before we get started, let's give a quick shout-out to a few sports titles. Several of the best games from launch at the time were sports titles like Madden NFL 2001, Moto GP, and NHL 2001. However, later iterations of the series would improve on the formula, making these titles largely pointless. These 10 games more or less stand on their own, despite later sequels or iterations or remakes.
10. Armored Core 2
Made by FromSoftware in a previous life before Dark Souls, the Armored Core series was already three games in on the original PlayStation when Armored Core 2 was released, completely rebuilt on a new engine. Featuring awesome mech on mech action, the series would go on to be a niche favorite and this first entry on the PlayStation 2 showed off the console's power fairly well. Even with the myriad of titles in the franchise, Armored Core 2 is still one of the strongest entries in the franchise.
9. Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2
The original Ready 2 Rumble Boxing was a big hit when it was released, especially for the Dreamcast. So having the sequel as a launch title was a smart get. This is an arcade boxing game with highly exaggerated special moves. You pull these off by building your Rumble meter and getting a combo. The sequel features three different levels of Rumble with the final one resulting in knocking your opponent out of the ring entirely. The game has a goofy cast of characters. It even has Michael Jackson, the King of Pop himself, as well as both Bill and Hillary Clinton as secret unlockable characters. It's ultimately a shallow game by today's standards but it still remains a lot of fun to this day.
8. Unreal Tournament
The crazy arena shooter genre made its way to the PlayStation 2 with mixed results. Ultimately, it still plays like Unreal Tournament so it's fun and enjoyable. It's also one of the earlier examples of a shooter using the dual analog stick control method in a shooter. Oddly, this method was panned at the time. Regardless, the issues with the game come down to a lack of features, most notably the lack of multiplayer options, but the action is still there and it's still a lot of fun.
7. Midnight Club
Rockstar Games had great success during the PS2 era and that started out early. Midnight Club: Street Racing, developed by racing aficionados Angel Studios, was one of the earliest examples of a racing game representing the underground tuner culture as opposed to the professional circuit-style most racing games take on. This is also one of the first racing games to have an open world in which you drive around searching for missions and races. Other games have done it better, but this initial effort is still solid.
6. Smuggler's Run
You thought Rockstar Games was done? Think again! Smuggler's Run is a racing game where you evade the police and deliver contraband. It's a much more arcade-style experience but due to the nature of the game, it can be recognized as a partial successor to Grand Theft Auto III. Specifically, it plays a lot like the driving missions in Grand Theft Auto III. On its own it's still an enjoyable game, though replayability might feel a bit hollow.
5. Ridge Racer V
Ridge Racer is a staple of launch games, introducing not only the original PlayStation but the PSP and even the Xbox 360. The PlayStation 2 was no exception and Ridge Racer V was the next-gen entry. Unfortunately, it was a step back from the last entry in the series R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, but it still offered a fun arcade racing experience as well as beautiful visuals and presentation for the time.
4. DOA2: Hardcore
Dead or Alive 2 was a huge hit on the Dreamcast. So here comes Sony to eat Sega's lunch with an enhanced edition of that game. Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore is an update to Dead or Alive 2 with more costumes, new stages and characters, improved animations, more realistic graphics, new moves, and gameplay running at 60fps. The game still looks good to this day and still feels fun to play. The action is fast and flashy and it's easy to control and understand. It's not very deep but casual fighting fans will get a lot of enjoyment out of this game. It might not be the best fighting game at the PS2's launch but it's not the worst either.
It seemed grim for first-person shooters on the PlayStation 2. If the current masters of the genre, Epic Games, couldn't make a great FPS on the PS2, then who could? How about a group of ex-Rare employees? Free Radical Design released TimeSplitters as a launch title and it was the best first-person shooter on the console at launch. The game bears a lot of similarities to Goldeneye 007 on the Nintendo 64, except this game is on the PlayStation 2 and allows for twin-stick controls. The action is fast and furious and features a decent amount of improvements from their earlier work. Some mechanics feel antiquated, such as the presence of the free aim reticle, but the base gameplay is solid and enjoyable even today and represents a style of FPS that we don't see anymore today.
2. Tekken Tag Tournament
Namco could have simply ported this arcade game to the PlayStation 2 and it would have been a success. Instead, they opted to improve the graphics, add features and modes, and, like its sister series SoulCalibur on the Dreamcast, make it a fully-featured game that was better than the arcade original. Tekken Tag Tournament features over 35 characters and a new Tag mechanic that can result in a lot of crazy combos. Nearly every character from the past three games are included in this dream match title, and they have new graphics, animations, moves, and color palettes. Add in ending movies for each character, a 1 on 1 mode for those who want some classic Tekken action, and the silly Tekken Bowl mode, Tekken Tag Tournament is still a favorite of many Tekken fans.
The video games industry had been trying to make a fun snowboarding game for a while in the 5th generation. Nintendo tried it with 1080 Snowboarding and it was alright. Sony tried it with Cool Boarders and it was okay. However, with the advent of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and the dawn of the 6th generation, EA managed to get it right with SSX. SSX delivers high octane action and manages to capture the speed and adrenaline-filled experience that is snowboarding. This is a video game though and a boost meter was added so you can do tricks and crazy feats. Controls are simple to understand and responsive, and the game was graphically amazing at its time. Special attention should be given to the soundtrack, which like the Tony Hawk series, gave the game a lot of personality. Later entries in the series may have improved on the formula but not to the point that it invalidates this first title. SSX is still a crazy amount of fun to this day.