Friday, September 18, 2009

The 25 Best Playstation 2 Games I've Ever Played: The Top 5

Well, it has been a long week putting this list together, but rewarding and as I enter the final stretch, I'd like to thank everyone who left comments this past week, as it has meant a lot to me. This was a lot more writing than I am used to doing for this blog (the list in its entirety is somewhere in the neighborhood of ten thousand words), but in the end, I think I produced something I am proud to attach my name to. While I thought this might be the start of a series of weeks like this, I think that I should only do this sort of thing on rare occasions. After all, I don't want to wear out my welcome on anyone's feed reader.

Anyway, these final entries on this list are the cream of the crop for me, the games that defined the Playstation 2. While some may not like all my choices, I have a feeling that they would still have to acknowledge that these five games at least belong on the list.

So what titles made it into this elite grouping? I guess you'll just have to read the rest of the list to find out.

5. SOCOM 3: US Navy Seals: The SOCOM series didn't initially thrill me because in many ways its single player campaign mode required a level of precision and dedication that I hadn't been willing to give it. You had to be perfect for an entire level, which meant that if you screwed up, you were dead. It was more realistic, sure, but it was much less fun. Though I guess I should have expected that kind of attention to detail in this third person tactical shooter series from Sony. But then along came SOCOM 3, which had a few alterations to the core gameplay model, such as a checkpoint system, the addition of vehicles and more customization for your gear, changes which finally allowed me to get into this series. This entry doesn't require you to meet exacting standards to succeed, and that makes it more accessible and easier to get into for casual players. The missions are varied and take place in some exotic locales like North Africa, South Asia and Poland, and it is interesting seeing how they develop in those theatres. It is also a game that rewards repeated playthroughs as you keep unlocking more and more gear and weaponry as you finish it on higher levels, and generally when you have more toys to play with, you tend to have more fun. But the thing that I haven't even mentioned yet is the online multiplayer. That was the thing that they sold this title on (this series was one of the things that sold online multiplayer for the PS2), and it certainly delivered. The fact that in the fourth installment of the game, the multiplayer aspect was designed so that players of both SOCOM 3 and 4 could play together tells you just how strong that dimension of the game is. I enjoyed this game so much, I was even tempted to buy a PSP just so I could see the single player campaign from another perspective through the connected title Fire Team Bravo, and for me to consider buying a console just to play a game, you know there is something special about it.

4. Burnout 3: Takedown: This was a great choice for my first experience with the Burnout franchise, as it happened to be the first one published by Electronic Arts, who bought the franchise from an ailing Acclaim, and it was a breath of fresh air. As I wrote in an earlier post, with Burnout 3 "Criterion did everything right to make this game the very definition of a white knuckled ride by not only creating a game with a great sense of speed through blurring and a menagerie of sound but by also tying dangerous behavior to going faster. You are encouraged to pass close to other cars, drift and drive on the wrong side of the road." This was a game that made me remember that racing was supposed to be fun, a lesson I had learned with Super Mario Kart, but after years of playing games that skewed more towards realism and such, I had forgotten the simple pleasures of just driving a car really fast without worrying about anything except finishing the race. Games are in some ways wish fulfillment, and I am sure everyone at one point or another in this heavily industrialized world would just like to drive with reckless abandon down the highways, byways and downtown areas of the places they live and work in. Or perhaps give a driver that cut them off some comeuppance by knocking them off the road. With Burnout 3: Takedown, you can live that dream. And those are just the main racing modes... there is also Crash Mode which is what it sounds like, a game mode that is just you crashing a vehicle and trying to create the costliest multi-vehicle accident you can. And again, while it has a lot of depth which will appeal to hardcore players, it is also accessible enough that even casual players can get into it, and it isn't even a bad game to watch other people play, given the visual flair and short race times. A title that redefined racing games.

3. Resident Evil 4: I almost made a third rule for this list that would have made any game that had previously appeared on another console as an exclusive ineligible, but I just couldn't disqualify this game. The previous installments of this game series left me a little cold because their control schemes were rather unwieldy, so the move from the world of fixed cameras and tank controls to a third person shooter perspective was in my opinion just what this franchise needed. The game tells the further story of Leon Kennedy, one of the stars of Resident Evil 2, as he endeavors to save the President's daughter from the clutches of an evil cult in Spain. While the previous games in the series were very zombie-oriented, this time around, the majority of your foes are very much human though they are infected with a parasite that can control their actions. In a way, it sort of reminds me of the creatures in the movie The Faculty. The game has a great atmosphere, a well-crafted story with some really messed up scenes, intriguing bosses and an eclectic set of weapons. Now, I am also one of those people that doesn't get frightened by games, but there was one recurring creature late in the game that I have to admit was creepy. I ended up playing this game at the same time my sister was playing it on the Gamecube, so it was sort of like a shared experience for us, with me taking a little bit of a lead so I could help her out a little bit when she was getting stuck. Of course, when I got to the end of the game, there was some extra content to play through as well, namely a series of chapters devoted to Ada Wong called Separate Ways, which run parallel to the main storyline and gives you additional insight into the events you witnessed in the game. This was also made me do something very rare: I sat and played it through in an afternoon after I had completed it a few times and had a few of the special weapons. I never do that, but this was such a great game, I felt compelled to do it. And even though I knew everything that was going to happen, I still had a lot of fun.

2. Katamari Damacy: I have to admit that this is one of those games which I took a while for me to warm up to, because whenever I would see it on video game shows like X-Play, it just looked so silly to me, and I couldn't really see how it would be fun. But like I said, after I had actually played it (or more accurately, played a demo of its sequel We Love Katamari), I had to have it. I was fortunate that I just happened to come across a copy shortly after that, which was the first and only time I saw the game in the wild for about a year, so it was like it was my kismetic destiny to own it. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the opening for this game, because if you didn't know this was the actual opening for a game, it would have played for big laughs as a parody on a sketch comedy show or as part of a cartoon. If you are unfamiliar with these games, the basic premise is that the immense and flamboyant King of All Cosmos went on a bender, and ended up destroying the stars, and it is up to you, his tiny son, The Prince, to roll various items into a huge ball to remake those stars. It sounds weird if you've never played it, and like I said, I was a skeptic too, but this is just a joyous gaming experience and very intuitive once you understand the basic rules. For the most part, the world is a very bright, colorful and psychedelic place, full of both mundane and fairly strange items and living beings, just trying to get on with their lives. As a Westerner, I think it gave me a wondrous view into Japanese pop culture, because yes, there is a lot of weird stuff within the game, but for the most part, the things you roll up tend to be items which would be relatively uncommon over here, but more standard fare in Japan, especially in terms of food items. In a way, it is almost avant garde as a game without being pretentious because isn't exactly a puzzle game, it isn't an action title and there is no adventure, but it still manages to keep you captivated for hours. I mean, I can't really define by any of the traditional genre names. Of course, the fact that it basically began life as a student's thesis from a Namco-sponsored program in game design, may be part of the reason it is so untraditional (and it probably had one of the cheapest development budgets as well for a major commercial game on the PS2 at just under 1 million dollars US). This is one of those games that I can't believe made it to the North American market, but I am certainly glad it did.

1. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: I have a feeling that a few of you already figured out that this was going to be the #1 game on this list but rest assured, I did everything I could to try to talk myself out of putting it here. Yet in the end, this is the title that had to fill this spot. For one, it is literally the reason why I went out and got a PS2. I had resisted going to the next generation of gaming for about 5 years until that point, and it only took one afternoon of playing this title to convince me to give up on the noble dream of not going game crazy with a new console. As I've said in the past, this was exactly the kind of game I wanted as a child. Not the violence, amorality and such... more the sheer freedom to go where you want to go, and make your own decisions within a driving-based game. The story is captivating, the lead character is interesting, and the game features a cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, James Woods, Peter Fonda and the late Christopher Penn amongst others, all of whom give movie worthy performances, and if you've read the rest of this list, you know I am big on narratives. But it was the sheer joy of exploring the huge environment and just seeing what I could do that made me a fan (when I first played it, the whole map was unlocked, so I could do a lot of driving around). In a weird way, this game encompasses a lot of the strengths that other entries on this list play to, although it may not do those particular things as well as those individual titles, but the sheer number of things it tries in concert is just astonishing. It allows you to drive really fast without risk of real negative consequences, it has flight combat, a licensed soundtrack that betters most of the Guitar Hero games, a lot of weapons, some role playing elements (because you get better at things the more you do them), the ability to climb and swim, so it is a little closer to being a platformer too and it has a wide variety of minigames, so no matter where you go, there is always something new to try, so even months after you thought you've seen everything, you might find something that you never even thought of doing. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is the very definition of sandbox play, and it can be different things to different players. There are some who play it like a third person shooter/beat em up, there are players like me who like to drive around and use the sandbox environment to do crazy stunts (I am partial to driving cars and bikes off the top of a mountain and seeing how many times you can get it to flip and rotate) and so many variations in between. It is a title that is just packed full of content, and that is the reason it is number 1. Any game that allows you to steal a jumbo jet out of an airport hangar, run a triathlon, go skydiving, play casino games, burglarize houses, engineer the intercity train, compete in road races and totally reinvent the look of lead character all over the course of a single play session, and you can come up with an entirely different list like that every time you play is really a game worth having and cherishing.

So I guess that is a wrap. I know that some may have some issues with my choices, so I would love to hear your opinions as well.

The Top 25 PS2 games I've Ever Played
Number 25-21
Number 20-16
Number 15-11
Number 10-6
The Top 5


Dan said...

I've really enjoyed this series. I do like my lists.

I have a PS2 but hardly ever play on it. Time splitters was my favorite though.

I have an xbox 360 now, and only have halo 3. But it's good! I'm just waiting for Blood Bowl to come out for it (which was the sole reason I bought it really)

MC said...

See, I would have thought other members of your household would be playing with your PS2 with the wealth of kid-friendly games it has.

apple cider vinegar said...

Like the lists as well. Your ranking on the various games though I cant say I agree with.

MC said...

And that's ok.

lazyhoboguy said...

Nice list, I don't agree with san andreas being the number one game, but that is my personal opinion. Very nice to see timesplitters future perfect and urban chaos: riot response in your list. Most people havent heard of urban chaos: riot response. I had a ton of fun playing that game (except for the annoying parts where you were basically a firefighter for half the level). I also love katamari damacy. It is such an original title.

I saw this on the gamespot forums just so you know, but did not post there since I have a blogger blog a well.

MC said...

I have to say that I've been pleasantly surprised by the reception this has gotten at the Gamespot forums... some very interesting conversations have come up.

And regarding San Andreas. I know that it isn't everyone's cup of tea, or that some people feel that it is overrated, and I am willing to accept that criticism of that choice. It was the call I had to make, and I can respect people who feel differently than I do about the subject.