The PlayStation 2 is one of the most successful consoles of all time, selling over 155 million units in its lifetime. It was home to a number of classic franchises, from Metal Gear Solid and Gran Turismo to God of War and Grand Theft Auto. However, there are a number of titles from the PS2 era that either didn’t perform well commercially or aren’t really appreciated in the present day. Let’s take a look at 15 of them here.
Are you tired about hearing how underrated Ico was (and still is)? Well, we’re not tired of saying it. Developed by Sony Japan Studio and Team Ico, the story of Ico and Yorda – told deftly through minimalist dialogue and incredible aesthetics – is still underappreciated. In terms of animation, presentation and puzzles, Ico was ahead of its time in 2001. It’s still a shame that it only sold 700,000 copies worldwide as of 2009.
At the time, The Getaway seemed like a dream come true for gangland film junkies, with gang wars, corruption and high speed chases on the streets of London. This is despite various troubles with development, releasing around the same time as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and the massive budget and scale. It sold 300,000 copies within two weeks of its launch, performing well in Europe and hitting four million copies sold as of 2020. Critical response in the United States was less kind, but it’s worth looking back and appreciating the effort that went into its stylish, film-like vision.
Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile may define developer tri-Ace but in 2005, it unleashed Radiata Stories. This quirky action RPG featured three protagonists and had the novel hook of 175 unique NPCs that could be recruited. The story also offered a nice mix of intrigue and conflict despite its comedy. While it performed well in Japan, Radiata Stories flopped in the West, selling only 119,000 units and receiving average reviews.
Computer Artworks’ The Thing probably isn’t the first game to come to mind when thinking about PS2 horror games. As a sequel to John Carpenter’s film, it offered the “fear/trust” system where NPCs reacted in different ways based on whether or not they thought the player was a “Thing.” Its play-time, mechanics and controls were criticized but it still sold one million units. Unfortunately, after Computer Artworks went into receivership, the sequel was canceled and the series forgotten in the aftermath.
After releasing the revolutionary Grand Theft Auto 3 and stellar Vice City, Rockstar Games followed with Manhunt. Death row prisoner James Earl Cash becomes a pawn in violent film producer Lionel Starkweather’s schemes, brutally murder foes with stealth. Despite being an altogether different genre for the developer, Manhunt got some decent critical acclaim. It then received a terrible sequel and pretty much faded away. And besides, while two games selling 1.7 million units is nice, it’s not Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption levels of nice.
James Bond 007: Nightfire
Spare a thought for James Bond 007: Nightfire. It followed the underwhelming Agent Under Fire and despite being short, its animation, campaign and mission design received strong praise. Having Pierce Brosnan provide his likeness also didn’t hurt. The PC version was pretty bad but Nightfire stood out as one of the better James Bond games on consoles at the time. Subsequent games in the series would die down over the years, with Everything or Nothing being the only real stand-out in terms of quality.
Yet another underappreciated Rockstar Games title, this time from Rockstar Toronto, is The Warriors. Based on the 1979 film, with the majority of the story set three months prior, it was a beat ’em up that let you fight alongside fellow gang members. You could unlock new gangs and arenas, issue commands to allies, play through Flashbacks to learn more about The Warriors’ origins and more. The game received plenty of praise and remains a classic, despite living in the shadows of the company’s bigger IPs.
X-Men: Destiny was an unmitigated disaster but the history of good X-Men titles thankfully has more hits than misses. X-Men Legends is one such hit and is as an action RPG where teams of four X-Men embarked on missions to battle villains like Juggernaut, Sabretooth and Magneto. Combat was satisfying, especially with combination attacks, and the sense of progression felt good as well. While it sold 800,000 copies on the PS2 two years after its launch, and even had a sequel, the franchise would be relegated in favor of Marvel Ultimate Alliance.
Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks
The last time Midway Games attempted a Mortal Kombat beat ’em up, we got the horrible Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. So imagine when Shaolin Monks came around and offered compelling Mortal Kombat combos and Fatalities along with an interesting story and level design. Though it sold one million copies and had good reviews, Mortal Kombat beat ’em ups have pretty much fallen by the wayside. Some day we’ll see Shaolin Monks 2. Some day.
RAD: Robot Alchemic Drive
Giant robots versus aliens – what more could you want? Sandlot’s RAD: Robot Alchemic Drive offered a variety of robots to control, each with their own unique forms in a fitting homage to 70s and 80s robot anime. A unique twist is that the pilots are on foot and use remote controls for the robots. Switching between the two and repositioning as the pilot is thus important, especially in the heat of battle. RAD: Robot Alchemic Drive received decent reviews at the time but only sold 17,888 copies within its second week of launch in Japan.
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
Before there was Persona or Digital Devil Saga, there was Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. Even with strong commercial and critical success, the title doesn’t get nearly enough credit for how much it influenced future games and spin-offs. It featured a modern setting, transitioned to a third person perspective and implemented a cel-shaded aesthetic, which translated to a more stylish and defined look. The essentials, like negotiating with and fusing demons, still remained and set it apart from other RPGs on the PS2. Though it’s been four years since the last major follow-up, a new title, Shin Megami Tensei V, is in the works for the Switch.
You simply can’t talk about underrated games without mentioning Rez. Conceptualized by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, who also served as producer on the project, Rez is a mix of lock-on rail-shooting, electronic dance music and synesthesia. Kills would add on to the music, reactively altering the soundtrack as one progressed through levels. Due to Sega’s terrible marketing and the unconventional gameplay, Rez flopped commercially. However, it remained a cult classic, and would eventually see its return (with VR support) with Rez Infinite for PS4 and PC.
When looking back on Fatal Frame, everyone always talks about the second game, Crimson Butterfly. And while the original isn’t quite as polished, it still introduced several key mechanics like the Camera Obscura. The series’ brand of survival horror took shape here, offering a mix of puzzle-solving, exploration and ghost-hunting. Reviews were above average at the time but it only sold a measly 42,000 units in Japan as of 2014. Oddly enough, despite selling only 12,000 units in Europe at launch on the PS2, Fatal Frame was deemed an unexpected success for the developer in the West.
Goichi Suda aka Suda51 is doing pretty well these days, prepping No More Heroes 3 for launch this year on the Switch. Back in the day, however, he and Grasshopper Manufacture released the fairly niche Killer 7. The plot followed Harman Smith, a hitman with multiple personalities, each playable and with their own unique abilities and weapons. With simplified shooting controls, an obtuse plot and an unorthodox yet eye-catching aesthetic, Killer 7 had above average critical acclaim and middling sales. Even when it re-released for Steam, the shooter has yet to find wide-spread commercial success.
Tenchu: Wrath Of Heaven
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is great and all but its foundation was the result of an altogether different title – Acquire’s Tenchu, which FromSoftware published. Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven marked the series’ debut on the PS2 and despite being developed by K2 LLC, it offered the same amazingly brutal difficulty and perfect execution of stealth. Even if it didn’t achieve as much recognition as other stealth titles in that era, Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven still offered something uniquely its own and it’s good to see that carry over into Sekiro.