By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
As we did with the PS1 on one of its recent birthdays, we’re using this 16th anniversary of the PS2’s North American launch as an opportunity to examine each of the 28 games that launched before, on, or within a week of October 26th, 2000. The PS2’s launch lineup gets a lot of flak–but then again, so do most console launches–and we aim to see if that negativity is justified. After going through this list, be sure to let us know your thoughts on the matter.
Armored Core 2
Younger gamers likely only know FromSoftware as the developer of Dark Souls, but the company originally made its name with the King’s Field and Armored Core franchises. Although there had already been three Armored Core games on the PS1, Armored Core 2 was the series’ first numbered sequel, fitting since it featured an entirely new engine. That said, all of the Armored Core games are fairly similar to one another, but most are decent especially if you’re already a fan. And this was definitely when the series was still at the higher end of its quality and popularity, so it was a nice entry for existing fans of the series who wanted it to make the jump to PS2 along with them.
Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore
If a Dead or Alive game got the subtitle “Hardcore” now, given how over-the-top sexual the series has gotten over the last decade, we’d all assume it finally just went full-on X-rated. But back when the franchise was still a regular fighting game series that happened to have slightly bouncy (but mostly covered) breasts as a bonus rather than a main feature, the Hardcore in this case was just meant to differentiate the game from its previous Dreamcast port. Legend has it that Tecmo decided to ship the game against creator Tomonobu Itagaki’s wishes before he was fully satisfied with it (probably to make the launch window), resulting in a game that is noticeably inferior to the Dreamcast version visually despite having some extra features. Still, it’s a solid port of a solid fighting game, and even if it wasn’t the top fighter to launch with the system, if you didn’t already have the Dreamcast version this wasn’t a bad game to grab at launch (especially since the next installment would be an Xbox exclusive).
Dynasty Warriors 2
The Dynasty Warriors franchise eventually became a punchline for milking a franchise and letting it rest on its laurels for about five years, five installments, and five spin-offs too many. But in the early days of the series, it was still one of the better (and only) 3D hack-n-slash games around, at least on consoles. Admittedly, the series would get some more depth and have better installments than this one–including introducing welcome multiplayer–in the years that followed. Still, DW2 was a good entry point into the series, especially with it being the first game of its kind in the franchise (the previous Dynasty Warriors game was a fairly obscure one-on-one fighting game released in 1997 for the PS1). It also helped to fill the beat-em-up void left by the promised but delayed launch game The Bouncer and, in a surprise nobody could’ve possibly predicted, ended up being the better game anyway.
ESPN International Track & Field 2000
Don’t let the tacked-on “ESPN” prefix–added only to the North American version–fool you: this was Konami’s latest entry in its long-running Track & Field series of games and the second 3D installment after PS1’s International Track & Field. As such, you basically knew what you were getting here: watching digital athletes compete in Olympic events as you pound buttons until your fingers blister. Unfortunately, this one was a bit of step back from its well-received predecessor, lacking a few of the franchise’s iconic events–discus throw, hammer throw, and high jump–and reworking others into timed button press events that lacked the trademark frenetic energy of having to feverishly out-button-mash your opponents to victory. However, the visuals were impressive for the time, with the framerate running at a silky-smooth 60fps that never wavered. It was kind of a strange game to launch a console with–especially with the 2000 Summer Games being a distant memory by the PS2’s October debut–but it was a fun game nonetheless.
ESPN Winter X Games Snowboarding
Konami accompanied its Track & Field game with this other “sports” game for the PS2 launch. If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of this game, it’s because if you wanted a snowboarding game to play day-and-date with your PS2 purchase, you bought SSX. This game sadly never had a chance–it would’ve been like being the other skateboarding game that came out the same day as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It’s kind of too bad, as this one is actually a solid snowboarding game, and a nice counterpart to the over-the-top, arcade-style experience of SSX with a more realistic, almost sim-like take on the sport. It even had a 2002 sequel (though it wasn’t as good). Still, there just wasn’t any reason to buy two snowboarding games when the PS2 launched, and if you wanted one, you probably grabbed SSX (and rightfully so). Some games, sadly, are just victims of bad timing.
FromSoftware may not have released a King’s Field game–its other pre-Souls claim to fame–for the PS2 launch in name, but it did so in spirit with this first-person dungeon crawler RPG. Eternal Ring definitely has all of the elements of a solid RPG, but as with many launch games, it suffers from an overall lack of polish and just reeks of a game that was rushed out before it got the extra 6 months of development time it so sorely needed. Eternal Ring does have its fans, likely due to the fact that it was released in a time before consoles were getting ports of similar–and superior–PC RPGs like The Elder Scrolls, so novelty of concept probably played a big part in the apologists’ support of it. Also, there are few genres better-suited for extended play time than RPGs, and what better way to get your money’s worth when you just dropped hundreds of dollars on a new console than a game that you can’t finish in eight hours?
While not a first-person game, Evergrace–FromSoftware’s other PS2 launch RPG–also brought some of the spirit of King’s Field to the system. In fact, Evergrace is probably the more direct spiritual successor, as it features an iconic weapon from King’s Field (as well as references to other previous FromSoftware RPGs). Like Eternal Ring, Evergrace was a game built on a solid foundation but was ultimately the victim of putting business above smart creative choices and releasing the game before it was given the time it deserved. It’s actually pretty commendable that the relatively modestly-sized FromSoftware was able to have two full-fledged RPGs available in time for the PS2’s launch. It doesn’t make either of the games great–and Evergrace is far worse than Eternal Ring–but it’s an impressive accomplishment nonetheless. Evergrace did receive a follow-up, Forever Kingdom (called Evergrace II in Japan), which is about equal to Evergrace quality-wise–not a compliment, by the way.
Imagine a $10 Xbox Live Arcade or iOS game in 2012 going back in time and passing itself off as a full-priced console game in 2000 and you have a pretty good idea as to what FantaVision is. A great visual showpiece for the system (which makes sense as it began life as just a tech demo), FantaVision was a puzzle game where you had to detonate fireworks and try to chain explosions together for a higher score. It was very, very shallow and only fun for about 20 minutes at a time (and maybe two hours total), which doesn’t bode well for a $50 game from any era. It apparently did well enough in Japan to earn a sequel, but we never got it. Shucks.
There was a time when mech games were so popular that even outside of Japan there were multiple mech-based series going at any given time. Armored Core 2 definitely had the name recognition, but quality-wise Gungriffon Blaze was also a worthy day-one pick up for PS2 early adopters who were also mech fans. It was the third game in the Gungriffon series, but the first released in North America since the original hit the Sega Saturn in the U.S. in 1996. That original game was well-received, but it’s hard to imagine there were too many fans of it still chomping at the bit to finally play a new installment four years later so it’s safe to say this was most PS2 owners’ introduction to the series. Unfortunately, the PS2 was eventually also home to both Zone of the Enders and its stellar sequel, at which point those became the only mech games that anyone but the hardest-core fans of the genre bother remembering or talking about anymore.
Madden NFL 2001
EA has always had the annoying habit of acting like they just had to put so much work into the next-gen debut of one of their sports franchises that they had to strip out a bunch of features from previous versions. One of the worst offenders of that trend was Madden‘s first PS2 entry, which looked amazing for the time but was a shadow of its previous PS1 installments in terms of features and depth. This was especially frustrating as the last few previous Madden seasons on PS1 had been some of the most acclaimed entries in the franchise’s history (and still are). But man, those graphics–“squint and you’ll swear you were watching a live broadcast!” was the general refrain, and (again, for the time) that was a fair assessment. So it came down to how much gamers were willing to forgive for the sake of “next-gen” Madden visuals in terms of how this entry was viewed, especially knowing that the next couple of seasons would surely have the looks and the personality to match.
Midnight Club: Street Racing
A year before Rockstar Games would completely change the gaming landscape forever with Grand Theft Auto III and do almost nothing but GTA-esque franchises going forward, they published a pair of racing games for the PS2 launch. Midnight Club was a pioneer of the now-prevalent “open world” racing genre, where races take place in a large, sprawling area rather than on defined tracks. It was also one of the first racing games to focus on the street racing, car-tuning import scene popularized by the Fast & Furious movies, several years before Need for Speed would jump on that bandwagon. Sure, the PS2 also had its obligatory and reliable Ridge Racer launch game, but if you wanted something new and different in your launch-day racing action, Midnight Club was definitely the way to go, launching one of the most successful racing game franchises of the 2000s (and one of the only pre-GTAIII franchises Rockstar kept going for any significant length of time).
A fairly niche arcade game that didn’t make a huge impact in American arcades, it was a surprise that the home version of MotoGP was localized at all, let alone made a launch game for the PS2. Namco already had two of its biggest (at the time) franchises represented in the lineup, and with one of them being a racing game, it seemed like they were only setting MotoGP up to be ignored. Perhaps that is why they waited a few days after the actual launch to release the game. Motorcycle racing games are fairly niche–it’s kind of a “you like them or you don’t” situation. If you do, the MotoGP series is one of the better franchises in the genre, and it made a solid start here, with gorgeous visuals that rivaled even its sibling Ridge Racer V. There was definitely no shortage of wheel-based games at the PS2 launch, but MotoGP was just different enough to justify its existence among a fairly crowded field.
Similar to Madden, the first PS2 NHL game looked pretty but had to shed a few features in the generational transition. What made things a bit worse for NHL was that that year’s PC version was extremely well-received, one of the first seasons that the PC version of an EA sports franchise was given equal development attention and wasn’t just an afterthought port of the console game. So next to the critically-acclaimed PC version, NHL 2001 for PS2 looked like the pushed-out port rather than the other way around. All that said, there wasn’t typically much overlap between someone who’d buy the PC version of NHL and the PS2 version, especially back then, so if you were a console gamer who wanted that year’s best version of NHL, you got it for PS2 and you were probably just fine with it.
Orphen: Scion of Sorcery
With the PS1 having become one of the all-time great RPG consoles, it shouldn’t have been a big surprise that so many developers were looking to cash in on what was sure to be a lot of RPG seekers among the early PS2 buyers. Still, the fact that four RPGs hit the PS2 on day one is insane, and there’s probably a reason why that is such an unusual accomplishment. Making a good RPG is hard enough–making a good one and having it truly ready to go alongside of a console launch is almost unfathomable. That’s why only an experienced developers like FromSoftware and Volition even came close to accomplishing that, and why there were games like Orphen from a company with only one previous game under their belt (The Gransteam Saga) that landed with a relative thud on store shelves next to the PS2. Orphen is one of those games that is only slightly less forgotten than it deserves to be because it happened to be the launch game of a major console. Those that took a chance on it only wish they could forget about it. At a paltry 52 Metacritic score, it is the worst-reviewed game of the entire launch lineup.
Q-Ball: Billiards Master
It’s a billiards game…what else is there to say, really? Whomever felt like they absolutely needed to have a billiards game to play on their brand-new, cutting-edge PS2–and feel billiards games are worth 50 bucks in the first place–probably enjoyed it. Most of us just spent a few seconds ogling the hot women on the cover and moved on. But hey, whatever it takes to make for a diverse launch lineup with as many different genres represented as possible, right?
Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2
The Dreamcast launched with the original Ready 2 Rumble, and here was the sequel, ready just in time to launch with the PS2 (although it also went to Dreamcast). The Ready 2 Rumble games–at least the first two–are flawed but fun, and are the only other non-sim boxing games not called Punch-Out!! that have any type of legacy in video game history. Like most Midway arcade games of the late 90s and early 00s, Round 2 is best played in short bursts and won’t keep you coming back for years, but it was a fun, streamlined, lighthearted “fighting game” alternative on PS2 launch day to DOA2 and Tekken Tag (and was arguably better than EX3). R2R poster boy Afro Thunder also made our list of the best boxer characters in video game history.
Ridge Racer V
Ridge Racer was synonymous with the PlayStation brand in the 90s, with the impressive port of the original game being the PS1’s first killer app and the franchise giving the console three more solid installments. It was a foregone conclusion that Namco have a new Ridge Racer title ready in time for the PS2’s launch. Unfortunately, RRV didn’t quite live up to the extraordinarily high precedent set by the excellent R4, taking an almost EA-like approach of streamlining the game from its previous installment for the sake of increased production values. None of that is to say RRV is a bad game, because it isn’t. In fact, it’s a really good game. It’s just that it wasn’t to PS2 what the original was to PS1, and whether or not that’s a fair comparison to make, it was an impossible one to avoid making. If nothing else, there’s no denying that it wasn’t a worthy successor to R4, especially since R4 still looked good enough in 2000 to just keep playing that instead.
Silent Scope was a fantastic arcade experience, a light gun game where you would look through an approximation of a sniper rifle and see a separate screen inside the scope that focused on where ever your crosshairs were pointing on the main monitor. Having to look back and forth between the big screen and what was in the scope was a tense and enthralling experience, unlike anything that had ever been seen in a video game before. Taking the gun peripheral out of the equation entirely and turning it into a game where you simply move a reticle around a screen with analog sticks all but broke the experience, making it feel like Virtua Cop but played in extreme slow motion and from a mile away. Some light gun games are still fun with a controller and without a gun; Silent Scope is not one of those games.
Rockstar’s other PS2 launch game is arguably the biggest overlooked gem of the entire lineup. It’s not technically a “racing game” in that you aren’t competing with other racers, but are instead racing against the clock as you travel across huge (almost mind-blowingly so for the time) environments as you try to smuggle your cargo from point A to point B while avoiding law enforcement and rival gangs. Most of the vehicles are of the dune buggy or rally car variety, meaning that they allow the player to bounce and jump across the hilly environments, sometimes over rivers and trains which, when done well, rival the set pieces of any vehicle-based action movie. It would take the GTA series several 3D installments before its vehicle physics felt as good during intense chases as they did in Smuggler’s Run. The biggest crime isn’t the smuggling that you were doing in the game, but that this underrated series only got one sequel before fading into obscurity and being forgotten by Rockstar.
Tony Hawk had skateboarding games perfected and Mat Hoffman and Dave Mirra were battling over who did BMX best, but nobody had yet applied that formula to snowboarding games (at least not in a way that didn’t just make gamers go back and play Cool Boarders 2 instead). Then out of nowhere comes SSX, a PS2 snowboarding launch title that ended up being the best extreme sports game made up to that point that wasn’t published by Activision and had the words “Pro ___er” in the title. Making arguably the best use of the PS2’s power of any launch game, it was as fun to watch someone careen down the beautiful snowy mountains, with jumps punctuated by superfluous fireworks, as it was to actually play it. There’s no doubt that SSX ended up being the third-best of the core SSX trilogy, but that’s more a testament to just how much better the games got than it is a knock on the original, which was the best-reviewed game in the launch lineup with a stellar 92 Metacritic score. Had Tricky and SSX3 never come out, everyone probably would’ve just happily played the original for the next five years.
Street Fighter EX3
The Street Fighter EX games must have had fans, otherwise they wouldn’t have made three installments plus multiple upgrades. But talking to most fighting game aficionados now, there doesn’t seem to be much retroactive love for the 3D take on the Street Fighter franchise. There’s also Skullomania, who is both the franchise’s most iconic and most mocked character. EX3 remains the final installment in the series, so whatever novelty had kept the franchise afloat for its few brief years had clearly finally run out. There just wasn’t much reason to pick this up on launch day when better options in the genre were available, and everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Capcom brought real Street Fighter games to the PS2–especially once the Dreamcast was no longer around to be the go-to 2D home for 2D fighters–so it was best to just pass on this forgettable title and wait for that to happen.
There is one last PS2 launch RPG to cover, Volition’s Summoner. Like Orphen, this fairly mediocre game would’ve been ignored and quickly forgotten at any other point in the PS2’s life, but since it was a launch game it got way more attention and way more people played it than was deserved by its merely decent quality. To be fair, it arguably isn’t the worst of the four PS2 launch RPGs, and in fact, many people claim it to be the best. It did manage to get a direct sequel, so it at least had sales and/or publisher faith on its side more so than the other “rookie” of the PS2 launch RPG bunch (Orphen), and the sequel was actually pretty decent. That it got a much-improved PC port the following year definitely helped keep Summoner in the gaming community’s good graces. Who knows, had publisher and rights holder THQ not gone bankrupt and had Volition not moved onto the hugely successful Saint’s Row series a few years later, Summoner could’ve possibly evolved into a legitimate contender in the RPG genre.
Swing Away Golf
Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Sony’s Hot Shots Golf series made the jump to the PS2, and indeed it did in 2001. And there really isn’t much need for two different cartoony golf-sim-lite franchises on one system. Still, EA saw a brief window to borrow some of that fanbase before HSG arrived and made any other similar games obsolete, so they shot Swing Away Golf onto the PS2 launch fairway. It was fine, but it wasn’t Hot Shots Golf, and only those who simply couldn’t wait another year (and just couldn’t play Hot Shots Golf 2 any longer) should’ve even considered rewarding EA for its cheap undercut attempt.
Tekken Tag Tournament
After having great success with bringing home a better-than-the-arcade version of Soulcalibur on Dreamcast, Namco decided to do the same thing with Tekken Tag Tournament for the PS2 launch. This time, the visual improvement wasn’t just subtle, as the arcade version of TTT looked almost identical to the aging Tekken 3, whereas its PS2 counterpart was completely rebuilt from the ground up into being one of the best looking fighting games ever made at that point. Any screenshot gallery trumpeting the PS2’s power heavily featured character models from TTT, and for good reason: the game was stunning. It played great too, with its tag mechanic taking the already-solid Tekken 3 foundation and giving it just the boost that it needed. Because of it initially being built as something of an upgrade to Tekken 3, TTT did feel just a little too “familiar” at times, but it was still a worthy next-gen introduction to one of the PS1’s most iconic franchises.
There is already an entire top five on this site dedicated to the greatness that is the TimeSplitters franchise, so there isn’t much more that can be said here that won’t come off as regurgitating the content from that list. But TimeSplitters was definitely among the best of the new IP that made its debut alongside the PS2’s launch, spawning a fantastic trilogy and continuing the work the team started with Goldeneye and Perfect Dark of legitimizing console-specific first-person shooters. Today, we don’t think twice about FPSs on consoles, when a FPS is a console-exclusive, or when a console launches with its very own new (not ported from PC) FPS, and TimeSplitters is one of the main games we have to thank for that.
Taken at face value, this was a pretty respectable port of the smash hit PC game. Of course, it was completely missing its online play which was the crux of the PC version, making its extremely thin single-player mode all the more damning without having online to fall back on. Sony’s unfortunate decision to only include two controller ports on the PS2 also meant that UT wasn’t even that viable as a local FPS party game, as only those who ponied up the cash for a pricey PS2 multitap could play four-player matches. An online-focused, multiplayer-focused FPS released for a system with two controller ports and that wasn’t online-enabled (yet) just didn’t make much sense. Had they at least waited until PS2’s online functionality was ready, UT could’ve maybe been a staple of online gaming on the system. As it stands, it’s probably the least-essential version of the game ever released.
Wild Wild Racing
This is another title that you’d be forgiven for completely forgetting about it–if you were ever aware of it at all–until now. There were both better standard racing game experiences and better off-road driving experiences available among the PS2 launch lineup to even give this average game a second look. This is the type of game that gamers would’ve reluctantly bought during a launch lineup completely devoid of racing games because there literally weren’t any other options. Since there were better options in this case, nobody had to do that. Even the bland cover seems to admit that this game really doesn’t have anything special to offer, seeming to already accept its fate as a bargain bin mainstay a year down the road by looking the part.
One thing that the PS2 launch lineup was short on is straight-up non-FPS action games. X-Squad was the only option in that regard. It wasn’t a great option, though. The squad-based shooter wasn’t terrible, but it felt more like a slightly-better-looking PS1 game than a PS2 launch game, and that applies to its dated-feeling mechanics as much as its visuals. It’s basically like a second-rate Syphon Filter, released three years and one console too late. Those who took a chance on it did have some fun with it, but unless you just absolutely could not do FPS games, there was little reason not to go with TimeSplitters over this (or wait a few months for Red Faction).
Finally, let’s take a look at the launch lineup by the numbers. All “scores” are according to Metacritic.
- Total number of North American PS2 launch games: 28
- Number of launch games that were a completely original IP: 13
- Number of those games that spawned a sequel: 7
- Number of launch games that also appeared on Dreamcast: 5
- Number of launch games that were exclusive to PS2 at the time (not counting arcade release): 19
- Number of those games that were later ported to another platform: 4
- Number of launch games that were sequels or follow-ups to PS1 games: 10
- Number of games that launched with the PS2 in other territories but not in North America: 11
- Number of franchises in the PS2 launch lineup that didn’t survive beyond that console generation: 12
- Best-reviewed launch game: SSX (93 Metacritic score)
- Worst-reviewed launch game: Orphen: Scion of Sorcery (54 Metacritic score)
- Number of launch games with a “green” score (75 or higher): 15
- Number of launch games with a “yellow” score (between 50 and 74): 13
- Average score of the entire PS2 launch lineup: 75
That last line item probably best answers the the query posed at the beginning of this article: Judging by review scores, which is the most objective way to really look at things like this, the PS2 lineup was “good” overall. Not amazing, but definitely not terrible. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion on the matter, and you are encouraged to share yours below.