DEVIL MAY CRY 3: DANTE'S AWAKENING
Released March 1, 2005
Devil May Cry 3 has no patience for the weak. It’s one of the hardest games around, with a learning curve like a sheer cliff face. Those who survive the initiation, though, will find a combat engine exceeding that of any fighting game. Dante’s ability to switch between four different weapons on the fly opens the door to attack combinations so numerous that dedicated supercomputers at Stanford University are still calculating them all. Well, not really, but trust me: there are a lot.
GOD OF WAR
Sony Computer Entertainment America
Released March 22, 2005
In a sense, God of War didn’t do anything that hadn’t been done thousands of times before. It combined jumping and fighting with a dash of puzzle solving — the same formula you’ll find going back to the 8-bit days. What the game did so well was reduce each of these aspects to their essence, and then polish them until they shined. Combining precise controls, a gripping storyline, and some of the best graphics on the PS2, God of War was the apotheosis of the action-adventure game.
SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS
Sony Computer Entertainment
Released October 18, 2005
The team behind Ico followed up that gem with something even more ambitious. Shadow of the Colossus features 16 massive boss encounters set within a desolate landscape. The enemies are so large that you can practically hear the PS2 hardware straining to keep up. Keep up it does, however, rendering sights without equal even on the newer generation of systems. As great as the graphics are, the moral ambiguity of slaying each of the colossi is what will stay with you, even haunt you, well after the game is over.
GUITAR HERO/GUITAR HERO II
Released November 7, 2005/November 7, 2006
You have to envy anyone who’s just now getting around to discovering Guitar Hero. Strapping on that plastic SG for the first time is the sort of experience you can only have once, no matter how many times you try to recapture it. No one can ever be prepared for the transformation that occurs when you start pumping out percussive power chords, vicious hammer-ons, and sustains that last from here to eternity. Guitar Hero is now as much a party staple as beer and chips.
Released September 19, 2006
Considering that at least 111 million PS2s have been sold worldwide, it’s surprising how deficient the system was in at least two areas: first-person shooters and action-RPGs. Killzone retains the dubious honor of best exclusive FPS, but when Okami dropped in September of 2006, Sony finally had a worthy contender to Zelda. The watercolor-like visuals were the perfect complement to the Celestial Brush mechanic, with which the white wolf Amaterasu brought a fading land back to life.
Honorable Mentions for Non-Exclusive Titles:
TONY HAWK'S PRO SKATER 3
Released October 30, 2001
Here’s a perfect example of hardware power helping a game reach its potential. The Tony Hawk games were a blast on the original PlayStation, but the PS2's processing muscle gave the third installment massive, detailed environments that launched the series into the stratosphere.