Game fans had a lot to be excited about at Sony’s PlayStation Experience last week. Psychonauts 2, for example! Many of the more promising games that showed up on Sony’s stage will also be making their way to the PC, but one of the biggest announcements—or at least the one I saw the most excitement about—wasn’t about a new game. It concerned eight PS2 classics, including Dark Cloud and GTA III, being made playable on PS4... via emulation, at $15 a pop. But if you’re like me and still have a whole bunch of great PS2 games on a shelf or in a box at the back of your closet, you can actually emulate those games on your PC with better graphics and more options than you can on a PS4. It’s free, and it’s actually pretty easy.
Let me introduce you to PCSX2.
PCSX2 is an open source PlayStation 2 emulator project that’s been in development for more than a decade. It’s compatible with about 95% of the PS2’s 2400+ game library. Sony’s new PS4 emulation can run these old games at 1080p, but on a decent gaming PC you can render them at even higher resolutions like 4K, downsampling them to the resolution of your monitor for a sharper, clearer picture. Even an aging or budget gaming rig should be able to handle 1080p emulation for most games, no problem.
If you’re an old hand at PC emulation, you’re likely as familiar with PS2 emulator PCSX2 as you are with GameCube/Wii emulator Dolphin. Both are free and legal—none of the code in the emulators themselves belongs to Sony or Nintendo—and have improved enormously over years of development, thanks to passionate communities. The great thing about PCSX2, though, and where it really differs from Dolphin, is that you can easily play your old copies of PlayStation 2 games by simply sticking the discs in your computer.
Assuming you still have a DVD drive (if you don’t, find a friend who does), you can plop a PS2 disc into the drive and emulate it straight from the disc. I’d recommend ripping it to an ISO with a free program like ImgBurn so you don’t have to worry about disc read speeds or swapping discs when you want to play a new game.
Seriously, it's not that hard
The rest of the process is pretty simple, honest (at least, unless something goes wrong). Download PCSX2 here and follow a configuration guide to set it up. The official PCSX2 guide is a great resource, but filled with an intimidating amount of information you don’t really need to know if you’re just out to play games. Mostly all you need to know to get started is how to configure the graphics settings and a gamepad.
Here’s a great guide that lays out the basics of configuring PCSX2 and its graphics settings without overloading you with information. It also touches on the one complicated part of setting up the emulator: the PS2 BIOS. While the PCSX2 code is completely legal, Sony owns the code of the PS2 BIOS. That hasn’t stopped the BIOS files from being widely distributed online, but it does mean the only free-and-clear legal way to obtain the necessary BIOS files is to dump them from your own PS2. PCSX2 offers a forum and guide for how to dump your BIOS.
Admittedly, this all takes a bit more work than spending $15 to re-buy a PS2 game on your PS4, which you’ll inevitably be asked to re-buy on the PlayStation 5 or 6. But that’s the nature of the PC platform. With a little work, you can play just about anything.
And with a little more work, you can make the games better than they were on the original hardware. It becomes part of the fun: you can usually get a game to run without too much trouble, but making it look as good as it can, and run as smoothly as possible, is a satisfying tinkering process. Any problem you encounter you can most likely solve with a simple Google search. That's the great part thing about emulation communities: they're filled with people dedicated to making these games run.
With a little time put into PCSX2, you can render the image at 2x, 3x, 4x its original resolution (or higher!), play a PS2 game with a DualShock or an Xbox controller, save to unlimited virtual memory cards or use save states, borrow save files from other players, use hacks to run games in widescreen. And you can take some pretty amazing screenshots.
I'll leave you with a few of my own: screenshots I took of Final Fantasy XII while playing the game earlier this year. What was blurry at 480i looks pretty damn amazing at 4K.