It’s been more than 26 years since the original PlayStation launched in Japan, and the quarter-century since has been packed with incredible gaming experiences.
Sony might have seemed an unlikely video game juggernaut back when, but the original PlayStation’s 32-bit bump revolutionised gaming, and then the PlayStation 2, which turned 20 in 2020, took things much, much further. The PS3 had its early missteps but ultimately proved itself essential, and then the PlayStation 4 has been an absolute smash from the start. And the PS5 is off to a stellar start already.
Along the way, PlayStation has brought us some of the most brilliant experiences in all of gaming, whether they’ve been Sony-made titles or third-party exclusives, and that’s true of both big AAA titles and tremendous indie gems.
It wasn’t easy to try and whittle down our huge starting list to just 25 picks, but we’ve done it anyway. So here are our 25 favourite PlayStation exclusives from across the years, including games that debuted first on a Sony console before spreading to others.
25) Silent Hill (PS1, 1999)
Resident Evil may have been first, but to many Silent Hill was the ultimate survival horror game. You found yourself lost in an eerie, fog-shrouded town as you searched for your daughter but instead discovered all manner of unmentionably horrific… things.
While Res Evil wasn’t exactly a gun-crazy killathon, Silent Hill took the survival bit to another level – for large parts of the game you were reliant on just your legs and your wits, plus a trusty iron bar. And if you did find a gun, you weren’t very good at shooting it. The atmosphere was unremittingly tense, with the ghostly soundtrack and murky visuals combining to leave you constantly on the edge of your seat. Creepy. As. Hell.
24) SSX (PS2, 2000)
You didn’t have to be a snowboarding fan to love the original SSX. Combining the addictive trickery of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with the exhilarating speed of Wipeout, it was the surprise hit of the PS2’s launch titles. The brilliantly designed courses seemed to go on forever, while razor-sharp controls and hidden tracks kept you coming back for one more stalefish.
23) God Of War (PS2, 2005)
Who knew that a gruff, ash-white-and-red guy would become such an engaging lead? Sony did, apparently, and Kratos has driven the God Of War series into the pantheon of all-time great action games. It started with the fantastic PlayStation 2 debut, which delivered epic showdowns against mythological bosses and incredible combo-driven combat, all while pushing the aging hardware to new heights.
22) BLOODBORNE (PS4, 2015)
Dark Souls is typically the game of choice for insanely tough action, and rightfully so, but we actually prefer the PS4-exclusive sister game, Bloodborne. Similarly, it’s intensely difficult and refuses to hold your hand – in fact, it’ll bat your hand away and chide you for even assuming you’d be assisted.
It’s dark and massively atmospheric, as you battle through gothic scenery to take down huge bosses and other grim foes. Given its tone, Bloodborne won’t be for everyone, but there’s deep satisfaction to be found – if you’re willing to work for it.
21) JOURNEY (PS3, 2012)
Plenty of the games on this list are big, thrilling action experiences, and it’s easy to see why those entries resonate with us so much… but Journey very much isn’t that type of game.
It’s small and meditative, as you guide a little hooded creature through the desert. And then you might find a companion – a real, online person – but you’ll never know his/her name or communicate with real words. But you’ll still work together to solve puzzles and navigate this dazzling world on your joint pilgrimage. And if you’re like us, you’ll never forget it.
20) Motorstorm (PS3, 2006)
Before its launch, Sony made outlandish claims about the crazy power of its PS3 console. Motorstorm proved those claims weren’t hot air. On the one hand it was a brutally quick arcade off-road racer that pitted hardy vehicles (cars, buggies, motocross bikes, trucks) against terrain that made the Paris-Dakar look like a nip down the supermarket. On the other, it was a thing of filthy beauty.
It occupied the Stuff team for a year’s worth of lunchtimes because it was both great to play and brilliant to watch, as its epic stacks resulted in a roar of schadenfreude and a movie-style deconstruction of a vehicle into a shower of springs, wheels and bits of mangled chassis. As much a spectator sport as a killer game.
19) HORIZON: ZERO DAWN (PS4, 2017)
Horizon: Zero Dawn has already catapulted into the pantheon of the greatest PlayStation exclusives to date. Guerrilla’s new franchise stars heroine Aloy as a hunter in a time of robotic dinosaurs and other pointy threats, which you’ll take down with precise arrow shots or a bit of melee combat.
But Horizon‘s biggest wow moments come from the stunning world and the genuinely interesting storyline. It’s huge, but also hugely impactful – and the upcoming sequel looks like another dazzling epic.
18) LittleBigPlanet (PS3, 2008)
It’s rare that a game is labeled an instant classic, but LittleBigPlanet was exactly that, and the series has since become a Sony staple for all ages. Not only did it deliver a unique platform-action experience with an amazingly distinctive aesthetic, but it also provided the tools to create your own experiences from scratch and share them freely online. It was already wonderful, but you could make it even greater.
17) Crash Bandicoot (PS1, 1996)
Where Nintendo had Mario, PlayStation had Crash – a cheeky, rambunctious marsupial with a fondness for collecting fruit, a love of jumping on boxes and a hatred of his creator and nemesis Dr Neo Cortex. While Crash may not have brought much originality to the platform genre, the first game in the series was at the time a high watermark for colourful graphics and the gameplay was perfectly poised between just-one-more-go addictiveness and argghh-how-can-you-do-that-to-me frustration.
16) Final Fantasy VII (PS1, 1997)
Final Fantasy VII heralded the arrival of the modern Japanese role-playing epic, thanks to its amazing CD-powered cinematic edge that made possible gripping cut-scenes and brought characters to life like never before. Sure, parts of the game are absolutely loony, and time hasn’t done this one any favours, but few games from this era elicit such strong emotional memories.
The recent FF7 Remake, which actually only contains a small chunk of the original game blown out into a full-fledged adventure (there’s more to come), is arguably a better place to start today.
15) Guitar Hero (PS2, 2005)
While PlayStation’s SingStar had given hairbrush crooners a competitive outlet for their warbling in 2004, air guitarists had been neglected until Guitar Hero came along.
With its colourful buttons, the shrunken, plastic axe used to play along to its catalogue of classics (and some rubbish funk-rock by the Red Hot Chili Peppers) might’ve looked a bit Fisher-Price, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who wasn’t riffing along with a huge grin (or puzzling grimace of concentration) plastered across their face within minutes of picking it up.
14) God of War (PS4, 2018)
The original God of War was influential and memorable in its own time, but after several similar entries, Sony wisely gave Kratos a few years off – and went back to the drawing board.
The new God of War on PlayStation 4 is the end result, and it’s a superb and stirring adventure about an older, gruffer warrior on a journey with his son. The presence of Kratos’ offspring doesn’t dull the action: with a new over-the-shoulder perspective, a battle axe, and a fresh North setting, God of War delivers intense moments on the regular.
Brilliant performances from both characters ultimately make this the definitive God of War experience, with the memorable father-son dynamic only amplifying the stakes amidst this gorgeous, yet brutal world.
13) Metal Gear Solid (PS1, 1998)
A landmark title in terms of storytelling, presentation and pioneering stealth-based gameplay, Metal Gear Solid was one of the first games that truly felt like an interactive movie. With copious amounts of voice acting and long, often meandering cutscenes, this was a game as concerned with telling a compelling tale and creating iconic characters as it was with its sneaking mechanics and combat.
And it’s all so very Japanese: despite its reliance on Hollywood tropes and characterisation, there’s a thread of self-knowing silliness running through it (and subsequent MGS games) that gives them a charm lacking in more po-faced Western-developed stealth titles.
From the moment Snake first sneaks around beneath a cardboard box, you’re aware that you’re playing something a bit special. And the fourth wallrupturing Psycho Mantis boss battle will be remembered as one of the 20th century gaming’s greatest moments.
12) Ico (PS2, 2001)
Ico was a new type of game, because it was as much art as game. It was beautiful. It had emotion, mystery and peril, but it was told without dialogue or violence.
You played a young boy with a wooden sword who finds a ghostly young girl trapped in an old fort full of nasty shadow spirits. It was your job to get her out, rather charmingly by holding her hand and escorting her through puzzles and mazes, letting go occasionally to batter back the ghosts.
Without it, games such as Flower, Journey, Never Alone and Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons would probably never have existed. Playing Ico is an utterly essential part of your gaming education.
11) Grand Theft Auto V (PS3/PS4, 2013/2014)
Remember when we used to get a new Grand Theft Auto game every year or two? Well, it’s been eight years since Grand Theft Auto V rolled out, and it’s still going strong: a consistent best-seller, a damn brilliant campaign, and an ever-updated online mode that still keeps pulling people in. It’s even getting an enhanced PS5 port later this year.
While previous entries may be more iconic and influential, Grand Theft Auto V absolutely lives up to the “latest and greatest” billing, delivering a more immersive city than ever, dazzling with its triple-protagonist storyline, and still feeling fresh and powerful after all this time. Still, we are absolutely itching for GTA6, whenever you’d like to get around to it, Rockstar Games.
Read More › Grand Theft Auto V review
10) Wipeout 2097 (PS1, 1996)
The original Wipeout might have introduced the series’ iconic anti-gravity racing premise, but its sequel Wipeout 2097 gave the game a heart and soul – and perhaps most importantly, bite. The result is flashy and fun, not to mention aggressive and challenging, with impeccable visual design and one of the greatest soundtracks ever assembled for a game. It’s still the high-water mark for this excellent franchise.
9) Tekken 3 (PS1, 1998)
Widely regarded as one of the best fighters of all time, Tekken 3 landed in PlayStation gamers’ homes a year after it first entered the world in arcade cabinet-form. Its side-scrolling fighter action threw in an element of 3D depth, allowing players to dodge attacks by jumping towards the background, and its roster of characters was about as diverse as you can get.
We each had our favourites of course, but we were always rather fond of Paul Phoenix’s incredible hair and Yoshimitsu’s sword-bouncing madness. Yes, we mashed the buttons in panic-stricken rage, but thankfully the on-screen action was still thrilling to behold.
8 ) UNCHARTED 4: A THIEF’S END (PS4, 2016)
Nathan Drake has led a rather exciting life in gaming, and we’ve enjoyed every moment of it along the way. But Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End sees the hero hang up his gun holster for seemingly the last time – and it’s an absolutely brilliant send-off. Not only does Uncharted 4 wrap up Drake’s story with an array of thrilling missions, but it also adds new strategic tweaks to the formula, offers amazing graphics, and has really fabulous character interactions. It’s not our all-time favourite Uncharted, but it’s damn close.
7) Pro Evolution Soccer 3 (PS2, 2003)
Some would say Sensible Soccer was the best footie game ever back in the 16-bit days. Some would argue that FIFA 15 on PS4 takes the honours. But for many, many people it’s PES from about 2001-2004.
Why Pro Evo 3 specifically? Well it’s the one with Pierluigi Collina on the front, for starters. But beyond that it nailed the balance between exciting goalfests and more realistic tactical battles, expanded the superb Master League and improved the graphics to the extent that some of the players really did look vaguely like those they were supposed to be.
We could easily have picked PES 4, which further expanded things and added a load of licensed teams, but it’s 3 that we remember most fondly on account of the sheer joy we got from crafting an eight-pass move finished with a flourish by a number 9 who looked a bit like Ruud Von Nistelroum.
6) Gran Turismo 2 (PS1, 1999)
The first Gran Turismo properly shook up the racing game genre with its utterly unbelievable graphics and simulation physics, but it’s the second game that casts the longest shadow over every car game that’s been released ever since. That’s because it combined that revolutionary realism and presentation with a huge package that included 27 tracks and no less than 650 cars. It was bewildering, big and brilliant. It still is.
5) TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER (PS1, 1999)
One of the most endlessly replayable games in PlayStation history, the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater not only defined the modern skating game experience, but also helped catapult skateboarding back into the mainstream consciousness.
Grinding through a shopping mall and pulling off constant 900s might not be realistic, but it sure as hell was a blast – and the next couple of games took the fun even further. Last year’s remake of the first two games is a brilliant way to revisit the glory.
4) UNCHARTED 2: AMONG THIEVES (PS3, 2009)
The first Uncharted impressed with its beautiful graphics and modernisation of the actionadventureexploration mix pioneered by earlier classics such as Tomb Raider – but its sequel turned everything up to 11.
With huge environments, phenomenal voice acting and motion capture and some of the most memorably audacious set pieces ever seen – or rather, played through – in a video game, not to mention a decent multiplayer mode, it established Naughty Dog as Sony’s premier subsidiary developer and became one of the PS3’s must-own exclusive titles.
The third Uncharted title, Drake’s Deception, was equally ambitious and a superb title in its own right, but arguably lacked the groundbreaking impact of Among Thieves, while the brilliant fourth, A Thief’s End, can be found a few entries higher up this list.
3) Resident Evil (PS1, 1996)
It’s hard to underestimate the impact of Resident Evil. There had been scary games before, sure, but Res Evil was a new, cinematic kind of scary in its approach to shocks. The most memorable of them – walking down a seemingly secure corridor you are suddenly pounced on by a bloodthirsty dog who’s jumped through the window – is enough to give us chills now, nearly 20 years later. Even when you’re prepared for it it shocks you.
It’s dated a lot of course. The graphics now look distinctly shonky, the voice-acting is famously hammy and you do seem to spend a lot of time just walking down corridors. But at the time, it was revolutionary, ushering in a world in which watching games could be as much fun as playing them. And as scary.
2) Grand Theft Auto III (PS2, 2001)
Looking at the highly polished, visually stunning and detailed cinematic masterpiece that is GTA V, it’s all too easy to forget about the ancestor that brought 3D shenanigans to Rockstar’s manic bullet-spraying crime-fuelled universe.
Jumping into Liberty City back in 2001 was like seeing colours for the first time. Up until that point, we’d only experienced GTA‘s magic from a top-down perspective, raining chaos down from the heavens. But walking through the grimy city streets, shooting enemies with proper sights and ploughing through traffic with tanks in glorious third-person 3D was a whole new world entirely.
1) The Last Of Us (PS3/PS4, 2013/2014)
For our money, there’s no finer PlayStation game than Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic action adventure. As a pure gaming experience, it’s an exhilarating blend of stealth, exploration, puzzle solving, item crafting and brutal combat that feels like a darker take on the same developer’s Uncharted series, but it’s when you place that gameplay in the context of one of the most maturely written, best-acted stories and most whollyrealised worlds in gaming history that The Last Of Us becomes something truly special.
Thematically spot on, impeccably presented and unafraid of taking its players to incredibly bleak places, it’s a game that felt – and still feels – truly special. Thankfully, last year’s sequel didn’t diminish the original gem: it was arguably just as impressive.