It’s mostly forgotten now, but the PlayStation 3 actually had an incredibly rocky launch. The console’s architecture initially made it difficult to develop for, early exclusives were underwhelming, and the $599 price tag (roughly $800 in 2021 dollars) for the top end launch model was just too rich for many gamers.
But with time, those issues faded away. The higher price tag, due in part to the then-novel Blu-ray disc drive, just meant games could be larger and more detailed than ever before. Developers quickly adapted to the console, and now the PS3 is just as fondly remembered as any other Sony console.
As we look back at the 15th anniversary of the PS3’s launch, it’s time to rank the 20 games that still stand out as the very best on the console:
20. LittleBigPlanet 2
2011 | Media Molecule
LittleBigPlanet 2 is a solid platformer, but where the series has always shined is in its creation tools. While LittleBigPlanet wasn’t the first series to let gamers build their own levels, it’s still arguably the best, with the second game refining its world building suite so that anyone could make beautiful levels in just a few minutes. And if put real time into it, you can design levels that stand toe-to-toe with some professional developers.
Sadly, the permanent shutdown of servers in 2021 means that most of these creations just exist in the memories of gamers now (or YouTube, or PS3 hard drives if you were lucky enough to download them), but LittleBigPlanet 2 still deserves a place on this list for letting gamers create and share almost anything with the entire world, at least for a little while.
19. Resistance 3
2011 | Insomniac Games
Sony spent much of the 2000s trying to come up with a shooter franchise that could match the popularity and critical acclaim of Microsoft’s Halo games. The publisher never quite made it there, even after a half dozen Killzone and Resistance games, but Resistance 3 is easily the best of those efforts. The genius of Resistance 3 is that it doesn’t just try to be another military sci-fi shooter. Instead it leans hard into horror elements, making for a much more ambitious and sometimes terrifying game.
It’s really unfortunate that Sony and Insomniac moved on from the franchise after this third entry, as it seemed like the series had finally found its groove, but at least Insomniac has gone on to make some of Sony’s best exclusives.
18. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
2011 | Naughty Dog
It’s really difficult to make a great third game in a franchise, especially when the second entry is considered one of the best games of all time. Uncharted 3 never quite matches its predecessor. The pacing is just a little too uneven, and parts of the story don’t really make sense. Still, the shooting and puzzles are as strong as ever, and there are also some really exciting set pieces, especially in the game’s first half.
Naughty Dog is such an outstanding developer that even when it slightly misses the mark, the studio still manages to make one of the best games on the PS3, and one of the better trilogies of the generation.
17. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
2013 | Level-5
Almost a decade after release, there’s still an argument to be made that Ni no Kuni is the most beautiful game ever made. That’s thanks in large part to the involvement of the famed Studio Ghibli. The visuals still hold up as well as any of the anime studio’s classic films, and the game consistently impresses with journeys to new and gorgeous lands featuring lush forests or the icy tundra.
And while the combat system is a little more divisive, having to control and position familiars to set up special attacks actually makes for a much deeper experience than the typical JRPG, giving Ni No Kuni much more replayability than its contemporaries.
2011 | Atlus
Catherine is a complicated game to classify. At its core, it’s a puzzle platformer where you play as a young man who must climb towers of blocks to escape his nightmares. But what really terrorizes Vincent is his conflicted feelings over two women: his marriage-minded girlfriend Katherine and recent one-night stand Catherine.
This is a game that never shies away from adult topics like commitment and infidelity, but it also isn’t afraid to throw in regular supernatural twists, making for one of the more unique games of the era. Just the single player mode is well worth experiencing for any gamer, but completing the campaign also unlocks a multiplayer mode that’s surprisingly spawned a small but dedicated competitive community.
15. Batman: Arkham City
2011 | Rocksteady Studios
Arkham City is quite possibly the best depiction of the Dark Knight in any medium outside of comics. Rocksteady absolutely nailed everything about Batman’s character, from his detective abilities and brutal fighting skills, to his complicated relationships with friends and foes. They even added in a good chunk of his rogues’ gallery into a unique version of Gotham that should please any longtime Bat-fan. Even as more superhero games have hit consoles over the last decade, Arkham City still stands head and shoulders above the competition, and that’s even compared to its own next-gen sequel.
2012 | Thatgamecompany
Journey has often been called more of a work of art than a game. With its minimalistic gameplay, short runtime, and simple goal of reaching a mountain in the distance, that still holds true, but a better way to think about the game might be as something more of an interactive pilgrimage. Journey isn’t about scoring points or defeating enemies, it’s about creating an emotional experience, either by yourself or with another anonymous player, one that will hopefully mean learning something about yourself and not just the game. And while many other indie games have tried to match that experience over the years, none have yet to match the emotional response that Journey evoked on the PS3.
13. Dark Souls
2011 | FromSoftware
Yes, Demon’s Souls has its fans, but it’s really more of a first draft for what would eventually become one of the greatest video game series of all time. Dark Souls improved on its spiritual predecessor in every way, with more customization, a bigger and more intricate world, and even more fiendishly difficult enemies.
The replay value of Dark Souls is immense, with gamers still discovering new strategies and builds to conquer the game to this day. The fact that a game this infamously challenging still has players coming back to it for more punishment is a testament to its quality. There’s a reason why it spawned an entire sub-genre of ultra difficult action RPGs.
12. Infamous 2
2011 | Sucker Punch Productions
As great as superhero games can be, they’re always going to be held back by their source material. Mess with the powers of Superman or Spider-Man too much and fans will have a fit. That’s not to mention that DC and Marvel will only give developers so much leeway with how their characters are portrayed. But Sucker Punch got around those issues by just developing its own awesome superhero universe.
With his electric-based powers, Cole feels totally unique from any other superhero in gaming, and since he’s not attached a major comic universe, you’re free to go the evil route as you see fit. Sadly, the Infamous series kind of petered out after the disappointing Second Son on the PS4, but a new entry or remaster of the PS3 games would certainly be welcome now that it’s been a few years.
11. God of War III
2010 | Santa Monica Studio
God of War III fulfilled the promises of the first two games by delivering a truly epic conclusion full of massive set pieces. Just the first boss battle against Poseidon surpasses the final bosses in most other games, and the intensity is just ratcheted up from there with showdowns against mighty Titans and finally Zeus himself. Outside of the boss battles, God of War III delivers some of the most brutal combat on the PS3, ensuring its many battles feel satisfying until the very end.
10. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
2008 | Kojima Productions
Opinion on Guns of the Patriots has soured a bit since its original release. Admittedly, it’s not quite the game that we were promised, and the nigh-incomprehensible still requires some time with YouTube explainers to make any sense to anyone but the most hardcore Metal Gear fan. But what Guns of the Patriots did well was fully flesh out the stealth action gameplay that Kojima had been working on for a decade, before the series became something else entirely with The Phantom Pain. It’s the ultimate expression of his original vision for the franchise.
The psyche and stress meters, which can trigger buffs or ailments depending on how you approach different situations, still make for one of the more unique action games around, and it’s something I’d like to see Kojima experiment with in the future.
9. Grand Theft Auto V
2013 | Rockstar North
More than 155 million gamers (and counting) can’t be wrong. Grand Theft Auto V is a triumph of the open-world genre, mixing a lengthy and diverse campaign with writing on par with a Hollywood blockbuster and rock solid shooting and driving mechanics. And that’s before even digging into the nearly endless replayability of side activities and the online mode.
Admittedly, this is no longer the best version of GTA V to play, with the PS4 version surpassing it long ago (and a further upgraded PS5 port due next year), but that actually just makes it all the more impressive that Rockstar was able to cram such a feature rich game into the aging PS3 hardware.
8. Portal 2
2011 | Valve
The first Portal was fantastic, but it was really just proof of concept for this nearly flawless sequel, which ratcheted up the craziness of the first game with even better puzzles, more varied environments, and of course, the ever popular propulsion gel. Plus, GLaDOS turns into a potato. What’s not to love?
Portal 2 also has probably the funniest writing of any game ever made. It’s still highly quotable a decade later, and I’d argue that Cave Johnson’s hilarious lemon rant is the best monologue to ever make it into a video game.
7. Fallout: New Vegas
2010 | Obsidian Entertainment
New Vegas is a really great example of why modern games should be re-reviewed after launch once the bigger bugs are ironed out. The initial critical reception was positive, if a little subdued, due to technical issues, but most of those issues were patched out long ago. The version of New Vegas that you can experience now is a masterpiece, featuring a massive desert map with surprises around every corner, some of the best dialogue in any RPG (with real choices that impact the story), and ridiculously deep customization options.
Fallout 3 helped revitalize the franchise for modern audiences. Fallout 4 might be more technically impressive, but New Vegas remains the very best true roleplaying experience in the franchise.
2007 | 2K Boston
The initial transition to HD consoles was a little rough, but BioShock was the first truly great game of the era, showing that developers could master these new consoles. The game’s artistic vision is still unmatched, with a beautiful art deco style and incredible dissection of objectivism and 20th century utopianism that permeates every corner of the game.
The choice to save or harvest Little Sisters is still one of the toughest in gaming. There’s also the infamous “Would you kindly?” twist, which still represents some of the best writing in a video game ever.
But even putting all that aside, the combat is head and shoulders above most games, with a huge number of choices for which plasmids you’re going to equip for each encounter and how they’ll react to the environment. Or you can take the more strategic route and attempt to hack machines and turrets to complete your mission.
BioShock’s combat and storytelling have inspired dozens (maybe even hundreds) of games since release, but precious few have come close to matching this masterpiece.
5. Mass Effect 2
2010 | Bioware
The entire Mass Effect trilogy is still well worth playing, but the second chapter stands out as BioWare’s magnum opus. The combat is drastically improved over the first game (and easily on par with dedicated third-person shooters of the era), and the developer really nailed the importance of choice better than any other RPG.
Of course, there are the little things like which class and weapons you equip, but throughout the entire 30-hour adventure, you’re also making difficult choices about who you want by your side, how loyal they’re going to be to you, and ultimately what roll your allies will take in the final, epic “suicide mission.” But unlike other games, those choices actually carry major weight not in the ending, but in how the final title in the sci-fi trilogy plays out.
4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
2011 | Bethesda Game Studios
Look, we all want The Elder Scrolls VI at this point, but the fact is that after a decade Skyrim still holds up as a remarkable achievement in the RPG genre. Yes, the main quest is a little lacking, but that’s always been the case with The Elder Scrolls series. The game world is still absolutely massive, with tons of secrets and procedurally generated encounters that always keep the game fresh.
Then there are the nearly limitless options for customizing your character. Argonian sorcerer? Dark elf berserker? Or maybe just Homer Simpson with a giant club. The possibilities really are limitless in Skyrim. And even after multiple re-releases on more powerful hardware, it still looks pretty good on the PS3.
3. Red Dead Redemption
2010 | Rockstar San Diego
When Red Dead Redemption was first announced, no one areally knew what to expect beyond maybe “Grand Theft Auto with horses.” Sure, there are some surface similarities, but Red Dead Redemption actually surpasses Rockstar’s other big franchise thanks to its much more personal story about running from your past and the inevitability of progress.
It also features even better mission design than most of the GTA series, with excellent gunplay that always keeps in mind the era its portraying. This is the closest you’ll ever get to living the life of a wild west outlaw, and in some ways it’s even better than the sometimes too realistic sequel.
2. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
2009 | Naughty Dog
Among Thieves was the game that helped turn Sony’s fortunes around after the PS3’s early struggles. The game is a cinematic masterpiece that grabs you and never lets you go until the end. The opening train car level still remains one of the best first levels in gaming, and things only get more wild from there, with an over the top vertical firefight on top of a monastery and a treacherous climb up an icy cliff.
But the best thing about Uncharted 2 is that it always puts the player in control of these set pieces. It would much rather let you play than have you sit through a lengthy cutscene. It’s a master class in the power of interactive entertainment and video games as an art form.
1. The Last of Us
2013 | Naughty Dog
The Last of Us is a tough game to get through. It’s not that it’s that it’s overly difficult or long, it’s just exceedingly bleak. The game opens with the beginning of a fungal outbreak that decimates humanity and the death of protagonist Joel’s daughter. Flash forward 20 years later and things have only gotten worse. Joel finds the daughter he lost in Ellie, a young girl who may be the key to curing the plague, but if you’ve made it to the end of the game, you know that it’s far from an easy adventure or happy ending for the two of them.
Still, there is immense beauty here, in the quiet moments Joel and Ellie share as they make their journey across the United States, and the often lighthearted dialogue they exchange while solving puzzles. But these moments never last long. The infected and the brutality of this post-apocalyptic world lurk around every corner. It’s a gut wrenching experience from start to finish, but an incredibly well told one made with a level of polish far beyond most other games, and for that it’s easily the best game on the PlayStation 3.