Inside the controversial PS2 games that got banned for ‘extreme’ content

If the launch of the PS5 wasn't enough to make you feel old, this month marks 22 years since the release of the Sony Playstation 2.

The bestselling console of all time sold more than 155 units worldwide, and paved the way for many of the major franchises gamers enjoy today, from Ratchet & Clank and Shadow of the Colossus to Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill.

However, the PS2's booming popularity also created a panic among parents and professional busybodies around the world, who were not only worried about kids getting too much screentime, but some of the more adult games that were available on the platform.

In some cases, PS2 games were considered so extreme that they were banned or even censored.

Here's our look back at some of the most controversial PS2 games that were taken off the market.

'Manhunt': "the most violent game ever made" banned in 2003

Perhaps the most controversial PS2 game to ever release was Manhunt. The game follows a death row prisoner who is forced to take part in a series of snuff films by murdering criminal gangsters on camera.

The stealth / horror game sees players hide in the shadows and perform three levels of execution with a series of weapons, including 'gruesome' executions which include a lot of fake blood.

Although the graphics look tame by today's comparison, Manhunt was undoubtedly very violent. One writer for the Chicago Tribune defended it, but admitted it was "easily the most violent game ever made" and likely to "be dismissed by many as a disgusting murder simulator with no reason to exist."

Manhunt caused a huge stir, getting banned in several countries including New Zealand in 2003. It was even implicated in the murder of 14-year-old Stefan Pakeerah in 2004, with the victim's parents claiming that the game had influenced his murderer's actions.

Take-Two Interactive, which made the game, released a statement denying the claims, saying "At sentencing the Judge, defense, prosecution and Leicester police all emphasized that Manhunt played no part in the case."

However, that didn't stop games shops like GAME and Dixons from dropping the game from their stores.

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'50 Cent: Bulletproof' let you kill people who begged for mercy

As Playstation games evolved into a multibillion dollar industry in the early 2000s, so too did rap music, which led to a number of rappers featuring in or releasing their own videogames. For example, Snoop Dogg featured in True Crime: Streets of LA as a playable character, while 50 Cent was the star of his own videogame.

50 Cent: Bulletproof saw players take on the role of 50 Cent as he sought out revenge on a gang of hitmen who tried to murder him. The game, which featured plenty of shooting and explosions, also featured the likes of Dr Dre as an arms dealer and Eminem as a corrupt police officer.

Although the game was a commercial and critical flop, it still ruffled enough feathers to get banned in Australia due to its 'ultra-violent' content.

The Australian Classification Board, which gives age ratings to games, noted that many violent sequences were in slow-motion with "some zooming on the action and the moment of death", plus "some victims scream, moan or beg before they are killed" and in one level, an injured victim can be shot and killed as they crawl away. They refused to give it an age rating, making it impossible to buy in the country.

This was after 50 Cent himself reportedly told parents to buy the game for their kids. He said: "Just because it is rated Mature doesn't mean you shouldn't buy it for your kids. Play the game and explain to them what they are playing."

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'Bully' was called a 'Columbine simulator' and dropped by Currys and PC World

It may come as no surprise that some of the most controversial games have been enormously popular titles from Rockstar Games, the makers of Grand Theft Auto, which frequently explore violence, drugs and sexual themes in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

'Bully' was no different, and caused huge controversy in many different countries for tying violence to schoolchildren. It followed a teenage rebel as he completed missions in an open world populated with school stereotypes such as Bullies, Nerds, Greasers, Preppies, and Jocks.

The game features Beano-style weapons like slingshots, marbles, baseball bats, and spud guns, as well as vehicles such as skateboards, scooters, bicycles and go-karts.

The game was divisive because of its alleged sexual content, which saw Jimmy performing favours in order to get kisses from both girls and boys. In the US, famed anti-game activist Jack Thompson called the game a 'nuisance' and a 'Columbine simulator', referring to the Columbine school mass shooting in 1999. It was removed from shelves in Currys and PC World in the UK, and fully banned in Brazil.

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GTA: San Andreas had a secret sex simulator level that nearly saw the series banned

Perhaps the most infamous Rockstar game to attract the ire of censors was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

The 2004 instalment in the popular open-world series saw you take up the role of CJ, who gets drawn back into a life of crime after his mum is murdered.

The game was a huge hit for its iconic world and gameplay, but one hidden level almost got it banned entirely.

Eagle-eyed gamers found that Rockstar had designed and then removed a sex simulator that let you enter CJ's girlfriends' houses and take part in a pixelated sex mini-game.

Although it was removed before release, a 'Hot Coffee mod' made it possible to access the deleted scenes. Take-Two faced a legal storm in the US where it was forced to pay millions of dollars in consumer fraud class action lawsuits.

The original game was banned in Australia and removed from the shelves of major shops across the US and UK.

It may be almost 22 years since the launch of the Playstation, and in that time no link between videogames and violence has been definitively proven. But, as these once-censored games show, that won't stop some people from trying to ban them anyway.

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