Published on August 29, 2020
Updated on August 27, 2022

How to Play PS2 Games on Your Windows PC with PCSX2

The PlayStation 2 remains the best-selling console of all time and the most appreciated hardware among gamers. At the time, the PS2 came out as a surprise that not so many expected it to be consumed by half of the planet. The aforementioned was a revolutionary hit that introduced several new mechanics, improved graphics, and a slew of new genres that are explored to this very day.

Nevertheless, after the console was discontinued, it remained inside so many people’s memory. This, in particular, pushed die-hard fans to strive hard and bring us an emulator that paved the way to so many who missed a couple of games at the time, or those who are still discovering the console. The emulator which I’m talking about is called PCSX2.

Note that this emulator will not work properly for those who are using a low-end PC. Some games may work, but others will struggle to run at a decent speed.

In this guide, we will be talking about how to play PS2 games on your PC. The guide will help you understand how the emulator works, and how you can squeeze every drop of performance from your PC to run the emulator at a playable state.

Notice: I try to constantly update each emulator guide to be as accurate, helpful and fun to read as possible. Thank you.

Table of Contents

What is PCSX2?

PCSX2 is a free open source PS2 emulator which was initially released back on March 23, 2002. The emulator, unfortunately, couldn’t emulate anything back then. Years after, it was capable of running a slew of games at a decent speed with few minor hiccups here and there.

The major advantage of using PCSX2 over the PS2 console is that the emulator is that it allows custom resolution up to 4096×4096, Texture filtering, Anti-Aliasing to look better than the original game. Sometimes these features put other remasters to shame, and that’s funny, to be honest.

Is PCSX2 Safe?

PCSX2 emulator is completely safe. Just make sure to download it from the official website and not somewhere else no matter how tempting it may sound. Always stick to official websites.

The emulator is still active, and every once in a while a dev build is released for the public to test and report any changes. Honestly, you have nothing to fear using this emulator.

Where Do I Download PCSX2 Emulator From?

You can download PCSX2 from the official website by clicking on ” Download Get PCSX2 here”. By pressing the tab, a new window shows up showing which version you want. PCSX2 is compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac. You can get the one that is compatible with your system. There are many versions of PCSX2. The current one is called PCSX2 1.6.0, but you can always download previous versions (not recommended) or stick with the dev build which fixes some minor issues the official version doesn’t do. However, it can also introduce several other issues with working games. Hence, why I advise having at least 2 versions of PCSX2. One that is official and one that is in development.

So, after you pressed to download PCSX2. One window shows up with two options. PCSX2 standalone installer or PCSX2 Windows Binary. Basically, the difference between these two is simple. The first one is missing the bios files which can easily be obtained online and pasting them into the BIOS files in the PCSX2 folder. The other version has everything you need but it will require you to install Visual C++ 2015-2019 x86 Redistributable in order for it to work.

What’s The Difference Between PCSX2 Stable Releases and Git Revisions?

There are two things to know about PCSX2. The first is that there is a stable release, and the second one is that there are git revisions aka PCSX2 Development Builds. The official stable releases come packed with all the features you need for the emulator. Meanwhile, the git revisions introduce new features and fixes to games that suffered from major issues, but these git revisions may sometimes be unstable. Tho, it’s better to have both the Stable and Dev build. You can download these from the official PCSX2 page.

Can Your PC Run PCSX2?

PCSX2 is renowned for being a resource-heavy emulator, but thankfully, your rig can run it if you meet the recommended requirements. According to the official PCSX2 website, the recommended settings are as follows:

– Windows 10 (64 bit)
– A DirectD11 and OpenGL 4.5 capable card ( like GTX 1050TI and above)
– A processor with more than 4 cores for great performance

Note:  These requirements may vary from one game to another. For instance, light games may not require all that power to run at a decent speed. You could have a blast with i5 6660k paired with GTX 750TI if you are just going to play games like Maximo for instance. Before I close this section, take a look at PCSX2’s CPU-intensive games, and PCSX2’s GPU-intensive games for further information.

How To Install PCSX2 Emulator?

Installing PCSX2 is easy and doesn’t require much thinking. After you have finished downloading the emulator, launch the setup. A window will show up like the one above you. Select ” Portable Installation “, and then launch the emulator.

Skip the plugin selection part and jump straight to the BIOS selection. The emulator won’t work without one, so make sure you have it before attempting to boot any game. The BIOS can be either downloaded online or dumped using your own console.

Create a folder inside the PCSX2 folder, and name it BIOS. Then, browse to where the files are located. If nothing shows up after this, click on “refresh list” and the files should show up. After that, choose the BIOS you want.

How to Setup My Controller on PCSX2?

After you have finished setting up PCSX2, configuring your controller comes next. Playing PS2 games with a controller is your best choice. And luckily, the software allows you to use any kind of controller you want as long as it’s either DirectInput or Xinput. PCSX2 also supports controllers like a driving wheel, mouse and keyboard, Dualshock3, or Xbox One controllers.

To set up your controller, you basically launch the emulator click on ” Config ” then ” controllers (PAD)” and then ” ”plugin settings ”. A window will show up and from that destination, it should be quite easy to advance.

The screenshot above shows the button mappings. Try to map them accordingly to the console, if you don’t have any idea of what you are doing, check this picture for further help. PCSX2 also allows up to 4 controllers so you can have fun with your friends.

What is EmotionEngine & IOP

Understanding what is EmotionEngine (EE) and IOP is important in PCSX2.  These are the core components of the PlayStation 2 that are intended for accurately emulating the system. Below I’ll try to explain what each of these settings represents:

  • EE/IOP: Stands for Emotion Engine and Input-Output Processor. The first time you boot PCSX2 both EE/IOP will be set to Recompiler as this grants a speedup in most of your games. Use this if you just want to chill with your games and have some fun. When it comes to Interpreter this option is slow and is only recommended for debugging purposes.
  • EE/FPU Advanced Recompiler Options – Round Mode: Usually, most of your games will run using the default settings which in this case is Chop/Zero. However, since some games suffer from some issues, you’ll be obliged to sometimes tinker with the settings.
  • Clamping Mode: Similar to Round Mode some games may require changing the settings so the games will work properly. It’s best to just leave the settings how it is and instead enable Automatic Game Fixes on the emulator by launching PCSX2 > Search for the System tab above > Automatic Game Fixes

VUs stands for Vector Units which are the co-processors of the Playstation 2 working in conjunction with the EE and IOP. The original PS2 system had two processors called VU0 and VU1. PCSX2 has these options for accuracy purposes. Let’s check below what each of the settings from that tab represents:

  • Interpreter: similar to EE/IOP only choose this option for debugging purposes.
  • MicroVU Recompiler: The default recommended option due to the high compatibility, stability and accuracy.
  • SuperVU Recompiler [Legacy]: The old recompiler of VU. It is no longer in development. If you use it, you’re bound to run into slowdowns and bugs. Only use this for debugging purposes

Here we are the GS tab. The option stands for Graphics Synthesizer which handles the rendering of the graphics of the Playstation 2. Let’s check below what each setting represents:

  • Disable Framelimiting: Only use this option if you want your game to run above 60FPS. It can be either activated from here or by using F4. While this option is great in theory, it may make some games faster than the hardware which will kind of break them. It is recommended to just ignore this option.
  • Frame Skipping:  This is a technique on PCSX2 that skips drawing a couple of frames of a game that gives the impression that it’s running smoother when full speed cannot be achieved. If you have a low-end PC you can use this, but beware enabling this will cause stutters, glitches, bugs at certain games. Only use it at your own risk.
  • Use Synchronized MTGS: Another option that is only for troubleshooting potential bugs. It is very very slow.

PCSX2 Speedhacks

This method will really come in handy once you get used to it. This basically controls your CPU usage. It will either improve some games or make them far worse. That is why it’s wise to always check an eye out on the official pcsx2 wiki for certain fixes.

One thing I should remind you is that once you launch the emulator first time, you’ll notice that the MTVU (Multi-Threaded microVU1) is disabled. If you have a processor with more than 4 cores, then why not enable it? You’ll notice a huge boost in performance compared to when it’s disabled.

This technique will help you with intensive games such as God of War, Jak and Daxter II, Shadow of the Colossus, Ratchet, and Clank. These games are considered CPU eaters as they put a potato CPU to its knees and eat it for breakfast.

PCSX2 Game Fixes

This section is for games that have certain issues. It can either be fixed manually using speed hacks, patches you’ll find online from the official PCSX2 wiki site, or this section. By hovering your mouse on tabs, you will notice a text will popup up informing you what benefits the game fixe may provide. If you are still not sure what you are doing, check the wiki site I provided.

How to Enhance the Graphics using PCSX2?

In this section,  we’ll see how you can improve the graphics using the emulator to look better than the real thing. Sometimes upscaling can introduce a few minor graphical glitches, but these can be easily fixed with simple tweaks.  Check the information below

Launch the emulator, head to Config > Video (GS)  > Plugin Settings. A small window will pop up with several options. Each option you pick has its own features. See below

Video Settings

In this section, you are able to optimize your games to run at any resolution you want. Either 720p or 1080p or even at 4k. However, note that higher resolutions will always require a capable GPU (GTX 1650Super and above) as PCSX2 is resource-heavy. Increasing your internal resolution can be achieved by going to the section with the same name and changing from ” native ” to any resolution you want.

Not only that, but PCSX2 also has anisotropic Filtering which can reach up to 16x if your hardware is capable of course. Otherwise, you can put it on 2x and the game will look better than the real thing.

Advanced Settings and Hacks

Some games on PCSX2 used to run at 15 frames per second due to how demanding they were back then. A fine example is Shadow of The Colossus. Luckily, with PCSX2 this is not an issue. The emulator has a tool called ”HW Hacks” which can be seen on the screen above. HW Hacks used with Speedhacks can boost the performance by a mile compared to the original hardware. But once again, it is recommended reading this to check the wiki before attempting to do anything on the emulator.

In addition, some games may not run properly when using the ” OpenGL Renderer”. Luckily, you can always switch to Software mode which uses your CPU instead. The only downside to using Software is that games are blurry to look at.  Luckily, You can always switch to ” Directx11 renderer” which is the opposite of software mode. However, with how PCSX2 is going now, ” OpenGL Renderer ” is your best choice as every update makes it more and more near perfection.

Finally, similar to the” game fixes ” section. HW Hacks can help fix some minor issues like shadows, glitches, or certain artefacts by enabling ” alpha correction ” when using DirectX renderer. OpenGL may fix them or not on the other hand as it depends entirely on the game.

Software Renderer and OpenGL/Direct3D11 Renderer: What’s the Difference?

For the sole purpose of this explanation, I used the first Shadow Hearts game. This particular game works better using the Direct3D11 renderer according to the PCSX2 wiki. While OpenGL renderer is faster in most cases, with this game it’s slow. Software Mode should fix all your issues on your games, but as you can see above, it’s blurry and pixelated. So what is the difference between these three? Let’s check below:

OpenGL: This renderer is the most accurate renderer right now. For games such as Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy it emulates mostly everything from the original console. People are recommended to use this as it uses both CPU and GPU in a balanced way. The renderer also offers speed, great performance and compatibility with many games from the PCSX2’s games library.

Direct3D11: Less accurate and slow at times, but it works best with some games like Shadow Hearts 1. It uses mostly your GPU more than CPU.

Software: Closest experience to the PS2 hardware in terms of visuals. This renderer emulates mostly everything from the original hardware. However, bear in mind that some games suffer from severe slowdowns that will deem the experience not enjoyable. Use this when nothing else works for you.

How to Play PS2 Games on PC

After you have set up your games into the folder you wanted, it’s time to run the game. Head to CDVD on your emulator > ISO Selector, and then Browse or choose the game you want to run. I highly recommend dumping your PCSX2 with all of the games on the D/drive to avoid all issues. Next, go to System > Boot ISO (Fast). That’s it, you are good to go now.

What’s the Difference Between Full Boot and Fast Boot?

The difference is simple. Fast Boot only launches your game instantly, while Full Boot goes through the process of launching the PlayStation 2 BIOS along with the logo. The fast boot option also bypasses the BIOS region check, saving you from the hassle of encountering several issues that’ll block the game from starting up. Bear in mind that a small percentage of games on the PS2 library (e.g Amplitude) will require a full boot option to run correctly. Still, the fast boot option should run 90% of your games just fine.

How to Save/Load Your Progress

So you’ve been probably playing for hours and you decided to save your progress and call it for today. Well, you can use the save game feature which is inside the game itself. Or, you can press F1 to save. If you want to load just press F3. But beware that some games may delete your in-game save or corrupt your memory which will lead to re-formatting it so that it will work once again.

How to Access Your Memory Card

In case you didn’t know, the standard PlayStation 2 memory card has an 8 MB capacity. You may sooner or later run into ” insufficient space in the memory card ” if you don’t bother with deleting your saved games. That is why accessing your memory card and deleting what you saved is important. Of course, you’re not obliged to wipe out the entire memory card. Only games that you may not come back to anymore, or games that provide no replay value.

To access your memory card on pcsx2, first, go to CDVD and click on no disc as shown below:

Then go to System and click on Boot BIOS.

Upon doing this, the Original PS2 BIOS interface will be launched. You’ll arrive at a screen like this with rotating circles.

From here, it is easy, just click on “Browser “. Two memory cards will be shown, pick which one you saved your games into and access it. You should see your saved games’ icons like this:

From here, it’s pretty simple. Pick whichever game save icon you want to delete and press the PlayStation 2’s X button. Upon pressing, you’ll see a small window like this:

Press Yes to delete your saved game, or No to cancel. That’s pretty much it. Once your saved game is deleted, it’s gone forever and you can’t bring it back.

How to Troubleshoot Game Issues on PCSX2

For starters, not every game will run flawlessly on the emulator. Some games suffer from graphical glitches that render the game somewhat unplayable. To stay up-to-date with which game has issues and how to fix them, check the PCSX2 Wiki. It’ll be of help for you the moment you need it.

A Few Extra Tips

Here are a couple of tips that could help you with PCSX2:

Full Screen

To run full screen using PCSX2 emulator, you just press the emulator two times with your mouse or press Alt+Enter and press once again to exit it.

Fast Forward

You’ll stumble across several games that have unskippable cutscenes, and it’s tiring, right? Well, you can fast-forward them by pressing Tab on your keyboard which speeds up the game by 400%. So, there you go, mission accomplished.

How to Hide the Console Window When Launching PCSX2 for The First Time

The first time you launch the emulator, you will notice a small window with several numbers and texts on it. If you are someone who cares about such a thing, you can leave it, but if you are annoyed with seeing it every time, you can just press the X icon. Or go to misc, show console in order to hide it completely.

How to Capture Screenshots

PCSX2 allows you to take capture your moments and record all of your progress. To take a screenshot manually go to Capture > Screenshot. Alternatively, click F8 on your keyboard. To record your progress, go to Capture > Record. Alternatively, press F12 on your keyboard. All of your recordings and screenshots will be found on the snaps folder located in your PCSX2 folder.

That’s it for the guide, thank you for reading!

Avatar photo

I'm just your average gamer who enjoys hunting hidden gems and underrated games. My love for Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams is like a truck and I recommend that you play it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *