For years Windows has had a huge lead in emulating the Sony PlayStation 2 thanks to PCSX2, but recently, there's been traction on updating the mac port of PCSX2, now complete with Metal (Apple's Graphics API) support. This recent development makes performance better than ever for Mac users. PCSX2 also has a mobile offshoot, AetherSX2, that has now been brought to macOS for Apple Silicon users.
Advantages over a real PS2
- Better visual fidelity, Ability to play in high definition, 4k and beyond!
- Faster load times
- Freeze states allow games to be resumed instantaously
- Ability to have virtual memory cards and download save states
- Ability to load in high resolution texture packs for games.
This guide will cover the basics of playing PS2 games on your Mac. The things you will need:
- A (semi) modern Mac. Playstation 2 emultion doesn't require bleeding edge hardware but fthe faster the computer, better the results.
- A game controller (preferrably a PS3 or PS4 or PS5 controller) with the appropriate cabling to connect it to your Mac.
- Playstation 2 Games
That's it. Used Playstation controllers are easy to come by as are used games. This is relatively cheap endevour as there's a good chance you already have a controller and a USB cable to connect it to your Mac and even possible the games.
Downloading the Emulator
For the first step, you'll need to download the correct emulator for your Mac. Since Metal is a recent addition to these emulators, we'll want the bleeding edge versions. Intel Mac users will download the nightly build of PCSX2 and Apple Silicon users download the nightly build of AehterSX2.
Once downloaded, decompress the emulator. To open it for the first time on macOS 11 Big Sur or later, you must click right and select open to allow the application to open.
The user interfaces of AetherSX2 and PCSX2 are nearly identical since AtherSX2 is a port of PCSX2, the biggest visual difference being the color of the menus. Since they are so similar for the remainder of this guide, the instructions are the same regardless of what emulator you are using.
Playstation 2 Bios
Next, you will need to obtain the Playstation 2 bios. Bios is the firmware for the Playstation 2 that also contains its basic operating system. However, downloading it is legally grey at best, so I will not directly link it, but it can be easily found using popular search engines or manually dumped from a physical PS2 for those who want to be 100% legal.
The Playstation bios will need to be placed in a folder. Then within the emulator, go to Preferences -> Bios and point the emulator's BIOS directory to your PS2 Bios. If the bios are correct versions, they should appear in the emulator's list.
Physical PS2 games can be dumped into ISO or even inserted into a DVD drive and played on your Mac (if you have a DVD drive). Games dumped as ISOs can be placed into a folder and displayed in a list format for easy browsing. From the Preferences, select the games list and add your folder to the games directory. If your folder has folders inside of it, allow it to scan recursively.
Creating ISOs using your Mac is pretty easily. If you have a DVD Drive equipped Mac, you create a ISO by doing the following:
- Launch Disk Utility on your Mac (it's located in Applications -> Utilities)
- Insert the game disk into your DVD drive
- Right click the disk from the right hand corner, and right click it, use the "Create Image from..." option. This will likely take several minutes.
- Set the "Image Format" to "DVD/CD Master." Click the "Save" button
- Go to the location where you saved the disk image, and change the file name suffix from ".cdr" to ".iso".
Please do not ask me for games, yes they exist on the internet. Yes you can download them but I will not respond to requests on where to download them.
While you can play PS2 games with a mouse and keyboard, the best way to enjoy PS2 games is to use a controller, preferably a Sony Playstation controller. The Sony Playstation 3, 4, and 5 controllers are all great candidates as they can be directly plugged into your Mac via USB. Once plugged into, go to Controllers under the settings menu and select first player controller. In the upper right-hand corner, select Automatic Binding and find your controller from the list. The emulator will automatically map the controller buttons.
Easily one of the best features of the PS2 emulator is the ability to enjoy old titles in HD. 3D games (games using polygons) will render natively, even up to 4k (or beyond), resulting in much sharper and clearer graphics. From the settings menu, select graphics. Make sure the emulator is using the Metal renderer.
The Rendering tab contains a plethora of options, but the two that are of the most interest are the Internal Resolution and Anisotropic filtering. The internal resolution will define what resolution you are playing games at. Anisotropic is a less noticeable but loved feature that affects how textures are rendered at extreme angles. The higher the filtering, the sharper textures will be when viewed from extreme angles. Both features come at a significant performance cost. It's best to play with the settings to find out what works for your Mac. Modern Macs with beefier CPUs and GPUs will be able to produce better results.
Some of the graphics fidelity options is a trial and error approach as not all games will perform the same, and different portions of games may perform differently. I suggest playing around after you've managed to successfully play a few games for a bit then experimenting.
The original PS2 shipped with 8 MB cards and supported up to 64 MB cards. For a modern computer these are trivial amounts of space, and memory cards can be created and managed in the emulator's Memory Card section in the settings. Virtual memory cards can be downloaded from various sites with preloaded save states.
To manage saves on Memory cards, boot into the PS2's bios. This will allow you to manage the memory cards like a regular Playstation 2.