Playing PS2 games on the Steam Deck is a joy. Not only can the Steam Deck provide a faster experience, the visuals even best original hardware.
But with emulation comes a certain level of know-how. In this guide we’ll cover all the problematic areas like building a memory card and how to install BIOS files in an easy-to-understand way, complete with pictures for if you get stuck.
Boot into Desktop Mode
As with most Steam Deck things, we’ll be working in Desktop Mode. To enter this mode, boot up the Steam Deck as normal, then hold the Power Button until a menu appears. Click on Switch to Desktop, and after a few seconds you’ll be where you need to be.
How to Install PCSX2 on Steam Deck
There are two ways to install PCSX2 on Steam Deck. The first, and the easiest, is through EmuDeck. The second, is to install it through the Discover store. If you don’t know what the second option is, I’d go the EmuDeck route. Not only will EmuDeck install a bunch of different emulators, it’ll also configure each of them to work specifically with the Steam Deck and it’ll set up the whole file structure and folders for you.
Once that’s downloaded, open up the Dolphin File Explorer (the blue bag icon) and navigate to your Downloads folder. You should see a file named “EmuDeck.desktop”. Use the right trigger to click on this file twice to open it up.
Click on Execute and follow the on-screen instructions to install EmuDeck.
Note: I have EmuDeck installed on an SD card. If you’re not overly-familiar with the Steam Deck just yet, I’d suggest doing the same so our file paths are similar and easy to understand.
Where to Place PS2 Games
Once EmuDeck has finished installing, go back into the Dolphin File Explorer and locate the PS2 ROMs folder. For me, it’s installed to my SD card, so the path is as follows:
Primary > Emulation > Roms > PS2
Once you’re inside the PS2 folder, this is where you can place your ROMs (or likely ISO files).
If you’re unsure how to transfer files to the Steam Deck, specifically files from Windows to the Steam Deck’s Linux environment, I’ve got a guide that covers how to do that through a program called Warpinator.
How to Install PS2 Bios Files
Before we get into how to set up a PS2 BIOS in PCSX2, let’s talk about the BIOS files. I can’t tell you where to get them as it’s illegal to share them online. Yes, you can Google “PS2 BIOS files”, but the ones you’ll be downloading won’t be your BIOS files, and that’s where the law is clear. You can use your BIOS legally, but you can’t use one that’s been downloaded from a Reddit thread, for example.
With that out the way, let’s start getting your legal PS2 BIOS file up and running as without this file, your PS2 games won’t be able to boot.
Click on the start menu (the blue and white icon in the bottom-left of the screen), then go into All Applications, scroll to P, and click on PCSX2 with the right trigger.
PCSX2 will now open up in fullscreen mode. To make life easier, click on the fullscreen icon shown above to bring up the windowed version of PCSX2, then click on Settings.
You’ll notice a row of icons across the upper middle of the screen. Click on the one shown above that looks like a processor – that’s your BIOS settings icon.
This will bring up a new selection of settings. We want Change Search Directory. Click on that and you’ll be asked to point to where you keep your BIOS file or files.
For me, I’ve made a separate folder for the BIOSes outside of the Emulation folder. The reason being, if I need to uninstall EmuDeck or reset my Steam Deck, my BIOS files would be wiped. By making a new folder on my SD card, the files will persist if I uninstall EmuDeck or reset my Deck. Handy, right?
My path to my BIOS files is as follows:
/ > Run > Media > Mmcblk0p1 > Bios > PS2_Bios
Hit Open when you’re in your BIOS folder and PCSX2 will add all the files inside to the main emulator.
How to Create a PS2 Memory Card in PCSX2
PCSX2 has a save state function but it’s rubbish. Whenever you update PCSX2 via the online updater, there’s a chance your save states will become incompatible. That’s why you need to set up a PS2 memory card as this bypasses that problem.
To do this, head into Settings and click on the SD Icon shown above.
One of the options in the storage settings will be Create Memory Card. You guessed it, click on that.
Give your memory card a name in the top box, then select how much space you want to devote to the card. I went with 8 MB as this is the most compatible. Should you run out of space, you can create a new memory card and switch the old one out for the new one in the PCSX2 settings. It’s just like the actual PS2 experience in that regard, only virtual.
When you’re done, hit Create and that’s the PS2 memory card set up in PCSX2. You’re not quite done yet, though. Now, we need to set up the memory card in the PS2 BIOS.
How to Format the Memory Card in PCSX2
This is important: Close down PCSX2 and boot back into the main Gaming Mode. The reason for this is PCSX2 in Desktop Mode treats the Steam Deck as a PC, so when you boot into the BIOS, you won’t be able to control it properly.
Once the Steam Deck reloads and you’re looking at your game collection on the homescreen, head into your Library, then non-Steam Games, and find and open PCSX2.
Once it loads, use the D-pad to scroll to Start BIOS and click the A button to open it.
Once you’ve basked in the glow of PS2 nostalgia (we all do), press the Steam Deck’s A button on Browser.
You’ll be sent through to the memory card screen. Click on the memory card as shown above and follow the on-screen instructions to format the memory card.
Now whenever you boot up a PS2 game, the game will use this memory card as its place to store save game files. To save to the card, use it exactly like you would a real PS2 memory card (normally there’s an option in-game you’ll need to click to manually save).
How to Configure PCSX2 on Steam Deck
PCSX2 installed? Check. Memory card up and running? Also, check. Now let’s get into the fun stuff about see about making those games look their best.
If you’re still on the memory card screen, press the Steam button and close PCSX2. Now open PCSX2 back up.
Head into Settings and click on the wand icon shown above. Although EmuDeck should have pre-configured this, it’s worth double-checking what matters: Your renderer should be set to Vulkan and the aspect ratio to whatever you prefer. I’m a fan of 16:9 widescreen, but you may want it as 4:3. It’s up to you.
Once that’s done, scroll down slightly. Just a quick heads up, you may need to hold the Steam button in then use the right touchpad to bring up the mouse to let you scroll.
Under Internal Resolution, set this to 2x Native 720p if you’re playing in handheld mode. The Steam Deck’s resolution is capped at 720p, so going higher than this while in handheld mode isn’t worth it. If you’ve got your Steam Deck set up to play on the TV, however, that’s when you’d need to change the resolution.
Note: If you are using PCSX2 on a TV, it may be worth checking to see whether the resolution bump is worth it over using the Deck’s in-built FSR.
Useful Hotkey Commands
Hotkeys make life a lot easier. Press two buttons, something happens. Simple stuff. Plus knowing them also means you won’t accidentally hit a combo and screw your game up as well.
Below you’ll find the button presses worth knowing about. I will point this out now, though, I’ll also be referring to the picture and three lines buttons as Back and Start (back is on the left of the screen, start is on the right), because it’s much, much easier to understand.
- Back and Start – closes the game
- Back and R1 – creates a save state
- Back and the tight trigger – fast-forward
- Back and up on the D-pad – increases image scaling (sharper image)
- Back and down on the D-pad – decreases image scaling
- Hold the Steam button and click the right trigger twice – enable/disable fullscreen
As with all emulators, not every game will run perfectly. That said, PCSX2 is one of the best PS2 emulators out there, and compatibility is superb. Most games will run flawlessly without the need to mess with any settings.
All images captured on Steam Deck hardware.