Review by BigCj34

Reviewed: 02/22/07

Sony's second success story, with a great games library and other things, could it be their last?

Sony’s first attempt in the gaming market got off with a bang with the first PlayStation in 1995, trouncing perhaps it’s closest rival, the Sega Saturn from a number of reasons mainly due to better marketing and being available to develop games for due to architectural differences between the two consoles, while beating the N64 by using cheaper higher-capacity CD’s than cartridges. Needless to say the PlayStation was a success, eventually spawning the PS2 release in 2000, beating the Dreamcast with it’s brand-name dominance (especially from Sega’s cascading list of failures) from game series such as Tekken, Gran Turismo, Ridge Racer, Crash Bandicoot and others to find a new home on the PS2.

The PlayStation 2 got off to a fast start despite a lack of killer titles in it’s launch collection, with key factors such as PSone backward compatibility, the PlayStation brand strength and DVD playback ensuring it to be a fast seller. The PS2 eventually saw itself competition with Microsoft’s Xbox and the GameCube, both being better than the PS2 in terms of hardware and the Xbox’s online play approach with Xbox live drove Sony to create their own network service through the addition of a network adapter, but despite it being free it was not as successful as Xbox live. The PS2 was scaled down to a third of it’s original size with the slim-line release in 2004 in-line with the GTA: San Andreas release, featuring a built in network port and slightly improved backward compatibility, and the removal of the expansion bay so you can’t put in a hard drive, with the release mainly to save production costs for Sony.

The initial PlayStation 2 looks like a serious piece of hardware, although now in 2007 you’d laugh at the size of a console from its obsolete graphic power, and is slightly wider than the original PlayStation and deeper. The PS2 can also be stood up (the PS logo can even be rotated to adapt to the look), stabilised by buying a stand in case horizontal space is limited. Two control ports are present, along with 2 USB 1.1 ports, a form of firewire and i-link ports for connecting two consoles together. The expansion bay is located at the back for addition of a hard disk drive or a network adapter, plus the disk drive is front-loading.

The slimline PS2 maintains the basic look of the original, but far smaller and more living-room friendly, but the disk tray is a mechanical top-loading like with the PSone (good in the sense that it is less likely to break, although annoying if you want it standing on the side), plus is stripped of the i-link port, the expansion port but has the network port built in. Where both PlayStation 2 designs look the part, the real criticism is the featuring of only two control-ports thus making it the only console of it’s generation of the Dreamcast, Gamecube and Xbox to feature two, not four. A multi-tap can be bought, but you don’t get the ready-made multiplayer party-madness as the other three.

So the real question is, with the technically superior Xbox and Gamecube to compete with, how did the PlayStation 2 win? One simple answer, the games. While the Xbox is better than the PlayStation 2 in just about every way except size, the PlayStation 2 had the stronger games library, especially with it’s popularity in Japan bringing out plenty of RPG’s including, of course, Final Fantasy. The Xbox’s support was mainly from North America and Europe and had limited success in Japan, while the lack of storage capacity of Gamecube disks in an attempt to prevent piracy meant that many titles didn’t see their way to them due to the game sizes being too big and would’ve had to have content reduced, impossible in games such as the GTA series. Another advantage of the PS2 was it’s head start, although as we saw with the Dreamcast it doesn’t always guarantee success! However a formidable games library was present for the PS2 before the other two were off the production belts.

In terms of processing power the PS2 is loaded with a 300 Mhz Emotion Engine processor, 150 Mhz Nvidia Graphics Synthesiser graphics processor, 4 MB video RAM and 32MB system memory, worse than the Gamecube and Xbox with 500mhz and 733mhz repectively. The distinct lack of VRAM in the PS2 is evident with a lot of games looking rather jagged around the edges with even Dreamcast games looking smoother graphically with it’s 8MB VRAM. The graphics on the PS2 were something to gape at it’s release, and certainly playable enough today where title’s like Gran Turismo/ Final Fantasy X still looking respectable even today although many games are starting to show their age. Nevertheless, games were more than capable of producing stunning facial animations realistic environments and could produce realistic water effects. While the PS2 could handle cross-platform games fairly well, it did often get kicked hard in the butt with choppy frame rates and some muddy graphics, particularly as detail had to be stripped down to accommodate the hardware.

The PS2 audio is spot-on as well, sounding as good as the audio you would get from a CD or off your computer, but the magic is within the inclusion of 5.1 Dolby surround sound. All you have to do is find a speaker system accommodating to it, the mono TV I used wasn’t quite up to the trick, neither was the co-axial connector I scavenged form my PSone to work the PS2. It’s what you get from a 20 year old TV.

The PlayStation controllers are very similar to the Dualshock on PSone down to using the same interface, with the traditional Triangle, X, Circle, Square and shoulder buttons (making it as annoying as ever to write down button combinations for cheats on a keyboard) plus the two analogue sticks. From this, the controllers are originally named Dualshock 2, differences being that the chord is longer, vibration is better and the buttons are pressure sensitive, although I’ve never found much difference in pressure sensitivity between the Dualshock 1 and 2. While Dualshock 1’s work fine with a PS2, digital pads (the pads without analogue sticks) aren’t as analogue functionality is compulsory in many games. PS2’s also require memory cards to save, like the PSone, as an additional cost infuriatingly and heftily overpriced even today, which are usually 8MB but third party ones can go up to 32MB and can be bought for the same price. You still need PS1 memory cards to save PS1 games, but you can copy your PS1 saves to a PS2 card if you’re short on space, a regular occurrence with the tiny 1MB storage on PS1 cards.

After all that, where the PS2 does hold-itself well on paper, the real criticism of the PS2 is the build quality of the units. While the PS2 on the outside looks to be a sturdy piece of equipment, many PS2’s have broken down from the laser in the DVD drives breaking down and giving the infamous disk read errors in games, usually when the PS2 had gone out of warranty. This continually happened and Sony have charged high prices to have them repaired, especially when the job can be done manually with some care. My PS2 broke out through a faulty video output, meaning no picture would be seen on the screen or liens would race across it unless you stood on top of it. Needless to say, I couldn’t find any faults physically and ended up breaking the unit altogether, and got the slimline one a year later.

So in 2007, is the PS2 still worth buying today? While the new-gen consoles are all out, the games cost money and there’s certainly no problem buying one if you’re after a cheap thrill, although the price of the PS2 won’t be dropping much in case you were waiting for it to hit the GBP30 mark and while PS2 games do cost a fair bit of money themselves(GBP30 for a new game), many great games can be bought on the Platinum range, or you can find old-ish but great games rather cheaply as well. The PS2 is of course a well-established console, leaving you the choice of buying a PS2 now, hope the PS3 can make up lost ground after a rocky start and get that or wait five years for a fully working PS2 emulator to appear.

For sports fans, the FIFA and Pro Evolution series have knocked out all the early contenders, and the competition between the 2 series have always been dominant. On the platform adventure front, Maximo, Sly Racoon, Ratchet and Clank and the Jak and Daxter series plus many others have blessed this full of great adventures. Gran Turismo 4 is the ultimate simulator on the racing podium, while Mashed is addictive Micro Machine’s style mayhem (Micro Machine’s itself exists on PS2 as well), Colin McRae Rally is probably the best rally series out there. The WWE Smackdown vs RAW series is ever-prominent every year for wrestling fans, the annual Tony Hawk’s skater games for skaters and non-skaters alike while the PS2 is the console of choice for RPG’s, including Kingdom Hearts, Dark Chronicle, Final Fantasy X, X-2 and XII, and the notoriously difficult Ultimate Saga.

Features Makes for a primitive multimedia unit for the living room with a DVD/CD player, online play, and great backward compatibility make for a fine all-rounder 9/10
Graphics Perfectly functional graphjics, although not the best but many games have still shown what the PS2 is made of. 8/10
Sound Superb CD-quality audio and surround sound 9/10
Multiplayer It does support up to 8-player, but it’s the only console of it’s generation to not have 4 control ports and not everyone has a multi-tab, but there’s still plenty of multiplayer games. 7/10
Online Play Service isn’t unified so you may spend a lot of time registering to play games online, but still fully functional and at least free. 6/10
Build Quality Solidly built but many DVD drives have broken down and Sony charge heavily for repairs. Slimline model is better, at least. 5/10
Controllers Probably the most accessible controllers to use, good for all hand sizes, nothing too wacky an plenty of buttons. 9/10
Games library Sports? Yes. Driving, shooting and running over people? Over here…Crazy Japanese RPG’s? You got it. Racing? Gran Turismo, can you please stand up…10/10

The PlayStation 2 is a fine recreation of the success Sony saw with the PSone. The PS2 is a fine all rounder which helped with success: a fantastic library of games, robust graphics and sound, backward compatibility, DVD playback and at least does have online play that has a strong-ish base and readily available with the slimline (although you have to ait two weeks to receive the Network access disk) it’s the system to get for gaming, providing that DVD rive doesn’t come up with the infamous disk read errors.

With the way the PSP is getting dominated by the DS, looks good on paper but is sorely lacking it battery life and importantly games that are ideal to play on the move, and a PS3 whose high price is deterring consumers to the Wii lacking in graphics but has the innovation, the PS2 could well be Sony’s last major success story. It wasn’t the best system of it’s generation by any means, but managed to fight of two waves of competition, had the games, just have they took advantage of that with their console releases since then? I think not. There’s certainly no harm on getting the well-established PS2 now, then you can watch the Wii/360/PS3 fight amongst themselves for a year, then choose what to get. 8/10

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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