Review by The Vic Viper

"The best console this generation"

The Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo Gamecube are both excellent systems, however if I could only recommend one console this generation, it would be the Playstation 2. The PS2 has a huge library of games covering every genre and from both Western and Eastern developers, many of which are exclusive to the system.

The console itself is very sleek and nicely designed. There are two models of the console available: the original model has a DVD-tray drive, while the newer one is much smaller and has a flip top design. None of the models have a built in hard drive, however you can buy a separate hard drive for the larger models. The original models did not have a network card included; however all of the ones made in the last year or so do. Since there is no hard drive you will have to buy memory cards for the console, which run about $25 for an 8MB card. Most game saves are only a few hundred KB, so unless you play a lot of sports games (which can have 2MB saves), one card will last a while. The other major design weakness in the PS2 is that there are only two controller ports, so four player games will require a multitap accessory.

One thing that the PS2 can do that the other console cannot is play DVD movies right out of the box. The Gamecube cannot play movies at all and the Xbox requires a separate DVD playback kit. The PS2 functions like a mid-priced DVD player in terms of quality. On a normal CRT TV using composite input, the picture quality is the same as it would be using any other DVD player or the Xbox. For high-end CRT and HDTVs, there will be a slight boost in quality from a higher end DVD player; however the PS2 will be fine for most people.

The PS2 can also function as a very basic audio CD player. It has the basic options for shuffle, repeat and programmed play lists. There are no visualizations like the PS1 had, and you cannot rip music like the Xbox, but if you simply want to play a CD, the PS2 can do that.

Aside from the multitap, hard drive, and network card, there aren't many accessories from Sony; however there are a few others from various third party companies. The only other accessories to bother with are the DVD remote control (you can use the game controller for DVD playback, but this makes it easier) and the vertical stand. The PS2 can be stood on its side and still able to read discs, and when it's on its side it is only a couple of inches wide.

In terms of reliability, the PS2 isn't anywhere near as good as the Xbox, which can survive getting shot, or the GC, which can work after being hit repeatedly by a baseball bat. However, if you don't abuse the system it should continue to work fine for a while. I've had my PS2 for over two years and have not had a single problem. However, like the Xbox consoles, many have had the disc drive suddenly stop working for no apparent reason. Sony will repair/replace these consoles, but like all customer service encounters; it will generally be a headache-inducing event.

The last, but most important, hardware design to mention is the Dual Shock 2 controller. There is no better controller than the DS2 for any system or computer. The DS2 is basically the exact same controller as the Dual Shock 1 for the PS1, except almost all of the buttons are pressure sensitive. The button shapes and layout are perfect and the grip is extremely comfortable for people with any sized hands.

The console software (the file management and configuration menus) is very nice-nothing fancy but easy to use. One nice feature is that after the system starts up it waits a second or two before reading the disc, which means you do not have to open the DVD drive like you would on the Xbox or GC. The system config gives you the basic options to adjust the clock, video, audio, screen size, and language, as well as two options for playing PS1 games. The file browser lets you view the files on either memory card, or begin reading the disc in the drive. Each file is represented by an icon, and selecting that will let you copy the file to the other card or erase it.

The PS2 is by far the weakest of the three current systems, though it is a bit more powerful than the Dreamcast. The best looking PS2 games are about as good looking as a slightly above average GC or Xbox game. However, no PS2 game can come anywhere close to the best looking games on those systems. A high-quality FMV on a PS2 game might be comparable, but the in game graphics aren't. The PS2 does not have many graphical effects such as anti-aliasing built into the hardware, so they must be programmed into the games by the software developers. However because these effects take a lot of time to program, and eat up system resources that need to be used for other parts of the game, many times they are left out of games completely. The console comes with composite cables, however you can also get S-video and component cables for a much better picture (if your TV supports it), or an RF-switch if you have a really old TV.

The same is true for the audio, but in many people won't notice because the difference is only in surround sound support. If you are only using two speakers, or one if playing off of a one speaker TV, the audio is just as good as other consoles. The PS2 also supports optical audio hookups, however there is no 5.1 or higher surround sound capabilities.

What the PS2 lacks in terms of hardware power it makes up for in its massive selection of some of the best games ever made. The PS2 has more than enough truly exclusive games (in other words not just console exclusive but also on the PC or exclusive only for a limited time). This is what keeps it alive since the Xbox or GC versions of multiconsole games are almost always better to a certain degree; at least better loading times, if not better graphics. The PS2 has strong support from the older game companies such as Konami, Square-Enix, etc that made the NES and SNES games that many of us grew up on, as well as many new comers such as Level-5. There is also strong support from Western developers such as Rockstar, however many of the Western developed games are multiconsole or eventually go to the Xbox after a time as PS2 exclusive, and there is almost no support from Western RPG designers. The genres represented strongest on the PS2 include jRPGs, shmups, fighters, sports, and adventure games.

Sony has managed to build up a very large community of online users-well over a million and a half and growing. While there is no where near as many online games as the PC, there are still tons available, and they are all free (unlike Xbox Live which is $60 a year). The PS2 supports broadband and dial-up (also unlike Xbox Live, which is broadband only), which is good for dial-up users, though it makes it harder to find a lag free game.

The PS2 is (almost) completely backwards compatible with the PS1, however there is some incompatible hardware and a few games that won't play. Multitaps aren't compatible at all, and you will need a PS1 memory card to play PS1 games on the PS2. The controllers are for the most part compatible, however some PS2 games require the pressure sensitive controls of the DS2, so a PS1 controller won't work. There are also one or two PS1 games that simply will not load, however none of these games were AAA titles so it isn't a huge loss. Since the PS2 does not have many built in graphical or audio effects built it, PS1 games will play exactly like they did on the PS1, loading times and all. There are two options in the system configuration of the PS2 to improve loading times and add better texture mapping, however these do not work on all games. And by that I mean they work on almost no games, and will often crash the system. But, a good game from years ago is still good today, so it's nice to be able to play two generations of games on one system.

Even without powerful hardware and few multimedia functions, the PS2 is still the best console for gaming. If you can, you should defiantly buy all three systems (and a Dreamcast just for the hell of it), however the PS2 alone has enough to keep a gamer satisfied, unlike the others. While the others make good second or third consoles, the PS2 is a good first choice for many people.

Best exclusives of the PS2
Action Castlevania: LoI (Treasure), Devil May Cry (Capcom)
Shmups: Gradius V (Konami), R-Type Final (Irem)
Shooters: Contra: SS (Konami), Neo Contra (Konami)
Racing: Gran Turismo 3 (Polyphony Digital)
RPGs: Dark Cloud 1 & 2 (Level-5), Final Fantasy X (Square-Enix), Suikoden III (Konami)

Upcoming (2005) exclusives
Dark Cloud 3, Devil May Cry 3, Dragon Warrior VIII, Final Fantasy XII, Gran Turismo IV, Nanobreaker

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/13/04

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