15 years ago today in Japan the gaming community was introduced to a console powerhouse that would reign dominant over its competition for an entire generation, Sony’s Playstation 2. After already having wiped the floor with the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn with the PS One, Sony unleashed their sleek black box on the general public and reasserted the place at the top of the console mountain.
The Launch of a Global Phenomenon
With the monumental success of the PlayStation, Sony in 1999 announced the heir to the PlayStation kingdom, the aptly named PlayStation 2. After a slightly shoddy release due to manufacturing issues delaying enough consoles to be made to meet demand, the console started to conquer its competition. First to go by the way side was Sega’s Dreamcast which could not match the power of the PS2 or its catalogue of games. Even though Sony’s console was priced £100 more than the Dreamcast, thanks to its predecessor’s popularity, in-built DVD player and backwards compatibility with PS One titles it became the number one choice for gamers. Sony effectively not only destroyed the Dreamcast but in turn forced Sega to pull out of the console market altogether.
Beating Stiff Competition
Console gaming specialists Nintendo and newcomers to the market Microsoft released their contenders for the 6th gen crown, both of which would have a hard time competing after being tarty to the party. The Gamecube seemed to struggle as it was going through an identity crisis, did it want to be a family console or did it want to target the mature core gamer? Although it released for a stonkingly low £130, its lack of an extensive back catalogue, third party support and its decision to use 8cm discs, along with the consoles fisher price look made it an unpopular choice with the majority of gamers (don’t look at me, I loved Resident Evil Cube).
Microsoft’s Xbox faired slightly better than industry legends Nintendo, which they would have considered a success. The Xbox came from nowhere to act as a serious competitor and forced Sony into making a dive into the online gaming market. Although the Xbox had strong 3rd party support, a superb online service in Xbox Live and developed a large hard-core fan base, the console ultimately failed to keep up with the PS2. The Xbox suffered from the lack of a legacy, it was too bulky and had a hideous controller which had to be redesigned not long into the consoles lifespan.
Whereas the GameCube and the Xbox sold just over twenty odd million each by the end of their lifespans, the PS2 sold three times more than the two combined. By the time the console was discontinued in 2013 it had sold well over 150 million consoles around the globe and is currently (and probably forever will be) the greatest selling console ever.
Why was it so Popular?
It was easy to develop for prompting a vast number of games to be made that never found their way to other consoles. Sure there was a good portion of these games that may be considered as shovelware, such as games that appeared later in the consoles life especially from publisher Blast, who gave us such classics like Babe and Home Alone.
- The console benefited from a number of established titles that either began their life or had their best iterations so far on the original PlayStation. Big name franchises like Tomb Raider, GTA, Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy all either released games exclusively for the PS2 or launched months, sometimes years ahead of the other consoles. Even Capcom couldn’t keep their flagship series Resident Evil away from the console. After
signing a deal with Nintendo to bring it horror franchise to the GC, releasing exclusive titles such as a remaster of the 1st game, a prequel and ports of 2,3 and CV, Capcom released four exclusive games to the PS2 based on the horror series along with ports of CV and the massive hit RE 4.
- The PS2’s 1st party line-up was also very formidable with Syphon Filter, Gran Turismo, The Getaway, God of War and Ratchet& Clank all selling incredibly well, boosting the profile of the console.
The consoles controller was a slightly updated version of the Dualshock pad which was so popular on the PS One and to many the second iteration was considered as one of the most perfect controllers ever created.
- 15 years ago DVD players were still considered a luxury item and
cost a fair bit, not like the ones you can pick up for £20 these days. Doubling as a DVD player won over a lot of people as for many young gamers it would act as their first DVD machine (this is something I can attest to as I got the PS2 for my Xmas in 2001 and at 17 was my first personal DVD player). It was the first console that was the all in one entertainment system allowing games, movies and music to come together in one place.
- Sony’s decision to make the PS2 backwards compatible with PS One titles proved beneficial as it helped convince gamers who had invested in the last gen titles to make the easy transition to the next gen. It’s also something that their competitors couldn’t provide, the GameCube wasn’t able to provide this function as the N64 used cartridges and the Xbox had no back catalogue as it was the first of its kind.
What did it do wrong?
The PS2 did little wrong to be fair but there were some annoyances, mostly to do with the cost of the extras if you wanted to get the full experience. First thing that comes to mind was the console still included memory cards, not a huge problem but when you look at the Xbox’s massive (for that time at least)20gb hard drive included with the console. Paying out £30 for a 16mb memory card kind of left a sour taste in your mouth and your wallet a lot lighter. The PS2 did offer a 40gb hard drive add on at a later date but not only did it require the network adapter, but it was also only released in North America and Japan and only supported a small number of games.
Speaking of accessories the PS2 hadn’t learned from its opposite numbers and added just two controller ports to its console forcing those with more than two gamers in the household to buy an adapter which again retailed for £30; all three of its competitors offered four ports straight out of the box.
Again something that the Xbox included in the console was an in built network adapter that allowed gamers to jump online and play games with their friends. Sony followed suit by releasing its own network adapter for £50 (at least that what I remember it costing), adding to the ever growing cost of being a PS2 owner. It never took off as well as many would have hoped though and it had many problems with certain games such as Resident Evil Outbreak. It didn’t cost anything to play online though so that was a slight plus.
A legacy that may never be matched
The PS2 despite some niggling issues took Sony to the top of the console mountain as the greatest selling console ever and it looked as though that they would never be knocked off. Nintendo gave the PS2 a good run for its money but ultimately came up short with the Nintendo Wii missing out selling just over 100 million consoles. The current gen consoles are selling well (ok maybe not the Wii U) but from what I can see nothing will ever match the unprecedented success that the PS2 had. Whether you owned the oddly shaped original, the slim line follow-up, if yours was silver, blue or pink one thing was always the same, the quality gaming experience that it managed to give you the player.
Personal Experience (James Hobbs)
As I mentioned above I got my PS2 for Xmas 2001 with GTA 3, Onimusha Warlords and WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It. Being a huge wrestling fan I couldn’t wait to jump on and test out the latest edition, but it would be GTA 3 that would steal my heart that Xmas. The game gave me a gaming experience that I hadn’t seen before and it had me hooked from start to finish, I was seriously addicted to that game and there was hardly a moment I was off it. When I wasn’t at 6th form, work or with my girlfriend I was on my PS2 shooting up some cops or beating up a prostitute (Don’t look at me like that? Tell me you didn’t do the same). One thing that sticks in my mind is playing the final mission with the volume down low so the TV in the living room overpowered the sound coming from mine. It’s quite surreal to be shooting at helicopters and tearing through the Liberty City streets with the Golden Girls as your soundtrack.
I continued to game on the PS2 for many years later and enjoyed several great titles, it may not have been my favourite console of the generation (that honour goes to the GameCube) but boy did I have some great times. Whether it was getting trounced by my mates in a late night drinking game version of Pro Evo Soccer 4 or battling my girlfriend in the WWE Smackdown games, the PS2 will forever be my favourite ever PlayStation console.
Lastly here are some personal lists, check them out and let me know what your lists may look like as we celebrate 15 years of the PS2.
Personal Experience (The Marb)
My prevailing and favorite memory of the ps2 is the majesty of GTA: Vice City. Whilst the first party software may grab the headlines, rockstars step into the 80s with all their usual style and verve is when that generation of games truly arrived for me. A huge, rich and detailed gaming world which the series only recently topped with the fifth installment.
Personal Experience (Gaz Lehri)
I so vividly remember when I first got my PS2. It had sold out for ages here in the United Kingdom and getting your hands on one was nigh on impossible. I was a wee lad in high school and was obsessed with the damn thing everyday, with my nose squarely buried into PlayStation magazines whilst others were busy smoking behind the bike sheds or trying to get laid. I used to get picked up from school by my dad and if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, he used to drive a Nissan Sunny. But one day, my lovely dad had a surprise for me. He told me to put my school bag in the boot, which I found odd because I never did that. As I opened the boot, my heart stopped. There it was, in the middle of the boot of this glorified shitbox on wheels was a box containing the PlayStation 2 (which probably was worth twice as much as the car itself). My jaw dropped and I couldn’t believe it. I literally screamed and all my mates and even random people out of nowhere, crowded me in disbelief and jealousy. It was truly a magical moment and one I will never forget.
The PS2 was a godsend. The monumental jump from the PSOne was so stark and I absolutely rinsed the demo disc containing SSX to death. Over the years, the console benefited from one of the most amazing gaming libraries ever and it was no wonder that it beat all competition in such decisive fashion. Whilst its promises of online play fell flat on their face in the latter years of its life-cycle (and was one of the primary reasons I then later on moved on to the Xbox) nothing could take away the pure gaming nirvana I enjoyed as a teenager playing this incredible gaming console. Simply sublime. Thank you for all those years of wonderful gaming experiences!