Specials: I bet the PS2 will be quite popular in kindergarten.
Five is a popular number. Fifth birthdays are usually special ? though still young, children begin to 'grow up' since 5 is usually the common age when they start school. People don't have a class reunion every year, they have one every five years. Why, there's 5 guys per side in a basketball game. All these are good. However, if you're a game console, 5 years usually means a run is almost over and it's time for the next generation. This is true for the PlayStation 2; 5 years ago this week, the PS2 found its way into the hands of gamers, and through controversy and struggle, the system has used these 5 years to further Sony's dominance of the business. But with the PS3 right around the corner, the PS2 is preparing for its inevitable retirement ? though one thing is for sure, it's going out with a bang. But since game consoles only turn 5 once, just like people, it's the perfect opportunity to break down what was good, what was bad, and what was...great, about the PS2 since it found its way to stores on October 26, 2000.
2000 ? Hype & Humble Beginnings
The PS2 had a lot to live up to upon its release on October 26, 2000. Revealed in 1999, roughly around the time of the North American Dreamcast launch, the PlayStation 2 was touted as the ultimate gaming console, and promised a complete revolution. Though a great deal of Sony's promises never really came to fruition over the years, they did a great job of putting the PS2 in the limelight and convincing many PS1 owners to hold off making the next-gen leap until its successor was ready. However, all didn't go smoothly. Once promising 1 million consoles on day one, Sony wound up backing off that claim and only shipped 500,000 PS2 systems, causing added headaches for those who didn't pre-order and thus instead camped out at their local stores in hopes of acquiring the $300 behemoth. Whether or not the 'shortage' was truth or fiction, the demand vs. supply ratio was high, and as such the system sold out immediately ? and for the remainder of 2000, were in very short supply. Many paid upwards of $1000 on eBay for a crack at the hardware, while others sat at their favorite e-commerce site, constantly refreshing to see if another shipment had come in...whether it be for hawking on eBay or hoping to make their Christmas a happy one.
The irony of all the PS2 hype and demand was really in the software ? there wasn't a whole lot there worth picking up. Though the PS2 launch had the most titles ever ? 26 in total ? few were 'must haves', and even that depended on personal taste. Certainly there was a good share of high-profile titles that did extremely well ? games like SSX, Madden NFL 2001, Tekken Tag Tournament, Dead or Alive 2
, and Ridge Racer V
were notable launch titles that could be considered 'system sellers', while many of the rest of the games were either decent complimentary releases (Midnight Club, Smugglers Run, Timesplitters, Dynasty Warriors 2
), while others were just forgettable (X-Squad, Fantavision, Wild Wild Racing
). In many ways, the PS2's launch was diluted by mediocrity; pruning of the lineup by about a dozen titles would have done the system well. Choice is nice, but not when the choices were this bad. The remainder of 2000 wasn't much better, and is probably most remembered for the terrible 989 Sports releases that instantly killed what was EA Sports' most capable challenger in the PlayStation days. 989 hasn't been the same since and only in 2005 is the sports division of SCEA finally coming to life again. However, there was much promise ? games such as Metal Gear Solid 2, Final Fantasy X, and Gran Turismo 3 were on the way, and those future games were reason enough to hold out hope for the PS2's awakening.
In many ways, the PS2 survived its first few months at market due to the added features that came to be strong reasons for its rampant success. Being the first console since the Atari 7800 to be backwards compatible, the PS2 covered for its awkward launch with the ability to play PlayStation games ? and with 2000 seeing some really high-quality PS1 games, this feature certainly helped ease the pain of poor launch-era titles. Those who abandoned their PS1's to help pay for their PS2's, or those who were purchasing their very first Sony console were the ones who benefited the most, but anyone with a PS2 could reason that even though a title such as Final Fantasy IX was a generation behind visually, it certainly packed more punch than most PS2 launch titles, and thus became a poster child of the genius of backwards compatibility. The other side of the coin was DVD. In 2000, DVD was just getting into high gear, as people slowly moved on from VHS thanks to the reduced price of DVD hardware and killer-app material such as The Matrix
and Terminator 2
. The PS2's included DVD player killed two birds with one stone ? not only was it a top-flight game console, it played these newfangled DVD's all the same. It provided more value than any other console before it ? if you look at it from a certain point of view, the PS2 was $100, the PS1 backwards compatibility was $100, and the DVD player was $100 ? 3 distinct features for one price tag, with a CD player thrown in free.
But as 2001 loomed, games needed to start hitting, or Sony would find themselves in a world of hurt with Nintendo and new player Microsoft releasing next-generation hardware of their own.
2001 ? A PlayStation 2 Odyssey
In early 2001, Sony got good news...for them, anyway. After many struggles and poor sales, Sega, the first company who put Nintendo on the ropes in the 16-bit era, was forced to kill off the beloved Dreamcast and move to 3rd party development. To this day, many ardent Sega fans blame the PS2's hype train for causing the DC's death, but whether or not that's accurate, the Dreamcast's demise paved the way for Sony to continue its assault on the next-gen console wars with PS2. After a holiday season full of shortages and software mediocrity, the light at the end of the tunnel was coming into view. Though there wasn't a lot of notable releases in the first two months of 2001, March brought on the biggest month for the console since October 2000. Most recognizable was the release of Zone of the Enders
, a mech-based game produced by Metal Gear czar Hideo Kojima. With beautiful graphics and fast-paced combat, ZOE was a great little game ? but most didn't care, as ZOE sold for far different reasons. In an obvious marketing ploy, Konami stuck a demo of Metal Gear Solid 2 ? by far the most anticipated PS2 game ? into ZOE, prompting game-starved PS2 owners to spend $50 on a simple demo disc just to get their hands on the savior of the PlayStation 2.
March of 2001 also saw the release of Capcom's Onimusha game. Moved over from the Nintendo 64, Onimusha: Warlords
was best described as 'Resident Evil with swords' and became a huge hit. Unfortunately, while both games were successes, the eventual sequels were nearly ignored, ultimately showing that ZOE wasn't a success for any reason aside from the MGS2 demo, and that Onimusha sold because it was a good game released in a time when finding a high-quality title for PS2 was challenging. This same month saw one of the PS2's first large-scale disappointments, in The Bouncer
. SquareSoft's beat 'em up, once set to revitalize a stagnant genre, saw much of its ideas removed (and causing a split between the RPG juggernaut and Bouncer developer Dream Factory) and what remained was a repetitive, short, and ultimately mediocre brawler that could have been far, far better than it was. However, Bouncer's extremely impressive visuals became a benchmark, and demonstrated how well Square and its developers grasped the PlayStation 2.
A couple months later, in May of 2001, the PS2 again got some quality titles. In the first of many ports from the Sega Dreamcast, Sega's popular driving game Crazy Taxi
saw a PS2 release, under the banner of now defunct Acclaim. Though it was a port, and the port was underwhelming in many ways, the game was still excellent and with the drought still in full effect, PS2 owners scooped it up (which makes one wonder how Crazy Taxi 3 didn't show up on PS2, instead left to flop on Xbox). THQ and Volition's hyped Red Faction
also shipped in this month, to mostly rave reviews. As first-person shooters were growing in popularity, RF was a welcome sight, especially for those who don't see titles such as Unreal Tournament
as quality releases. Thanks to a great story and unique Geo-Mod technology, RF wasn't a big seller just because it was out there; instead Red Faction was indeed a quality title and the equivalent to a big-budget summer blockbuster movie. It's a shame they ruined the whole series with the terrible Red Faction 2
It wasn't until the summer, however, that the PS2 really hit its stride and overcame the slow 9 months or so prior. Starting with the release of Twisted Metal Black, the hits just started coming at a rapid pace. EA released NBA Street
to rave reviews, bringing NBA Jam-style gameplay into the 21st century better than Midway could have ever dreamed. EA also shipped NCAA Football 2002
and its latest Madden
installment, bringing in the sports gaming audience (and selling more memory cards for Sony, thanks to the massive amount of space the two games took up). Capcom released its enhanced port of the Dreamcast hit Resident Evil CODE: Veronica X
, which pulled a reverse ZOE by including a demo of hardcore action franchise Devil May Cry. But perhaps nothing was as vital as Gran Turismo 3
. Originally, GT3 was Gran Turismo 2000, an enhanced port of Gran Turismo 2, which came out in late 1999 for PlayStation. As time went by though, Polyphony Digital instead reworked the game entirely, and though it meant cutting back the amount of cars and tracks, GT3 was a tour-de-force, demonstrating the capabilities of the PS2 like no other game had at the time. Those with patience finally were getting their due, while others were rushing to acquire PS2's to experience GT3 firsthand. Not a surprise then, that Sony released their own GT3 bundle. At $329, you could get a special GT3-themed box, an alternate GT3 boxart (arguably better than the stock boxart), and of course, a PS2 ? at a $20 savings over buying a PS2 and GT3 separately.
What followed this summertime of PS2 was a string of AAA game releases that was nearly unprecedented. Though minor titles in the scheme of things, September saw the releases of Silent Hill 2
and cult hit ICO
. ICO in particular became one of the PS2's 'niche' titles that the hardcore fans ate up, displaying visuals in a more artsy style, and presenting puzzle-based platform gaming akin to something from the golden era of gaming. Though it was never a commercial success, the adoration for ICO was enough to allow the forthcoming Shadow of the Colossus (from the same development team) to even exist. While by this point in time, the minds of PS2 games were migrating to Metal Gear Solid 2's November release, October turned out to be the month that offered the most important game in the PS2's life. Coming directly out of nowhere, Grand Theft Auto III
stunned almost everyone. What was a mediocre franchise on PlayStation was a complete reversal on PS2. Ushering in so-called sandbox gameplay, GTA3 let you do nearly anything you wanted, anytime you wanted to, all in a fully realized city rendered in 3D, rather than the overhead 2D of previous titles. What was once supposed to be a cult hit became a phenomenon, and wound up giving birth to the most popular (and controversial) game series of the current era. October also saw the 3rd installment of the Tony Hawk
series, and Devil May Cry
also shipped in this month, to rave reviews, and ultimately bringing the once-dead action genre back from the grave, as DMC was a better Castlevania in 3D than any Castlevania game past, present, and future.
Of course, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
was still out there, and still highly anticipated despite GTA3's rise. Strategically launched 2 days before the Xbox release, MGS2 was a monster hit, and lived up to its enormous hype...though there were many sad pandas in the house regardless. The secrecy surrounding the game wound up becoming the most controversial issue with it ? with millions of PS2 owners expecting a game starring Solid Snake, Kojima and his crew pulled a fast one, putting Snake in the role of observer for most of the game, and putting you in the shoes of newbie Raiden. The reaction to this was mixed ? some thought it was the ultimate in plot twists, while others felt deceived. MGS2's weird, post-modern story didn't help matters, confusing players while Kojima got his jollies of screwing with their minds. Ultimately, many believe the lukewarm sales of Metal Gear Solid 3 was a direct result of MGS2's weirdness, despite MGS3 being such a great game. There was one final surprise in 2001 ? Final Fantasy X
. Though it had shipped in July of 2001 in Japan, the NA release was set for early 2002 ? probably March. However, SquareSoft surprised everyone with a limited release of the English version in the 11th hour ? roughly 1 week prior to Christmas. Though it was pushed up, it was never rushed ? the high quality of the game and the translation speaks for itself. For RPG fans and PS2 owners alike, FFX was the cherry on top of one of the most memorable years in the history of the PlayStation brand.
And that was just the first full year of the PlayStation 2. Yet...what could they do for an encore?