What with a brave new dawn of gaming cresting the horizon (the PS4 and Xbox One have both broken first week sales records in recent weeks) it might prove a little churlish to be looking back into the markets recent past. But as powerful and versatile as these modern behemoths might well be, they are essentially doing little more than building on the legacy Sony birthed in the mid 90’s and perfected at the cusp of the century.
The First Wave
Before Playstation, video gaming was seen very much as a childish pursuit and was looked down upon by even those who had grown up with it. The previous generation of consoles (the Nintendo ‘SNES’ and the Sega ‘Mega Drive’) had focused solely on immediate, family friendly games that to a ‘self-professed’ adult may have appeared beneath them, even if they gameplay behind them was solid. The Playstation arrived like an adrenaline shot to the heart of gaming culture though, piggy backing on mid-nineties rave culture with launch titles such as the gleefully trippy ‘Wipeout’ and a marketing campaign that almost seemed to suggest the Playstation itself was akin to some sort of illicit drug.
Suddenly it wasn’t just your kids that were playing games (though they were still more than catered for thanks to the ‘Crash Bandicoots’ and ‘Spyro the Dragons’ of this world) but your friends were, you were and despite Nintendo’s attempts to take gaming ‘back to basics’ with its Wii and Wii U, all the games consoles that followed adhered to the template set by the original Playstation.
The Second Coming
The PS2 was released on the cusp of the new century in March 2000 and was only discontinued in January of this year. No other console in history has enjoyed 13 years of production and as a result there have been over 155 million units sold worldwide. The PS2 was the first console marketed as a true multimedia device. The original Playstation might have been able to play Audio CD’s but the PS2 even allowed users to rip their CD’s to a hard-drive, something which until this time had only been possible on home computers. It’s specs were also incredibly advanced for the time and the subtly enhanced ‘dual shock 2’ controller design was so perfect, it was barely altered for the next generation.
The navigational experience on the PS2 was significantly improved too and it was one of the first games consoles to fully explore the potential of internet connectivity, something that became ubiquitous with the arrival of the PS3 and Xbox 360 years later. It could be said that the PS2 was also the first games console to be more than just a games console as the ace up its sleeve was its ability to play DVD film discs. The PS2 was released at a time where standalone DVD players were exorbitantly expensive so Sony ended up almost monopolising the market. Indeed, many PS2’s were sold simply on the strength of the consoles ability to play DVD’s. Where it really stood head and shoulders above the competition though was in the games.
Although many of the PS2 launch games decided to use generic graphics and gameplay devices, the immediate leap forward in graphics was one that hadn’t been seen before or since. Boot up any of the Xbox One and PS4 launch games and put them besides previous generational titles and the difference is negligible at best but the leap forward from the first generation PlayStation (not to mention the less successful Sega Saturn and Nintendo 64) to the PS2, Sega Dreamcast, Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo Gamecube was staggering at the time. The PS2 might have struggled out of the gate (though ‘Time-splitters’ is a bit of a forgotten classic) by the end of its second year the PS2 had amassed a vast library of games that helped change the face of the industry forever.
Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid 2: Song of Liberty was the first mega hit for the PS2 when it was released in 2001 and with good reason. A sequel to the monumental 1998 original, it took gaming into realms of fresh, cinematic glory that had previously only been available to those with gaming PC rigs worth thousands of pounds. The games focus on plot and character development closely mirrored the original MGS but took it so much further that you could almost say MGS2 was the first truly ‘interactive movie’, a goal the industry had been reaching for since the clumsy days of ‘Dragon’s Lair’.
Grand Theft Auto
The goalposts were moved even further by Grand Theft Auto 3, released in the same year. It could be argued that GTA3 is in fact the most influential game released in the last 20 years, as its revolutionary, 3D ‘sandbox’ game design is now almost the standard by which all other games are judged. GTA3 was just the beginning though as its follow-up games, ‘Vice City’ and ‘San Andreas’ were even bigger and even more successful, indeed ‘San Andreas’ remains one of the biggest selling games of all time. The GTA games also helped to shift gaming into more ‘adult’ terrain as the games were rated 18 due to the use of heavy violence, bad language and even sexual content. This also sparked a fair amount of moral outrage from certain quarters, which itself worked almost as a marketing tool for the game and the system.
Though many consider the series to have ‘peaked’ with Final Fantasy 7, the tenth entry in the series on the PS2 was another step forward when it came to integrating an emotional story into a complex gaming world. FF12 on the other hand was one of the last games released for the system before the PS3 was released and was a technical tour-de-force that closed the sixth generation of a high. Square Enix (then Squaresoft) also released the stunning ‘Kingdom Hearts’ on the PS2, a game that combined the worlds of Final Fantasy with the worlds of Disney. ‘Kingdom Hearts’ is now considered a ‘cult classic’.
Shadow of the Colossus
We end with perhaps the most deceptively important game ever released on a mainstream games console (at least in my humble opinion). A spiritual successor to the similarly sparse and beautiful ‘Ico’, SOTC took gamers on a lyrical, cathartic journey that made them question their own goals in a landscape that was peerlessly stunning! To this day, SOTC is a thrilling play with a lineage that can still be felt in games such as ‘Journey’ and ‘The Last Of Us’ for PS3 and it only served to underline just how important the Playstation 2 was.
If this article hasn’t spurred you into dusting off your old PS2 then I don’t know what will and what with the raft of used ps2 games on the internet, there’s never been a more affordable time to delve into its rich back catalogue.
About the author
Charles Barley is an avid gamer who still has his PS2 plugged into his living room’s main TV. There are not enough synonyms in the dictionary to express how profoundly his years with the Playstation and its successors have changed his life for the better.