No console was more eagerly awaited than the Playstation 2 (PS2). The original Playstation had dominated the video game market since it was introduced in 1995, and even Sega's impressive Dreamcast system had failed to loosen Sony's stranglehold. The initial PS2 game selection was modest but a few can't-miss titles like Madden 2001, SSX, and Smuggler's Run made it respectable.
The PS2 boasted two major selling points: backwards compatibility with Playstation One (PS1) games, and the ability to play DVD movies. Released at a time when standard DVD players cost several hundred dollars, having one built into your game console seemed like any amazing value, and it was! The PS2 DVD player wasn't of the highest quality (I recall some audio synchronization issues) but it served its purpose.
With the help of massive third party support the PS2 accumulated a huge library with hits like Onimusha, Twisted Metal Black, Gran Turismo 3, Virtual Fighter 4, Jack and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, War of the Monsters, and God Of War. Sony managed to secure exclusive rights to high-profile titles like Grand Theft Auto Vice City, Devil May Cry, Tomb Raider Angel of Darkness, Castlevania Lament of Innocence, and Metal Gear Solid 2, making the console a must-have for hardcore gamers. Like its predecessor, the PS2 became the mainstream system of choice.
It wasn't hard for Sony to maintain its market supremacy with the PS2. Although Microsoft's Xbox and Nintendo's GameCube would enter the fray the following year, they were left to fight over the remaining share of the market. And while these challengers may have enjoyed a slight technical edge, the difference was not pronounced enough to offset the huge Playstation 2 library.
Console design: B+/C. The Playstation 2 sports a sleek, asymmetric "skyscraper" design, which can be either situated flat or stood vertically. Along the front edge are lighted "standby/reset" and "open/close" buttons. An actual power switch resides on the back of the unit, but due to the handy standby mode there's rarely a need to use it.
The front of the system offers two controller ports and two USB ports for miscellaneous peripherals such as light guns and "Eye Toy" cameras. A multi-player adapter supports up to four players per port (eight total), but this expensive accessory awkwardly hangs off the front of the unit. PS2 memory cards can hold substantially more data than their predecessors, although the sports games are still memory hogs.
In 2004 Sony offered a hard drive add-on with Final Fantasy XI, but this device was poorly supported and quickly abandoned. Also in 2004 Sony released a lighter, cheaper, and streamlined version of the PS2, but it lacked the style and elegance of the original design.
Console durability: C-. It's not uncommon for the Playstation 2 to break down after heavy use over a few years. The Playstation 2's CD tray feels flimsy and could potentially break off. Some gamers reported having their disks scratched when using the system in its vertical configuration, but these seem to be one-off cases.
Graphics: B+. While the initial crop of PS2 titles actually looked rougher than their Dreamcast counterparts, the visual quality of PS2 games improved over time. Fantasy games like God of War and Shadow of the Collosus feature some of the most awe-inspiring, majestic visuals that had even been seen for its time. While the Xbox and GameCube may have enjoyed a slight edge in terms of visual quality, the difference too marginal to matter.
Controllers: B. PS2 controllers look practically identical to their PS1 counterparts, but their buttons are equipped with analog sensitivity. Not only did this feature turn out to be fairly useless, but it rendered the controller incompatible with PS1 games. Perhaps Sony did that on purpose just to sell more controllers?
Media: A. Sony struck gold when they opted to use the DVD format for their games. Not only did it allow their system to play movie DVDs, but the format provided more than enough capacity to hold any current-generation game.
Packaging: A. Sony packaged their games in standard DVD cases, which were ideal. Attractive on the outside, sturdy, and easy to store, they felt like a substantial step up from the previous jewel cases.
Pack-In Game: Like most systems of the era, the system did not include a pack-in game to keep costs low.
Launch Titles: C. I find it hard to believe there were 29 games available for the PS2 launch. I actually camped out for this system at Best Buy, and I recall the game selection being extremely limited, with the most compelling titles being Madden 2001 and SSX. I seriously considered picking up Tekken Tag Team despite its mediocre reviews. Most of the launch titles were very minor, although Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run would eventually prove their worth.
Games: A-. Of all the systems of its generation, the Playstation 2 has far and away the largest library with the widest variety of games. There are epic adventures like God of War, Gran Theft Auto 3, and Shadow of the Collosus. Racing buffs will enjoy Gran Turismo 3, Rumble Racing, and Smuggler's Run, which also offer excellent split-screen competition. Fighting fans have wealth of 2D and 3D options including Tekken 4, Virtua Fighter 4, Guilty Gear X, and Soul Calibur 2.
The system even offered award-winning RPGs including Disney's Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy X. Sports fans considered the PS2 as the system of choice due to the controller's ideal button layout. Some PS2 titles were hampered by long load times (especially compared to Xbox and GameCube), but this varied from game to game.
Collectability: A-. You can't go wrong with collecting games for the Playstation 2. Since its games are so popular and ubiquitous, hit titles are easy to find and reasonable in price. The systems are not particularly durable however, and it has become more and more difficult to find one for under $100.
Innovations: Backwards compatibility, DVD player, console can be positioned horizontally or vertically, standby mode, USB ports, Eye Toy
Pros and Cons:
+ Huge selection of games means something for everyone
+ Innovative, attractive console design
+ Games easy to find and inexpensive
+ Sturdy packaging
- Load times
- Only two controller ports
- May require a lot of memory cards