Sony's Playstation2: Solid System or Hype and Hyperbole?
Oct 30, 2000
Review by Mike Bracken
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Sleek design, backwards compatibility, decent DVD player, and only $300
Cons:very limited supply, Sony didn't even include a demo disc, uncertain future with new systems looming on the horizon
After standing in line for nearly 14 hours last Wednesday, I was one of the few people who managed to do the impossible—buy a Sony Playstation2 game console without having pre-ordered it back in March. Was the wait worth it? Is this the ‘end all-be all’ of gaming systems that Sony has made it out to be? Would I do it all over again? Read on and find out…
Recommend this product?
First off, I’m a film reviewer here at Epinions. Sure, I write the occasional RPG review (and I’m not too bad at it) but I’ve never attempted to write about a piece of hardware before…so bear with me. One thing I’d like to point out right off the bat is this: I’m not gonna sit here and regale you with the system’s intricate technical specs—if you’re looking for info on VRAM, Vectors, pipelines, and all that overly technical hardware stuff, check the official Sony page or any one of the countless gaming sites online. Most of the folks who are interested in that kind of thing have been able to recite the specs of the system for months now. I’m more interested in writing this for the average gamer, or even parents who might be thinking of picking up the system for their kids.
So, with all of that out of the way, let’s get on to the good stuff.
Sony burst onto the videogame scene back in the mid-90’s with their original Playstation gaming console which was, for all intents and purposes, the most successful CD based home gaming console ever made and gave Sony a stranglehold on the console market (pushing aside mainstays like Sega and Nintendo in the process).
The irony of that is this…originally Sony was working with Nintendo to create a CD-ROM peripheral for its 16-bit Super Nintendo system (Sega had already made the Sega-CD attachment for its 16-bit Genesis system). However, the Nintendo CD eventually turned out to be vaporware and was never released for the SNES. But, Sony had put a lot of work into this peripheral, and rather than scrap what they’d done, they decided to get into the videogame market, turning the peripheral into the Playstation, a 32-bit CD system that quickly won the hearts of gamers everywhere. Until now, the Playstation was the most dominant system on the market, propelled mostly by a massive game library.
Of course, nothing stays the same forever, and in the video game industry, nothing stays the same for 3 years. As technology advances, new systems came out to compete and the 32-Bit Playstation wasn’t a powerhouse in terms of hardware anymore. Nintendo launched the N64, and last year Sega unleashed their 128-bit monster, the Dreamcast. Sadly, the days of the Playstation were drawing to a close.
To catch up and continue to compete, Sony announced the Playstation2 (PS2), a new 128- bit CD system that featured a DVD player so you could watch movies and backwards compatibility (meaning you could play all your old Playstation games on the new system). Gamers everywhere got excited.
The new system launched in Japan back in March, quickly selling over a million units, but not without several hitches. There were problems with DVD drivers, memory card corruption, and other little things. However, Sony promised to have all the kinks worked out by the US launch slated for October—and it appears as though they have solved all of those problems (I’ve had no trouble with my system). Instead, the major problem at the American launch would be a lack of systems to meet the demand.
Sony was making a vital component for the system in-house at one of their Japanese factories. They bought up another factory in order to increase the output, but unfortunately, the new factory was producing more defects than usable components. Because of this, Sony announced that they were cutting the launch shipment from 1 million units to a mere 500,000—still a lot of systems under normal circumstances, but the PS2 was never intended to be a normal launch.
Stores like Electronics Boutique and Software Etc. had been taking pre-orders for months, and this new slash in units meant that most of the people who pre-ordered wouldn’t get their systems on the 26th. This shortage, coupled with insane amounts of media hype (lots of it coming from the gaming press itself), guaranteed that there’d be major shortages of the new system—and that Sony would have the biggest launch day in video game history.
After toying with the idea of selling my newly won prize on Ebay (where the systems were fetching well over $1,000—over 3 times their $300 retail price), I decided to open my toy and check it out.
Truthfully, the PS2 is a pretty system in terms of pure aesthetics. It’s black and sleek and just looks cool. Placing it in the flat position, it’s roughly 12 inches across, 3 inches high, and 7 inches deep. But, if you want to put it in the vertical position (which is totally possible), the stats become nearly 12 inches high, 3 inches wide, and 7 inches deep. You can use the system in the vertical position, but I prefer to keep mine flat.
One last thing about the dimensions—the system is slightly bigger than I expected it to be. It’s not huge by any stretch of the imagination, but it takes up more space than my Dreamcast.
Moving on, the system front features 2 controller ports (with the multitap add on being sold separately, you can get as many as 8 controllers hooked up to the system at once—I don’t know why you’d want that, but you could do it if you’re so inclined), 2 memory card slots (you use the new 8MB memory cards for PS2 games, the standard memory cards for regular Playstation games—they all fit in the same slot), the CD tray (which has a very nice motor running it—the door opens and closes smoothly), and the rotatable PS logo (so you can have it facing the right direction depending on whether you place the system horizontally or vertically).
Next to that are the tray open button and the reset switch. Both buttons are sturdily constructed, but a bit small and hard to see on the black background of the system.
The actual power switch for the unit is on the back of the system, which is a bit bothersome because it necessitates putting the unit in a position where you can reach behind it to turn it on and off. Not a major design flaw or anything like that, but something to consider when you’re deciding you’re going to put the system.
The system comes out of the box with main unit and one controller. The controller is really identical to the old Playstation’s Dual Shock controllers as far as I can tell. The controller here is black, with two analog thumb sticks that can be used on analog compatible games. The controller also features the standard digital directional pad, 4 buttons on the front, and four shoulder buttons on the top of the controller—2 on the left, 2 on the right.
Unfortunately, the system comes with nothing else out of the box—a second controller, a memory card, a DVD remote, a game, etc. will all have to be bought separately…adding on to that $300 price tag in a significant way.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that Sony couldn’t even be bothered to include a demo disc to show off a few titles. I thought that was pretty cheap and tacky on their part.
A Little Information About the Hardware
Okay—I said I wasn’t going to get into the technical aspects too heavily, and I’m not. Basically, I just want to mention that the system is powered by a 128-bit ‘Emotion Chip’ which reportedly clocks in at around 300 MHZ. The system features a 24X CD-ROM and a 4X DVD-ROM for movies and DVD games.
Sony has made some outrageous claims, stating that the system can create 75 million polygons a second (or something to that effect), but neglects to mention that this isn’t in a realistic game environment. A more realistic count (based on the launch titles) would be in the 5 million range—which isn’t a bad number, and could well go up as developers learn to harness the power of the system.
After turning on the system, you’ll be prompted to enter some information about your geographic location, time, etc. Also, if you’re playing standard Playstation games, you can go in and manually adjust it so that the games take advantage of the PS2’s faster hardware. Basically, you can change two things—load times and textures. These changes affect different games in different ways—some are far more noticeable than others. Experiment with your old games and you’ll see what I mean.
It’s hard to write a really fair and comprehensive review of a new system, mainly because the launch titles for a new system are rarely good games, and they never really take advantage of the system’s true power.
So, keeping that in mind, let’s talk about the system’s graphics.
Having already experienced 128-bit gaming through owning a Sega Dreamcast, the PS2 graphics didn’t blow me out of my chair. That doesn’t mean they’re not good, it just means that the Dreamcast had already prepared me for what next generation gaming would look like.
I purchased 2 games with my system, Kessen, a Samurai war/strategy game, and Summoner, an RPG. Both games boast solid graphics and nice colors, although the color palettes for both titles look a little bland when compared to the current crop of Dreamcast titles. Animations in both games are smooth, there’s been no real slowdown that I can see, and the textures are nice. There’s been a lot of debate about the limitations of the hardware for this system and how it doesn’t stack up to the Dreamcast, but truthfully, I think that’s an argument for the tech heads—average users aren’t likely to notice a whole lot of difference in graphics quality on the two systems.
Personally, this is the one area where the PS2 has really impressed me. I’m not sure what it is, but everything sounds really majestic on the PS2—even more than it does on the Dreamcast. I don’t have a fancy home theater system, but booting up Kessen sure makes it sound like I do.
Since I own a high end Panasonic DVD player, I’m not really interested in this aspect of the PS2. However, for review purposes, I did test it out by throwing in my new copy of Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond. All in all, it’s a decent DVD player—but it won’t be replacing my standalone any time soon. The picture was decent, sound quality good, etc. If you don’t have a standalone player, this one will work for you. If you do have one, this feature isn’t really much of a selling point for the system.
Plus, the lack of remote control (which you have to buy separately) necessitates using your controller to work all of the menus—which isn’t the optimal situation.
Issues to consider
I haven’t had any issues with my system thus far (knock on wood), nor have I heard of any major ones. I do know that there are reportedly DVDs that the system won’t play or won’t play properly. If you look around online, you should be able to find a list of these titles. However, to be fair, there are titles that some standalone players won’t play or won’t play properly as well (The Matrix seems to give a lot of players fits).
In that same vein, the backwards compatibility (which was the system’s biggest selling point for me—I’ve got mountains of unopened Playstation games sitting here) doesn’t appear to apply to every title. Some games apparently refuse to work on the new system. I believe it’s a relatively small number of titles (again, I haven’t seen an official list—if anyone reading this knows where there is one, please leave me a comment with the URL), but it’s something take into consideration.
One last thing to think about are potential system limitations. By many accounts, this is a difficult system to program for, requiring a fair amount of effort on the part of programmers to truly capture the systems full capabilities. For comparison purposes, the Sega Saturn was a hard system to program for and many developers gave up on it. I don’t think that’s going to happen here, but it will probably make it so that it takes longer for the really good and innovative titles to show up on the PS2. Expect a fair amount of rehash games, sequels to popular Playstation titles, and filler discs over the next few months before the real titles start rolling in.
To Buy or Not To Buy—That is the Question
Frankly, if you didn’t manage to nab one of these systems on the 26th, the chances of you finding one for yourself or getting one from Santa are pretty slim. Sony initially stated that they’d ship 100,000 units per week for the rest of the year. However, many retailers I spoke with aren’t expecting another shipment until maybe December with some flat out saying they’re not getting more until March. No one really seems to know when future shipments are coming, or even how many units they’re getting. And with the specialty stores like EB and Software Etc. still with unfilled pre-orders, you can bet that most of the systems coming in are spoken for anyway.
So, what are you to do? Little Johnny really wants one of these systems for Christmas and you hate to let the little guy down. If you’re really desperate (and rich) you might land one on Ebay. Prices are high, and they’ll no doubt go higher as the holidays approach. I’d expect to pay at least $1,000.
Whoa…too rich for you? It’d be too rich for me, too. Your other option is to get little Johnny a Dreamcast. Dreamcasts are available, they only cost $150, the system comes with a built in modem for online play, a library of over 100 games is already available (with some fantastic titles coming out in November, including the first real RPGs in Skies of Arcadia and Grandia 2), and four controller slots built right into the front of the machine. You’re still getting next generation 128-bit gaming—but you’re not waiting until sometime next year to experience it.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: Gamers are concerned with games, not systems. As a gamer, I’m more interested in playing good games now than swearing allegiance to one particular system. Sega has some good games here right now, and the system is available. PS2 will have some good games in the near future and will be easier to get then as well. Don’t deny yourself the fun of playing next generation games now simply because you want a system that isn’t available. There’s no rule that says you can only have one game system. Spend $150 on a Dreamcast now—then save your money and you’ll have the $300 for a PS2 by the time they become readily available.
But, this is a PS2 review…so, should you plunk down the cash for one if it comes your way? YES!
While the launch titles (and, to be honest, everything that’s coming out this year) aren’t exactly awe-inspiring, the PS2 will eventually get some great games (like the Final Fantasy 10) and be worth owning. Until then, we’re all playing some fairly average games (with a few exceptions), so it’s not like you’re missing out.
Ultimately, the PS2 is going to be a dominant player in the next generation video game wars. How it will all shake out remains to be seen, mainly because Nintendo and Microsoft haven’t officially entered the fray yet. Will the X-Box or Gamecube be the system to have? Who knows—neither will be available until sometime next year.
No one wants to plunk down $300 on a piece of hardware that is obsolete within a year (like I did with the Sega CD), but conversely, if you sit around waiting for the perfect system, a lot of really good systems go by and you miss the opportunity to play and enjoy them—all while waiting for the perfect thing that never comes.
Sony’s made a solid system—not as fantastic as the hype would have you believe, but very good, nonetheless. If you can find one this holiday season, I highly recommend picking it up.
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