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It’s taken 12 years, but as the final PlayStation 2 rolls off the production line, I’ve reached the personal conclusion that PS2 is the greatest console in gaming’s history. Its core values, incredible tech and near-perfect design combined to create a phenomenon. One that will never be repeated because its feature set is too narrow for today's market. But I should point out it has taken pretty much the full 12 years to reach this gushing conclusion. Because when it first launched in 2000, I have to admit: I thought it was dreadful. Allow me to explain how it won me over so completely...
When the PlayStation's successor was announced, I was still at college. A college that blocked my favourite games site because I used up a massive 9MBs of 'IT resources' downloading a trailer for Sonic Adventure. Years away from even working for my local paper, let alone GamesRadar, I was still a keen gamer. I remember printing out pictures from the early PS2 tech demos using the college’s colour printer and marvelling at them. Could these images genuinely be real-time? One was the spiky balls, as pictured up there behind that PS2, and the other was this incredible image:
This single screenshot of the cars from the CG intro of Gran Turismo 2 running in real-time with ludicrously shiny bodywork was enough to amaze me. And that was without even seeing the demo actually moving, which you can see below thanks to the wonders of the modern internet. A single glance was enough to convince me: PS2 was the future.
But then there were the promises made over the ‘Emotion Engine’. All the talk was about artificial intelligence so alive that NPCs would be able to smell things and be moved by them. And feel upset at fallen comrades. And this is where I started to dislike the idea. It was trying to be something gaming (to me) was not. And the fun in all this was... where?
PlayStation 2 looked dressed up to deliberately distance itself still further from any 'toy' preconceptions cultivated by Nintendo in the 1990s, developing its brand instead with abstract imagery and more mature themes. From the bald-headed vulture in the later TV adverts (pictured) to the ethereal dancing lights that played around if you didn't have a disc inserted, PS2 was clearly not being billed as a family plaything. Ironic, considering its name.
It looked strange too, with an asymmetrical design and a workmanlike, industrial-looking grill. Suffice to say I didn't like this new direction (which seemed pretentious to me) having been perfectly happy with the 'press buttons for fun' style of games consoles. I wasn't alone, either. After PSOne's incredible success and despite massive anticipation from Sony's massive legion of fans, launch came along and... the unthinkable happened. PS2 floundered.