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Why PS2 was the best console ever

With everyone expecting brilliance straight off the bat, Sony delivered SSX, firework game Fantavision and Ridge Racer V as the highlights of the launch line-up. SSX was great and a surprise hit for a new IP, but after the magnificence of Ridge Racer Type 4 on PSOne, the biggest benchmark title for progress was Ridge Racer V, which was a marked step backwards. Sure, we can look back now and appreciate its unique single-city atmosphere, but to casual observers in 2000, PS2 games were jagged and squashed-looking.

After all the promises, the reality was best described as ‘nothing special’. Rushed, even. Look at this video of the game in action. Reiko Nagase looks incredible up close, but the overall quality of the way the game is displayed is awful.

Am I selling this yet? No, I'm not. And neither was Sony. Not convincingly. To turn the PS2 around from here looked unlikely. Great games were promised, but it was months before any came through. I remember one guy in my local Electronics Boutique picking through the PSone pre-owned section, telling me he was going to have loads of games to play on his new PS2. Weirdo.

But he had a point. At least the out-of-the-box backwards compatability was excellent, with the vast majority of PSone games playable on PS2, even offering enhanced texture filters to make them look better than ever. But that's not good enough for a new machine. Things needed to change.

And things did change. Very quickly, in fact, as 2001 saw Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec finally arrive after a small delay, proving immediately that PS2 was something very special after all. If Gran Turismo on PSone had shown that hyper-realistic graphics were possible in games, GT3 made you feel like your eyes had been opened. Like those moments you may experience sometimes where you suddenly feel truly awake. And all the jaggedness of Ridge Racer V was instantly forgotten - this was how PS2 gaming was meant to be. Just look at it.:

That intro still gives me goosebumps. I actually took a picture of said goosebumps on my arm just now for illustrative purposes, but in all honestly, the resulting photo looked uber-dodgy, so probably best you just take my word for it. I had them. But I think we can all agree that the video up there shows a riotously powerful console running like an absolute dream.

Coupled with the demonstrable graphical prowess of PS2 was the advancement of the controller it came with. DualShock 2 features functionality even its successor, the DualShock 3, does not, namely its pressure-sensitive buttons. Every button bar the Start/Select, analog on/off and 'stick click' L3/R3 commands can register the pressure of your control input.

Feed in throttle just by squeezing X harder. Lower your gun by easing off the trigger in MGS2. With this next-gen control coupled with tweaked rumble feedback and twin analogue sticks after PSOne's tentative prototypes, PS2 pads were the most advanced standard pads ever. Arguably still are, unless you count Wii U with its touch screen GamePad.

After the painfully slow start, PS2 finally hit its stride. GT3 was followed in quick succession by Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, which was more liberating to play than anything that had come before thanks to incredible freeform tactical gameplay. It was grown-up gaming. And then, to make PS2 the absolute must-have machine and finally prove Dreamcast could never have kept up for the generation, Grand Theft Auto III came along and sales went through the roof. That was it. PS2 was unstoppable.

But it wasn't just these big-hitters that were now selling the machine. Overall quality of games across the board was rising exponentially. It wasn't that everyone was suddenly getting used to PS2's 'hard to program for' chipset. It was that the problem was being removed from the equation by middleware like Criterion’s RenderWare, which was licensed out to many developers and provided the game engine for everything from GTA to Burnout 2: Point of Impact and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3. By giving developers a simple, powerful framework within which to build their games (for a fee), creativity became king.

What followed was a golden age of gaming. No hardware gimmicks, no microtransactions. Just great games. With the user-base now skyrocketing, developers threw money at PS2 game development, resulting in one of the biggest and most diverse game line-ups in history. From family-friendly platforming in Ratchet & Clank to the grown-up chills of Survival Horror in Silent Hill 2, everyone was catered for with ultra-quality entertainment – and with course after delicious course of fresh IPs in every genre.

And through all of this, the console remained a games machine. I'm not saying it didn't help that it could play DVDs too, which certainly helped justify the asking price and even made some people buy PS2 as their first DVD player. For them, its ability to play games was a pleasant bonus. But even the DVD format was quickly adopted to make the games better thanks to its extra capacity, as SSX Tricky demonstrated immediately with its reams of video extras over the CD: ROM original. 

The console was designed to be the best games console, not the best media hub, which is why it still remains one of the best choices for gamers looking for offline multiplayer sessions and single-player adventures.

Topics

PlayStation PS2

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28 comments

  • emeka-skerritt - March 23, 2014 3:13 p.m.

    It's definitely the Super Nintendo. I've got nothing against the PS2 but when people say it's the best selling console I wonder sometimes in what way?? The population is always growing so the latest console is always likely to be best selling ever. Before the super nintendo came out, kids were actually spending a BIG proportion of their pocket money on arcades. That is simply unthinkable now so it goes to show how important gaming was to kids at the time. The Nintendo simply stopped all that and by bringing out an affordable console that rivaled the arcades for the first time in history.
  • Cyax - February 7, 2013 3:34 a.m.

    Could you guys please leave your opinion on consoles you like here? http://yourfavoriteconsole.com/
  • matthew-stoddard - January 23, 2013 2:45 p.m.

    The greatest system was the Dreamcast and it's a shame that the thing didn't get more support. It was the first console to do many of the things that consoles now are doing. I did love PS2, but the Dreamcast was just amazing. Overall, I've enjoyed 360 more than the PS2 as well..the whole online set up makes XBox better than PS. I play both, but use more PS3 for more exclusive games and the XBox for everything else simply because the online is much better.
  • michaelkaramas - January 12, 2013 8:04 p.m.

    Dualshock 3 still has pressure sensitive buttons.
  • shawksta - January 11, 2013 7:12 p.m.

    It is, along with SNES, but the rumble is another story for another article. PS2 was awesome, had awesome first party, had Shovelware but also had Mainstream 3rd Party, which, basically, made the Wii an inferior PS2 with no mainstream/Major 3rd Party
  • sk8r7 - January 11, 2013 6:25 p.m.

    many fond memories, some of the best i've ever had with friends, and making companions. my favourite console of all time
  • CommandantOreo - January 11, 2013 2:35 p.m.

    The PS2 went out with a fight, still coming out with good games even in it's later years. Pretty impressive, I must say.
  • Pruman - January 11, 2013 11:04 a.m.

    I was a senior in high school when the PS2 came out, and at the time, I could have cared less about it. Thanks to my family getting our first Windows machine at the beginning of '99, I had just gotten into PC gaming in a big way. I was also still hooked on Perfect Dark and Goldeneye, and after two crushing disappointments on the PS1 in as many years (Final Fantasy VIII, and then Chrono Cross), I wasn't willing to ever trust Sony with my money again. Even Final Fantasy X, which looked kind of neat after I had skipped IX, didn't grab me enough to get me to buy a system. Three factors worked to change that mindset once I left for college: 1) I went to a school that issued every student a laptop, which was fairly revolutionary at the time and tickled my techno-nerd fancy. Once it was in my hands, I was crushed to find that it had NO DEDICATED GPU, causing games with any kind of 3D to put up slideshow framerates, at best. Since buying or building a decent gaming rig was beyond my meager resources at the time, I had to make a trip back to the console well if I wanted to play anything new. 2) When I got back from winter break, one of my friends down the hall was playing Grand Theft Auto III. I sat watching him play it, totally transfixed by what I was seeing, for at least half an hour. Then I decided that I had to have this game. 3) At around the same time, a friend of my roommate's ran into some legal troubles, and, needing to raise some quick cash, offered me his launch system, a memory card, and 9-10 games for $300, which is what the still-tough-to-find base model was going for in stores. Needless to say, I jumped on that. I'm glad I did, too. The PS2 might have been my least-played console of that generation, but I got some pretty solid entertainment out of it. GTA III, then Vice City, both God of War games, Final Fantasy X (which ended up being awesome and is in my personal top 3 for the series), Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3, Gradius V (second best shmup ever after Ikaruga, and definitely the best horizontal one)...the list goes on and on.
  • Elix - January 10, 2013 11:44 p.m.

    PS2 didn't save the video game industry, nor did it revolutionize the industry.
  • taokaka - January 10, 2013 10:30 p.m.

    I still play my ps2 every now and then, even for the first one or two years after I got my PS3 I still played the PS2 more than it. Some of my best gaming memories orientate around my ps2 and it was also the console I first got into serious gaming on instead of just playing tekken, tony hawks or digimon games almost exclusively. Fantastic job on the article, however tekken tag was easily the greatest launch game for the ps2 and possibly the best installment in the franchise.
  • brickman409 - January 10, 2013 9:20 p.m.

    I never liked the dualshock controller, I don't know it just doesn't feel comfortable to use, it has a nice build quality to it, but when I hold it, it just feels awkward. Idk maybe its cause I was used to the more ergonomic GameCube and Xbox controllers.
  • talleyXIV - January 10, 2013 6:01 p.m.

    Still sticking with SNES or maybe the Gamecube...
  • TheDudeFromNowhere - January 10, 2013 5:37 p.m.

    Home of all many memories..
  • ertywerty - January 10, 2013 3:05 p.m.

    Ps2 was special becausofmtheir exclusive games... For me it was the R&C series, Jak and Daxter and Sly cooper series that I'll remember the ps2 for, it's not that the game were as complicated but were more substance over style which I think many games try too hard to include all of the great graphics but miss the story and connection to the characters and because of that many of those games are better than games in recent years on ps3 and have loved what thise companies have done since. I think uncharted series are a perfect blend of both as the graphics are amazingis and you feel that connection to the characters
  • jackthemenace - January 10, 2013 1:44 p.m.

    Aside from a couple of GBC Pokemon games, I'm too young to have really played anything before 2001 or so. So the PS2 was literally the machine that got me into GAMING. Not Pokemon-ing, GAMING. And I love it for that. I insanely regret selling my PS2, even if the PS3 I bought with the proceeds is backwards compatible, purely because of the memories I have from it- even though I still have all the games, and even my memory card. Thanks Justin- This little bit of Nostalgia has really rounded out a pretty good day :D
  • FlyinHawaiian13 - January 10, 2013 12:41 p.m.

    So many memories. One of the best is when me and my friend marathoned Red Dead Revolver to unlock all the multiplayer characters, then had a bunch of other friends come over to play. The resulting games spawned catch phrases and in jokes we all still spout to this day. Also our multiplayer matches in Freedom Fighters were so awesome. We got our Red Dead follow up where is my Freedom Fighters 2!?
  • runner - January 10, 2013 12:08 p.m.

    I what think PS2 did was similar to SNES did with 8-bit console. The predecessor console before them was somewhat of an experimentation with technological limitation and they were developed base from that. Power up, trim the excessive fat while, as in your article, still focused as a gaming machine. Sadly, also with the success of it, the market became a hell lot bigger with much more money and business involved. Now gaming machine can't be just a gaming machine, new and risk ideas are hardly come into fruition, the developer and publisher somewhat lose their focuses and the market is saturated. Something not unlike Hollywood films.
  • dcobs123 - January 10, 2013 12:52 p.m.

    Sums up my thoughts exactly.
  • brickman409 - January 10, 2013 9:22 p.m.

    gamesradar needs a like button or something
  • Cloudiology - January 10, 2013 11:37 a.m.

    That brought a little tear to my eye.. Excellent eulogy (type thing) to the system that I will forever treasure. Nice one Justin!

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