I bought a PS2 demo disk from 2003 that has Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, Silent Hill 3, and Burnout 2 on it, and it's my finest eBay purchase ever

Official PlayStation 2 Magazine UK (June 2003)
(Image credit: Future)

It felt like a fun enough experiment at the time: buy the 2003 demo disk and give it a whirl for the sheer nostalgic joy of it. I get to do the weirdest little things in my line of work, and unearthing some of the best PS2 games and other oddities on eBay is one of them.

This particular collection of PS2 demos covers pretty diverse bases. The campy splash of Silent Hill 3 on the box art is what had initially compelled me to click "buy now", but the games listed in smaller print below that main image surprised me further. Burnout 2: Point of Impact, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, and Virtual Fighter 4 feel like an odd bunch of games to see grouped together, but that is the point of CDs like these, right? Accompanied by an extended developer diary for Enter the Matrix and a Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis trailer, this treasure trove of PS2 game demos held the most bizarre array of promises. Here's why it was well worth £10.

Playing catch-up

The Matrix

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

It's hard to recall a time before Next Fest and the relative ease and accessibility of Steam demos, but in reality, those memories aren't too far off. My PS2 demo disk is a reminder of those times; game demos would come in the post, sellotaped neatly to the cover of a magazine or perhaps tucked into a goodie bag if you're one of the lucky ones whose parents would let you spend your allowance on them.

Perhaps it's because I was 8 years old in 2003, but I don't recall ever owning my own magazine demo disks. We just traded CDs on the playground at school, a covert mission that rarely escaped the watchful eyes of our classroom teachers. That's what makes this experience so fascinating to me: I'm finally getting to pretend I was cool and old enough to play PS2 demos back in the early '00s.

I can see the appeal. The overzealous hum of the PS2 springing to life still makes me feel like an excited little kid again. Fuzzy and underexposed pictures appear on my TV screen, courtesy of the shaky AVI to HDMI converter I'd also purchased on eBay some five years ago. A suitably gaudy title screen reading G.A.M.E flickers into focus, and after sitting though a few short trailers, I'm ready to pick my demo poison.

Unusual suspects

Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance

(Image credit: Interplay)

I'm finally getting to pretend I was cool and old enough to play PS2 demos back in the early '00s.

Black Isle's 2001 offering Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is first on the chopping block. I learn the hard way that this particular CD (do let me know if it was common in all demo disks) likes to boot me back to the title screen after 30 seconds of inactivity, so I know I have to make my time count. 

I spawn into the cellar of the Elfsong Tavern, a location I recognize from Baldur's Gate 3 no doubt, and I'm actually quite impressed with how easy it is to navigate. For the purposes of this demo, my level one elven sorcerer must smash a bunch of crates and use magic or melee to fend off any rodents in her path. It's kitschy and simple enough to be fun for about five minutes

Next up, I turn my attention to what was intended to be my piece de resistance. Scuzzy indie rock indicates an Akira Yamoka special, underscoring a lengthy Silent Hill 3 trailer as the demo starts up. We begin at Lakeside Amusement Park, creepy and abandoned and adorned with many a Robbie the Rabbit dolls. The puzzles here are few and far between, more like a walking simulator to get the player used to the game's fixed camera angles and combat elements. The first thing I do? Change the controls from 3D to 2D mapping, because there is no way I am getting out of this alive otherwise. 

I am also thrilled to find that I can swap out Heather's useless knife for a fully loaded SMG immediately, which I happily introduce to the rabid dogs in my path. Unfortunately, the demo only takes me as far as the cutscene after Heather is ostensibly run over by a rollercoaster – occupational hazard of walking on the tracks, I guess. Still, this brief taster is rife with the moody, ominous atmosphere that makes Konami's survival horror franchise such an iconic one. Water drips from a pipe somewhere – or is it blood? – as the metallic groan of machinery yawns in the distance. I can only hope that Silent Hill 2 is able to capture this sense of stark isolation and fear, but truth be told, it felt amazing to experience the series' third instalment on its original hardware like this.

Silent Hill 3

(Image credit: Konami)

There's still something so exciting about physical media when it comes to video games.

Feeling a bit dejected by the unexpected brevity of my Silent Hill 3 taster, I decide to opt for one more demo. Somehow, Burnout 2: Point of Impact is exactly the tonic I need. 

Its bright colors and fast-paced rock soundtrack are a far cry from the bleak darkness of Silent Hill 3, and suddenly I remember why I adored playing Burnout Paradise so much. The aim of the game isn't to beat your car up here, though. It's a racing game, and every time you crash, you simply restart. There's a sense of mindless, repetitive comfort generated in Burnout 2 that compels me to play the demo for about thirty minutes more than you're probably meant to. The only notes I took? "Super fun. I suck at it."

If this demo CD has taught me anything, it's that those who regularly got their hands on these disks back in the day are a lucky, lucky bunch. There's still something so exciting about physical media when it comes to video games, the feeling of cracking open a DVD case and spinning the disk on your fingertip for a moment, carefully checking its reflective underside for scuffs or scratches. I don't get to experience it often, as almost all of my games are digital copies these days, but I'm already feeling that tell-tale mental tug toward the start of yet another arbitrary collection. If you need me, I'll be scouring eBay for more forgotten PS2 demos.

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Jasmine Gould-Wilson
Staff Writer, GamesRadar+

Jasmine is a staff writer at GamesRadar+. Raised in Hong Kong and having graduated with an English Literature degree from Queen Mary, University of London in 2017, her passion for entertainment writing has taken her from reviewing underground concerts to blogging about the intersection between horror movies and browser games. Having made the career jump from TV broadcast operations to video games journalism during the pandemic, she cut her teeth as a freelance writer with TheGamer, Gamezo, and Tech Radar Gaming before accepting a full-time role here at GamesRadar. Whether Jasmine is researching the latest in gaming litigation for a news piece, writing how-to guides for The Sims 4, or extolling the necessity of a Resident Evil: CODE Veronica remake, you'll probably find her listening to metalcore at the same time.