The Playstation 2. The little black box that changed everything. And after 12 long, glorious years, its time for it to say goodbye. But, in looking back on her, we must honour what she was – a technical marvel, a gaming powerhouse, and, objectively, the best gaming console ever made.
Oh, did I say objectively? How can one throw around such a word about which is the best games console? Ah, but there are some things about it which no-one can argue against – things that make the Playstation 2 stand head and shoulders above all else, and remain the pinnacle of gaming consoles.
1. It had an absolute perfect balance between Eastern and Western games.
Name me the top 10 best American made games on the NES, or the best Japanese games on the PC. Can't do it, can you? Most consoles will have a heavy weighting one way or the other to either Eastern or Western sensibilities.
Okay, now name me some of the best games for the Ps2. Shadow of the Colossus. God of War. Persona 4. GTA San Andreas. Metal Gear Solid 3. Jak 3. Kingdom Hearts. Burnout 3. Dragon Quest VIII. Ratchet and Clank 3. Devil May Cry 3. Sly 2.
Notice the pattern? I managed to alternate each one, and yet they all fit perfectly. Both Eastern and Western developers managed huge successes on the Ps2, to the point where the console could hardly be said to have a leaning either way. A gamer who despises Japanese design sensibilities could still gain the utmost enjoyment from the system, as could a gamer who only likes Japanese games. There were absolutely amazing games from both schools of design, and with it, a perfect balance of the content on offer. And not just in terms of origins....
2. It had a balance of tone and ratings.
One complaint often levelled against the current gen is that its too damn violent. And while I myself usually hate blanket statements such as this, I must agree that most good games made these days tend to be more violent. Sure, there are the occasional LittleBigPlanets or Portals, but most tend to be about graphic cranial explosions.
Ironically, for years games had the opposite problem – we were so starved for gore that the original Doom and Mortal Kombat could get away with, if we're being honest with ourselves, lacklustre gameplay, on the promise of blood and guts.
So was there a time we could balance the M rated goresplosions with the cute and G rated games? Gee, could it have anything to do with the title of this entry?
Yes, while Grand Theft Auto III was shocking America with its depravity of showing violence (in New York, no less), on the same console, not two months later, a charming duo of a fresh faces youth and his best friend were going on a fun loving platforming adventure, with no blood, no swearing, and only the tiniest chance of accidentally re-staging 9/11.
And this continued for years – while God of War showed up Kratos impaling a hydra messily on a ships mast, Dragon Quest VIII had you guiding your hero through a cutesy world filled with slimes you couldn't disembowel no matter how hard you tried (believe me)
But it wasn't just the ratings the game could do well – it could easily play host to a number of tones of games. The same year that the Ps2 saw Timesplitters: Future Perfect, a game about time travelling secret agents with monkey henchmen, the Ps2 saw Shadow the the Colossus, quite easily the most poignant, moving and powerful game ever made. Both utterly flippant and hauntingly beautiful were available on the same console, released in the same year. And this continued for a huge part of its lifetime, matching God Hand with Okami, Grand theft Auto San Andreas with Metal Gear Solid 3, and God of War II with Persona 4. It delivered these extremes of tone so easily, year in, year out, across so many genres.
Speaking of which....
3. It had great games in every single genre.
Nearly every console has its own strengths and weaknesses. In the interest of not having everyone yell at me in the comments section, I will refrain from pointing out which console has weaknesses in certain areas.
But the Ps2 seemingly had no weak areas. No matter the genre, there were games for it. Now, ordinarily you might think that such a broad library would leave the console directionless, being a jack of all trades, a master of none. But not so, in every genre, there was something outstanding.
And I do mean, every genre, including a couple that started on the system. You want platformers? On the 2D front, we have Klonoa 2, while if its 3D, we have Sony's very own trilogy of platformer trilogies, Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, and Sly Cooper.
Want your platformers with a bit more realism? Then how about Prince of Persia : Sands of Time, or its not-quite-as-good-but-still-really-good sequels?
Want Shooters? How about Cel Shaded? Try XIII. Want a cel shooter a bit weirder?Try a hit of the killer7.
How about a straight shooter? Less artistic sensibilities and storyline, and more shooting people with the biggest, loudest guns you could find that hit like a truck? Well, the Ps2 liked those like it liked its exterior cover - Black.
Prefer a shooter like that, but a bit more comedic? Try some Timesplitters. Maybe a bit more sci-fi?How about Area 51? Or maybe the absolute best version of one of the classic 90's FPS's - Half Life?
But what if you're not into First person, and want a bit more of a third person beat? Well, how does a bit of special ops with SOCOM grab you?
Or if you want a bit more of a fright, how about Resident Evil 4?
Or for a more noire taste, try a little Max Payne. Or maybe you'd like a bit more scale to your conflicts....in that case a little Star Wars Battlefront II would be your bag.
Or lets say you want a big open environment to travel? Well, how does tearing around Liberty City, Vice City AND San Andreas smack you?
Prefer to be a bit more than just an ordinary man? Want to tear around as a superhero in a big open city? Well, would you prefer to be Spider-Man or the Hulk?
But lets say you prefer driving. Well in that case - do you want the big explosions of Burnout, the absolute engineered precision of Gran Turismo, or the balls to the wall craziness of Twisted Metal Black?
We've barely scratched the surface here - I haven't even mentioned Action Adventure games, RPG's, Hack and Slash, Fighters, Stealth, Rhythm games, Survival Horror or....whatever the hell Katamari was. But my point is clear - no matter what you wanted, no matter what your bag was, you could find a great game in it easy on the Ps2.
4. It came paired with invaluable multimedia functionality.
Some of our younger gamers may find this hard to believe, but there once was a time when game consoles could only play games, not movies. Yes, before days when Microsoft could spend half the time in their E3 show without using the word “play”, game consoles were simply for playing games.
But the Ps2 changed all of that. Paired with a radical new media format called a DVD player, the console could let people play movies as well as games. Many people can tell you that they got just as much use out of their Ps2 as a DVD player as they did a games console. It was undeniably a brilliant move, and has made its impact on the present consoles, for better or for worse.
But why does the Ps2 deserve this honor so highly? Simple – the cross media functionality they introduced is now utterly standard. As the console grew, DVD's grew from being a flash in the pan to the “What the hell is VHS” standard. It managed to pick the absolute perfect format to introduce the concept of platform media integration.
5. It had a switchable logo that you could change whether it was on its side of standing up.
That alone clinches it, really.