Sony Playstation 2 
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Written by Bryan Dailey   
Sunday, 01 April 2001

Introduction
Fueled by a strategic game of supply and demand, Sony’s eagerly anticipated Playstation 2 became the latest "must have" item for consumers this past holiday season. Sony smashed sales records, rapidly selling their first batch of systems in a matter of days. Store shelves have remained essentially void of Playstation 2’s through March 2001. Sony claimed that they could not keep up with the demand for the system, but many people in the gaming industry feel that this was not really the case. By releasing only a relatively small number of the machines, Sony pulled a PR stunt that was more powerful than any ad campaign could have ever been. Holiday shoppers who had to have the hottest gaming system on the market were paying as much as $2,000 for the Playstation 2 on eBay.com. This astronomical figure is nearly seven times the $299 that the system currently sells for in stores. Now that the hype has died down and it is possible for most consumers to pick up one of these units, it’s time to find out if the Playstation 2 really lives up to all of the hype that has preceded it.

Sony entered the video game world in September of 1994 with the first-generation Playstation at a time when its major competition was Nintendo’s N64 and Sega’s Saturn. The initial knock against Sony’s machine was the fact that the game system was CD-ROM-based. This meant that there was a substantial delay when beginning games because the system had to load the game information into its memory. Nintendo’s N64 was cartridge-based and therefore its load time was virtually zero, because information was being read directly off the chips in the cartridge. The downside of a cartridge-based machine was that the cartridges averaged $15 to $20 more per game, based on the need for raw materials such as circuit boards, microchips and plastic casings. This fact alone gave Sony an advantage over Nintendo and helped convert more gamers to Sony’s machine. At the same time, Sega was having its own problems with slow sales of the now defunct 32-bit Saturn system. This gave Sony the opportunity to move into the top slot in the video game world. Video game system and software sales are reportedly over 40 percent of Sony’s yearly revenue and they are betting on the Playstation 2 in a big way.

The System
The Playstation 2 is a small, black, rectangular box that can either be laid flat on the rubber feet built onto the bottom of the machine or set into a triangular blue base (sold separately) that allows the user to stand it up on its side. A blue horizontal stand is available as well. The disc loading mechanism is built so that the disc will not be able to fall out when the Playstation is in the vertical position, but it’s important to be sure that the disc is properly situated before closing the tray. Unfortunately, the power switch for the machine is in an inconvenient place, just above the power cord on the back, so you will need to keep the unit in a place where you will have access to the back panel. This makes rackmounting the Playstation 2 on a shelf a bit awkward.

The Playstation 2 is much more retro-looking then what I would have expected from something that is being heralded by Sony as the latest and greatest video game machine ever. For those of you hardcore video game fans out there, the look and shape is a bit reminiscent of a black Intellivsion 2. The top is perfectly flat, with a large PS2 logo in purple and blue, and the edges of the unit have ridges with little vents that look like heat sinks. The machine never becomes hot to the touch, so this design serves the Playstation 2 well.

Like almost all video game systems, the Playstation 2 comes with only one game controller, Sony’s Dualshock 2, which features more buttons than you’ll know what to do with and an internal motor that vibrates during game play to correspond with the onscreen action. When playing Madden 2001 football (EA Sports), big tackles result in big vibes from the controller. It’s a bit cheesy, but other systems require the addition of "rumble packs" that are sold separately to get the same result. At least with the Dualshock 2 controller, you don’t have to go out of your way to pay extra for this tactile experience. Of course, if you have friends or relatives who want to join in the fun, it will cost you around $35 for an extra controller. Most of the sports games on the Playstation 2 are muilti-tap compatible, meaning you can buy one or two mulit-tap units for about $35 each and can add as many as seven additional controllers to have a huge eight-player orgy of gaming fun. Doing some quick math, you are looking at $315 plus tax, not including the system and the game itself, to get an eight-player game going on the Playstation 2. The important thing to remember is that the fun you can have with a four-on-four game of NHL 2001 (EA Sports) hockey really is, as the Mastercard commercial says, "priceless."

The system also comes with an AC power cord, a Euro-AV connector plug (in case you get a hankering to play your Playstation 2 in Paris), an integrated AC cable, the instruction manual and a disc with various game demos. Other accessories like memory cards for saving games and an S-video adapter can be purchased separately. Does the system come with any games? Nope, there’s no free equivalent Duck Hunt or Super Mario Brothers, the games Nintendo used to hook gamers up. Profit margins are so low on these systems that they are forcing people to have to buy games along with the system from the get-go or suffer the pain of opening up the box and having nothing to play on it.

Playstation 2 versus Sega’s Dreamcast
The Playstation 2 is a little larger and less modern-looking that its main competitor, Sega’s Dreamcast ($119), but inside where it counts, the Playstation is quite a bit more advanced. Until Microsoft releases its controversial X Box game machine and Nintendo brings out its Game Cube system, the Dreamcast is the benchmark that the Playstation 2 is being measured against. Both machines feature 128-bit processors, but the Playstation 2 runs at a higher system clock frequency. The Playstation 2 hums along at 294.912 MHz, with a 128-bit Emotion Engine created by Sony and Toshiba, while the slightly slower Dreamcast features a 128-bit Hitachi-built SH-4 engine that runs at 200 MHz. What does this mean to gamers in real terms? The Playstation 2 is capable of calculating 500 million instructions per second, whereas the Dreamcast can only handle 360 million calculations per second. Both are light-years ahead of Pac Man on the Atari 2600, but when it comes down to sheer gaming power, the Playstation 2 simply has more horsepower under the hood. It also has a significant edge over the Dreamcast in terms of memory. The Playstation 2 has 32 megabytes of RD-RAM, compared to 16 megabytes for the Dreamcast. The Playstation 2 also features two megabytes of memory for sound handling capability and four megabytes of video memory. The only area where the Dreamcast is beefier is in video memory, where it has twice as much as the Playstation 2. In a side by side comparison of similar games, the Playstation 2 seemed to feature more complex and detailed textures in the game’s characters and backgrounds, but the Dreamcast featured video sequences and moving camera sequences that were a bit smoother. Surely the extra video memory gives the Dreamcast the edge here.

The Playstation 2 features USB and I-link inputs on the front panel and an expansion bay to accommodate future expansion modules and/or computer devices that Sony has in the works for the system. One item that it does lack that I would have liked to seen is an internal modem. Sega’s Dreamcast features a 56k modem that allows users to dial into Sega’s game network and play against players from all over the world. I have tried the modem on my Dreamcast using my own personal Internet service provider and found that using the game network was simple to do and added a layer of depth to the system that the Playstation 2 just does not have at this point.

The Games
Currently, there are 65 games available for the Playstation 2, but that number will increase dramatically as more people get their hands on the system. It has been rumored that Sega will halt production on their Dreamcast machine and will focus a large amount of their resources to developing games for the Playstation 2. To ensure that gamers will have a large amount of titles to choose from, Sony has made their new game system backward-compatible with Playstation 1 games. This means that all of the software that was created for the first-generation Playstation will not just end up in the bargain bin at the toy store. There are many good games for the original Playstation and it wouldn’t surprise me to see many people still buying these games to use in the Playstation 2. One fear that many people have about the Playstation 2 stems from early reports from game developers that it has been difficult to design programs for the system. The Dreamcast is Windows-based and developers have had a few years to learn the quirks of designing games for it, but Sony’s first system had a reputation for being difficult to design for and the Playstation 2 seemingly suffers from the same problem. The Playstation 2 is a very powerful machine, but harnessing and utilizing that power properly is the dilemma that game makers face. The large development companies have the resources to suffer through this learning curve, but this could end up hurting the system if Microsoft’s X Box or Nintendo’s Game Cube are easier beasts to tame from a design standpoint.

I had the following games to play with my test unit: Madden NFL 2001 (EA Sports), NHL 2001 (EA Sports), Dead Or Alive 2 (Tecmo), Star Wars Starfighter (Lucas Arts Entertainment), Smuggler’s Run (Rockstar Games) and Surfing H30 (Rockstar Games). Rather than go into specific detail about each of the games, I’ll say that there were some that really impressed me and others that seemed like a waste of time. For me, the standout of the group was Madden 2001. My favorite Dreamcast game is Sega’s NFL 2k1, and although I think Sega’s football game is a more realistic simulation of a true gridiron battle, Madden 2001 for the Playstation 2 is easy to play. The amount of detail that the designers have put into this game makes it in some ways better than NFL 2k1. Some of the incredible aspects of the game include different ways the sun reflects off of the players’ helmets (depending on how they are standing), the stadium’s P.A. system announcing things such as license plate numbers of cars with their lights on in the parking lot and referees who take the ball from players after they are tackled and toss it to other referees. Certain things like the poor sound quality of the announcers, voiced by Pat Summerall and John Madden, were a little disappointing and the amount of comments they have are quite limited, but the familiarity of their actual voices serve well to draw you into the game.

In the early ‘90s, when games were starting to become extremely graphically intensive, gameplay seemed to suffer, but now games are starting to bridge that gap. I didn’t find myself needing to religiously study any of the instructions and, to me, that is the sign of a good game. You can play it for what it is and have fun; by reading the instructions, you can take the game to the next level. Not everyone has a great deal of time to devote to playing video games and when a game is so complex that it requires a training seminar and hours of practice and training just to play, it’s tough for me to recommend it as a fun game.

Of the games I played, the one that I felt best shows off the Playstation 2’s potential, besides Madden 2001, is Dead or Alive 2. Based on the polygon graphic engine from Sega’s Virtual Fighter series, Dead Or Alive 2 is a hand to hand 3-D fighting game that takes the genre to a new level with incredibly detailed characters and backgrounds that are absolutely stunning. One scene takes place alongside a waterfall, and if a player gets knocked off the ledge, the other player jumps down after him or her. As the "camera" follows the player down, the detail of the background and the fluid movement are incredible. From a strategic standpoint, the game doesn’t feel as advanced as Sega’s Virtual Fighter series. Essentially this game is just a button masher. If you push more buttons faster then your opponent, you will probably end up winning. When playing the computer, the same holds true. You can end up winning a match by using the same kick or punch technique ad-nauseam until you achieve a knock-out. I have played similar games that seem to be smarter and actually adapt to your moves and strategies with artificial intelligence. This game seemingly lacks that, but it’s still a fun game, and with tag team mode, you and your friends can have an epic battle.

More than just a game system
With Sega’s Dramcast selling for only $119, you may be thinking that $299 is a lot to pay for a video game system. The sticker price of the Playstation 2 makes much more sense when you consider that this isn’t just a game system. Regardless of any games that you may play in this machine, it scores huge points for the fact that Sony has created the Playstation 2 to be a DVD player that can play DTS, Dolby Digital and AC-3 DVD-Vs. The DVD player is as good, if not better, then an average $200-$300 consumer-level player. The picture is bright and clear, and the sound is very good as well. It could possibly replace a DVD player in a small bedroom system, or could be used as a main DVD player in an entry-level home theater system. Of course, if you have an expensive high-end DVD player in your system, you certainly wouldn’t use the Playstation 2 as a replacement.

The Downside
There are only two real shortcomings to the DVD player on the Playstation 2. The first is the fact that you must control the operation of the DVD using the system’s game pads rather than an infrared remote. The second problem that I found when playing a DVD movie was that the Playstation 2 would take anywhere between 20 to 30 seconds up to a minute on some DVDs before the main menu of the DVD would appear on screen. Type A personalities beware.

Being able to play the hundreds of games that are available for the Playstation 1 is a huge upside for the Playstation 2, but at this point there are relatively few Playstation 2 games and only a handful have received rave reviews from gamers and gaming magazines. With the new machines coming from Microsoft and Nintendo, there is an air of uncertainty about the future of the Playstation 2. If Sega does in fact officially halt the production of the Dreamcast and puts its support behind designing games for the Playstation 2, then the outlook may be better. Right now, the Playstation 2 feels like a Ferrari that is running on 87-octane gas. The power of the machine has yet to be fully realized, but if the new systems are easier to program for, Sony could be left with a high-powered dinosaur of a system.

Conclusion
If you have been playing video games since the days of Pong and have seen first-hand how advanced video games have become, the Playstation 2 may not immediately knock your socks off. Gamers have become spoiled with amazing graphics and powerful machines over the past few years. Super-fast personal computers and advanced home gaming systems have brought better-than-arcade power and graphics to the home, and it’s easy to become jaded when exposed to graphics of this caliber. The general consensus among hardcore gamers is that the Playstation 2 is not living up to its potential but only time will tell if game designers can fix this. If you already have a Dreamcast and a slew of games, it’s hard to make the argument that you have to run out and buy a Playstation 2 today for its software. Gaming purists on a budget may want to get a Dreamcast for now and wait and see how well Microsoft’s X Box and Nintendo’s Game Cube systems turn out before plunking down three bills for a new machine.

The fact that this game system doubles as a DVD player, which justifies the high price tag, is by far the most compelling reason to go and pick one of these babies up. Even if you only end up having three or four games for it, it’s easy to justify owning a unit that gives you the ability to watch DVDs on it too. Many video rental stores such as Blockbuster now let you check out Playstation 2 games for as little as $5 for five days, so you don’t even need to invest $50 to $60 in a game. If you happen to rent a game that you absolutely love, then by all means, you should add that to your collection. Chances are, as the competition comes along, the price on the Playstation 2 will drop, but even at $299, it’s worth owning one if you don't have a video game system yet. Just think of it as a DVD player that can play some cool games, too.
Manufacturer Sony
Model Playstation 2
Reviewer Bryan Dailey





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