I'm going to be honest with you. The PS2 isn't my favourite console of all time - that particular honour goes to my beloved, now crusty and leprous, N64 - but when asked, with a gun to my head, which console is the best console of all time, my answer would be identical every time: it's got to be the PS2. I can hear retro fans crying foul, there will be old school Ninty fans lined up to take potshots with the hackneyed old excuse that if you're not approaching or past the age of 30 you can't possibly remember the NES/SNES heyday, SEGA fans will be bemoaning said company's lack of managerial nous and lamenting their marketing failures. Some PC owners will no doubt scoff at some of this, and perhaps rightly so, but the clue is in the title. You can take your mouse and keyboard elsewhere.
But this isn't about favourite consoles, it's not even particularly about progenitors. Of course the PS2 wouldn't exist without the PS1. Of course the SNES is an amazing console that proved for much of the current critical crop to be a defining item in their childhood. Of course the Dreamcast was ahead of its time and we should mourn SEGA's disappearance from the console battlefield. But this week saw the PS2's tenth birthday and it's about time we all gave it a tip of the cap and proclaimed it to be the greatest console ever made.
It Was The First True Entertainment System
Before the PS2, the PC was the king of multitasking home entertainment. You could do work on it, watch movies on it, listen to music on it and play games. But now you could do all of that in your lounge...well, apart from the work part. Forget the multiplicity of cables for you to trip over, gone were the six or seven remotes, duck taped together to form a Peep Show-style Megatron. We finally had something approaching a home entertainment system, replete with Dolby 5.1 surround sound.
Place the PS2 next to the Gamecube (and I love my Gamecube) and it's something of a no brainer. Nintendo's baffling decision to use microdiscs instead of DVDs with their purple box of distraction came back to bite them in the bum as Sony's wonder tub of accessible cinematic playback gave film-lovers and game-lovers everything they wanted. The new format was so much better than VHS, it was less of a bandwagon and more of an essential party limo...the correlary between sales and technology readily evident when you line up the stats.
Sony tried to do something similar this generation, with the advent of Blu-Ray, although it'll be very interesting to see how that plays out against Microsoft's own advocating of purely digital media. Blu-Ray is, though, in a sense, simply DVD+. The PS2 allowed you to revamp the entertainment lives of your kids, and also smoothly transition into a new dawn for home cinema, without the need to shell out for an extra DVD player. And we loved it.
Bells and whistles, extra technological additions and the like are commonplace now and becoming even more important. But it was this generation that warned us that it didn't have to be all about the games. The Gamecube had some cracking titles, but dropped the ball. Why by a games console, when you can get a games console, hi-fi and DVD player all rolled into one? The games are important, of course, but then the PS2 pretty much had it covered there as well...
Its Catalogue Of Games Is Phenomenal
There are more than 2000 games out there for the PS2. TWO THOUSAND! And we're not just talking shovelware here, we're talking games with a certain pedigree. And then there are the triple A titles. The PS2 has so many that after a while it stops being something special and just becomes an exponentially raised bar. Here's a mini list off of the top of my head to help relieve a few cocked eyebrows:
- Grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City and San Andreas
- Final Fantasy X, X-2, and XII
- Virtua Fighter 4
- Devil May Cry
- Shadow of the Colossus
- Tekken Tag, 4 and 5
- Gran Turismo 3 and 4
- Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3
- God of War 1 and 2
- Twisted Metal Black
- Max Payne
- Jak and Daxter
- Ratchet and Clank
- Guitar Hero
- The Getaway
- Kingdom Hearts
- Zone of the Enders
- Marvel vs. Capcom 2
In spite of the slew of shovelware that peppered the PS2's market, Sony managed to not only generate a whole bunch of fantastic first and second party follow ups to existing franchises, but they were constantly on the lookout for more as well. You only have to look at the Sony stable today in comparison to that of Microsoft to see just how effective their scout-acquire-nurture policies were. That said, Sony, unlike Nintendo who've struggled with this since the mid-90s, really led the way in terms of opening up a platform for third parties to not just break even, but be incredibly profitable, something Microsoft certainly emulated in the early days of the X360.
Nintendo have always had the big hitting exclusives, those killer apps that you know are pretty much guaranteed to score highly at any given time, but the downside to that is their predictability. If Nintendo created games that everyone could play, Sony just made sure that there were games for everyone. The difficulty for the consumer came because there was simply so much that was good on offer. The Xbox, the late pretender, and its subsequent progeny are sometimes branded as the shooter consoles - a tag no doubt aided by Halo's popularity. But here was absolutely none of that with the PS2. For every gamer archetype there was a killer app, it just transcended unhelpful terms like casual and hardcore.
And let's not forget that you could play PS1 games on it too.
You Can Play Your Old Games
Let's not underestimate the appeal of backwards compatibility. When a thrifty consumer is faced with the option of playing awesome games, and then playing awesome games on a system that lets you still play all of your existing awesome games, something called a seeming no-brainer develops. You might argue that there are other mitigating factors, but quite frankly not everyone has enough to buy every console in a generation. Generational continuity saves time, it saves money, it's convenient, neat and seemingly altruistic too. Consoles, from a financial perspective, are something of an investment. To be told that your investment in the previous generation's models needn't be wiped out is encouraging for everyone involved.
It also helpfully facilitates brand loyalty, and connotations of protection for the 'investors' (rather unfortunately in the end as Sony swiftly removed backwards compatibility from the PS3). I love the fact that I can still play Gamecube games on my Wii and at least Microsoft kind of made the effort, bricked though much of it is.
It's thanks, in part, to backwards compatibility that the PS2 is able to make a claim that no other home console can: it bridges 3 generations, and it's still going...
It Just Won't Die
Like all of the best superheroes, the PS2 just won't back down. Even with a new, shinier model on the scene, rubbishing its specifications and wedgie-ing it in the playground whilst the PSP looks on and giggles maniacally, the PS2 is still going strong. Games are still released for it every week. It's been ten years, and it's still selling. There are console bundles, still selling.
This isn't a popularity contest, although if it was the PS2 would still win; 147 million units sold pays tribute to that fact. It's definitely not my favourite console. In all honesty if 'favourite' means the console you play the most, then it'd be my X360. If it means the console that's given you the most joy, it'd definitely be the N64. But no other console has totally revolutionised my lounge the way my PS2 did, none have stayed the course as long. It's both a source of nostalgia as well as being relevant. The retro columns are beckoning to it, but it refuses to lie down and die. It already has a glittering legacy, it's already been supplanted; but it steadfastly refuses to retire. It's basically Clint Eastwood. You can't help but admire it.
Do you have a beloved PS2 memory or favourite game? We'd love to hear about them. Drop us a line in the comments box below.