With Sony’s announcement that they would soon start saying goodby to the PS2 (in Japan, at least), it felt like a good time to revisit some of the great (and not so great) moments with the console.
10. Meet “Rock Band’s” daddy
What happened: The release of “Amplitude”
Date: March 2003
It’s not like rhythm games were a new thing for Sony consoles (to this day I can’t get “Kick, punch, it’s all in the mind” out of my mind). But with the release of Harmonix’s “Amplitude” and its follow-up, “Frequency,” the PS2 ushered in a new arcade-style of music-shooter hybrid that laid the seeds for the one-day ubiquitous “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” titles that seemed to have no end for a while. Sure, the soundtracks weren’t the mix of contemporary and classic hits we come to associate with our modern music game (hey, who remembers Freezepop?), but the eclectic mix of tracks and hard to put down gameplay more than made up for what could be perceived as a weak set list.
9. Rockstar threatens to destroy civilization (and not for the first time)
What happened: The release of “Manhunt”/The “Hot Coffee” scandal (plus the release of “Bully…” really any title that wasn’t “Midnight Club”)
Date: November 2003
Among the many controversies and cable news ginned-up “controversies” involving Rockstar Games’ PS2-era output, the biggest one to point at would probably be the “Hot Coffee” scandal involving some hidden code in the PC version of “San Andreas.” Now, the release of “Manhunt” had the cultural gatekeepers rushing for their fainting couches, but if you really want to get them up in arms, there’s nothing worse than some hidden sex in your M-rated game. Whereas “Manhunt,” the up close and personal stealth action game featuring the voice of Brian Cox goading you into murdering theme gangs in a “The Warriors”-meets-“The Running Man” scenario didn’t sell well enough to justify prolonged cable news pearl-clutching, “San Andreas” was an event–and “Hot Coffee” was seen at the time as a chance to catch Rockstar with their pants down.
8. An unforgettable laugh
What happened: Tidus learns (approximately) how to laugh in “Final Fantasy X”
Date: December 2001
The first PS2 “Final Fantasy” title was the typical epic years in the making from Square Enix, with a sprawling storyline and gorgeous graphical enhancements over previous entries in the series.
It also featured this… whatever it is, a benchmark in bad VO.
7. Kratos has anger management issues
What happened: The release of “God of War”
Date: March 2005
It’s not just that Kratos was such a badass new character, but that his first adventure was the latest in a long line of first-party and PS2-exclusive releases that made Sony’s console seem unstoppable. “Jak and Daxter,” “Ratchet and Clank,” and “Sly Cooper” had the kids and teen markets sewn up with their colorful and mechanically excellent games but Kratos was a first-party injection of R-rated action and a quick answer to who the baddest character was of the previous console generation.
6. Naaa, nananananananan na na na na na naaaaaaaaa…
What happened: The release of “Katamari Damacy”
Date: September 2004
The PS2 was also home to Japanese imports that weren’t afraid to take chances, with unorthodox game designs that served (and weren’t ruled by) quirk. Consider the first “Katamari Damacy,” the baffling, beautiful, oddball entry from Namco Bandai whose gameplay remains a surprise to this day. Sure, we’ve gotten way too many sequels since the first game’s release, but that doesn’t make it any less special.
5. Capcom goes ahead and makes the most beautiful game ever
What happened: The release of “Okami”
Capcom took cel-shading to the next level with “Okami,” taking the traditional Ukiyo-e art style and painting a game that was at once beautiful and grand. When you stack it against some of the repetitively bland brown and bland shooter and action titles of the next console generation, the vibrant “Okami” comes out ahead, a testament to both brilliant design (come on, why did it take so long for someone to make painting a mechanic) and expert art direction.
4. Ico saves Yorda
What happened: “Ico” wows us all
Date: September 2001
Without a line of dialog, with what amounted to one long escort mission, “Ico” remains one of the most emotionally evocative games of the last console cycle. Why? It’s another “Okami”: it’s yet another title that takes the craft of making games and focuses on the “art” part of it. From the grand environments to the massive puzzles, the actual design of “Ico” served the wordless drama of the same.
3. A massive console launch
What happened: The release of the PlayStation 2
Date: March 2000
If you wanted a PS2 back in 2000, you had to wait: and a lot of people did in all-night lines waiting to snag one of the first 500,000 units available in North America at launch. For months after the initial release, supplies remained scarce as Sony attempted to meet the insane demand for the $299 console. Even if the lineup of games available during those first few months of the console’s release weren’t exactly setting the world on fire, you’d have to be quick to nab a PS2 during its first year or so of release.
2. Where’s my Snake?!
What happened: The Raiden reveal in “Metal Gear Solid 2”
Date: November 2001
Betrayed! That’s how many gamers felt on discovering that the protagonist of “MGS 2” was not in fact their beloved Snake, but instead, the more junior stealth hero, Raiden. It’s not like his story or game were bad or anything–gamers simply came into “Sons of Liberty” expecting more Snake action and that’s not at all what they got (one of the early times that the combination of the Internet and gaming amplified what would otherwise be classified as a surprise into a full-blown “crisis” for a game maker).
It’s okay, though–it only took another seven years for the character to redeem himself as a deadly, emotionally broken cyber ninja in “Metal Gear Solid 4.”
1. Our first trip to Liberty City
What happened: The release of “Grand Theft Auto III”
Date: October 2001
It’s nearly impossible to overstate how important “GTA III” was, not only to Sony’s console, but to games as a whole. For all of the imitators, pretenders, follow-ups, and reinventions, “GTA III” was a marvel of opening up a game world and allowing the player to run wild. It’s a testament to how solid the formula was for the first third-person “GTA” that its formula hasn’t really been affected all that much by the passage of time.
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