It's the Monday morning after the first weekend of PlayStation 2 gaming, and everyone who got one now has an opinion. Those who didn't manage to get one also have some interesting comments on the matter too, so I suppose that's where we shall begin.
EuroGamer's former staff writer Simon Quirk pre-ordered his PlayStation 2 from Gameplay at the same time as myself, yet he has seen neither hide nor hair of his console yet. As for me, I received mine a day early of all things. Sony were confident that all 165,000 units would be delivered, but it seems that even this number may have fallen short. According to Simon, who lives on the Isle of Man, his local Woolworth's only received 80% of their allocation and his local Game store only 70%.
Elsewhere, Gameplay are unwilling to confirm figures, but it looks as if those who did receive their machines were drawn out of a hat, so to speak, from those confirmed one of the previous allocation. When we questioned Gameplay as to whether they would have any more machines before the end of the year they were optimistic, still holding on to the "2 to 4 weeks" estimate SCEE are handing out. Sony themselves have remained very quiet on the whole matter, comfortable only to speak about their slightly off-the-wall advertising campaign, which is centered around television ads directed by David Lynch of "Twin Peaks" fame. According to Senior VP David Reeves, speaking to MCV last week, "The whole point is not whether anyone gets it or not, but whether they see it, remember it, and think about it." Perhaps he was talking about the console after all.
The question is though, are those who did receive a machine the lucky or unlucky ones? At £300 for a PS2 with one gamepad it's hardly cheap. Another member of EuroGamer's legion of staff writers, Rich Self, jokingly commented that the "jury's out here until I get an actual game! I'm bored of two minute tasters on the demo CD". The good news for Sony is that the demo disc has struck a chord with some people, confirming suspicions for many that SSX is a whole hell of a lot better than Cool Boarders ever was, and that FIFA 2001 is probably worth the £40-50, although based on the rolling demo, ISS looks noticeably inferior.
Of the games we have received for review, TimeSplitters is proving very interesting. The multiplayer is generally excellent fun, and the computer-controlled bots create a manic atmosphere. The weapons are a touch clichéd, and it's hard to tell if they are all that balanced from just one weekend of play, but what we can tell you is that the single player game is a touch dull, despite some excellent visuals. Meanwhile the full version of SSX has proved quite a hit. Although it drops frames rather too often for our liking it is still a lot of fun. It never becomes jerky, but there are barely perceptible gaps, which do upset the otherwise superb feeling of speed.
Bang Per Buck
In terms of value for money, it must be incredibly difficult for anyone to justify the cost for, say, a PlayStation 2, one game and a memory card. If you picked up a DVD as well, you will be out of pocket for nearly £400, and for what? The DVD playback capabilities do add a tremendous amount of buyer-incentive, but when we are paying nearly one and a half times what the Americans and Japanese paid for it, it doesn't quite add up. In actuality, when you look at the PlayStation 2 compared to past console releases, it isn't any more expensive than most. The dearest was Sega's ill-fated Saturn, which retailed at £399 on day one, with just a copy of Virtua Fighter and a single controller, whereas most consoles launch at £299 with either a demo disc or an early in-house title and a controller. The argument here though is that in those cases, frequently the console that made up the direct competition cost about the same, or dropped to £199, and was notably mediocre by comparison. In the Dreamcast's case however, the console costs just £150, for which you also get two popular games, Sonic Adventure and ChuChu Rocket. The other factor to take into account is the quality of software coming out on the Dreamcast right now compared to the games available on opening weekend for the PS2. Shenmue, MSR and Jet Set Radio are three of the most entertaining games I have ever played; the DC has the advantage of a proven track record and a back-catalogue of superb games, with more to come.
The battlefield ahead of Sony is also going to give them problems, with many Nintendo owners waiting with baited breath for the GameCube. While the Xbox is still something very few people can visualize, expectations for both systems are high, and Sony may well find that they are losing customers to Nintendo and Microsoft even before either company has actually produced anything! With the shortage problems still plaguing Sony, Christmas is going to be a crucial time. Are Sony going to come up with stock and see it snapped up by eager festive buyers, or are they going to miss it and find themselves with no customers? One thing's for certain, the reserve prices in those PlayStation 2 eBay auctions will either skyrocket or take a nose dive, whatever the outcome. And ultimately, when the best game at launch is Fantavision, a game that just will not sell to the majority, you have to wonder whether those inexplicable television adverts were really worth shooting after all.
The Way Out
At the end of the day, console fans are very possessive of their machines. It's difficult to tell someone they have bought a duff console, because they just don't want to be told, especially if they are fans of that particular company. Anyone who had to go through the experience of sitting on a friend's sofa whilst he wrestled with some indescribable dross on the Atari Jaguar will know this pain all too well, and the only way out is to buy yourself something else and never look back. With the PS2 it is even harder, because while the only title with much depth at the moment is a snowboarding one, there is a lot of scope for the format. Our verdict has to be that if you have not already bought a PlayStation 2, there's no reason to do so until the New Year, when second generation software will be available. And that's probably a good thing, because if you have missed the boat, you won't be seeing one until then anyway. Related Feature - PlayStation 2 Launch Index