The Sony Playstation 2 received a monumental response when it launched in Japan on the 4th of this month. Selling in the region of 1,000,000 units in its first weekend, the machine created a footprint in the gaming economy bigger than the Dreamcast managed in 6 weeks of general sale. A fact that Sony has been pushing around the press battlefields with a JCB the size of Central Europe! But just what is it that's going to make the Playstation 2 the machine to own in the year 2000?
Those Vital Stats
CPU: 128-bit "Emotion Engine" System Clock Frequency: 294.912 MHz The PS2's CPU is based around a Toshiba-produced 128-bit "Emotion Engine", the name for which is a PR masterstroke if ever I've encountered one. This bizarrely-termed piece of hardware runs at 294.912 MHz and allows the PS2 to create complex 3D scenes. Sony has openly claimed that the CPU can do 6.2 GFLOPS, which, I'm reliably informed, is a measurement of data throughput. The Apple Mac G4 can do something like 2.8 GFLOPS in comparison. One statistic that requires no superfluous explanation is the 66 million polygons per second figure that we've heard so much about. Yikes. But in reality, you'll see the machine draw around 10 million, once all the extraneous details of the scene have been taken care of. Video: Graphics Synthesizer Clock Frequency: 147.456 MHz The PS2's video stuff runs at 147.456 MHz and uses 4Mb of VRAM cache, similar to the Intel i810e chipset. Apparently it improves performance in general, which can never be a bad thing. As usual, Sony's product engineers have craftily made the quotable figures much larger than its Dreamcast competitor, but even in real terms it's still about 50% better at doing its job. Memory: 32MB RDRAM Two Direct Rambus Channels 3.2GB/s Bandwidth RDRAM is a new one on me, that's for sure. According to my knowledgeable compadres around about the place, the reason Sony is using it is that it needs a narrower bus and therefore not as many traces as DDR SDRAM (the alternative) to achieve its phenomenol 3.2GB/s bandwidth. The RDRAM uses less board space too and the PS2 motherboard is small and packed with loads of other stuff as well, making space conservation a major concern with internal design. Still, what it basically amounts to is a pretty nippy machine that can keep a lot of information locally and recall it almost instantaneously. Sound: SPU2 48 voice channels plus software 2MB memory While the quality of sound that you'll receive greatly depends on what speaker/amplifier setup you're using it with, the PS2's sound system is of a very high quality considering that it's just a console. Unlike the other consoles that it's competing with, the PS2 will push your stereo as far as possible though and it supports all sorts of interesting standards (including Dolby Digital for its DVD playback!). DVD-ROM: 4x DVD-ROM 24x CD-Rom Supports audio CDs, Playstation CDs, PS2 CDs and DVDs Ah, now onto the PS2's most celebrated feature, its inbuilt DVD drive. Sony's aim to make the PS2 the perfect multimedia solution for the early 21st Century is pretty well realised by this feature. The good news is that it works as well as, if not better than the majority of set-top DVD boxes, including my own beloved Pro-line 1000, so if you're holding out for the verdict before buying one, considering waiting a bit longer, it could be worth it. As we now know, the DVD software that is kept on the memory card can be hacked to play any DVD region. No-one knows how long this will remain the state of affairs however. Right, now we know the basics about the machine, lets dive in and take a look at the games you'll be playing on it!Developer: NamcoPublisher: Namco Of the journalists who have seen it, many concur that it does a good job of exemplifying the machine's real 128Bit potential. It has proved very popular all over Japan already. Unsurprisingly, the usual Ridge Racer formula remains intact, but thankfully the handling has been tweaked a little to offer even more accessability. The powersliding is of course back in and it is a typical Ridge Racer title. It's very sharp graphically, far more so than the Playstation's Type 4. The draw distance, one of its console siblings' worst problems, is noticeably improved and the surroundings lack the intermittant pop-up that bugged the original versions. The Grand Prix mode is now complemented by a Duel head-to-head mode that allows you to race against a CPU opponent, as well as multiplayer modes, a time attack and a practice option. While many will certainly wait with baited breath for Gran Turismo 2000, this is certainly a good indication of the console's power.
: Arika Publisher: Capcom Despite the time-honoured strategy that Capcom had in place of Arika first developing an arcade Street Fighter game and then a console variant, Street Fighter EX3 comes straight to the PS2. Even so, the game is inherantly enjoyable if sales figures are to be believed. Shunning the usual beat-em-up trend of fighting your way up a ladder of combatants and then taking on the boss character, SFEX3 pits you first against three CPU opponents in quick succession (a segment known as Dramatic Battle) before facing you and a chummy character off against a couple of psychos in tag-battle and then finally giving you the boss. It certainly varies the experience, although this information is based on impressions of a demo seen in Akiharibura, Japan, so the final version will doubtless expand on the formula described here. The control system hasn't progressed too far, still encompassing the same basic features of previous SF titles, and the game certainly retains the immediacy of its predecessors. As you can see from the screenshots below, however, it looks far more impressive... Tekken Tag Tournament will put up a fight, but SFEX3 has the early lead.
: NamcoPublisher: Namco You could say that this caused quite a stir when unveiled in Japan last year as a launch-title, but then again, you could say that the grass is green, or that the sky is blue (well, maybe not around here), but the point is that whenever a new Tekken title is announced, it inspires press attention, and deservedly so - Namco have procured a masterful grip around the guts of this genre and are quite happy to tighten it every once in a while. Tag Tournament is their latest addition to that vice-like grip and it's going to kick major butt. Some of the characters look far better than others, with Ganryu looking a bit cruddy. Surprisingly, there's not too much here that Soul Calibur can't do, but Jesus, look at that swaying grass. The next generation? We are there. The play area is sadly not attached to the background and it can comically be seen to scroll the wrong way as you fight. Also, the analogue control is not called into use, so you can't vary the ferocity of your blows using that as we had been promised. Something of a missed opportunity, but this is still by no means a poor title. Consisting of more than 20 characters and the obvious tag option, TTT should bring a lot of new and enjoyable things to the beat-em-up table, but it will be interesting to see if it can take back Soul Calibur's crown. If not, here's to Tekken 5.
With the impressive array of hardware that the PS2 is boasting, the machine will doubtless be a success when it touches down on European shores in the distant future. Although the machine currently can be purchased via importers, 700 quid is a tad too steep, even for the most fanatical of gamefreaks and I doubt many will dole out the cash at least until the American import machines start turning up. Regardless, the machine is already proving popular in its native climes and judging by the sales response it has received it will continue to do so. Have Sony achieved another hit console? It certainly looks that way... Release Date - Out Now in Japan