Random Access Memories: Sony PlayStation 2

Arguably the most important games console ever made

This week marks the 20th birthday of the PS2.

While you probably spent yours mourning the loss of your teenage years, mistakenly believing that life was pretty much over, the PS2 can look back on a glorious era of genre-defining games, backwards compatibility (although nobody really used it) and the start of consoles becoming about much more than just gaming.

I remember the Constitution of Finland being rewritten in March 2000 but I don’t recall having a PS2 – are you sure you’ve got your dates right?

Unless you lived in Japan, you didn’t. The console didn’t make its way to Europe and Australia until November, while the Americans got to play launch games Ridge Racer 5, SSX and Tekken Tag Tournament a month earlier – but that doesn’t change its official birthday: 4 March 2000.

The PS2 sold nearly 1.5 million units in the first month alone, and nearly 11 million by its first birthday. With a UK launch price of £299 and a built-in DVD player, that made it a no-brainer for anybody torn between the two.

Could’ve put a bit more effort into the design though, couldn’t they? It’s literally just a black cuboid with PS2 written on the top.

That was part of the appeal though, wasn’t it? Sony wanted to get games consoles out of teenage boys’ bedrooms and into the living room alongside the AV gear it had made its name with. The fact that you could buy a separate DVD remote only reinforced that idea.

Perhaps where Sony did drop the ball a little was with online multiplayer. Sega had shown it was possible with the short-lived Dreamcast and Microsoft nailed it with the first Xbox a couple of years later, but the PS2 needed a network adaptor and the lack of a unified, all-encompassing online service like Xbox Live held it back.

Still, it does have one significant claim to fame. 2002’s Final Fantasy XI was the first console game you could play online against people on another system. 18 years later and we’re still waiting for proper cross-platform multiplayer to really become the norm.

Didn’t have Halo either, did it?

It didn’t, but one swallow doesn’t make a summer and the PS2 had arguably the best catalogue of games of any console ever made.

Its Emotion Engine ushered in an age of more ambitious titles that took their inspiration from movies as much as other games: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Ico, Metal Gear Solid 3, and God of War. Singstar and Guitar Hero (a particular favourite for many years here at Stuff Towers) also helped to show that gaming was about more than just killing, collecting and driving.

And while Ed Sheeran proves that popularity doesn’t equal quality, you really can’t argue with the stats. According to the Guinness Book of Records, nearly 158 million people have owned a PS2 in their lifetime – and we reckon you’d struggle to find one with a bad word to say about it.