I vividly remember the first time I experienced PS2.
I'd just returned from a six-month stint in Sri Lanka where I had been doing voluntary work. While the urban squalor of Colombo and the isolation of the Sri Lankan jungle were great for many things, keeping abreast of development in the video games industry was not one of them.
I had a Game Boy Advance with me. One of the old ones without a backlight, which proved to be somewhat impractical when you're living in a country that was scheduling regular 12-hour power cuts in response to an electricity shortage caused by lack of rainfall and subsequently a lack of hydroelectric power. I got a copy of Mario Kart Advanced shipped over to me from my folks – the only inkling of my once games-obsessed past.
Not that being in isolation on an island off the south of India was the sole cause of my distancing from games. Spending all my money on beer and ‘entertainment' during my uni years meant that for the first time in living memory my finger was no longer on the gaming pulse. I still put a fair amount of time into Sensible Soccer on my laptop. And I had a Saturn on which I would spend big chunks of the day playing a Malaysian lad who lived on my corridor at Marvel vs Street Fighter and Street Fighter Alpha II. He was one of those sorts who knew Spider-man's unblockable six-button combo. He'd trap me in a corner and beat me time after time. Which was a little tedious, if I'm being honest. But I had Panzer Dragoon Saga and Burning Rangers and, in my own twatty little geeky way, was still known as ‘the games guy' by my infinitely cooler mates.
Before the debauchery of university I'd been a keen gamer more or less from pre-school age. My mum and dad had an Atari 2600 that I'd commandeered for games such as Combat, Pac-Man, Breakout (with the twisty paddle controllers), Superman and ET – yes, I used to enjoy ET.
In 1986 I was lucky enough to get a NES and this was followed by the likes of the Mega Drive, SNES, Amiga (both the 600 and 1200 varieties) and eventually the Sega Saturn. But that was where it ended.
And then on a cold December day in 2001, still struggling to cope with Britain's climate after six months of tropical heat, I went round a mate's house and he showed me his PS2. The thing looked… odd. Boxy. Asymmetrical. Ugly, if may be so bold. And then he loaded up Pro Evolution Soccer.
Now, understand that Sensible Soccer was at this point still my go-to football game. The most recent ‘modern' footy game I'd played was Sega Worldwide Soccer on the Saturn. My reaction to PES was akin to a bishop's son flicking through a porn mag for the first time at the age of 15 – my mind was blown.
Not only did the game look leaps and bounds ahead of anything I'd ever seen before, but playing it was an experience unlike anything I'd ever witnessed before. It looked like a real football game, and it played like one too. Then he went and loaded Grand Theft Auto III and my brain felt like it was going to explode.
I honestly can't adequately describe the evolutionary leap that game offered over anything I'd even comprehended before. A real, breathing world that I was able to exist within. Stealing cars. Driving recklessly. Running down pedestrians. Leaping over ramps. Being an extraordinary twat. Hookers!
I knew than that I had to own a PS2. And within a week I did. Complete with copies of PES, GTAIII and Gran Turismo 3. GT3, incidentally, was the first game I loaded up. That intro, with that Feeder song – Mario Kart this wasn't. And my hunger for gaming has not subsided since.
At first I began picking up games on a whim – stuff I liked the look of on my local indie's pre-owned shelf. If I recall correctly it was the purchase of Star Wars Super Bombad Racing that made me realise I needed to put a little more research into my purchasing.
And so I did – and so began the growth of my colossal PS2 library, the importing of a Japanese console, paying through-the-nose for imported curiosities like Espgaluda, Vid Ripple, Initial D, the glorious mixture of the most amazing triple-A hits and the most wonderful oddities sold for RRP three years after release on eBay.
And it was a DVD player!
The PS2 really was the console for everyone. It was for the person who only played Tekken or Wipeout on a Friday night after ten Stellas and it was for the person who bought three games mags a month and got obscure titles from mail order retailers. It looked perfectly reasonable when sat underneath the TV and its controllers looked fine next to your TV remote, unlike those bizarre things plugged into your brother's N64.
And forget the Wii – motion control was a PS2 invention. As were karaoke and dancing games.
That PS2 is the most successful home console ever made is perfectly fitting and a suitable testament to everything Sony achieved with its glorious machine. For my money PS2 is the greatest console ever released, hands down, and is unlikely to ever be matched again in this new post-console age.
Last year I decided to de-clutter my life and sold off every retro console I owned. My Saturn, my SNES, my Dreamcast – even my beloved Virtua Boy. But under my TV today my PS2 still enjoys pride of place alongside my PS3 and Xbox 360. If I were a betting man I'd put 10 on it outlasting them, too.
PS2 – I very much heart you.