Cross-trained video

Sep 27, 2000 at 12:00 am
Sony’s market position will change forever this fall. Come Oct. 26, when America will indelibly supplant the computer-toned voice of “Play-Stay-shun” with the unforgettably modern logo, “PS2,” it will affirm its place as the chieftain of the video game empire.

But if you haven’t already ordered your PlayStation 2 hardware, you might be waiting awhile. More than 1 million units of the $299 console have already been presold and permanently tagged with some fortunate gamer’s name — as long as they’ve coughed up the $10 deposit.

The game system’s European release date was even shoved back to Nov. 24 in order to meet demand in the United States — both markets were originally supposed to launch PS2 on the same day.

And in Japan, where Sony released this attractively sleek game machine in March, eager consumers have gobbled up 3 million units. So the one question you might be asking yourself after the hype dies down: “What’s all the chatter about, anyway?”

Ken Kutaragi, president of Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA), has the answer. “Just as PlayStation brought interactive gaming to unprecedented mass-market levels, PlayStation 2 will open the doors to a new world of computer entertainment experience in the home,” he boasts.

Basically, what the PS2 has begun is a bridging of two chart-topping entertainment industries — movies and the impressively ferocious video game business. Aside from supporting more than 800 current PlayStation titles, users will be able to insert more than 6,000 current DVD titles in their PS2 drive, press “play” and watch them onscreen.

Enjoying the best of all worlds has never been more convenient. Recognizing this, Sony is emphasizing the versatility of its new invention, practically advertising it as a DVD player that plays games, instead of the contrary. And like the original PlayStation, it will play audio CDs and DVD-audio discs as well.

So in the splendor of Dolby Digital (AC-3) and DTS (Digital Theater Sound), even the most inexperienced user can play the graphically enhanced Ridge Racer V, watch the “special edition” of The Matrix or listen to the eclectic tunes of Moby.

The only debate currently open about the PS2 DVD/CD player is the ease-of-use factor. Unlike other home theater systems currently on store shelves, Sony’s game machine doesn’t come with a remote control (and, while other companies make one that’s compatible, it adds to your overall cost).

Unfortunately, the only way to access each movie, change listening tracks or navigate on-screen menus is by way of the awkward gamepad. Even a simple press of the “pause” or “fast-reverse” button requires a trip across the room to the console — a shortcoming that longtime DVD users have not had to face.

Now, aside from this below-par DVD interface, there are already more than 270 game titles in development that will surely entice hardcore players. On hand at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, the definitive, annual trade show for console and computer gaming, were a plethora of PS2 goodies — and, consequently, interactive rubbish too.

Among the champions at the show were a couple of arena fighters, Tekken Tag Tournament and Dead or Alive 2. Both excel in eye candy and maneuverability, with only a few technical flaws to conceal. Tekken Tag suffers more from 3-D environment confusion than any other title (i.e. the foreground and background aren’t properly laced together, creating the illusion of an incessantly rotating horizon).

In Koei Corporation’s Kessen and Capcom’s Onimusha: Warlords, the ancient way of the samurai is transferred to the digital level. And a variety of other titles are prone to become hits with sports fans too. Indulging in visually tangy Electronic Arts releases such as Madden NFL 2001 might eventually even steal ratings from the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, party games such as the aforementioned sports and ninja romps will be handicapped by PS2’s deficient pair of controller ports. Both Sega and Nintendo acknowledged the demand for four plug-ins, but Sony gamers with a desire for multiplayer action will have to add a $34 “Multi Tap” to their system expense list.

But even with these minimal digital blemishes, PlayStation 2 is bound to be the hottest gadget this shopping season. What better way to unwind after work or school than with three mass-media options — movies, music and games — all in one 128-bit gameplay engine? Jon M. Gibson critiques games and other technological goodies. Send comments to [email protected]