PS2: A Software Retrospective
Feeling the pinch of the current financial troubles but still want to play some good games? Why not enjoy some gaming from a console that just celebrated its tenth birthday? The PlayStation 2
As the PS2 has recently celebrated its tenth birthday a while ago and reached the remarkable milestone of 150 million units sold worldwide - there's no better time to revisit the PS2 and its wealth of quality games than now. It's old enough that many websites and high street retailers will be offloading the games for cheap, but not so old that you'll be scouring the edges of the Earth trying to find games and accessories which cost a small fortune.
Allow me to recommend some quality gaming waiting online or in a bargain bin. Or if already have a PS2, then some titles that might have escaped your attention initially. Please bear in mind that the following titles are my own personal suggestions.
Before Platinum Games gave us the full blown violence of Vanquish, Bayonetta and Mad World. They worked for Capcom, under the name: Clover Studios. Okami is considered to be the best game to come out of Clover. Okami is an action adventure game involving you playing as a magical wolf: Amaterasu, the title was unfairly compared to (and wrongly thought of as a copy of) Zelda: Twilight Princess. Okami is better. Implementing cell-shaded graphic perfectly, you play as the lupine embodiment of a sun god, who must banish the demon infestation of the hydra-like Orrochi. You use elemental based melee attacks, for the most part, but Okami comes into its own with the use of the "celestial brush." holding down the R1 button freezes the action, and allows you to draw onto the screen with Amaterasu's tail. Drawing specific shapes or lines will create attacks or fix broken items. So one moment you're drawing lines through enemies to slice them in half, next, you're causing trees to sprout in order to restore a woman's faith! Few games have the sheer charm of Okami's cast of characters (The warrior Susano is a work of comedic genius) and humor. Don't judge the game on its bright graphical style and Banjo-Kazooie-esque voices. You'll be smiling by the time you've completed it.
Ask most gamers what they least like to see in a game. And they'll most likely mention escort missions. Games can be tough enough as it is. Last thing you need is an A.I. character that you have to keep alive, but keeps getting stuck or walking into danger all the time. Well, for every rule there's an exception and Ico is it as the entire game is one big escort mission! Told with very little in the way of cut-scenes and dialog, Ico encourages the player to explore the dilapidated castle you've been left to rot in (I won't ruin any of what little story there is) as you find your escape with the help of fellow prisoner; Yorda. Only Yorda can open the magically sealed doors, throughout the castle but she's not as physically adept as Ico, nor can she defend herself from the smoke monsters. So you have to strategize through the various obstacles, puzzles and traps all while making sure Yorda isn't bundled off into a dark pit of oblivion. That probably sounds like a nightmare to some gamers, but it isn't. When left alone, Yorda doesn't just stand there, she backs off from ledges, always comes when you call her and will move to cower behind you when under attack. If she does get caught, you very much get the sense that it was because you didn't fend off the monsters in time. Not because the dev team "phoned it in", quite the opposite in fact. Some parts of the game may have you stumped, but the second you figure them out is hugely satisfying. And that's what all good games should do. The only negatives are the camera is pretty much static (well it kinda nudges really) and it doesn't last very long. I finished it in a little under a week. But even after I clocked it, I played it through again. That's how enjoyable it is.
And a little tip...you want to pick up the watermelon.
The MGS series are best know for two things: its overlong cutscenes that tell Hideo Kojima's nonsensical story of cloning, nuclear war and robot tanks, and addictive stealth gameplay augmented with choice boss battles. This re-release of the third game is the best of the two on the console. You're gonna want (the admittedly, tough to find) Subsistence version because not only has the problematic camera of MGS 3 been fixed, but it also comes bundled with the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake games as well as online multiplayer modes (although the chances of anyone being online are slim so don't buy it just for that) too! A prequel to MGS, you play as Naked Snake, a rookie Big Boss if you will, who has to use the tried and tested stealth tactics to infiltrate enemy bases, discover why the woman who trained you turned traitor and stop a Soviet despot from waging nuclear war. But being set in the 60's there aren't any nanobots, or regular radar. Instead you have to use camouflage, rudimentary scanning equipment and constantly keep your health and stamina up by eating the local wildlife be they frogs, snakes or crabs. If you come to harm, you also have to administer your own medical attention, such as gun shot wounds, broken bones or snake bites. And obviously, there's no high tech weaponry. A big stand out for me was the prolonged sniper battle which requires patients, use of thermo goggles and a directional microphone. And not a hint of Raiden in sight! ...Well, almost. Never mind the cutscenes and have fun messing around with the camouflage and see if you can't develop an immunity to snake venom.
This is one game that you probably won't see on a retro compilation disc or on XBLA/PSN any time soon. Mainly on account of it going more or less unnoticed at the time which is a shame, because Psi-Ops is a well made third person action game that is clearly above similar titles around at the time. On the surface, everything seems fairly generic: near future setting, a gruff shaven-headed protagonist who's lost his memory, enemy soldiers that look like the stormtroopers from Star Wars, insidious organization that wants to overthrow the world. But it's your character's "psi-powers" which set the game apart, you gradually get to use: telekineses (lifting and throwing objects or people), remote viewing (seeing ahead through walls), mind control (taking control of enemy grunts), pyrokinesis (shooting fire) and aura view (seeing hidden paths/items/clues) which work brilliantly alongside the gunplay. You get properly introduced to each power (via a training center flashback) to allow you to get to grips with them fully. And before long you'll be throwing enemy soldiers about and draining them of their mental energy left right and centre!