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Play time 2

Sony's PlayStation 2 arrives this week amid fanfare and limited quantities. Here's a look at what you can expect from the next-generation game system.

By ROBB GUIDO

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 2000


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[Photo: Sony]
Only 500,000 PlayStation 2 systems, not 1-million as originally announced, will be available in the United States when it is released Thursday.
PlayStation 2 arrives this week, and Sony's much-hyped video game system delivers on its promises: games with great graphics, enough titles to whet any gamer's appetite and a DVD player that expands it into an entertainment system.

What Sony won't deliver is enough machines to satisfy the expected demand for the $300 PlayStation 2 when it goes on sale Thursday. Only 500,000 systems will be available, not 1-million as originally planned. Already, anxious buyers have bid almost $700 for not-yet-available systems offered on the eBay auction site.

Some might question the wisdom of paying that much, but it's an indication of how much the video-game industry has grown, as well as keen interest as the machines expand to entertainment and the next frontier for gaming, the Internet.

Rival Sega has sold about 2-million of its Dreamcasts since that system went on sale 13 months ago, getting a head start as the first in a new generation of devices with super-charged graphics. But market leader Sony is expected to maintain its lead with PlayStation 2, which offers similar features but eventually will have far more games available.

All along, Sony has touted the PlayStation 2 as the future of entertainment, and it very well could be. Because the PS2 uses a DVD drive to play games, it also can play movies. It has jacks so it can be connected to TVs, VCRs and stereo speakers, as well as a USB connector for other devices. There's an expansion bay to be used when an optional hard disk drive becomes available.

The PlayStation 2 is sleek and black, at 12 by 7 inches about as big as a dictionary. It can lay flat or stand on its side. The controller looks identical to the first PlayStation's, but with an important difference.

In driving games such as Ridge Racer V, a slight pressing of the button will get a car going, but putting more pressure on it will send a car into overdrive. For a while, I couldn't understand why my car was going so much slower than the other cars. Then I realized that I wasn't pushing down hard enough. Suddenly my car flew past the competition.

Graphically, I was impressed by the photo-realism of the games on the PS2 as well as the special effects. A view of the city before a race in Ridge Racer looked like a snapshot, with the sun reflecting off skyscrapers and car windshields.

In the various levels in the fighting game Tekken Tag Tournament, which looks like a series of computer-generated movie sequences, snow fills the screen, wind sweeps over tall grass in the foreground, sunlight reflects off wood floors and a fine mist rises from the bottom of a roaring waterfall. While these effects didn't affect the game play, the PS2 seemed to handle them with ease.

Nowhere does the PS2 flex its processing power more than in Kessen, a military simulation from Electronic Arts. Picture hundreds of soldiers galloping on horseback, dressed in full feudal Japanese armor, like something from a Kurosawa film. Kessen is a graphical triumph, a game that the Sega Dreamcast would be hard-pressed to duplicate.

EASports' Madden 2001 football game is incredible enough to sell a fair share of PS2s. Players are detailed down to the patches on their uniforms, wristbands, breathing strips and burnished helmets. Jumbotrons show the game, and the players move with the realism of their human counterparts, with thousands of animations.

I would have loved to hop on the Internet and play Madden 2001 online, but it may be next year before Sony has its network up. Sega, on the other hand, has its SegaNet running nicely with fun games such as Chu Chu Rocket and NFL2K1 for play now and the revolutionary role-playing game PhantasyStar Online coming soon. Sega also has plans to sell Ethernet cards that will allow the Dreamcast to use high-speed Internet connections such as cable modems before the end of this year, but game players looking to get online have only one choice for a while.

With 25 games expected to be available when the PS2 goes on sale Thursday, Sony will have more titles available than when the Dreamcast launched with about 18. And judging from some of the games, it's clear that Sony has answered critics who predicted tired updates of old ideas.

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Ridge Racer offers photo-realistic settings for racing.

Sony's PS2 library is going to get bigger and better, with 50 games expected to hit stores by Christmas. Sony brags that 301 software publishers and developers are working on 270 titles. It seems as if every company in the business, short of Nintendo and Sega, is working on titles for PlayStation 2.

The support doesn't stop there. Companies that specialize in peripherals, such as Mad Catz, known for its steering wheels, are hoping to cash in on the PlayStation 2 windfall with DVD remote controls, light guns, flight sticks, memory cards and cables.

Now, Dreamcast, which took everybody by surprise with its unprecedented sales in its first week, faces its most crucial test. Even selling 2-million systems in 13 months leaves Sega a distant third behind Sony and Nintendo.

Sony expects to sell 3-million PlayStation 2 systems in the United States by March, although there may be little relief in time for those hoping to buy one for the holidays.

There are a few options open to those who didn't order a PS2 ahead of time. Stores such as Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy, which followed Sony's advice and didn't take advance orders for the PlayStation 2, will be offering a limited number of the machines starting Thursday and will likely have more between now and the holidays.

Those who can't get a PS2 for the holidays have an alternative with Dreamcast, with a number of fun and quirky titles such as Crazy Taxi, Jet Grind Radio and Samba De Amigo.

- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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