Getting Online with PlayStation 2

In May of 2001, at the Sony press event preceding E3, the PlayStation 2 Network Adapter, hard drive, and numerous other network related gadgets were announced. Fast forward 16 months, and we quickly realize that Sony has yet to deliver on many of their promises from that event, such as the hard drive addon and the Netscape Web browser. Still, since late August, the PlayStation 2 has become only the second console to officially offer network gaming in North America, although it will soon be joined by its two competitors, the Microsoft Xbox (on November 15th) and the Nintendo GameCube (on October 22nd). The following previews will introduce you to online gaming, PlayStation 2 style, and several of the big name RPGs in the works, for release next year.

When it comes to online gaming, the PlayStation 2 has several important factors luring players and developers alike. First, unlike the Xbox, the PlayStation 2 supports both narrowband and broadband gaming; and unlike the GameCube, the PlayStation 2 Network Adapter handles both types of connections. This provides access to network gaming to more players, and a less expensive method of upgrading from narrowband to broadband play when broadband becomes available. Second, the PlayStation 2 has an installed base of 11 million in North America, attracting developers to develop quality games for that market, which, in turn, drives more gamers to purchase the Network Adapter. Third, Sony is allowing developers and publishers to host their own games, on their own servers, so each is free to charge as little, or as much as they wish. Currently, none of the available titles require an extra charge. As an added bonus, the PlayStation 2 Network Adapter package contains a mail-in redemption certificate for a copy of Twisted Metal: Black ONLINE.

Fast and Furious Car Combat
Fast and Furious Car Combat
Of course, nothing is perfect, and that saying holds true for the PlayStation 2 Network Adapter as well. The biggest draw back for RPGamers' is the lack of RPGs. Unlike the Nintendo GameCube network, which will see Phantasy Star Online Episodes 1 & 2 released a week after the adapters, at the earliest, the first RPG to take advantage of the PlayStation's new network capabilities will not ship until March of 2003. Another big issue is the draw back of narrowband. Players using narrowband connections will soon discover that they can not play their network games to the fullest potentional. In fact, SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals, argueably the premiere non-sports title taking advantage of the network adapter, can not be played online with just a narrowband connection. Of course, SOCOM's offline missions more than make up for this drawback. Finally, the last problem facing the PlayStation 2 Network Adapter is the same problem that faced the PlayStation 2 itself; limited availablity. Sony will ship only 400,000 units in the current calendar year, with only an additional 100,000 shipped by the end of March, 2003.

For a suggested retail price of $39.99, gamers going online with their PlayStation 2 will receive the following:

  • One (1) Network Adapter for PlayStation 2 (10/100 Ethernet & 56K v.90 modem)
  • Start-Up Disc which features connectivity setup, Help Video and Documentation, Demos, and coming soon videos.
  • Mail-in Coupon for Twisted Metal: Black ONLINE
In addition, RPGamer's test kit came with a nifty little 8 foot retractable Ethernet Cable (with Phone jack adapters), which does not appear to be available for sale at this time. This cable would have made an excellent addition to the Network Adapter package, as it provides both ethernet and modem connectivity, in a package that is smaller than the average Palm Pilot.

SEALs in Action
SEALs in Action
To test the Network Adapter, we used both a narrowband connection and broadband. Much to our delight, the physical installation of the adapter (curse those thumb screws) proved to take longer than the actual setup of the software. Within five minutes, we had both systems setup and ready to go. For those who have difficulty, Sony's Network Adapter Website and included documentation and videos are top-notch. The general consensus is that gamers in Canada have a slightly more difficult time getting online, especially those with certain cable modem services, as several Canadian ISPs will not have finished necessary upgrades to their infrastructure until the end of the year. Extremely pleased with the ease of the setup up, we sat down to play some games. Then we discovered that SOCOM could not be played over a narrowband connection do to the bandwidth required for voice. According to Sony, it is the only title available for the foreseeable future that will be broadband only.

Twisted Metal: Black ONLINE, as previously mentioned, is available free via mail-in coupon. It is not exactly clear why the decision was made to have gamers mail in the coupon to get the game, instead of including it with the adapter package, though it is possible Sony may change the freebie in the future. Twisted Metal: Black ONLINE features 4 modes of gameplay; Death Match, Last Man Standing, Man Hunt, and Collector, with up to 8 players in broadband and 2 in narrowband. Obviously, playing Twisted Metal: Black ONLINE via a narrowband connection essentially renders the game down to one mode, Death Match. Fans of Twisted Metal: Black will probably enjoy playing with either a broadband or narrowband connection, but the narrowband gamer tires quickly of simply one-on-one battles. True to its name, Twisted Metal: Black ONLINE is an extremely dark game. Combine that with extremely touchy controls and general outright mayhem featured in every Twisted Metal game one can easily go from Ace to Roadkill quickly. Twisted Metal: Black ONLINE is the sixth title in the granddaddy of all vehicle combat series, and unfortunately network play is the only real innovation the series has seen since Twisted Metal 2 The game is great for a nice, quick diversion, and the price can not be beat, but the repetitive, limited nature of the arenas quickly wears on all but the most avid fan.

On the other hand, SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals is perhaps the most enjoyable online game currently available for play with the PlayStation 2 Network Adapter. The only real draw back, as mentioned before, is the broadband only requirement. In offline mode, SOCOM features 18 single player missions, set in 4 different geographic locations. Taking the role of the team leader, players can issue commands to the other 3 SEALs via controller, or the included headset. This headset is reason for the broadband requirement for online games, as voice communications are an integral part of online play. In online play, up to 16 players are supported, which are split evenly into SEAL team and Terrorist team. Gameplay takes place on 12 different, highly detailed maps, in one of 3 gameplay modes: Demoliton, Extraction, and Suppression. Demolition mode places the two teams on a map with one large explosive, to win a team must use it to blow up the other team's base. In the Extraction mode, the SEAL team must rescue hostages from the terrorist team. The last mode, Suppression, is a kill or be kill mode. Kill the opposing team, and your team wins. SOCOM gives the players access to a wide range of true-to-life SEAL weapons, from handguns, to sniper rifles, to grenades. Of course, the most important element to any online game is the other players encountered while playing the game. While SOCOM undoubtly contains its fair share of rude and obnoxious players, like any other game, far more players are courteous and willing to help new players along. Overall, SOCOM is one of the top notch titles using the PlayStation 2 Network Adapter, and a great starter title for those with broadband looking to take their PlayStation 2 online.

Click on an image below to read a preview of upcoming PlayStation 2 online titles.
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EverQuest on PS2 Square's Flagship Series The Venerable Star Wars Nobunga's Ambition Online

Review and Testing by Martin Drury    
Additional Testing by Steve Marco    
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