Will history repeat itself? 6 years ago, PS2 and Dreamcast were in almost the same state in which PS3 and 360 are now today. The very same press and media response, the exact price difference...read on, you'll be surprised.
Courtesy of nitsua of TXB.
When the Dreamcast launched, there weren't very many games for it. Now, some of the most impressive titles are available. The PS2 shipped with only a few dozen games. In all fairness, it does play most original Playstation games.
For this comparison, I tested a variety of games (it's a rough life being a reviewer). On the Dreamcast, I played NFL2K, Quake III Arena, Dead or Alive 2, and a very bizarre but cool game called Jet Grind Radio. On the PS2, I played SSX, Madden 2001, and Tekken Tag Tournament. Between NFL2K and the comparable Madden 2001 (both football games), there was no significant difference in graphics (actually, I enjoyed NFL2K more for its game play). Between Dead or Alive 2 and Tekken, once again, the graphics were almost too close to call. The PS2 had a slight edge, with somewhat richer backgrounds and smoother characters. The cheering/jeering crowd in the background of the PS2 was impressive - but the Dreamcast came very close to matching the rich 3D graphic fighting. SSX, probably the most popular game for the PS2 right now, was clearly better graphically than anything on the Dreamcast. While I wasn't able to test a comparable title for Dreamcast (probably Tony Hawk 2 would be closest), I did try Jet Grind Radio, a graffiti/skating game for Dreamcast (you have to see it) which has great graphics too, and better, more original game play. Overall, between the PS2 and the Dreamcast, there is not as significant a difference in graphics quality as you might expect. Sure the PS2 can handle more polygons on paper, but when you actually see games side by side, the difference is not what you'd expect given the hype ... and the price=2E "How do you explain this?" you might ask. Well, just like an Apple running faster at 450MHz than a Pentium III running at 700MHz, it's the way the system is using the processing power that matters, not just the raw numbers. You can't simply count polygons, memory, or megahertz, since each system uses its resources differently, and much of the efficiency comes from the way that programmers utilize these resources. Apparently, the PS2 is not that easy to program, while the Dreamcast has proven to be a big hit with developers. Titles for the PS2 will clearly get better in the long run, as programmers exploit more of the system's resources, but here and now, it's almost dead even.
Close to the US release date of the PS2, Sony announced disappointing earnings, with operating profits down 13% as it prepares for the ramp up of Sony PS2 consoles. CNet asks the question about whether the PS2 will continue selling at such fervent levels after the initial few months. Feedbag.com has a commentary about whether the PS2 could turn into a Betamax for the console world once the Xbox hits next year.
So, that was the news, but what's the reality of the situation? I checked at Buy.com's PS2 store page and it didn't have any PS2s available. Perhaps it was sold out, or perhaps it didn't even have any to sell. Buy was offering free shipping on it between 12:01 A.M. and 3:00 A.M., but its text message doesn't imply that it sold out.
As for eBay, there are 4,347 items found when I did a search on "Playstation 2." Systems are selling for $500 and up, with some hitting over $1,300. That's purely outrageous, as you could pay $1300 and get a computer that plays games a lot better than a crappy $300 console.
The PS2 has already launched in Japan and posted record sales. The list of titles, while mostly lame, still are beat those available at the Japanese launch of any other system. For Americans, the only titles of note are Ridge Racer V and Street Fighter EX. Both are familiar franchises with some impressive graphics, but are they so much farther ahead of what we see on the Dreamcast now? Not even close. Launch titles or not, neither game can boast being better than their Dreamcast counterparts. Street Fighter EX, in particular, isnt even in the same league as Soul Calibur (a Dreamcast launch title). So what if the PS2 can generate more than 70 million polygons a second and has had its picture on the cover of Newsweek; certainly didnt help their developers make better games, now did it?
This brings us to the last and most important factor to consider: the ease of development for the system. The PS2 is, without a doubt, the more powerful of the two machines and will have a marketing budget behind it that Sega will never be able to match. What it doesnt have is a developer friendly reputation. Companies are already complaining that getting the PS2 to perform to its potential is a frustrating process. The Dreamcast, on the other hand, is much easier to design on, making for shorter development periods and some really impressive games. This may not seem like such a big deal, but witness the demise of the Saturn, Segas 32-bit debacle. It was much more difficult to develop for than the PlayStation and look what happened as a result? Mind you, Sega also had the momentum and consumer favor, coming off the enormous success of the Genesis; see any similarities?
Considering that Rayman 2: Revolution wasn't programmed specifically for the PlayStation 2 platform, as Criterion's RenderWare 2 was apparently used to help port the game over, it looks surprisingly good. On the downside, the game suffers from some slowdown problems that weren't apparent in the Dreamcast game, which had a rock solid 60 frames per second framerate throughout, and the quality of the grass and background textures are nowhere as detailed. While on the other hand, its overall look is as good, if not even a little bit better, than any other version of the game.
The colors used in the game have a much brighter and vibrant look to them, so much so that it seems like it might have been a clear-cut attempt by the developers to give an even more cartoonish look and feel. There are also all-new lighting effects and Rayman actually casts a realtime shadow instead of the bland circular shadow that appeared below him in his previous outings. And many of the background elements that were simple textures before are now fully realized 3D polygonal objects. It's not a groundbreaking leap forward in visual presentation, but when taken altogether is definitely a progressive step forward in the game's technical level presentation.
It's also worth noting that Rayman, himself, looks better than ever in this game than ever before. His polygonal model has much smoother edges and he appears to be more rounded and alive thanks to better texturing and lighting on his body. The differences, however, are quite minute and most people won't notice it unless they go back and forth between both versions on a switchbox. Even with the plusses, such as the brighter colors, additional 3D background objects, better looking character models, and improved lighting, one can't help but think of the Dreamcast version as the better looking of the two games. While the PS2 game might have some things that make it look a little better in certain areas, it has more graphical flaws like slowdown and seaming problems between polygons in the backgrounds. Rayman 2 looks great on PS2, but it was definitely much more polished on Dreamcast.