Days of Awe and Wonder – 20 Years Of PlayStation


This year sees the 20th anniversary of the PlayStation launching in Europe. The Sony PlayStation was a new venture for the electronics company, which happened through the development of a CD rom drive for the Super Nintendo going sour. Nintendo pulled the plug on the SNES CD rom but Sony carried on and along came the all new 32-bit home console, capable of 3D graphics and CD quality sound. The transition from the 16-bit machines was incredible, completely revolutionising the way we saw and played games, opening a door to new genres and games that had previously not been possible. Although Sega had also released their own 32-bit console, the Saturn (which is also a great machine), it just didn’t have the same capabilities as the PlayStation, meaning after only a couple of years, it had been absolutely pummled by Sony’s debut console.

HCF’s Juan and Bat have very fond memories of Sony’s wonderful machine, and still being aficionados to this day, share with us the impact the console had, in what was probably the most awe inspiring generation of video games.

First up is our games editor, gushing over his most influential experiences on the PS1.

My own memories of the PlayStation are of days of awe and wonder, although the very first time I played it, I really couldn’t have cared less. This may be due to playing Zero Divide, which was a robot fighting game that was pretty terrible. A few months later, my friend traded up his Amiga 1200 (the fool!) with intention of getting a Mega CD. He came back with a PlayStation, five games and a couple of demo discs, obviously including the wonderful Demo 1.

This is where I truly experienced the power of the PlayStation. Of the games I remember him bringing home, there was Alien Trilogy, Onside Soccer and Worms. Alien Trilogy was great to see in action, although at this point (approx summer ’97) it was already showing its age. Then I played Onside Soccer. In hindsight, it was probably a bit poor compared to likes of FIFA and ISS, but this was the first football game I played in glorious three dimensions. Not only that, this game had commentary. To go from the likes of Sensible Soccer to a 3D football game with a commentator, well, it felt like I was taking part in Match of the Day. I was astonished. But then there was even more to show off, with the excellent Demo 1, which contained playable sections of the fabulous Crash Bandicoot, the shite-yet-I-always-give-it-a-chance-even-after-all-this-time Fade To Black and others including Battle Arena Toshinden, which as I write, it comes back to me that this is one of the games my friend also got with his PlayStation. It was the platinum version with a typo on the disc (Battle Area Toshinden). Again, when you size it up against other fighting games of its era, it was quite poor, but with it being a damn sight better than Zero Divide, there was a lot of enjoyment to be had with it.

That was me sold. I no longer was satisfied with my Super Nintendo. I needed the power of PlayStation. I must’ve been on Santa’s nice list that year, as December 25th 1997, I received the greatest Christmas present ever. A PlayStation Value Pack (console, 2 controllers and a memory card) with Crash Bandicoot and Destruction Derby 2, not to mention a new and updated Demo 1, which had more recent games on it than my friends! Knowing that Santa was going to unloading this package of joy from his big sack, I’d treated myself with my earnings from my paper round. I picked up a copy of Official PlayStation Magazine. This always included a demo disc and this one happened to have a controversial game on it called Grand Theft Auto. You may have heard of it. Also with that paper round money, I managed to save for a new game, which as soon as I could get to Woolies, I’d be picking up. It was called Final Fantasy VII, and it was a game that yet again, blew my mind when it came to my understanding of what games are and what they could do.

Although I had played games prior to FF7 that had a clear narrative, I hadn’t played anything with a story as long, involving and full of twists until this point. Add to the mix the character development, and groundbreaking visuals, it was a mixture that produced an experience unrivalled to this day. Yes, there’s better visuals and room for more gameplay than ever these days, but this was the first time a video game had shown me that they can be more than just jumping from A to B or playing a game of football. I was actually playing through something where the characters on screen were sharing their lives with me. We experienced the highs and lows together. We’d fought robot scorpions and Shinra soldiers, and it was the most thrilling experience I’d ever had. It felt like it had an unlimited depth. I’d got attached to some characters early on, Jessie in particular was a favourite of mine. After a few hours, I’d seen the sort of person Jessie was; humble, kind and always wanting to help. Jessie dies. I was gutted. Little did I know, at this point I had barely scratched the surface.

It was my first JRPG, and I was in for a shock at how long it would take me to complete. Jessie wasn’t the only character to meet her maker, and each time a character was lost, I really felt my team was never going to be the same afterwards. Another thing was the locations. Although the game starts in the rather grim but vibrant city of Midgar, after a few hours, your group were out in the big wide world, which at the time made an already huge game seem massive. The game took you through towns, cities and landscapes and there was always something new to discover. This meant discovering a new town or area was always exciting, especially if was somewhere with history for one of the characters. Although progression is a part of any game, this is the first time it actually meant something other than being a different type of backdrop. On top of all this, it plays host to my favourite scenario in a game. Quite early on in proceedings, in order to progress you’re required to dress the main character as a girl. This was hilarious, taking you from dress shops, gyms and even seedy hotels, possibly taking part in an orgy(!). Again, I had never felt like this playing a video game before. It was a new experience, and one that was to be enhanced only as the PlayStation matured. Although Final Fantasy VII remains my favourite game to date, there are plenty of contenders that almost toppled it from my personal top spot, all of which are PS1 classics. The PS1 is an amazing console for these kind of games, and once they hit the next generation, the massive leap in graphical quality meant that they lost some of their charm. Yes they look amazing and still play wonderfully, but the JRPG genre really worked on the PS1, The aesthetic and the music all limited by what was available at the time pulled together to create an unforgettable experience.

Another game was soon to come along that once again redefined what games were and what they could do, and it was to be every bit as popular and epic, METAL GEAR! Yes, the game with more plot twists and pop culture references than a Tarantino movie, Metal Gear Solid arrived when the PlayStation really hit its stride. An espionage game with as much gameplay as there were dialogue and cut-scenes, sees the questionably monikered Solid Snake drafted in by the US military to rescue a nuclear disposal facility that has been taken over by his old unit, Fox Hound. Metal Gear Solid was as close as we’d get to action blockbuster gaming in this generation and it was a work of absolute genius from Hideo Kojima, in what I was unaware of at the time was a sequel to 8 bit Metal Gear games. However, the dialogue throughout MGS keeps you abreast of all goings on from the previous games. It was an amazing, refreshing take on action games. A lot of the gameplay was trying to get from A to B without being detected, which involved shimmying along walls, crawling through air ducts and sneaking up behind enemy soldiers to take them out, be it non-lethal or otherwise.

One of the endearing features of the game is its eccentric roster of bad guys. It’s quite the rogues gallery, including the spiritual Vulcan Raven, who’s like an Eastern European Jessie Ventura, with shamanic qualities, or Psycho Mantis, who can manipulate the human mind. The bosses in this game all have shades of bad guys you’d probably come across in most action films from the 80’s and 90’s, and are either imposing meat heads or camp over actors. Either way they are part of the reason game is as enjoyable as it is, and still as playable today as it was back in the late 90s. Although time may not have been that kind in a visual sense, the sound design and score in MGS are unrivalled for a game of this generation. Its shameless use of styles and motifs from pretty much every post 1995 action movie still holds up to this day, and probably a damn sight better than a lot of the films it takes its inspiration from. MGS was deservedly acclaimed and it wasn’t until the PS2 arrived that we got a sequel. The ambition on display in the game makes it quite a surprise that it worked on this system (but then it was spread over 2 discs), and is one of the most popular series’ in video game history.

As a fledgling teenager, I was discovering more and more horror films thanks to late night showings on BBC2 and Channel 4. I’d often be up until the early hours indulging in the macabre delights of the often crap films these stations usually showed. Among those that left a lasting impression was Dawn of the Dead. Romero’s zombie movies have been a big influence on me since I first saw that shopping mall being overrun by the undead all those years ago, and to see that translated into an interactive experience won me over almost immediately. It was a few months after I’d received the greatest present ever given, and my first experience of shooting zombies in Raccoon City was actually the Resident Evil 2 demo that featured in PSM shortly before the game was released. I’d heard friends talk about it before, but the original Resident Evil was something of a holy grail at the time. Something I had sought for a long time but never had the opportunity to play. I’d seen stills in magazines, but it wasn’t the same, and when I finally got to play it at a sleepover with a friend, it was worth the wait.

The game was as gory as it was scary, and as fun as it was challenging. We stayed up way into the early hours trying to get out of that mansion, and I loved every minute of it. The pre-rendered environments added an extra layer of realism (at the time, to a 13/14 year old), and the puzzles were as fiendish as the undead waiting to take bite out of your face. That was it, I was hooked on this seemingly new sub genre of game that the 3D capabilities of the PlayStation allowed us to experience; Survival Horror. For years after it was long my favourite genre, with much like horror films, the systems limitations would just make it all the more a scary experience. Fixed camera angles may seem archaic these days, but they really added to the fear back in the day. In fact they still do as I still can’t play these games without my heart in my mouth.

One of the more subtle things about Resident Evil was the diaries and notes you would find scattered around the mansion. Filling in piece by piece like a literary jigsaw, exactly what’s happened and why the place is crawling with zombies and other terrifying creatures. This could be anything from a letter intended to be sent to loved ones, suicide notes or journals. It was usually a gruesome, descriptive account of a lab researcher, or security guard, all of whom met with the same fate, shuffling around the corridors of this creepy place. Some of it was quite memorable, too. “Itchy. Scott came. Ugly face so killed him. Tasty. Itchy. Tasty.” Every Resi fan remembers that diary entry, and although the subsequent games carried on with the same feature, they were never as memorable as the ones in the mansion. The same can be said of the extremely B-movie voice acting, with Barry Burton being a fan favourite. His lines were so badly scripted and performed, they’ve gathered a massive cult following ever since.

There are many, many more games that I loved on this machine, but the ones mentioned above are what I saw at the time as game changers. The old saying certainly rings true (although probably through rose tinted nostalgia), they don’t make them like they used to.

Bat’s fond memories of PlayStation

Whilst it wasn’t my first, the PlayStation was certainly the first console that I can actually remember receiving. It was Christmas 1998 and, coming from an Atari and Mega Drive background, I was excited to unwrap the PlayStation, it’s two controllers, memory card and my very first game: Three Lions. Although a tomboy as a kid, I wasn’t into football to warrant buying a football game for but, hey, I didn’t care. Playing as the England team, I became a dab hand at passing and scoring goals, even saving a few too. I found myself mesmerised by the game and that too of the demo discs I could get my hands on. The demos were just as exciting as the full length titles and I found myself mooching around car boot sales to find more demo discs that I could play over and over again. I would play anything from puzzles to sport games with a real interest in the WWF titles (WWF Warzone, WWF Attitude, etc). I’d often play on my own but whenever my grandmother came round, I used to hand her the second controller and told her to “press everything”. Big mistake. She’d be climbing on top of the ropes as one of the Hardy Boyz, suplexing me and then pinning me for a three-count. Never tell your granny how to play!

A few years later, when I was a little older, something caught my eye in the local independent game shop: a lightgun. The box read Time Crisis: Project Titan and it contained a grey plastic G-Con 45 lightgun and the titular game. Saving up my pocket money, I eventually bought the special edition bundle and quickly became obsessed with the method of firing this plastic gun at the television screen to kill baddies as opposed to using a standard joypad controller. From here, I went on to collect the original Time Crisis title and also Point Blank which made use of the light gun technology.

During the early noughties when everyone I knew seemed to have moved onto the PlayStation 2, I was still button mashing away on my little PlayStation, though quite content mind. PlayStation 2 was still too expensive and, being the considerate kid I was, I knew that it was too much for ‘Father Christmas’ to pay for. Not that it mattered as I was happily involved in three games that I would waste hours on: Grand Theft Auto 2, Theme Hospital and the daddy of them all, Harvest Moon: Back To Nature. These games taught me how to kill everyone with a flamethrower in 20 seconds (KILLLLLL FRENZY!), how to treat bloaty head and the squits and how to develop my own farm, cook for the neighbours and woo the local town girl for marriage. Everything you could possibly need to transition smoothly into adult life.

I have fond memories of the PlayStation with my favourite titles including the Crash Bandicoot games, Croc and Spyro and even now I still find time to have a quick play of the old titles. Though graphic quality has evolved so much, the PlayStation still holds a slice of magic for me. It seems to be the last console in my life that held the key to childhood. Maybe it was because after that I was no longer a kid anymore and the titles that PlayStation 2 offered seemed much more serious in comparison. The PlayStation offered so much joy and happiness and I hold a lot of fantastic memories with the console which has made a big impact on me as a gamer in adult life.

Could a kid growing up in today’s world of the PlayStation 4 share the same enthusiasm?

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