Hello gang, and welcome back to my adventures through the many shelves of my gaming collection. Yesterday we commenced with my gaming superhero origin story, the Lilly and James to my Harry Potter, and today we look at the console which took me to Hogwarts – figuratively. Gosh, that sentence worked out a lot better in my head…ANYWAY, it’s the Playstation 1!
I had a false start with disc-based gaming, as the first Playstation I owned was one of the original big grey behemoths that was a hand-me-down from my cousins – one that it actually didn’t work, so my first experience of 3D polygon graphics would have to wait until another day. That day would be around 1999-2000 or so; I don’t remember the exact date, but I do remember the experience of picking out a PSone (the slimmer, lighter coloured model) in an electronics store and choosing what game to bundle with it.
First Game – Rayman 2: The Great Escape
Bit of an odd one, this. I can only assume it was the whole ‘hey I liked Sonic and here’s another fantasy creature who parkours around levels hunting for collectables and jumping on baddies’ that persuaded me to give this game a whirl. I remember sinking a fair few hours into the game – not that I had much choice given it was the only game I had initially – but unlike other games of the time, I’ve barely returned to it. Is it because it’s awful? Absolutely not. But once I hit a certain level that I couldn’t get past – the Cave of Bad Dreams, HOW DO I REMEMBER RANDOM THINGS LIKE THIS – I ended up abandoning the game and rarely ever coming back. Even Gex: Deep Cover Gecko (a hella underappreciated game) got more replays from me over the years. Still a good game and I remain indebted to the funny limbless guy, but perhaps it says more about the strength of the games lineup on this console – a fact illustrated by the following list…
5. Driver 2: Back On The Streets
Okay so since I was little, I’ve liked cars. More on that later. But more specifically I’ve liked classic American muscle cars, and films in which people drive said cars very fast sideways around corners evading police cars and knocking over piles of boxes. Bonus points for funky music, a solid buddy-cop dynamic, and outrageous stunts the Dukes of Hazzard would find excessive. Reflections were clearly big fans of this too, and made the Driver games off the back of a binge watching session of Bullitt, the French Connection and Starsky and Hutch. And I was there for ALL OF IT.
This was a game properly ahead of its time, doing 3D free-roaming gameplay back when GTA was still arsing around in birds-eye-view 2D, and the in-depth Film Director mode is a replay-editor feature we still don’t see enough of in games to this day. Four cities helped beef out an entertaining story campaign which (unlike Driv3r) left all the gunplay in the cutscenes and focused on variety and challenge, and the super satisfying driving physics (which included a dedicated ‘burnout’ button) were the cherry on top of this delicious cake. A cake full of crashed police cars.
4. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back
Everything Crash Bandicoot touched on PS1 turned to gold. All three of his main games on the console were classics, and the spin-offs Crash Team Racing and Crash Bash were also damn fun. I give the edge to 2 for sentimental reasons; 3 was technically the better game, but 2 holds a special place in my heart as the moment my love of platforming games grew to new heights. Beautifully varied levels, a main character with tonnes of personality exuding from precisely 0 lines of dialogue, fun boss fights and a quirky soundtrack all make for a game that I revisit sometimes to play through to completion just to remind myself how joyful gaming can be. Spyro 3 has a similar honour, and was very close to making this list; the wacky Aussie marsupial takes the place in the end.
Fun story: my first experience playing Crash Bandicoot 2 came when my self-employed dad, a signwriter, broke his collarbone playing rugby and needed help on-site at jobs. That meant both my mum and I had to go with him to work for a while. At one particular pub my dad was doing signage for, the manager looked after me by putting me in the backroom with a projector, an enormous screen, and Crash Bandicoot 2 to play.
Needless to say, I didn’t care how long it took my dad to finish work that day.
3. Medal Of Honor
My first ever first-person shooter, and one that like Crash Bandicoot 2 I still revisit to this day. Whilst my friends had Goldeneye for the N64, I had the game which was made when Steven Spielberg wanted a Goldeneye equivalent for the PS1 and decided to make it a reality. And you can see his thumbprints all over Medal of Honor; besides the epic score by Michael Giacchino which remains my favourite videogame soundtrack of all time, the story campaign is a romping one-man-against-the-world adventure through World War 2 featuring railguns, U-boats, doom fortresses, nuclear weapons, top-secret V2 rocket facilities and even an Indiana Jones-style quest for treasure all taken in at a breathless pace. At its core is excellent gunplay; the weapons feel super satisfying, and the enemy AI is superb, from the way they react to having grenades thrown at them to their multitude of spectacular death animations. An absolute riot, and a yardstick for every FPS I’ve played ever since.
2. Gran Turismo 2
One Christmas, my dad’s bestie got me Driver 2 as a present. Awesome, except as I said already in #5, I already had it. He took it back and exchanged it for Gran Turismo 2, and in doing so cemented me as a sim racing gamer and motorsport nerd for life. Graphically mind-blowing for the time, it was also the first time we saw Kazunori Yamauchi’s vision for a realistic racing game realised; a vast toybox of cars, racetracks and upgrade parts celebrating a pure love of cars and racing, with a career progression starting at license tests building up to epic multi-hour endurance races, and a fastidious attention to detail right down to minute tuning settings affecting the balance of the car. I guarantee you, if you grew up a car person, a significant part of your car knowledge – as well as at least one of your dream cars of all time – came from this game. The fact that a nine-year-old me was able to school a veteran mechanic on flywheel weight settings is all the proof you need in this respect.
1. Metal Gear Solid
I state this with no hyperbole and with hand on heart; there was no better game ever made for PS1 than this. Given how tangled and convoluted the MGS universe is now, it’s hard to remember where it all came from; one man’s love letter to James Bond spy thrillers and politically-tinged sci-fi drama, a vast world of Suicide Squad-style larger than life characters and plot twists all filtered through David Hayter’s gravelly voiced Solid Snake character, and a core mechanic that promoted stealth and clever tactics over blasting fools which was genuinely revolutionary for the time. It’s the first game I can remember playing where I turned off all the lights, pulled an all-nighter and lost myself in the yawning vastness of the game world. Friends, there is a very good reason why Solid Snake is my absolute favourite gaming hero of all time.
Honourable Mentions: TOCA 2 Touring Cars, Spyro 3: Year Of The Dragon, Panzer Front, Oddworld: Abe’s Exodus, Ridge Racer Type 4.
My big takeaway from this era is of a giant leap forward; the transition into 3D and disc media enabled everything to be pushed so far into new directions that the starting point was barely visible anymore. This is the console which probably holds the most sentimental value to me; it shaped so much of what I love about gaming, and there are so many PS1 games that I revisit to remind myself of what I love about gaming in its purist form. The graphics largely don’t hold up with the same unique aesthetic that 16-bit did, but the gameplay innovations were genuinely revolutionary and remain as hugely important artefacts. Writing this post has given me genuine nostalgia chills; the PS1 is what made me a gamer for life, friends.
What was the console that made YOU a gamer for life? And what were your favourite PS1 games? Let me know in the comments below (or on Twitter; @AJV1Beta) and tomorrow I’ll be back for Part #3 discussing my forays into the PC Gaming Master Race. Thanks for reading!