Installing the Network Adaptor - Playing on a traditional dial-up connection - Twisted Metal: Black Online
It's not easy to predict how things will go for online gaming in this generation of consoles. What's sure is that both Sony and Microsoft have spent big resources in the development and in the launch of their online plans. Plans that if successful should generate very different online environments.
Basically, Microsoft is creating an online environment that gives them full control on the online exploits of the Xbox. The user has to buy the Xbox Live kit and pay a monthly fee of about 10$ (the first year is included in the Xbox Live kit). You then have to register and you'll be always identified by a unique name on the Xbox Live net.
Sony, on the other hand, has decided to opt for a decentralized service, apparently less organized than Microsoft's. You don't have to pay monthly fees (currently, it seems that only Final Fantasy XI will require a monthly fee to be played) and you don't have to create a "universal" account for all the games you are going to play. Each game is a world apart.
There is no need to speak of the advantages/disadvantages of each of these plans in this article, we'll have time for this in the future, but there is a feature of the Xbox Live project that should be clear: it's a service designed only to work for users using broadband connections; all the users on a simple dial-up connection - that is still by far THE way of connecting to the Internet, speaking in a worldwide environment - will be unable to use this service.
That's probably why Sony has insisted on the fact that the Network Adapter (or Adaptor, as Sony prefers)- the device you need to play online with your Playstation 2 - will let both players on a dial-up and broadband connection to enjoy the fever of console online gaming. Or at least, to enjoy what could be the fever of console online gaming.
In this first feature about Playstation 2 online gaming, we'll give a look at what's into the Network Adaptor package, at the installation of the device, and we'll finally test an online game with a simple dial-up connection. Yes, in a moment in which everybody else seems to be interested just on broadband, we'll start our test of Playstation 2 online capabilities with the old, classic, slowest, most diffused way of connecting to the Internet in the world.
What's the difference between a dial-up and a broadband connection?
While most of you know perfectly the difference, we receive many e-mails, everyday, asking this question.
A dial-up connection is the classic way of connecting to the Internet; it's initiated by the Modem installed on your computer and is maintained for a limited amount of time. The speed of the connection is limited to a maximum of 56Kbps.
A broadband connection is a high-speed Internet connection, offered in many forms by many Internet Service Providers. ADSL, Cable Modem, Satellite are different types of broadband connections. The ADSL method has the advantage that it lets you have high speed access to the Internet over a standard phone line, thus eliminating the costs of the installation of a dedicated line in your house, needed for a Cable connection.
You can find many specific articles on the web confronting the different broadband services, like this nice one written by Simson Garfinkel for Salon.com.
The Network Adaptor - What's into the package - Installation
Whether you are on a dial-up or a broadband connection, the Network Adaptor is what you need to connect to the Internet with your Playstation 2. The device retails for $39.99, and into the package you'll find:
- The Network Adaptor (...);
- Two detailed, illustrated manuals to install the Network Adaptor;
- The Network Adaptor Start-up disk containing A. the software to connect to the Internet, that will be installed on your Memory Card B. Playable online demos of Frequency and Madden NFL 2003 C. Video Demos of Tribes Aerial Assault, ATV Offroad Fury 3, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4;
- A mail-in card to receive your free copy of Twisted Metal: Black Online.
It's extremely easy to install the Network Adaptor on your Playstation 2. It took me no more than a minute to mount the device on the console. The first thing you have to do is to remove the cover from the Expansion Bay on the back of your console. Then, you just have to plug the Network Adaptor to the connectors into the Expansions Bay; using a coin, you have to fasten the Network Adaptor to the console turning two large mounting screws.
At this point, you have two choices. If you have a simple dial-up connection, you have to plug a phone cord connected to the telephone wall jack into the Modem on the Network Adaptor (the "Line" port). If you have a broadband connection, you have to plug the Network cable into the Network port on the Network Adaptor.
Configuring a dial-up connection
The software on the start-up disk of the Network Adaptor will help you configuring the connection to your Internet service provider in a few steps. In the first screen, you'll see a list of pre-configured Internet Service Providers (AT&T, AOL, Earthlink, Sympatico, Yahoo Dial); if your ISP is not available in the list, you simply have to insert the number to dial manually, like you probably did on your PC.
Actually, it's very easy to configure your own Internet Service Provider; we are not based in U.S., yet the software gave us no problems in configuring a connection to our local dial-up provider. All you need is your User Id name, Password, primary dial-up access phone number, and eventually other settings requested by your Internet Provider, like Primary and Secondary DNS addresses.
Anyhow, most of the times you'll just have to insert Password, User Id and Dial-up phone number to be ready to play online. At this point, the Playstation 2 will check if your Internet connection has been properly configured and will save the data onto the Memory Card (137Kb are needed).
We tried to configure three dial-up connections with three different ISPs in our zone, and for two of them the setup process was absolutely immediate. The third one didn't want to work though, most likely because the transfer rate and the overall quality of the service offered by this provider has always been terrible for us. So, if your Internet Service Provider is giving you bad troubles with your dial-up connection on your PC, you'll find exactly the same problems when playing with your Playstation 2.
Twisted Metal Black: Online - Playing on a dial-up connection
As you may know, this game is available for free once you've bought a Network Adaptor. You have to mail the coupon included into the package of the Adaptor and SCEA will send you a complete copy of the game. Unfortunately, it seems that SCEA has been a bit slow in processing the coupons mailed by the thousands of players who have already bought the Network Adaptor. At present, just press representatives, developers, and people working on websites specialized on the Twisted Metal series have a copy of the game. Hopefully, it's just a matter of days before people who sent their coupons will start receiving their copies of the game.
The Twisted Metal series is well known among Playstation players, and Twisted Metal: Black is one of the most popular Playstation 2 games in North America. Twisted Metal Black: Online is a stand-alone game: you don't need Twisted Metal: Black to play the game. Anyhow, the game uses exactly the same engine, the same levels, the same characters of the original offline game: it's basically like an online-only version of Twisted Metal: Black, or, if you prefer, the online mode that could have been included in Twisted Metal: Black. For this reason I'm not talking of the graphics, gameplay basics or sounds here, since you can read our full review of the offline version. It's important to remember that the offline version was already a prodigious multiplayer experience. Twisted Metal: Black Online is a perfect expansion to the multiplayer possibilities of the original game.
Twisted Metal: Black is an eerie, sick, only-for-mature car combat game. In other words, it's pure fun.
The first thing you are asked to do in Twisted Metal: Black Online is to create your own personal account, setting your password and username. You can then set you default configuration, including your screen name (the name displayed to your opponents during a game) and the default car.
Once you've created your account, jumping into an online game is easy as selecting "Internet" in the main screen of the game. The game will automatically connect to the Internet using the network settings you have saved onto your memory card with the Network Adaptor Start-Up disk and will display you a list of available online games, showing the game name, the number of players allowed and the number of players who've joined the game.
As I said before, dial-up users can play only two-players games, while users on a broadband connection can play against up to other seven players. Since there are still just a few persons who have a copy the game, most of the times I was able to find just one or two two-players games that I could play on my dial-up connection.
Of course, you can also create your own game and become the current "host" - I did it almost every time I played Twisted Metal: Black Online and there was always someone willing to enter the game I created in a matter of few minutes. I guess that once everybody will receive his copy of the game, you'll have to wait no more than a few seconds before someone will join your game.
Twisted Metal: Black Online offers a wealth of game modes and options to create your preferred nightmarish Twisted Metal experience. The main game modes are four - Deathmatch, Last Man standing, Collector, Man Hunt - and each of them is highly customisable.
Deathmatch is the classic multiplayer experience, where you simply have to fight against your opponent. There are many scoring methods that the game host can select, and each of them implies a different way to play the game if you want to be the winner; Kills Only counts just the number of times you've killed your opponent, Damage Only counts the damage done, Net Kills counts Kills minus Deaths, Net Damage counts Damage Done minus Damage Received, and finally Carnage counts both Damage Done and times you've killed you opponent. You can also decide to have bots in your game (a bot is an A.I. controlled enemy) even if you are playing on a dial-up connection.
Last Man Standing is similar to a Deathmatch with Kills Only scoring method. The game host selects the number of lives each player is allocated at the beginning of the game; the player who survives is the winner.
Collector is a different story though, and if you don't set a time limit you might be playing for a long time before the game comes to an end. You have to collect all the artifacts scattered throughout the level; you can steal the artifacts your opponent has already collected delivering huge damages or killing him.
Man Hunt is probably the game mode less suitable to a two-players game. In fact, here a player is the prey and all the others are hunters who have to kill the prey. Hunters get points for killing or hitting the prey; the prey gets points for evading, killing and hitting the enemy.
Playing on my dial-up connection, I found myself in an extremely exciting gaming experience. All the unique atmosphere of Twisted Metal: Black, all the astounding and terrifying "special effects" scattered throughout the levels, were enriched by the fact that I was playing against another player, like me, and not against an A.I. controlled character. Despite the average quality of my Internet Service Provider, the smoothness of the game was surprising. There were occasional lags, that caused my opponent to disappear for a second from the screen, but they were very rare and never affected the overall experience. Adding to that, the Playstation 2 was able to establish a rock-solid connection with my provider. In fact, the internal modem of the Playstation 2 proved to be even better than the one I've mounted on my PC. I never - I repeat, never - experienced a disconnection during the game, and everybody on a dial-up connection knows how often you usually have to reconnect to your service provider.
Overall, I was satisfied with the online experience on my dial-up connection. Anyhow, it's not easy to choose if you should really get a Network Adapter if you are just on a dial-up connection. Great part of the games for Playstation 2 featuring an online mode will support in some way dial-up connection, even if the experience will be extremely limited when compared to the possibilities offered to the broadband user.