When the economy gets bad, non-essentials like entertainment are usually one of the first expenses to take a hit. Priorities have to be set when it comes to keeping a tight budget and things like videogames usually don’t make the cut. Fortunately there is still an option for even the most frugal videogame players: the PlayStation 2.

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For over a decade, Sony’s PlayStation 2 has been a gaming juggernaut, going from state-of-the-art next-generation system to the bestselling game platform of all time. According to Sony, there have been over 150 million PlayStation 2 units sold worldwide. When it comes down to sheer bang-to-buck ratio, nothing can compare to the PlayStation 2’s potent combination of affordable hardware and huge back catalog of games.

Even though advances in technology have led to rather significant price drops in the current generation of videogame systems, they still can turn into quite the financial investment. Many people in the market for a new gaming system fail to take into account the extra expenses that are often associated with the purchase of an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. From $100 hard drives to $50 wireless controllers, the cost of basic accessories can quickly get out of hand during the initial set-up phase.

The PlayStation 2, on the other hand, is nearly minimalist when it comes to accessories. No need to buy an HDMI cable, hard drive, or wireless adapter. In most cases all you need to enjoy the PlayStation 2 is a controller, a memory card, and a game; all of which can often be purchased for $15 or less.

Accessories aren’t the only things that are affordable when it comes to the PlayStation 2. While some people may not realize it, the system itself can still be purchased brand new for $99 at many major retailers. Some online shopping destinations often offer bundles that include the system and multiple games for under $130. For those who are slightly more adventurous, a used system can easily be found at almost any local second hand shop, GameStop or even on eBay for half the price of a new one. For the ultimate deal, find one at a yard sale. While this might be the riskiest as far as the possibility of buying a broken system, the payoff can be well worth the risk. Often the seller can be convinced to sell the system, the accessories, and all their games for a fraction of the price you would be charged at retail.

The potential value doesn’t stop after you buy the hardware, though. One of the major benefits with a system as popular as the PlayStation 2 is the ease with which games can be found. Some of the more popular titles like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas or God of War sold well into the millions of copies, which means there is a hearty supply of them in the resale market. GameStop, eBay, and pawnshops are overrun with popular PlayStation 2 titles and often sell some of the system’s best games for under $20 each, which is a far cry from the $60 price tag of most games coming out these days.

In a head-to-head comparison with anything else on the market, the game library for the PlayStation 2 might be the best of any system ever released. Many of today’s greatest franchises either started or made an appearance on the PlayStation 2. If you’re a fan of first-person shooters, there are multiple entries in the Call of Duty franchise and you can check out the first installment of Killzone series, which is still going strong on the PlayStation 3. While Mario may only appear on Nintendo systems, games like Jak and Daxter or Ratchet & Clank may scratch that platforming itch. If violence and mayhem is more your thing, you can’t ignore the long line of Grand Theft Auto titles that were released on the system, including San Andreas, regarded by many as the series’ high point. Some games that were originally released on the PlayStation 2 such as Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Sly Cooper, and God of War are in such high esteem with gamers that they have been remade for the PlayStation 3.

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What may be even more impressive is that the PlayStation 2 is popular enough that it still warrants new releases even to this day. Many titles such as MLB: The Show, Madden, and FIFA still have an annual release on the PlayStation 2. While it’s far from the show-stopping new releases that will be coming out on the Wii, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 over the next year, cash-strapped gamers can take comfort in the thought that the PlayStation 2 still has a little life left in it.

With all this talk of systems and games, it’s easy to mistakenly think that it’s only systems and games that ravage the consumer’s wallet. The unfortunate truth about current generation gaming is that the spending doesn’t stop once you leave the store and there are a variety of things that can catch an unwitting gamer off guard.

For example: All the reviews might tell you that Uncharted 2 sports some of the greatest graphics ever seen in gaming, but they’ll all go to waste if it’s being played on an old 26 inch standard-definition television. While it might still be a television in the broadest sense of the word, that family heirloom is a relic from another time and isn’t going to allow you to fully appreciate all the hard work the developers put into making the game beautiful.

Beyond aesthetics, using a standard-definition television may also present practical problems. Many current generation games are being designed solely with high-definition displays in mind and something as simple as text soon becomes an unreadable smudge on the screen when forced onto a 4:3 relic from the Cold War. Trying to see how much time is left in the half while playing FIFA? Good luck telling that “3” from an “8.”

The PlayStation 2, however, not only flourishes on older televisions, but in some cases even supports newer sets with a 16:9 screen size and offers 480p resolution on some of its most popular titles, like God of War. The PlayStation’s DVD functionality also supports 16:9 as well as progressive scan playback, allowing movies to look rather good on almost any modern television, especially those under 40 inches.

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While the television issue might not bother all gamers, the bad news doesn’t end there for our fiscally-challenged gaming brethren. Online multiplayer, downloadable content, and streaming media are some of this generation’s most heavily promoted features and gamers are now expected to have their console connected to the internet. While it is hard to deny some of the truly cool advancements this has led to, all of them are useless to anyone who can’t afford or doesn’t have access to high-speed internet.

To salt the wound, modern games’ reliance on online multiplayer can cause a whole other set of problems. Lengthy single-player campaigns, especially in first person shooters, are often sacrificed in favor of a robust online component. Online multiplayer may extend the shelf life of games like Homefront (which has a notoriously short single-player campaign), but this will come as little comfort to the budget gamer that can’t get online. This can often lead to frustration as hard-earned money is spent on a game that may only provide five to ten hours of offline entertainment.

This new-found focus on online multiplayer has also led to issues for those seeking to share gaming with their friends. Trying to find something as simple as a two-player game that doesn’t require an internet connection on the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3 is a herculean feat. It has been increasingly rare to find a game that supports any sort of local multiplayer, even in genres such as racing and shooters where split-screen gameplay was once a staple.

So while an Xbox 360 can be picked up for $200, it has to be asked how much of the Xbox experience is actually being purchased? Will it result in a stripped down, second-class gaming experience because it wasn’t designed with the income-impaired in mind? For many that could very well be the case. If a gamer is looking for a new system and happens to be a little light in the wallet, they would be doing themselves a great disservice if they neglect to consider the PlayStation 2. Whether looking to get into gaming on the cheap, a good starter system for a child, or even something to fill the time until Mass Effect 3 comes out, the PlayStation 2 is an ideal system for any gamer on a budget. So go forth, my cash-strapped brethren, and enjoy a true icon in the videogame world.

Carl is a life long fiscally challenged geek and a contributing editor at GuerrillaGeek.com. He enjoys Buckaroo Banzai, comic books, not leaving the house and Mystery Science Theater 3000. He can be found online at his website and on twitter!

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