Today (4 March) marks 15 years since the release of Sony's PlayStation 2 - one of the greatest consoles ever made and the best-selling home console ever, with over 155 million units sold.
I got mine in April 2002 as a joint birthday present with my brother. With it we got a Colin McRae rallying game of some kind and, after somehow duping my parents, Grand Theft Auto 3. I was 12 at the time.
Before unwrapping that PS2 and hearing that start-up ambience for the first time, my experience with video games was limited to the Nintendo 64 and GameBoy. I have those consoles to thank for Ocarina Of Time, GoldenEye and Pokémon – a perfect start to any gamer's hobby – but the PS2 brought with it something different, something more grown up.
From Pokémon Silver to GTA 3 in just a few months – that's a drastic change of tone. Like so many, I was blown away by the open world created by Rockstar, and found great joy in the car chases and shoot outs even if the game's story largely went over my innocent head.
I got my fill of GTA without ever finishing the story, so when Vice City was released a few months later I was ready to really jump in. It would be the first of many valued PS2 memories.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City's 1980s introduction
By the time Vice City arrived, my school was buzzing with excitement. This violent, adult and fun series had not long caught the world's attention, and soon to follow it was a sequel that would build on and concentrate the formula into something special in more than just the ways it innovated.
I was buzzing the day of its release and so rushed home to start playing (after first thanking my poor mum, who I'd managed to convince to buy it). This was a game more fun than its predecessor in every way. The setting made for a better looking game, the all-star cast helped elevate the story and cut scenes, and then there's the soundtrack.
Vice City was really my introduction to the 1980s. It may have been distilled into a cocktail of clichés, film references and pop music, but it was still my first encounter with the decade I only existed in as a foetus. Everybody listened to Billie Jean while riding a motorcycle down the beach front but it always felt like I was the only one.
Metal Gear Solid 2's Fatman
If GTA 3 could blow the mind of a 12 year old despite being a vaguely realistic interpretation of the real world, imagine what Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty did?
The world of Hideo Kojima's creation is convoluted and baffling even today, so pre-teen Ben Skipper had absolutely no idea what was going on. There was a badass soldier man I knew to be Solid Snake though, as well as an awesome mech and the action was riveting.
Stealth was also a new concept, and it was one I enjoyed hugely. That opening section was relatively relaxed, so the confusion really began when the game started properly. "Who is this blond guy?" (I'd learn about the disappointment of fans later.) "Is that dude a vampire?" "I'm not sure her clothes will protect her from bullets very well..."
I was not sure what was going on, but I played on. It began to click after acquiring the freeze spray and finding the C4 placed around Big Shell. Soon after that came the boss fight against Fatman – a roller-skating explosives fanatic of course.
It took a couple of attempts but after defeating him I finally knew what the game was. It knew precisely how ridiculous it was and relished that. The developers were certainly enjoying themselves, so I definitely could.
Red Dead Revolver's corrupt save
Red Dead Revolver is a cool third-person shooter like few others and it saw me through a British summer holiday with particularly awful weather. It was while nearing the end of Rockstar's precursor to the peerless Red Dead Redemption that disaster struck.
Playing it as a hail storm battered hapless tourists in St Ives, Cornwall, my brother had been playing something else when I finally broke him down and he let me have a go. I reset the system and booted up Red Dead, only to find the save file corrupted.
No... Please no... Yes. It was dead, and I never played Red Dead Revolver again.
Burnout 3: Takedown's eliminator mode
Burnout 3 is the best racing game ever made. In my youth I considered car sims such as Gran Turismo a waste of time (and, as it happens, I still do) and so gravitated towards the racers that focused on fun. There was nothing more fun than the Burnout series (RIP) and the third one was the zenith of what Criterion had created.
Once discovered, the eliminator mode dominated my time with the game. At its breakneck speeds Burnout was already finely balanced on the line between control and chaos, and eliminator mode added yet more tension.
Six racers would hurtle around the track taking each other out to ensure they were not in last place at the end of the lap. If they were – BOOM – they are eliminated. It was an excruciatingly close call every single time.
James Bond 007: Nightfire's multiplayer
If any single moment got me into gaming it was when my uncle showed my brother and I GoldenEye for the first time. Multiplayer quickly became a staple of each and every time we visited his house, much to the dismay of my aunt.
The successor for us was Nightfire, the secret best James Bond video game – especially considering how poorly GoldenEye has aged. The multiplayer was great fun and we played it nearly as much and for nearly as long as the N64 classic before it.
Smackdown vs Raw's Ironman Finale
There was a lot of Nightfire, but much more wrestling during my time with the PS2. My brother and I played each game from the imperious Here Comes The Pain through until Smackdown vs Raw 2009 religiously, but one match in particular sticks in the memory.
Smackdown vs Raw 2007 was about to be released so our time with 2006 was coming to an end. To sign off in style, the Skippers fought each other in an actual 60-minute Iron Man match between my Bret Hart and my brother's Shawn Michaels... at Wrestlemania... for the WWE title.
For the uninitiated, an Iron Man match takes place in a set time period with the person who gains the most pinfalls or submissions by the end winning the match. It was long, gruelling and, for the most part, very, very close.
While I do not remember the exact score, it was certainly mental, with both us easily in double figures. With minutes left it remained close, but my Hitman rallied to put the Heartbreak Kid away a few times in succession and nab the victory.
It is one of my favourite gaming memories, and one of my brother's too. In fact, when I moved out of my parents' house many years later, he suggested we dust off the PS2 and recreate that magic. Sadly we could not find a second controller. One day we should.