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Sony Unveils Big Online PS2 Plans

Sports, racing, co-op, action pace company’s online plan

Sony's vision of gaming's future involves a world connected by the PlayStation 2-a world in

which gamers, via broadband or dial-up, can compete or cooperate in a variety of digital settings and environments.

Judging by the crowds gathered around Sony's online gaming area on the E3 show floor-and the fact that the company has sold 600,000 Network Adaptors in North America over the past six months-Sony's vision is one with which gamers agree.

The star of Sony's E3 PS2 online plans is Gran Turisma 4. The fourth installment in the acclaimed racing series by Polyphony Digital provides the same level of high-quality graphics over the Net as it does in single-player mode, and will allow multiplayer races with up to six players. GT4 will also offer chat functionality and community-building features.

On the sports front, Sony's exclusive online partnership with Electronic Arts means all nine titles in EA Sports' 2003-2004 lineup will be available for online play solely on PlayStation 2. Madden 2004, NCAA 2004, NHL 2004, and the rest of EA Sports' franchises will also feature online leagues and lag-free gaming via the Internet.

Developed internally by Sony, Syphon Filter: Omega Strain is a bit of a departure from more-traditional online experiences because it allows four gamers to play cooperatively through all seventeen of the game's single-player maps. The game's premise remains the same: a mysterious virus outbreak, global instability, and lots of combat. The PS2 headset will allow players to communicate with their voice, and will ultimately allow intrepid gamers to open up areas and levels not available in single-player play.

Also on display and receiving much attention at Sony's booth is Final Fantasy XI, the highly anticipated online version of Square's award-winning RPG series, and SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs.

In Final Fantasy XI Online, gamers can fully customize their characters and embark on epic quests with parties of up to 18 different players from around the globe.

SOCOM II features more of the same tactical combat Sony delivered to thousands of gamers last year. New in this year's version: escort and breach missions, RPGs, laser-target designators for air strikes, and a brand-new night-vision mode. Structurally, SOCOM II will add buddy lists, improved community building, and more effective anticheat mechanisms.

BY GEORGE JONES

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