PlayStation Vita: Our Impressions
By allaboutgames.co.uk Staff
The PlayStation Vita has been out a few weeks, and it has been a popular device amongst our writers, so we asked a few of them to let us their impressions of Sony's new handheld gaming system.
When I first received the Vita, it was confusing to say the least. The arrangement of icons on the home screen were non-conformist, by adapting a strange style of grid pattern. Opening games had a Live Area which had its own icons and menus, before loading the game itself. The Operating System has its own standards which are a little different to smartphones, such as peeling from the top right corner to close a background app or game. Once I figured it out though, I believe it is actually a very good system. Except for Near, which still confuses the hell out of me.
Beyond the operating system are the games, and boy do they pack a punch. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is by far the best way to display the full graphical prowess of the shiny handheld. Luscious visuals synonymous with Nathan Drake translate very well to the 5 inch super bright AMOLED screen. Although heavily set in a single location of the jungle, providing a repetitive setting, the details in the foliage and masonry far outweigh any that a portable has ever provided, all courtesy of the very fast processor and GPU, and the law of optimisations tells us that the visuals can only get better, when games running on the powerful Unreal engine inevitably reach stores.
The vast wealth of connectivity beats other handheld consoles very easily. PlayStation Network is heavily intertwined with Vita, providing useful updates to games quickly, and includes a huge emphasis on social networking. On the Live Area for each game, a list of accomplishments by your friends in that game is shown, alongside announcements from the developers, such as new DLC. Visiting the friends list is colourful and exciting, and messaging is fairly simple, and easy to make use of unlike the PS3 equivalent.
Overall, I love my vita. For a handheld, its power and networking capabilities are unmatched. I can’t get enough of it. This is the first portable console where I find any moment I can to play with it, unlike other portables where I never have time to touch, like the 3DS. I know for a fact that as more games get released, my decision of what console to purchase a game for will include the Vita alongside my PS3 and Xbox 360.
I can honestly say I have fallen in love with my Vita, in the sort of way you do with a piece of shiny new bit of technology, although hopefully this one will last once that honeymoon wears off. The device is not without its flaws, not least the strange need to reconnect to the PlayStation Network every time you wake the device (despite it sitting with WiFi on in the background), and those silly, expensive proprietary memory cards which hark back to Sony's bad old days.
But it's the beauty of the device itself, with its twin analogue sticks, front and rear touch screens, and indeed that lovely OLED screen itself which win you over. Also the way the Vita effortlessly handles multi-tasking, as you flick between the music player, a Twitter application and your game with no hassle at all. You can jump out, switch song, and return to the race track in WipEout 2048, my favourite game so far. Its strong line-up means it's getting more attention in the weeks after launch than my 3DS did, although Near doesn't come close to the wonder and novelty of Nintendo's StreetPass functionality.
Sony's embrace of digital distribution allows the Vita to stay relevant in the smartphone era, and that's helped by the fact that, unlike Nintendo, they've been doing it with the PSP and PS3 for quite some time. Every "full price" retail game gets a digital release, with a slight discount on RRP, and there are plenty of great download-only games too, like Motorstorm RC and Super Stardust Delta. We're now entering the quiet post-launch period, but hopefully Sony will keep up the momentum better with this handheld than it did with the PSP.
Out of all of us I think I'm the only one who didn't fall in love with the Vita straight away. I was a little perplexed by the announcement of the latest Sony handheld; do gamers really need a 'high definition' experience on the go? Didn't we already try this with the PSP? Whilst the PSP introduced the concept of console gaming on the go, it was the Vita that finally got it right. Not only do we have cutting edge hardware but we also have the games to go with it. Unlike the 3DS launch which was hampered by a lack of good titles, the Vita comes out of the gates swinging with games from some of Sony latest and greatest franchises, like a new Uncharted or a WipEout game.
The hardware itself is very impressive, going above and beyond when it comes down to the niceties. There were rumours of cutting some of the more expensive components but that doesn't seem to have made a difference as there is plenty the Vita has to offer from the front and rear touch panels (although the latter seems to be a gimmick for now), to the fact that it has two analogue sticks. It almost feels like having a dual shock in your hands and definitely allows for some of the more controller-heavy genres to be able to spring themselves onto the handheld (what's a good first person shooter or action adventure without twin sticks?). What impressed me most, though, was the OLED screen. A number of titles have the graphical prowess to make use of it, but what made it shine for me was Rayman Origins. This game already looked gorgeous on the home consoles and nothing has been lost in translation as it makes its (relatively unaltered) debut on the Vita. I cannot begin to describe how amazing the visuals look on the handheld and I encourage anyone who owns a Vita to at least try out the demo to see what beautiful artwork that game has to offer. Rayman isn't the only game to look great, though, Uncharted's first handheld appearance is a breathtaking feat, matching the exciting adventure pace of the console version. Whilst it doesn't globe trot like the PS3 titles, the game has its fair share of tropical vistas and exciting action sequences which not only goes to show how great the screen is, but also illustrates the processing power of the device.
Before I get labelled as a Sony fanboy, I have to admit there are a few things that could do with some work. The Near application is a great feature for the Vita; rivalling Nintendo's StreetPass system, it connects you to the Vita community in your area, showing you who is nearby and what they are playing. Whilst it lacks the fun factor of the 3DS's social gaming it makes up for it by connecting you to PSN users around you. It could do with a few more ways to interact with other users, though. The Vita also requires its own icon for every game on the hub meaning there's no "current game" icon. You therefore have to search for the game you've currently got slotted in (if you even know). These are minor blemishes in the software and can be fixed or improved upon over time. Something that may not be addressed is Sony's pricing strategy, which sees some titles reaching the absurd price of £44.99 (such as the aforementioned Uncharted). Those looking for high definition on the go will end up finding that experience comes with a high premium. The price may be justified in some cases but that doesn't mean consumers should be happy about it, and it may cause some people to look elsewhere. What could have been Sony's answer to the growing trend of cheap, mobile gaming has become a potentially missed opportunity. Then again, the Vita's method of quality over quantity may just be the way forward as there is something for everyone in the launch lineup. Which approach will ultimately win or is there room in the market for both? Only time will tell.