Doubtless you’ve scoured around the interwebs in the past few days looking at the various reports and “reviews” of Sony’s fledgling new handheld, PlayStation Vita. But if you may indulge us here at AusGamers, we think we have something to add to the system review dialogue to help you make an informed decision re: purchasing another new console which means invariably shelling out for yet another portable device, along with its library of games, many of which are already, or will be, available on other systems.
Not to start things off with a negative tone, we just want to give you the absolute skinny before you lay down hard-earned dollars for something you might not necessarily need alongside the likes of so much else out there. The Vita nestles itself among the company of iOS devices, Android devices, the 3DS and more and... do you really need another cluttery piece of hardware that essentially does the same as a lot of your other devices, and to many extents, not as well?
Well that actually depends. What you currently own will clearly determine your stance on a PS Vita purchase, though there are definitely a few pieces of tantalising software to go along with the machine’s launch -- which are leaps and bounds ahead of what Nintendo’s 3DS launched with -- but you’re still looking at a hefty price-point and also a system that has no backwards compatibility with Sony’s failed UMD PSP game media, leaving you to download PSP games (not a huge issue, but still , when will they stop pushing superfluous proprietary media solutions for single devices?). On top of this, there are a handful of bad decisions and missed opportunities with the device’s apps, UI and usability.
For one, something as obvious as the option to not only be able to attach a photo to a message in the Group Messaging app but also being able to shoot a snap on the fly is alarmingly absent (even Facebook gets this right on mobile devices, and they get a lot wrong). Messages over Wi-Fi are also very slow. In fact, a lot of the apps just suffer from a general feeling of lag. It’s definitely not device-breaking, but I’m used to the breakneck speed of both my iPhone and my iPad, so it jumped off the interactive page, really.
Moreover, as Trog mentioned in another post, getting into the device is a bit of a chore, and I made the first-time mistake of using a now defunct PSN account on my first run through. Realising my error (and that that account has no friends), I attempted to just switch over, but this proved problematic in an of itself, with the only solution being to set the PS Vita back to factory settings and formatting the proprietary memory card. Thankfully I hadn’t played with the system too deeply, but that just seems silly when on something like Xbox Live you can have multiple accounts on in the background.
Getting into everything though, the Vita presents itself as a handy device. The UI leaves something to be desired in the taste department (in my opinion), but it’s functional and easy to navigate, so they can’t be scolded too much for that. It’s also much lighter than the PSP and is more on par with Nintendo’s 3DS in the weight department, and looking at what the machine can push out of its lush OLED screen, it’s no mean feat they got it down to a decent heft.
Battery life is on the low side though, so again, like the 3DS, lengthy gameplay sessions with titles like Uncharted: Golden Abyss means you’ll need to be near a power-point to ensure you get the most out of your game, otherwise you’ll only get into roughly four or so hours before the screen goes black and you’re pissed you didn’t cross the finish line, punch that guy in the face, get a hole in one or save some princess from somewhere. This was always to be expected though, Sony notoriously choose pretty visuals over any kind of conservative power-consumption, but when comparing the system’s strengths against the likes of iPhone, iPad or Android devices, this again proves it has a bit of an uphill battle.
We were lucky enough to score a 3G version though, and the good news it hold its own. Obviously 3G networks in Australia aren’t anything to openly talk about with your international friends without ridicule, but it does what it does. We’d avoid recommending any multiplayer attempts or the like, but having the option to connect is still welcome, and the machine, again, can’t really be held responsible for the state of connectivity in Australia.
So far though, the truth is the Vita does very little as a connected mobile device to warrant a purchase over any other smart Tricorder-esque piece of hardware, so like most handhelds, it boils down to the software, and thankfully, as good as most iOS and Android games are, they don’t hold a candle to dedicated gaming software, the likes of which both the Vita and 3DS have in spades.
From a launch perspective, Sony has all the usual suspects: Everybody’s Golf, ModNation Racers, WipEout and My Katamari to name but a few. And I’d be lying if I said Nate Drake’s handheld adventure “Golden Abyss” was worth missing, because it isn’t (as far as new devices and their launch titles go). All the third-party games occupying the system are more than decent (may we recommend Rayman Origins), and moving forward AusGamers will be adding Vita games to our review repertoire but for now, honestly, you’re highly likely to find something that tickles your fancy as a launch title alongside your new toy.
From a control perspective, the Vita is a dream to hold. I already mentioned its weight, but the comfort and ease of interaction through the dual analogues, D-pad, face and shoulder buttons shouldn't be understated. The touch-screen is pretty responsive, and I'd say just shy of the level of iOS devices but much better than Nintendo's 3DS. The touch-pad on the back of the console is also fun to use, and it'll be interesting to see this used to a its full potential down the track, but I'd say Sony made all the right decisions with the handheld's tactile components.
Add to this the idea that this is
a launch, and as has been the case throughout gaming history, a bit more time with the hardware for developers invariably means we’ll seeing some juicy games emerging during the system’s life, provided Sony doesn’t go all PSP on this one and screw it up. So far it’s not faring well in Japan, but their market is fundamentally different than ours, though I’d argue making decisions like not offering PSP download codes to Vita owners to anyone outside of Japan is a bad one, so the verdict is very much out on how well Sony can maintain the Vita launch and its subsequent time in the marketplace.
Personally, I like the device. I won’t use it for connecting to friends, browsing, photos, video, maps or any of the other cool stuff my iOS devices do a thousand times better, but I will use it for gaming, provided we see more solid software emerging. The likes of Army Corps of Hell, Golden Abyss, Rayman Origins and more are a step in the right direction, and it’s still early days yet, so here’s hoping.
Once again, stay tuned to AusGamers moving forward as we add the device to our regular games coverage routine, but if you have a spare AUD$350+ and want gaming on-the-go with fidelity, this one might be for you.