Sony PS Vita review
When Sony announced its PlayStation Vita handheld games console back in spring, it was throwing down a gauntlet for the next 12 months.
The release of Nintendo's 3DS was imminent, smartphone and tablet gaming was on the rise, and the dark spectre of the as-yet-unannounced iPhone 5 - which turned out to be the Apple iPhone 4S - even then hung menacingly over the next year, threatening to take it even further. Sony's move was very calmly saying one thing: wait.
So when we sat down with the PlayStation Vita (then known as the 'NGP'), knowing the public would not be able to play it properly till the end of the year, we were intrigued to see whether this confidence was justified. Arguably, we came out with more questions than answers.
Sony PlayStation Vita: Build
The PlayStation Vita is undoubtedly an impressive piece of kit. Looking rather more like an old PSP than you'd perhaps hope (we actually always had a soft spot for its design aesthetic), it's surprisingly 1cm taller to accommodate its really rather lovely 5-inch OLED screen (double the resolution of the PSP, in case you wondered), making it a fair old size for a portable.
This won't be squeezing in anyone's pocket any time soon and is made to dominate part of your man bag.
However, it was noticeably very light despite its size, although the dev kit we had time with was running off the mains without a battery pack, so we reserve judgement on its luggage-denting abilities.
What is clear is that the structural bulk allows Sony to make a hand-held that is truly comfortable to hold. No smartphone control compromises, no utilitarian square edges - this is an ergonomic star.
Sony's taken stock of the PSP's many flaws and fixed them - the horrible bevelled analogue disc has been replaced by quite incredible dual analogue sticks that are responsive and a joy to use, the harsh lines of the unit rounded to fit nicely in your hand, the PS buttons smaller and less clunky.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss plays as close to the PS3 original as you could wish to hope for, long-distance gunning against multiple enemies from behind cover very effectively translated due to the combination of the impressive screen resolution and the tactile joysticks. Call of Duty and FIFA are going to play like a dream.
Sony PlayStation Vita: Controls
There are also control inputs aplenty - the familiar Sixaxis button and motion controls supplemented by a touch screen, a rear touch panel and cameras front and back.
Initial implementation of these seems quite gimmicky on the whole, and not at all intuitive – naturally tilting the Vita instead of pushing the rear touch panel to control a rolling Marble Madness-esque character in Little Deviants springs to mind, or trailing a finger on the touch screen to climb vines in Uncharted when the usual buttons are more instinctive.
But then there are always teething problems adapting to new functions, and Sony is also clearly aiming at new audiences. It’s amazing, in a way, that we already take accelerometer control for granted.
The most impressive showing was Reality Fighters, a fairly hum-drum sub-Street Fighter beat-em-up on paper that is elevated to must-play due to its technological armoury.
Taking its lead from augmented reality and reminiscent of Face Raiders on the 3DS, you are able to create your own character (cue scarily accurate face scanning) and have it battle in whatever location you choose to shoot on the Vita's camera in real time thanks to AR cards.
But one producer told us that they're trying to make it so you can do a 360-degree pre-shoot of your own locations (bedroom, office, Coco de Mer outlet) and then send them to other players for personalised fisticuffs.
Coupled with geocaching prize battles via Sony's Near online network, it's the template for what a modern portable game can be. Potential oozes out of the system.
Sony PlayStation Vita: Games
The Vita has also clearly been optimised to pair with the much-maligned PlayStation Network. The PSP's UMD software has been thankfully scrapped for Flash-based storage cards, but as well as physical products, the Vita will also be download driven.
HD movies on the move will look great on that screen, and it's no surprise that several of the launch titles are PSN games given the touch-screen treatment.
With Sony telling us that Wipeout 2048, the latest in the futuristic racing series, will support Sony PlayStation 3 vs Vita play, there will clearly be much crossover on these arcade games that don't demand the full big-brother console grunt and 3D bells and whistles.
Although, tellingly, while the dev units supported HDMI out to show the games on larger screens (resolution surprisingly impressive, since you asked), the finished units will not, presumably to prevent it from being used as a standalone console and eating into PS3 sales.
Yes, we're getting that close. Review continues after the video...
Sony PlayStation Vita: Price
We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Vita and are very keen to play with it some more, but our head kept turning to the potential price.
Make no mistake, the graphical fidelity and the tightened controls are aimed squarely at the hardcore gamer, but Sony needs this to be a mainstream hit, which makes pricing more key than usual.
Nintendo's 3DS sales have been relatively lacklustre despite heavy discounting (£160 and counting, down from £199, at certain websites), due to a number of factors, but predominantly because ever-more powerful smart phones are doing quick-hit games so well, and so cheaply.
The Vita browses the internet, takes photos and plays all sorts of media, but its size and control inputs will undoubtedly limit its portability and, in turn, its function, so regardless of its intentions, it will still be referred to primarily as a games machine.
Is this the reason standalone portable gaming systems are a dying breed?
With US and European pricing announced at E3 ($249 and 249 Euros for the WiFi model, $299 and 299 Euros for the 3G version, respectively), we'd say that Sony has done well to keep at least the WiFi model under the £250 mark.
For context, the PSP debuted at £179, you can currently buy a PS3 for £199 and the iPod Touch 32GB, our current go-to PMP from the usually fairly pricey Apple which you can slide in a suit jacket pocket, is £254.
The Vita is a hugely powerful, very impressive system, but it needs to recognise what it sacrifices as well as what it offers.
The portable gaming world has never been more competitive, and the needs of gamers on the move and the audience it caters for has changed unrecognisably. Exciting times indeed.
Sony PlayStation Vita UK release date: February 22nd 2011
Sony PlayStation Vita price: £279 (3G/Wi-Fi model) I £229.99 (Wi-Fi model)
Sony PlayStation Vita Video: All the details
Sony PlayStation Vita Video: Hands-on
Sony PS Vita review
Sony PS Vita reviewT3
Sony PS Vita review
- Five-inch OLED touchscreen
- Quadcore processor
- Launch games line-up
title: PS Vita: Screen & Games / url: PS-Vita-Screen--Games
- Fiddly card ports
- Focus on core-gamers
Sony PS Vita: Screen
Arguably the most impressive thing about the PS Vita is its five-inch OLED display, which kisses everything that graces it. Let's not understate this: it's bloody enormous, but never feels bulky.
Colours are vibrant, images sharp - you almost want to ignore its capacitive multi-touch functionality in fear of sullying it (which unfortunately, in true smartphone style, your fingerprints very much will).
However, once you've engaged, the big surprise is how good a tablet-like browser it makes, tactile and responsive, the internet's innards looking as good as they can. There won't be any Flash support at launch, but we're told that's coming later.
In a post-Amazon Kindle Fire, seemingly seven-inch-heading slate world, Sony could do a lot worse than ripping the stabilisers off its cross-platform PlayStation Suite and supplementing its ageing games catalogue with apps, ebooks and the full gamut of modern touch-screen fare. History says it won't, unfortunately, but it would make its criticised price tag quickly seem a snip.
Sony PS Vita: Games
We need games... lots of games. And Sony's new handheld is certainly coming out swinging, with the PS Vita lauch game lineup for the UK comprising an imrpessive 25 titles from day one.
At the graphically demanding end, Sony's staple future racer WipEout 2048 is glorious, the dizzying highs and lows of its Empire Climb course frenetic and impressively slick, while Gravity Rush, a kind of Bayonetta meets Jet Set Radio comic-style actioner from the man behind Silent Hill, is pure spectacle, combining classic hardcore gaming controls with touchscreen flourishes that never feel tacked on.
At mid-level, a few games into Virtua Tennis 4 and you could believe you were playing a PS3, so easily it handles its textures, lighting and, importantly, controls. But then it also has a token attempt at covering the iOS-tinged casual end, the eerie puzzler Escape Plan reminiscent of Machinarium, the mini-game flavours of Little Deviants a clear family play that's more fun that it should be.
The controls are tight, the left analogue unsurprisingly shaming the 3DS's effort, and kicking in the balls anyone who thinks smartphone gaming can hold a candle to proper dedicated joysticks done correctly. However, ironically, of all the launch titles, it's the dual-analogue poster boy Uncharted: Golden Abyss that's the most disappointing purely because it aims so high.
It's a blast, of course, but once you get over the sheer amazement that you're playing Uncharted on the move, you'll begin to notice that the right analogue is a bit too loose for targeting (we're eager to see how Call of Duty handles it), the tiny action buttons an ergonomic-square-millimetre too near the unit's edge to be comfortable for long sessions, the touch-screen interludes unnecessary diversions.
It's an incredible achievement, and a graphical showpiece up there with Rage HD on the iPad, but much like id Software's iOS big gun, there are far better games for this particular format.
The PSN two-stick shooter overhaul Super Stardust Delta for one; if any title showed that touch-screen gaming cannot replace dual analogue controls, it's this. If PSN had the games that XBLA had, we'd be doing cartwheels.
Sound pretty great right? It's not quite that simple - the cheapest game at launch is £25, with the real show-stoppers going for £45 - the same price as a full PS3 title. It's somewhat jarring when the Vita incorporates the best that iOS and smartphone phone gaming has to offer so effortlessly that it should overlook the increasingly large budget end of the market, just as the 3DS did.
This should, and needs to, be addressed once PSN in the UK goes live. Also, in a divisive decision, titles can either be purchased as old-school boxed games in the new PS Vita flash-card format (which, rather nicely, you can make game saves on), or downloaded from PSN to a tiny proprietary PS Vita memory card half the size of a Monopoly house, both of which are inserted through the most fiddly, fingernail-cracking access ports known to tech.
There's no internal storage, and the largest memory card available at launch will be 16GB, and it will cost £45 - which, we're sure we don't need to say, is too small and too much.
With Uncharted: Golden Abyss reported to clock in at 4GB alone, and an as-yet-unspecified discount on the £45 premium for the top titles if you go download rather than boxed, there's going to be a lot of chopping, changing and, inevitably, cards going missing. We've already lost one in a 24-hour period. Buy a little box to keep them in, we're warning you now. Not too little, though, or you might lose that too.
The Sony PlayStation Vita handheld games console offers a pleasurable gameplay experience, along with top notch graphics and easy-to-use controls
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