February 21, 2012

PlayStation Vita – Hands-On Preview

PS Vita

In a market dominated by inexpensive applications to entertain those on the move, Sony has certainly thrown in a wild card with the PS Vita. Released in Japan late last year and already facing floods of criticism from the other side of the pond, I decided to spend some quality time with Sony’s new handheld to figure out if the concerns are truly warranted and if the praise is well deserved.

Reminiscent of the shape of the original PlayStation Portable, this new ultra thin device is rather reasonable in weight, as the shape and feel of it is quite vast. It boasts a 5-inch OLED touchscreen at the center of the machine, framed by all the glorious controls you’ll ever need: two analog sticks (fully functional, unlike the PSP’s ‘nub’), a directional pad and the usual PlayStation face buttons. Aesthetically, this piece of kit is very pleasing to the eye. With its shiny gloss finish and framed metal edging, you can see Sony has taken a leaf out of Apple’s book. There isn’t an inch of this device that doesn’t have a function. Well placed controls, a touchscreen, a rear touch pad, microphone and two cameras; it’s pretty impressive. Yet that’s not all, as Sony has also thrown in Sixaxis motion sensing, including a gyroscope and accelerometer. Naturally, due to its quad-core processor, it uses all these features flawlessly.

You might think of the PS Vita as the beefed-up gentleman in the gym, merely looking for attention, which is all very well. But the Vita software has to make use of all these powerful features otherwise they are redundant. Fear not though, as PlayStation Europe boss Jim Ryan stated late last year that, “I think it’s comfortably the strongest line-up we’ve had for any platform launch and I’ve been around since the year dot.” To be honest, I’d be inclined to agree.

Obviously, the big player for Sony’s new portable device is Mr. Nathan Drake and his epic adventures through foreign lands. After spending a couple of hours with Uncharted: Golden Abyss, I think that Sony has a winner on their hands. The Uncharted series is so intrinsically Sony that it makes sense to launch their new handheld platform with an exclusive title for it, simply for the brand recognition. Not only does the bright display and the powerful graphics processing unit truly bring home console gaming to your 5 inch silver screen, but it also takes note of all of the features the PS Vita has and finds intuitive ways to include them without feeling like they’re forced to be there.

You move Drake through his journey simply enough by using the two analog sticks. However, once he starts climbing rock faces and leaping for ropes, you are free to draw out his path on the screen. Although this is an interesting way of interacting with your surroundings, it feels a little basic. However, the touchscreen controls become more enjoyable within the realms of combat. Taping the screen causes Drake to engages in a fight, whereas swiping your finger across the screen inputs one of his signature melee attacks. This is a simple, fun and functional way of including touchscreen controls, and although you might opt for the face buttons, a genuine alternative is there. SCE Bend Studio incorporates the touch pads when Drake discovers a foreign object. While he is actively holding the object, you can use the rear touch pad to gently turn the item, while you brush off any dirt that may be obscuring your view of it via the front touchscreen. Although this is an intuitive way of interacting with the rear touch pad, when coupled with the use of the touchscreen it can initially feel like the system is demanding a little much from you at once. Yet, after you’ve become accustomed to the manoeuvre, it is only adds to the immersion.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a perfect first party launch title to showcase the new features of the PS Vita. Let’s be honest, when you are selling a premium handheld device for a premium price, you need a title with enough brand stability to do that. After playing a selection of what is on offer on launch day including WipEout 2048, Little Deviants, ModNation Racers and Everybody’s Golf (Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational in North America), it is clear that Sony has truly pulled out all the stops to ensure a successful launch.

Yet, every piece of hardware has its downfalls. Where the smoothness of the PS Vita slightly unravels is with its battery life. Obviously, gaming on the go at this high standard naturally comes at a cost, one that allows only 3 to 5 hours of gameplay in a single sitting. This is perhaps understandable, yet a system designed for on the move play will see many journeys outlast this allotted time. Another slight criticism is the need for memory cards to be able to successfully save your game progress; more specifically, the price point of these tiny add-ons. For a machine that costs this much of your hard earned cash, you’d hope that it was fully functional out of the box. And although you wouldn’t expect much from ones featured on a gaming device, the Vita’s cameras are shockingly low resolution (0.3MP – the same as Nintendo’s 3DS), which is a shame as this feature should really make use of the gorgeous OLED screen.

Sony is trying to penetrate the handheld device market in a new way. The PS Vita isn’t your ‘one device for everything’ machine, but it delivers a completely exclusive experience; from new ways to interact with your games, to simply knowing just how powerful the hardware you’re holding truly is. Although other handheld devices may eventually offer elaborate games similar to those that the PS Vita can handle, I don’t think any other device can yet rival its control system. Naturally, all of this comes at a price. Although it’s not a day one purchase for everyone, if simply due to price, this is definitely a system to put on your radar. It could do wonders for the realm of gaming on the go.


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