July 10, 2011
PlayStation Vita Preview
Where the old PSP had disk hatches that rattled or slidey mechanisms that felt like a child could pry them apart, this is a black slab of sexy; all smooth curves and tactile folds. Better yet, it’s €299 for the 3G and Wi-Fi version (about £280) and €249 for the Wi-Fi only (£230). It hits the UK early 2012 – more later – and Japan late 2011.
Playstation Vita is slightly bigger than you expect, and this works in its favour, fitting well in your hands. Those twin sticks nestle nicely under thumb with no cramped, clawed grasp, as do the buttons. Although, given the larger size of the unit, those buttons and d-pad are actually a touch smaller than you might think. It’s a lesson Sony learned from the failed PSP Go.
“Hardware-wise, we made it our highest priority to make it small and portable,” says Shuhei Yoshida, Sony’s Worldwide Studios boss, of PSP Go. “But that’s not what people really wanted. Because when we made it too small the screen was smaller, the buttons were thin. It’s kind of difficult, cramped into a smaller body.”
Which is why the Vita is built to be tactile, functional – and larger. It’s still just about portable, providing you have big pockets or a risky attitude towards seams, but that’s not the point. It’s best not to think of this as a pocket PlayStation, but a full-on console. Just a little one with its own screen built in.
And what a screen. The five inch OLED is incredible. Vibrant and super sharp, it makes even basic games look superb. The contrast and depth it gives to something like Super Stardust Delta is astonishing, almost making the game look layered in 3D, while big guns such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss are PS3 quality.
Game Test : Uncharted: Golden Abyss
More than any Vita title, Uncharted: Golden Abyss really shows what it’s capable of: full-power gaming you can take anywhere. The demo we played sees Nathan Drake in South America trying to infiltrate an old, crumbling temple (uh, is there any other kind?), but to do so means he must take on a gang of heavily armed mercenaries… still, never mind.
The attack starts slowly with a stealth move, immediately showing a clever use of the new front touch screen. We creep up behind a guard and an arrow appears, allowing us to unleash a chokehold with a swipe of the finger. A quick dash and the next guard gets a devastating upper cut.
Then the shooting starts – immediately those twin sticks come into their own. Instead of tapping the d-pad to aim or relying on a massively magnetic auto-lock, you can play just like you would on PS3. In fact, within seconds we forget what sort of controller we’re even holding.
We’re just playing Uncharted – nipping between walls, throwing grenades and spraying fire. And it looks incredible. During their presentation, Sony Bend’s creative director John Garvin talked of next-gen rendering techniques like dynamic shadows and blooming light effects. He also mentions being allowed access to Naughty Dog’s entire animation archive.
So when Drake scrambles up a wall, he looks perfect. Incredibly, the only thing that gives away the fact you’re not playing one of the existing Uncharted games is that you’re playing it on a handheld. And that’s it. We’ll repeat that: you’re playing Uncharted on a handheld. There are no concessions to that fact.
Vita even brings a few interesting tricks, like tilting the machine to make Nathan swing into jumps. However, the smart idea is touch screen climbing. By drawing your finger over the terrain you can make Nate clamber over ledges, corners or handholds. And not just one bit at a time – you can string together long sequences. It’s almost a game in its own right as you try to link as many points as possible in one sweep.
Power and Control
Uncharted’s use of Vita’s unique tech feels natural and instinctive, in contrast to any of the embarrassingly shoehorned-in Sixaxis stuff (Look! You can balance) seen in early PS3 games.
It’s not just Uncharted. Take the mini-game assortment, Little Deviants. It’s built around motion control and touch screen ideas, and one of the best adverts for the console’s potential, whether it’s simple tasks like guiding a drifting monster by tilting, or a whack-a-mole style game where you tap the front or rear touch pad to slap freaks depending on whether they’re facing you or not. There’s even an augmented reality shooter where you fight robots projected into the real
world via the rear camera’s view. By moving the Vita you target and fight in 360 degrees. Simple, but exciting.
There are lots of traditional games, if you’re not fussed about motion or touch controls – plus, wisely, most of the new control methods are optional. Street Fighter X Tekken is a good example, and it looks (like most Vita games) every bit as good as the PS3 version. Even the really big names are on the way, with Ken Levine recently announcing a (promisingly exciting) incarnation of BioShock Infinite.
Vita comes in two models; a Wi-Fi-only version and a 3G network one. Things like browsing and multi-player obviously benefit here, but there are far cleverer ideas in the pipeline than simple deathmatches.
For example, the action-RPG Ruin is always connected. It lets you build your own dungeons, which other players can then invade and potentially loot while you go raiding theirs… and even if you’re not playing, the game is still on, still evolving. Remote, cloud-based saves mean you can mix your time shamelessly and seamlessly between Vita and PS3 versions too, a feature shared by the upcoming Metal Gear and God of War HD reissues – a clever idea that means games aren’t trapped on one console anymore.
Communication? Vita has two interesting ideas. First there’s Party, a chat system that lets you talk to other players using the built in mic, even if you’re in different games. The second link between machines is Near. This lets Vitas talk and swap Trophies, various game stats and even items, such as outfits or weapons. It works just as long as the other console is somewhere ‘near’.
We caught up with Sony Europe CEO Andrew House , who told us the £280 UK price listed on Amazon.com was ‘pretty much where he predicted it would be’, but couldn’t confirm the release date – we’re guessing early 2012, as part of a staggered global release. For the record, ‘Vita’ means life – and Sony hope to breathe it into the handheld market.