Feature: The Positives and Negatives of PS Vita
Posted by Mike Mason
Good news, bad news
PS Vita is nearly upon us, and we couldn’t be more excited. Here at Push Square we've decided to pick our most anticipated elements of Sony’s new handheld baby before it hits stores, from new online approaches to all those control methods, plus more. We've also bashed out a few of our quibbles and concerns, too. Which parts of Vita have us giddy for launch day, and what things are making us hot, bothered and cautious?
Sony will be hoping to leverage some of the hype for Nintendo’s upcoming Wii U by virtue of Vita and PlayStation 3’s ability to hook up for video game fun times. Vita could effectively become a controller for PlayStation 3 titles, allowing developers to use the extra screen in a similar fashion to Wii U’s additional display. The functionality is clearly in Sony’s mind, as evidenced by this 2010 patent that was recently discovered.
A key difference of the Vita / PS3 connection is that the handheld here is not a simple dumb terminal, as Wii U’s controller is generally assumed to be. Vita, of course, has its own processing power and is a system in its own right, meaning that it’s free to be disconnected and taken out for solo play away from the console.
The concept of data transferring between systems has already been displayed in launch titles such as MotorStorm RC, where asynchronous cross-platform connectivity allows save data to be shared between Vita and PlayStation 3, allowing the game to be picked up and played anywhere. Other games like WipEout 2048 will let players race directly against PS3 WipEout HD owners straight out of the gate — there’s plenty of room for this concept to expand if it’s happening in at least two different ways from day one.
The raw hulk of Vita’s insides is what enables this cross-platform business to work so well: it’s close enough to PlayStation 3 to share some assets, and that’s going to prove valuable when it comes to multiplatform titles. There shouldn’t be any risk of Vita missing out on any of the big games, especially if existing models from high definition consoles can be dropped in easily.
A large part of Vita’s appeal to some is that it’ll be able to provide a console-like experience in the palm of your hand.
A large part of Vita’s appeal to some is that it’ll be able to provide a console-like experience in the palm of your hand. We think that’s pretty exciting stuff, with the likes of Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Gravity Rush already attempting to go toe-to-toe with Sony’s TV-tethered bigger brother. That power could also be diverted to other things, though, if that’s not the type of game you want to play on a handheld: for smaller, more portable-appropriate titles, power is not going to prove a limitation on Vita, which in turn should see some interesting results.
The Social Network
Processor speed isn’t the only factor that Sony is relying on, though. We’re looking forward to seeing how well they carry off their goal of building a social network around Vita and its Near functionality. The sleek slab will broadcast data to others in the area, letting everybody see what everyone else is playing, compare scores and so on, even putting together activity streams comprising trophies earned and other in-game accomplishments. Maybe you’ll even discover new friends and titles you've never heard of.
Don’t worry — if you want to play undisturbed by a constant stream of social interaction, it’s possible to make your system undetectable by setting certain locations as private. Trot out into the crowd, however, and you’ll find it’s possible to create and find challenges ‘dropped’ into the world. For example, you could set a fantastic time in WipEout 2048 and throw down the gauntlet for any other players. If somebody should overcome your skills, you’ll receive a message to rub your face in it. Expect us to be laying down Push Square challenges wherever we walk — take us on if you dare.
In addition, each game comes with a Live Area, filled with updating facts, messages and trailers, providing a direct connection between developers and players. PlayStation Party also addresses an issue that has bugged PlayStation 3 owners for a while: friends can now group together and use voice chat across different games. You’ll be able to jump into a game together from here too.
So Many Control Schemes
Vita offers a bunch of ways to play, from touchy-feely inputs to your more traditional game controls. Dual analogue sticks — not PSP-style nubs! — will help to bring those console-like titles to the system and help to open the possibilities to any of the expected genres. Two shoulder buttons seem to be missing, though...
Not to worry, as Vita can be controlled in entirely new ways. The system’s rear touch panel can easily fill in for those missing buttons, but better yet it’ll bring new experiences to handheld gaming. Not only can you prod the action directly on its capacitive multi-touch front screen, but now there’s an avenue to interact with game worlds from a different perspective. Little Deviants lets you run your fingers on the back to distort environments, raising hills to roll creatures to their destination. The football can be passed with greater accuracy in FIFA 12: tap on the screen where you want to boot it, get in range of the goal and press exactly which area of the net you want to shoot for on the rear touch surface.
Cameras tucked in the front and the back, a microphone and gyroscopes are more familiar alternative control methods and help to make up the most varied set of control schemes in a single console to date. They may not be as intriguing and fresh as the rear touch panel, but they’re still going to prove valuable to the system. Motion is already used in Uncharted: Golden Abyss to balance across tightropes, and it’s great for steering your futuristic WipEout craft.
It’s an incredible feature-set across the board, but what would the point be if it all looked like a blurry mess? Fear not — PS Vita houses a gorgeous window into gaming. Its five inch OLED touch screen is sharp and vibrant, bringing games bursting to life. Rayman Origins is one game that definitely benefits from this; it looks absolutely beautiful.
The screen’s size has been expanded over PlayStation Portable to really take advantage of the new display technology. Sony experimented with the dimensions before deciding on its 130mm final form, even prototyping a version of the system that omitted all buttons in favour of touch screen inputs. Luckily for us, that didn’t come to pass.
We’re not fans of everything surrounding Vita, however. We also have some misgivings and concerns about decisions made during Vita’s development. Read on for the potential problems that we see preventing Vita from leading a completely good life.
First and foremost, as if we didn’t have enough memory cards clogging up our desks, drawers and pockets, Sony created an all-new proprietary storage for Vita. Coming in 4GB, 8GB, 16GB and — Europe excepted — 32GB varieties, one of these tiny cards is going to be an essential purchase alongside the system. Yes, alongside — unless you grab a set such as the U.S. and Canada exclusive First Edition bundle, the memory card is a separate buy. Unlike Nintendo 3DS, there’s no card in the box by default.
That might be fine if they were only to be used for downloadable titles, but in actuality some launch titles won’t even boot up unless a memory card is detected, making it less an optional accessory and more an expensive necessity. Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational, Disgaea 3 and others all refuse to get off the starting blocks without those gigabytes of storage.
The card sizes, even before launch, also sound inadequate when you consider that the downloadable versions of the first retail titles can fill up to 3.3GB in one fell swoop. We hope you’ve got deep, note-lined pockets.
When viewed as a whole — the games, the memory cards, the 3G service — we are in agreement when we note that entering the PS Vita market is a pretty pricey proposition. While the console is quite evenly priced, especially when compared with 3DS’ initial launch cost, the accessories are seemingly being used to subsidise the cost to make this possible. When you consider that a memory card is near essential, you may as well add the price of that to the system, whether it’s the smallest available model at £14.99 or the lunacy of the American 32GB’s $99.99.
Where’s the incentive for digital downloads when physical copies, in all likelihood, will be found cheaper?
In the UK you could buy another game for the same amount as a £39.99 16GB card. That’s pretty crazy in itself, as retail games are being priced up between £15 and £40 too. The low-to-mid end of this scale is perfect for portable titles: the higher, not so much, and a reminder that there is a literal price to pay for console-like titles in such a small package. Downloadable versions of these titles don’t get much cheaper; so far they’ve been announced as being sold at RRP or with a measly 10% discount. That’s not good enough — where’s the incentive for digital downloads when physical copies, in all likelihood, will be found cheaper? Still, you’ll have some free augmented reality games to mess with if you can’t afford anything else.
Consider also the extra fees required if you go for the 3G model. Those monthly payments, though not contracted, are going to add up if you want to make the most of all the system’s social functions and GPS when on the move. The cost of entry, considering the system alone, is reasonable, but with the added costs and expensive titles, how many people are going to stump up to make the most of Vita?
Inconsistent Online Functionality
Some titles fare better than others when it comes to online functionality in Vita’s launch window. Looking at racing titles alone, on the good side of the spectrum you’ve got WipEout 2048’s all-driving cross-platform bonanza, while MotorStorm RC and ModNation Racers: Road Trip take the undoubtedly cool asynchronous multiplayer approach but don’t deliver real-time online racing. The latter’s ModSpot has been removed for the Vita version, too.
The social features across the board should make up for this somewhat, but we hope things have really stepped up by the time the likes of LittleBigPlanet roll out. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to enjoy ghost racing, kart meet ups, level creation and head-to-head online in one title; let’s hope this one’s just down to the rush of a console launch.
We’ve come to accept 3DS’ battery life issues by now, to the point where for some of us they’ve dissipated entirely. PS Vita is the latest victim of a shortened energy span, though, pumping out four and a half to five hours of gameplay with 3/4 brightness and 1/2 volume in our Vita hardware review tests. Once the juice has dried up the system is out of action for two and a half hours while it has a nice regenerating charge.
With the amount of power it’s flinging around, it was to be expected that Vita would have some longevity issues in the battery stakes, so it probably does a better job than 3DS, comparatively. While it’s not as bad as it could have been we’re all for lengthier gaming sessions, and it’s going to be a real drag when it comes to long haul flights. Best pack both Vita and 3DS, unless you grab an official battery pack.
There was some debate amongst the staff about the point that would round off these worries. The console’s size, with its protruding analogue sticks, is not the best fit for the average pocket. The game card slot is awkward to open. There are potential issues with load times, judging by some demos. As traditionalists, though, we’re going to settle on the fact that Vita game instruction manuals only come in digital form.
Yes, it’s neat and modern to store all the information nicely on the game cards, and yes, it’s more eco-friendly. Yet peeling the cellophane from a box, inhaling that new plastic aroma and flicking through a pristine paper booklet is one of the pleasures of buying a game, a routine that many of us are very happy to go through before finally sitting down to play our new prize. Clicking an on-screen link doesn’t quite hold the same romance.
The manual has been on the decline for a while, often replaced by mere slips of paper, or buried beneath advertisement flyers, online passes and downloadable pre-order incentives. By removing them entirely from Vita, though, Sony are only speeding up the erosion of what was once considered an essential part of the package.
What are you most looking forward to when PS Vita launches in the coming weeks? Does any one feature stand out in particular? Or do you find yourself nodding more at the latter half of our list, frustrated by potential problems with the system? Let us know in the comments below.