Social networking hits the handheld

The PlayStation Vita will house an array of new social gaming features not currently available on the PS3 or PSP thanks to two Vita apps titles "Near" and "Party."

Party works with your friends list to display all your currently connected pals, what games they're playing, and even allows you to chat with them with the touch of a button, er... screen. The biggest feature of Party so far is the ability to chat with your friends regardless of what game you are playing. Chat can be done through either a headset or the system's built-in microphone and speakers. Cross-game voice chat has been a feature PS gamers have been clamoring for for quite some time, and with the PS Vita, it seems to be becoming a reality.

Near delves a little deeper into the social networking realm, allowing users to comment on and recommend games to one another, track their friends' locations through the built-in GPS or simply compare trophies. A tidbit from the AT&T partnership press release explains further:

Developed specifically for PlayStation Vita and pre-installed on each system, "near" will allow users to find out what other PS Vita users in their vicinity are currently playing and what titles are most popular in the area. Users can meet with friends and new players virtually – regardless of what games they are playing – simply by sharing their game information across PlayStation®Network... "Near" also enables location-based gaming features such as "gifting," in which a user can access virtual game-related items that other users are sharing, through checking in at geographic locations that others have also visited. The virtual items can include content unlocked from games, such as character costumes, weapons and treasures. Sharing these items between users adds a unique dimension to the portable gaming experience on PlayStation Vita while enhancing the social connectivity among the PS Vita community.