February 22nd is now scant weeks away, and many of us are counting the hours before the release of Sony’s second handheld gaming console, the PlayStation Vita. Reports from Japan indicate that the device made a very good start in terms of sales, before dropping off sharply in the days and weeks following release. With this in mind, and the high cost of both the Vita itself, and its games and accessories, I recently attended a preview event in Manchester, England. What would the great British public (OK then, me.) make of the wonder machine?
Sony is certainly hyping the launch of the Vita, with preview events being held here in the UK in Manchester, Bristol and London over the next few weeks. Manchester was my closest venue and with a fortuitous few days off work I made the forty minute train journey to the UK’s second city (sorry Birmingham, it just is.) Having a rough idea of where the building was that Sony had rented for the purpose, I quickly found the ‘Playstation Vita room’ located in the Deansgate area. Adorned in Sony blue and silver lettering, the two-story converted shop wasn’t difficult to find, and the burly security staff and attractive promotions girls loitering around the entrance certainly didn’t give me any cause to doubt I had found the holy grail of handheld treats.
In the downstairs were about eight Vita units all hooked up to preview pods. Although each was located in a separate area denoting the game on show, I soon discovered that in fact pretty much every console was pre-loaded with the same demos, and with some navigation of the easy to work out UI you could pretty much try every demo. Upstairs was a similar story, with a few more Vita’s located in stand-up pods, a round table affair with stools and another eight or so Vita’s and finally a comfy sofa area which everyone seemed to gravitate towards, and of course I missed out on completely.
So enough about the layout of the building, you guys want to know about the Vita itself, and of course its games. Well, I braved backache for two whole hours to bring you my thoughts and photos so without further ado, let me tell you about my experience with some of the PlayStation Vita’s most anticipated titles. During my trip, I had the opportunity to play several games including Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Wipeout: 2048, Little Big Planet Vita, Everybody’s Golf (Hot Shots for you guys), Reality Fighters, ModNation Racers, Motorstorm: RC, and Super Stardust Delta. Phew, and yes I know you hate me right now, but I’m sure you will get your chance soon!
The first thing that hit me about the device itself was just how light it was. It seemed much lighter than my 3DS, almost like a PSP with its battery removed. Of course as the units were all attached to power cables it was of course possible that there were no batteries inserted, but that would seem a little pointless. The screen is of course lovely, as you have no doubt heard from many internet articles over the last 12 months or so. The novelty of having twin sticks on a handheld also felt somehow RIGHT, and although the travel distance on them was limited they still felt like massive improvements over the PSP nub.
My handheld bugbear came to light pretty quickly though, which always surrounds how you are supposed to hold the thing comfortably. The Vita is more comfortable to hold than a 3DS (the corners of which dig into my hands) and the iPod/iPhone which doesn’t provide anything to rest your fingers on, but one of its innovations, the rear touch pad, provides an added complication with respect to where you can rest your fingers on the back of the machine. As numerous games use the pad in play, holding onto the pad for support isn’t really an option which is seemingly why Sony has added two indentations on the rear for your fingers to grip. This works fine for games that only use the front buttons, but I find with my fairly large hands that any game using the triggers forces your hand to do finger gymnastics if you hold it on these indentations, due to them being too fair removed from the centre of the machine. A small niggle perhaps but if you spend a few hours with this thing it will no doubt either get really annoying or become second nature. I’m hoping it’s the latter.
Onto the games then, which pretty much met my expectations without exceeding them particularly. It is a cliché but also extremely accurate to describe gaming on the Vita to be an almost mathematical combination of the PSP and PS3. The first game I tried out was Wipeout: 2048, and this pretty much summed up that experience. The graphics were very impressive, with almost too much detail to take in on the sizeable but still small screen. Effects, lighting and the overall feel were much closer to Wipeout HD on PS3 than the PSP titles, it really was just like playing a scaled down console game. Three control options were available, including motion control, but I opted for the classic Wipeout configuration of X to accelerate and the L/R buttons as airbrakes. Four tracks were on offer and the more realistic settings compared to some of the series neon wonderlands did the game a world of good and I could imagine spending a lot of time in its world. Wipeout still feels like the quintessential Sony game, and it has perhaps found its perfect home on Vita, probably my favorite game of the day.
Next I went on the hunt for Uncharted: Golden Abyss and found two chapters waiting to be played through. You have probably seen these demonstrated already; the first section comes from chapter 4, and sees a locked up Drake attempting to escape a burning building, which having played Uncharted 3 recently seemed awfully familiar. Next was a sniping exercise lifted from chapter 10. Both sections were fairly short, lasting around 5-10 minutes each. Both levels were quite dark and made me wish for an outdoorsy run and gun level to balance things out a bit. What I did see certainly impressed though, with fantastically detailed graphics and platforming action that was pretty much exactly what we should expect after the last three games. While I have heard some people describe this game as looking like the first of Drake’s PS3 adventures, I would say it tops that graphically, with none of the texture pop-in and slightly plasticky look of Drake’s Fortune. There change of pace that has been the focus of much discussion was quite evident, with a checklist of items to find and tasks to undertake in Chapter 4 at least. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how this works in the full game.
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