The Sony PlayStation Vita is the spiritual successor to the PSP, which was launched almost seven years ago. But it's more than just a portable gaming machine, with two cameras, a web browser, Bluetooth, WiFi, and even optional 3G version.
The Vita officially launched with a Rs 19,990 WiFi-only model and a Rs 24,990 3G/WiFi model. This review covers the First Edition bundle that released early with a 3G/WiFi Vita, and a 4GB memory card.
The PlayStation Vita boasts of a 5-inch OLED display with a resolution of 960x544. It looks really crisp and there is just something about it that works. The OLED itself is crystal clear and it offers a wide range of viewing angles, so much to the point that someone can see you playing from a remarkable distance away. The device itself only has two shoulder buttons but thankfully there are two analogue sticks which are really quite small but are a lot better than the PSP’s analogue “stick”. There is a rear touch-pad on the back which is used in a number of cool ways but I can’t help but feel that sometimes it gets in your way a little bit. I found myself doing things I didn’t really want to do in games because the design felt a bit awkward to me.
Sony was aware enough of the smartphone threat that it has decided to get out in front of the market for performance. It's powered by an ARM-based Cortex-A9 quad-core processor; apart from carrying 512MB of RAM instead of 1GB, it's very close to NVIDIA's fast Tegra 3 chip. The Vita may be faster in graphics, though; the CPU is paired with a PowerVR SGX543MP4+ quad-core video chip that has 128MB of dedicated memory of its own and, if the iPad 2 is an indicator, could be much faster. All of that adds up to some serious gaming power that will drive the platform forward for the next several years.
The end-result, is that the games on the Vita look incredibly good and it’s fair to say that they are almost on the same level as the PlayStation 3 in terms of quality. I found there was a little lack of anti-aliasing because the edges looked a little jagged which was more noticeable in Uncharted: Golden Abyss than anything else. The Vita also has two cameras, one in front and one in rear which are 1.3 MP cameras. This is quite far behind, by today’s standards, when compared to smart phones, but hey, you aren’t buying a Vita to take snapshots of the Gateway of India.
The Vita supports the classic motion control in the SIXAXIS form. You either love or hate this feature but it seems to do its job quite capably in the launch games and in the console itself. The device is quick to respond and uses a nice interface that allows apps or games to be flicked away and then forgotten about.
The two cameras allow gamers the use of Augmented Reality which is quite fun and I was able to test this out using Reality Fighters (a game received with the console). I took a picture of myself, placed it on a fighter, chose the “drunk” fighting style and used the AR background which results in the two men fighting on my table.
In my eyes, the Vita can only be described as “sexy”. It’s a very sleek device with a great look to it and the “elevator music” on the dashboard is something that gives it an air of maturity.
I was hoping that the rear touch-panel was a little less glossy than it actually is because I find it difficult to scroll my fingers across it. I was hoping for a more “rubbery” type feel in order to maintain grip on the device and also held with ease of motion when playing games. All the buttons are in a great position but I couldn’t help but feel the device is a little uncomfortable. It feels like it’s designed for a smaller pair of hands and to be honest, I found myself having some cramps in my hands after extended amounts of play.
As previously touched on, the premiere launch title is Uncharted: Golden Abyss which comes on one of the new solid state PS Vita ‘Vita cards.’ It really is an incredible showcase for the power of the platform and taps in to all of the various control schemes and control paradigms the PS Vita offers. Users can opt to use the traditional hardware controls for the most part, or use the optional touchscreen and rear touchpad controls as well.
The implementation of the controls in Uncharted: Golden Abyss is imaginative and incredibly fun, as is the way the gyroscope has been utilized. For example, crossing a log will require users to ‘balance’ Nate by using the gyroscope to tilt the device left or right. The rear touchpad is used to ‘climb’ up and down ropes, or to zoom the in-game camera.
The touchscreen can be used to touch and pick up objects as well as help Nate climb up and across ledges. When shooting someone with a sniper rifle, the user is offered a view through the scope and can move the PS Vita physically to gain a bead on a target as though it were a real gun. There are a range of other launch titles that use various aspects of the PS Vita’s capabilities, but Uncharted also exploits the graphics capabilities of the PS Vita as well. Some scenes in the game are genuinely attractive, even if you're used to PS3-level video, and it's only the necessary lower-resolution textures that give it away.
There is the concern of gimmickry here: much like how many early PS3 games used the motion controls out of Sony's urging, we don't know if many of these extras will be used for long. A game like Uncharted potentially becomes too easy: climbing ledges is much faster than it is on the PS3, where you have to jump from point to point with button presses and an attention to direction.
More conventional games benefit as well. Wipeout 2048 both has the level of visual detail befitting the sci-fi racer but plays genuinely well given the twitch responses needed to stay out in front. Difficulty is somewhat more forgiving than it is in the PS3's Wipeout HD, but it feels more like a gameplay choice than an attempt to coddle mobile gamers. ModNation Racers was solid, too. Combined, they're good signs for the future Vita game library.
If you've previously owned a PSP and purchased downloaded games from the PlayStation Store, most of these will also be available in the cloud and ready to download to your console. Unfortunately, even though Sony offers some enhancements for original PSP titles to improve their appearance on the PS Vita, the extra resolution of the PS Vita display doesn't translate to improved PSP visuals. They are just as playable, but don’t translate as well as was hoped. Support for the PS Vita’s dual analog sticks is, however, an added bonus.
There are a number of great things about the Vita and there are also a few drawbacks. This is great gadget to have, but it’s also ridiculously expensive and I can’t say I would buy one personally.
In terms of battery life, the Vita does a great job and can easily see upwards of six hours of play time when playing games. The most expensive model has Wi-Fi and 3G capabilities making it some form of mini-tablet as well which works wonders.
I can’t help but feel with the way technology is going, the Vita shelf-life won’t be lasting for too long. We are already expected to be receiving quad-core phones this year and with Sony’s range of “gaming phones”, there might not really be a market for this device. Having said that, the PlayStation Vita is a powerful gaming device and should you have the money for it lying around, then spoil yourself, because the only thing holding the Vita back right now is the price.