Is the Sony PlayStation Vita any bloody good? Discuss…

EFTM were given a couple of Sony PS Vitas to play around with. After a week of constant testing and countless hours spent checking, testing and debating all of...

EFTM were given a couple of Sony PS Vitas to play around with. After a week of constant testing and countless hours spent checking, testing and debating all of its features, Nick and Damo sit down to discuss the pros and cons of purchasing a Sony PS Vita.

Nick: Damo, we’ve both been playing with the PlayStation Vita for just over a week now, and as a passionate gamer I’ve formed a very firm opinion about the handheld. But before I start ranting and raving, I’d love to know what you, as someone who rarely plays games unless they involve some kind of driving mechanism, thinks about this pretty intense gaming machine?

Damo: Mate, I was willing to hate it, to be honest. I’m a wannabe gamer. I love the idea but am terrible at most games (minus the aforementioned racing ones). So aside from F12011, nothing about the PlayStation Vita launch grabbed me. Add the fact that the PSP Go and PSP 3000 were… well… not exactly cool, my anticipation metre was at all all time low. Then there’s the name. Seriously? Vita? What is that? It hardly screams amazing gaming experience!

However, throw all that malice out the window because now that I’ve played it, I’m kind of hooked. I started on Uncharted: Golden Abyss and am having trouble putting it down. If I’m having that kind of issue, I’m assuming that you are too…

Nick: Exactly. As a massive fan of the Uncharted series on PS3, it was always going to be the first tiny-game-memory-card-thingy slipped into the slot on the PS Vita. So far, I’ve struggled to take it out. The game is gripping, voice-acted superbly and spectacular to look at. Sometimes I had to stop and remind myself that I was actually playing on a handheld. Truth be told, I think I prefer the PS Vita Uncharted game (Uncharted: Golden Abyss) to Uncharted 3 on the PS3, and not just because of the story. I think having the touch controls actually adds to the immersive nature of the game most of the time (although not always), in a way the motion controls on a SIXAXIS PS3 controller never did.

But as the saying I just made up goes, one game does not a successful console make. But before we discuss the other software titles, what did you think of the hardware? Did the 5-inch OLED touchscreen meet your exacting standards? Were you suitably impressed with the dual analogue thumbsticks? Or were you unimpressed by the whole thing?

Damo: Ok, I think I’ve found a difference of opinion here. Agreed, it will take a library of top games. And yes, the 5-inch OLED has to be seen to be believed. But you know what? The touch controls, especially the back rubbing panel, really annoys me. I just can’t get my fingers comfortably around it. And then when I have to stroke the touch screen, well, when it’s that wide, you have to have pretty big thumbs to do that comfortably. It’s actually something I’m not a big fan of. If I want touch, I’ll use my iPhone. This is a traditional portable console, let’s keep it that way.

The thumbsticks are really comfortable though and the overall button layout is well thought-out in my very humble opinion. What I want to know from you though, on the hardware side, is if this device has the potential to deserve real estate in your backpack? You, like many men, have an iPad, iPhone, Nintendo DSi, Amazon Kindle and a good set of headphones. Sure, you rotate the gadgets you bring, but is this showing enough promise at this early stage to deserve place in your rotation, especially once you’ve conquered Uncharted: Golden Abyss?

Nick: The short answer is yes – quality gaming experiences will make this worth carrying around with me, and the battery life is pretty impressive too – I got at least four hours of gaming from a single charge with everything switched on. The longer answer is slightly different – while the hardware is going to be welcome in my bag, getting new software to keep it  entertaining is going to be the real challenge.

The issue, as with so many things, comes down to price. A typical PlayStation Vita title costs around 60 bucks. Yet right before I got the PlayStation Vita, I bought Grand Theft Auto III on the iPad for 99 cents. 99 cents! And while the iPad’s controls aren’t exactly comfortable for a game like GTA, it cost me less than a buck, and offers a similarly detailed world as one from Uncharted: Golden Abyss, if not quite as high resolution.

I can understand developers needing to charge the big bucks for the premium titles – making a game is exceptionally expensive and hard work, and there are many people on the retail chain who need their cut of the profits. But Apple changed the game with the App Store, and paying $60 for a mobile game just feels way too much for me now. That’s not to say I won’t pay it occasionally, but I think it’s going to price the Vita out of reach for the “casual” gaming community, which – as Nintendo has shown us – is where the real money is.

What do you reckon? Is $60 too much to pay for the latest F1 masterpiece?

Damo: Yes mate, it is. You’re dead on. The issue I think is that Sony has put itself in a really weird position. They trialled the PSP Go with games you could buy on the device and it failed big time. My thoughts on that were because the shop front was just nowhere near where it needed to be and the promotional activity was not in place as it should have been. Not only can you pick up great games on your Android or iOS for cheap, but you do it straight away. Yes, they are not of the quality, for the most part, as what the PS Vita can throw out, but they don’t need to be. So if I have issues shelling out $60 for F12011 (which, by the way, I have on PS3 so why would I shell out again?), how do I keep the PS Vita in my good books? Have you tried out the multimedia side of the device? Do you think it’s compelling enough?

Nick: I did check it out, but only begrudgingly. Sure, the OLED screen looks fantastic playing back a film – either purchased directly through the PSN or sideloaded via memory card, but I just don’t see the point. Unless you download directly from the PSN (which would require a pretty big memory card), it’s just too much hassle for too little reward. At its core, the Vita is a games machine, and it shows. Entertainment features like Music Unlimited and the video store aren’t really practical on this device.

The same can be said for the cameras. They’re both too crappy to actually take decent pics, while the augmented reality apps that use them are interesting for about five minutes. The Near function seems like an interesting idea, but only when you can get it to work… which I couldn’t.

But my biggest gripe about the system is the UI. The whole bubble thing Sony’s got going on there is awful. Not only can you not get rid of unwanted icons, but it just looks average. I don’t understand why they drifted so far away from the “award winning” cross media bar of the PS3. I found the whole thing of sometimes touching and sometimes clicking to be very awkward.

But for all those complaints, I still find myself liking the device. There’s something about it I can’t quite put my finger on that feels right to me.

Damo: I was so engrossed in Uncharted: Golden Abyssthat it had totally slipped my mind that the cross media bar wasn’t included. You’re right, it’s a pretty ugly UI and not one that should have ever replaced the very swish cross media bar, especially as it’s now being used across multiple Sony products. Bit of an error of judgement there on Sony’s part. Perhaps they will include it in a later update? I hope so.

I think you’ve hit a really important point here as well. The system isn’t compelling enough in its completeness to make you want to use the awesome screen for movies, while the camera is lacking and the music capabilities are not fantastic. So sadly I think I would have to say that for me, it would be hard to justify using the PS Vita a lot, unless there is another game of the quality of Uncharted: Golden Abyss (and I’m sure that will happen from time to time). Most smartphones have good cameras, great operating systems, good apps, good music and movie playback and good gaming experiences. Sony’s PS Vita having a great gaming experience and a pretty average everything else is just not good enough these days, I fear.

Nick: You’re right, and I think for most people that’s going to be the conclusion they reach as well. Now that I’ve played with it, it’s not too surprising that the Vita had epic sales in Japan for the first week, before dropping off significantly – once the really keen gamers bought it, there’s just not enough on offer to entice the casual gamer, despite having the strongest lineup of games of any console launch I’ve ever seen.

But the good news for Sony is that they have a REALLY solid platform. The hardware is brilliant, regardless of how well it’s implemented in games. And we now have a culture of firmware updates in technology, which means Sony can change the UI, add new features and essentially make the Vita better than ever before.

I think it’s also important for Sony to stretch the price of games, especially at the low end. They need to offer titles for 99 cents – even if they are just ports of iOS games. Having Plants vs Zombies is a good call, but charging a $10 premium over the iPad version is stupidity itself. By offering a range of super-cheap titles in addition to the $60 AAA games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the PlayStation Vita suddenly becomes so much more appealing to budget-conscious casual gamers.

Damo: Yep. Totally and every other word signifying agreement I can muster before I get bored and run off to play Uncharted: Golden Abyss again.

You can pick up the Sony PlayStation Vita now for $359 for Wi-Fi only or $420 for 3G + Wi-Fi.

Web: Sony

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Tech

Damian Francis has previously edited Australian T3 and F1 Racing magazine and wrote for GQ Australia and Men's Health. Unlike Nick and Trev, he has no kids, no mortgage and no wife, but lives happily on Sydney's North Shore with his girlfriend.
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