Pros: Simple-to-use interface; bright and clear display; good controls
Cons: HD video disappointing; games are pricey; surfing the net is clunky
Verdict: Games fans who want something more than the simple Android and iPhone offerings can enjoy some ‘proper’ gaming on the PS Vita
Plenty of us have a stab at the odd game when we’re on a long journey or whiling away a boring commute. Chances are we’re playing the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Plants vs Zombies or even Angry Birds. But most of the games you get from the App Store or Android Market are little more than time fillers to play for five minutes or so – rather than the in-depth games we might play on a console at home. So, if you’re after a more hardcore experience, you should look to the Sony PS Vita, which as well as being a phone, doubles as a powerful handheld games console.
The chunky nature of the PS Vita raises much debate – if you wear tight jeans there’s no way you’ll be squeezing this in a pocket – it is definitely made for a bag. So if that hasn’t put you off, read on.
Its size makes it comfortable to hold in two hands – which you’ll want to do in an intensive games session – otherwise you’ll be getting cramp. It also features dual analogue sticks – which allow you to move in the same smooth way you would on a console gamepad – great for control in titles such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss.
Switch on the device and you’ll notice the interface has a real cartoon-like feel to it. Sony has replaced the old-style PlayStation dashboard with a number of desktops that you can browse through by flicking the screen up and down.
These desktops can be customised with your choice of icons and background wallpaper. There is also a notifications bar a la Android, which lets you know if you receive messages or friends requests.
The colourful, bright icons represent the games and apps. To load a program, tap the icon and you’ll see that an open program appears as a ‘page’, which you then flip though with sideways swipes. It makes multitasking simple and speedy. It means you can send a quick message, even if you have a game running, and then go back to your gameplay. Unfortunately, if you want to go online while playing a game, the game will close as you launch your browser.
The icons are reminiscent of a Nintendo system, so some serious gamers may be put off, but we personally don’t think it’s that important. Nor are the constant ‘loading’ screens that appear when you are using apps.
On the back of the device is a touch panel that offers a further layer of control. This means that in games such as Uncharted you are able to use gestures to perform tasks such as swinging on ropes and climbing. And in Escape Plan it is possible to squeeze characters by pinching the rear and front touch screens at the same time. Developers have lots of flexibility when designing controls, especially with the addition of the built-in accelerometer.
There’s a mixed bunch of launch titles on offer – pretty much what you expect when a new console launches, but we think they’ve included something for everyone. The abilities of the device are shown to their best by Uncharted, which manages to look as impressive as it does on the PS3 (the quad-core chip on board helps with that). You can control games using the accelerometer and touch-screen or stick to old school buttons and joysticks.
It’s a pity that you can only download the games direct from Sony and that they’re a tad pricey. For instance, Uncharted will set you back 40 quid, while most other games are around the £30 mark. Okay, it’s what you would pay for Xbox and PS3 games but they will offer hours of gametime. It makes the Vita a pretty expensive gadget.
The five-inch display appears larger when playing games – and gives plenty of space to make the most of the fantastic graphics on the games. In fact they’re so good that we were often distracted by the scenery – and the space-age buildings in Wipeout 2048. You’d expect a screen like this to drain the juice from your battery, but we managed five to six hours of solid gaming before we had to recharge.
Gaming is not just a solitary affair on the PS Vita – Sony is planning for gamers to connect with other games using apps such as Near. This shows you any other Vita users nearby, so you can enjoy some multiplayer activity with them. It is also possible to share game items including extra content and costumes. There are Wi-Fi-only models (as well as 3G versions) of the Vita – these are cheaper so you’ll be relying on public hotspots if you’re out and about.
Social networking apps also appear to run well on the PS Vita – Twitter certainly does. It is also possible to sign on to the Playstation Network and create a network of mates to join in online gaming. All your connections can be seen on the Friends app – you can also check up and see what they have been spending their time playing and if they’ve managed to win any trophies. It is also possible to message friends and groups of friends – chat to them via the camera and onboard mic.
With that vibrant clear display, we thought the PS Vita would be a hit when it came to handling media. However, playing an HD MPEG-4 movie was not as straightforward as we had hoped. The film juddered and stuttered quite badly and we ended up switching it off – if you’re planning on viewing video, make sure it’s standard definition only.
The snappers also disappoint with their low resolution. If you want a video chat the front-facing snapper is fine, but the camera on the back produced pixelated images - and there’s no flash, so you’re restricted to taking daytime snaps. However, the cameras’ pictures can be usefully used in games such as Reality Fighters (where you create a weird animated version of yourself),
The PS Vita has been designed to be a one-stop-shop, allowing you to surf the net, play games, listen to music or watch a film. It’s a shame that once you try to do anything other than play games that the device falls short of expectations.
Surfing the net is a sluggish affair – try scrolling up and down a page and you’ll find yourself looking at a blank screen while it catches up with you. Zooming in and out is hit and miss and it is not possible to do a web search by typing words into the address bar. Oh – and there’s no Flash support either.
Serious gaming fans who want more than their Android or iPhone handset can offer in the way of a gaming fix will enjoy the PS Vita – sure, the games are expensive, but it's the closest thing to a PS3 that you can pop in a pocket. But the media and web experiences disappoint.
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