Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Playstation Vita Review

The day has finally come when a console experience can be carried in the palm of your hand.

 The Playstation Vita officially released on February 22nd in the United States, but luckily, some individuals were able to obtain one on the 15th, via the First Edition Bundle. I've had my Vita for 2 weeks now, and I have to say that this portable system is easily one of the most well built, integrated, and beautiful looking handheld systems that I've ever owned. Personally, I've owned a Ds lite, 3DS and a few PSP systems, but only the Vita has captured my attention this much. I'll break this review down into 5 major categories: Hardware, Software, Connectivity, Applications and Potential. We begin with Hardware.


Hardware

The fundamental crutch that the system relies on. Without something being constructed well, or without it having the capability to perform, the system would fail. Luckily, in the case of the Playstation Vita, there's nothing to worry about. The Vita has a multitude of features that separate it from its predecessor, the Psp. First things first, the Vita has a touch screen, and its absolutely beautiful. The touch screen is a massive 5" OLED screen, which means it looks great and remains very thin. The touch screen itself works just as well, if not better than most currently available tablets and smartphones, even the iPhone. It has multitouch capabilities and provides a very accurate and timely response in game. The major problem with smartphones is that while using the touch screen, you really cannot see it due to the small size of the screen. With the Vita's 5" screen, you can touch while still seeing the screen, or even using one of the Vita's other features - Rear Touch Pad. This rear touch pad seems like an odd addition at first, and honestly not many games have used it intuitively yet, but it has potential. The rear touch pad runs the same size as the screen on the back of the system, but doesn't get in the way once you adjust to holding the system differently than the psp. While its not the most accurate, since you can't see it, it does add a bit of dimensionality to games by providing a different way to play. The system also has two cameras - one rear and one forward facing. This provides the ability to use AR games as well as provides the ability to skype and just take pictures. The cameras themselves aren't award winning quality, and other devices still have the one-up on the Vita's cameras, but they're mainly meant for AR games anyway.

The buttons and overall construction of the system is good. The face buttons and d-pad are much smaller than an actual controller on the consoles, but this really doesn't deter from the use of the system. The dual-analog sticks are another welcome addition, and these feel infinitely better than the floaty slide-moving stick on the Psp. These analogs really allow for the Vita to play absolutely anything, from shooters to racers to fighters. Nothing on the system feels cheap, even though it is actually pretty cheaply manufactured. The charge cable that comes with the system breaks into three components, which makes it a bit cumbersome, but also works as a usb connector so you can sync music and movies and games to the Vita. Last but not least, the system isn't overall much bigger than the Psp. For most, it will probably fit in a jeans pocket or definitely in a jacket pocket. Also, the system is rather light, and feels very nice in the palm of your hands.


Software

Without games to play, a system would be useless. The Vita, while not very plentiful in releases around launch, has a great variety of games. About 20 games released for the Vita at launch, from action/adventure to racing to puzzle to everything in between. Some of the games are direct ports of their older console brothers, while others are continuations of franchises and even new IPs. The games themselves don't rely to heavily on the new features of the system, like the touchscreen and the AR stuff, but usually when they do, its really interesting. The most intuitive game for this would have to be Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Uncharted uses the camera in such a way that you have to hold it up to the light as if you were looking through an envelope. It uses the gyro sensors in order to aim pictures with precision. It uses the touchscreen to capture charcoal rubbings. None of these really seem too gimmicky, and don't deter from the flow of the game.

Out of the games currently available for the Vita, I have 9: Escape Plan, Hot Shots Golf, Little Deviants, Mutant Blobs Attack, Modnation Racers, Plants v Zombies, Touch My Katamari, Uncharted, and Wipeout. The games range from $8 to $50. Some were download only and others were retail physical copies. Its pretty interesting that there isn't really a standard retail price for the games. They range from $30 to $50 based on what the developer wants to charge for the game. This results in some games that are maybe not an extremely full experience to be a little cheaper, while others that warrant the higher price tag can earn what's due. Overall though, the game selection is pretty impressive for a launch, but they definitely need a few more titles set in stone so the same lack of support that the Psp received doesn't happen again.

As of now, the number of absolutely confirmed titles for the Vita isn't the greatest. Unit 13 comes out next week, which is a tactical shooter from the SOCOM developers. Resistance: Burning Skies is set for May, which will be the first FPS for the Vita. Little Big Planet is coming sometime this spring, and Gravity Rush just got announced for June 12th. Other than that, though, the Vita has a lot of support, but nothing formally announced yet. We've heard of a Call of Duty title coming, and this one should be out in the fall. Assassin's Creed and Bioshock are also supposed to be making an appearance on the handheld, and we can assume the sports titles such as Madden and NHL will probably be on the system as well. So, as long as these supporters don't bail, the Vita will have an impressive selection and variety of games.

Connectivity

The Vita has two ways to connect to the internet - Wifi and 3G. As long as you purchase the 3G capable model, you'll be able to access the 3G from anywhere for a certain cost. The Wifi only model will never have this capability. Through the access for either way of connecting, you'll be able to stream Netflix, browse the internet, check trophies, message friends and even use GPS. The 3G service is pretty affordable as well, and doesn't require any type of contract to be signed. It is only available right now through AT&T, but honestly, I don't see what the gripe is about if no contract is required. There are two major plans available, as well as global plans which are a bit pricey. The first plan, 250 mb for $15, runs for either that amount of data or one month, whichever occurs first. The second plan, 3GB of data for $30, runs the same way. Each of these plans can be activated directly through the Vita itself, and seems to work pretty well. While it doesn't allow for game play, it allows for many other things that revolve around the asynchronous functions of games, like turn based playing.

Connecting your Vita to the internet allows for a lot of cool features, but most importantly, it allows you to link your existing playstation network account. This allows you to message other users, chat while playing games using the built in microphone and speakers, and even earn trophies. Everything is pretty seamless in terms of carrying over, and in some cases performs better than the PS3. The internet browser is pretty quick, and websites seem to work pretty well. It'll be interesting to see if popular websites such as IGN start developing apps or even just a Vita version of their website.


Applications

The many different applications on the Vita are designed well for the system. Starting with the Playstation Store, which has been entirely redesigned for the Vita, you'll find many different apps that allow you to access many features on the Vita for free. Aside from the standard Video, Music and Photo apps, you'll find a bunch already installed on the system when you first boot it up. Content Manager will allow you to manage the content that gets put on the system and can be used with the PS3 or a PC or Mac. Welcome Park is an App/game that introduces you to the many features of the Vita, and even gives you trophies for completing them. A Facebook App was released, but eventually was taken down due to it being rather buggy. Netflix, Flikr, and LiveTweet are also available to download, if you're a very networky person.

Near is probably one of the coolest applications on the Vita though. It allows you, as long as you're connected to the internet, to see who is playing the Vita anywhere within 5 miles. It shows you what people have played, and what they think of those games. You can choose what information is provided, and can even hide your PSN tag if you desire. Its a very cool feature that might introduce you to other games or downloads you may have missed, and can help you find other people to play against. You can also find "Game Goods" which are little bonus presents that players can share for games just by going through Near.


Potential

This isn't really a traditional category, but important nonetheless. The potential of the Vita is through the roof. It can run games that look and play just like the console versions, meaning it would be able to handle open-world games with ease and look good while doing so. The Vita also has the potential to use Remote Play in ways that would allow people to play their PS3 titles on the Vita, or even have the potential to play games together, using the Vita similar to the way the Wii U will work. Games such as Warrior's Lair will allow for games to be played on both the Vita and the PS3 while sharing save files. The games that have been announced for the system look promising as well. Once a huge title such as Call of Duty is on the Vita, and done well, the demand for the system will skyrocket. The Vita has potential for apps that are commonly found on smartphones such as words with friends and other games similar to that for smaller price tags. The Vita truly has the potential to be a console in the palm of your hands.


Hardware: A
Software: B+
Connectivity: A-
Applications: B
Potential: A+

Overall Rating: A-

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