PSVita: London Preview

We are heading into London to a Sony event where they are showing off the PSVita. Sony has huge hopes for this powerful, hardcore gamer-centric portable system. So they should too. As much as there is huge demand for both casual and social games on phones and tablets, it is clear that high quality, hardcore games struggle on those platforms; partially due to the economy around them not supporting the type of investment a 3DS or PSP game requires, partially due to lack of battery life, or down to the fact that FPS and third person games just don’t transfer well to touchscreens.

Hence the PSVita could become the tablet of choice for gamers. Especially 18-35 year olds. With its high res 5 inch OLED display, comprehensive touch and hardware controls and superb wireless connectivity options, it has the potential to become relevant to a subset of gamers who are potential tablet consumers who value Uncharted 3 more than Angry Birds.

However, as with the 3DS it will come down to the games. If the games can justify a shelf price of 30 pounds then consumers will justify owning the device. If the games are just cynical releases such as overpriced tablet conversions, low on content hours, or just rubbish then the device will fail. This preview event will probably be one of the last opportunities to assess that launch line up and potential prior to release in February.

Well, impressions of the hardware itself were very positive. It feels comfortable in your hands and the weight is acceptable for long play sessions. However it is not really a commuting device, due to its footprint. For long journeys and for use at locations once you have arrived, it is perfect. Nine out of Ten iPad users never take their device out and it is seen as a coffee table device when the TV is being used for something else, and the PSVita could become the tablet of choice for gamers.

The screen is remarkable, the contrast ratio on it seems better than many expensive LCD screens. Indeed whilst playing a couple of games next to their PS3 counterparts (see below) it was clear that the PSVita looked better than the Sony TV sets next to them. Playing games and watching movies will be a pleasure on this screen and will be a great selling point.

However, let’s run through a selection of the games on offer:

Reality Fighters

This game has great customisation options. Using the cameras you can put yourself in the game, altering your digital alter ego utilising various settings. It’s purely a gimmick from what I could see, but the comedy element is certainly there. There are tons of options to change the look, size and dress code of your avatar. You can also choose various ‘comedy’ fight styles.

The game has various online and local multiplayer options and it could be really fun with friends. However as a singleplayer experience or serious online brawler, it seems too lightweight and gimmicky. It would make a nice ‘pack in’ with the system or cheap digital release for launch to show off some of the features, should Sony choose to take it down that direction.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss

We only got to play a small slice of this game, and it’s very similar to a recent play-through posted on the web. Nate is stuck in a burning building (isn’t he always nowadays), has to do some climbing to escape and then he acts as a sniper, shooting bad guys off in the distance protecting his companion.

If looks sell, then this games sells the system. It looks like a PS3 title, based on the little we have seen. We hope they have some more open, outdoor levels in the real game so that we can see if the PSVita can do those graphics away from small areas of play.

Our only problem with the game, based on this very small demo, is that Uncharted feels a little too much like a ‘Sony Bend’ game and not a Naughty Dog game. If you have played any of the Syphon Filter games on the PSP you’ll know what I mean. Those were great games, but enemy AI and the ‘situations’ were a bit simple and basic. We felt we were playing through a level of those games, especially with the sniping section. It is only a demo, so let us hope the game is more intelligent, and not just Syphon Filter in Uncharted’s clothes with nicer textures and more polygons.

ModNation Racers

Sony’s alternative to Mario Kart; some of us have never truly taken to this game, simply as the handling is so spongy. However this might be no fault of the game, and simply be a result of us (like most other people) being conditioned for Mario Kart. Either way that spongy handling is still there, which is a little disappointing. It does look like nice; but to be honest the PSP version looked nice too.

What makes this version stand out is the online functionality and, more importantly, the superb track building tools which use both touchscreens. These are used in ways which are very natural and intuitive. For example on the track editor you can raise or lower elements (such as scenery or the track itself). Tap on the front screen to raise and tap on the rear screen to lower. This best demonstrated how the touchscreen can suddenly make not so new ideas far more accessible, and the rear screen takes that logic to a new level.

MotorStorm RC

This was a lively little game. To be honest, there is very little Motorstorm about it. It is not a traditional 3D racer, but one which harks back to the 16 bit days of off-beat racing games, such as Skidmarks on the Amiga. As with Skidmarks it’s very non-offensive fun. Races are very short, so the game has that ‘just one more go element’. The game is one of the first to offer the ‘buy one copy for both PS3 and PSVita’ technology. Whilst PS3 users and Vita users cannot play against each other, all online leaderboard and community features will be shared.

This will be a digital, PSN release and it will be one of the launch titles. If priced fairly this will offer compelling and honest fun gaming, something often missing in modern videogames.

Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3

Not a lot to say here. It is Marvel vs Capcom, in your hands and with terrific graphics. If you want a serious fighter in your hands you’ll want this. It is fast, fluid and looks amazing. There seemed to be a huge list of characters to choose from, and it was comfortable to play.

We think it’ll be the only (serious) fighter at launch, but it also looks like it’ll be setting the standard for the others that follow at a high mark.

Little Deviants

It’s a minigame collection. A little bit Super Monkey Ball, a little bit Face Raiders (from the 3DS) and a little bit this and that from every other mini-collection on the market!

This has been relegated to a title which is simply a tech demo to show off the PSVita’s control options. Based upon the lack of people playing it at the event, it’s fair to assume that it has not garnered a whole lot of interest.

This is because people’s assumptions seem on our experience largely true. Once again, as with Reality Fighters, this might be better as a pack-in, a Wii Sports title for the PSVita to help move units off the shelf. However if this game is priced at £30 or above it’ll surely bomb. Most of the game modes are not memorable and most people would have played something similar elsewhere. The AR games built into it are very similar to the software packed into the 3DS.

I’m sure there is more to this game, but we will have to wait till its formal release to see and experience it.

Super Stardust

A PS3 favourite. What can we say? It’s Super Stardust on the Vita. It looks amazing, the controls are superb too. Dual stick controls (as you would expect), face and shoulder button use and touchscreen controls for some weapons. Additionally you can control a camera which lets you see more of the above or across from your ship by gently tilting the Vita.

The tilting doesn’t change the gameplay and you don’t ever need to do it, but it adds real depth to the graphics, and can be useful to plan strategies if you can keep a couple of steps ahead of the game.

F1 and Ridge Racer

Both driving games were generally underwhelming. Ridge Racer looks very competent, with high res graphics, but it seems like a cynical release to cash in. Locations might be high res, but they are quite dull. F1 also looked competent; but I felt that despite the lower resolution, driving games might actually be better on the 3DS, due to that much underused 3D screen. Games where you are going at speed into the distance can really benefit from that third dimension, possibly more than extra high res textures.

FIFA 12

This is FIFA, in your hands. No other way to say it really. Well visually it is, anyway. The game, from what we experienced, lacked the new defending technology, but the graphics seemed almost the same. FIFA on the old PSP played well, despite only having one control stick – so even though the Vita has two, the difference is less pronounced than with other genres.

However, the touchscreens add some really great depth to the gameplay. Shooting can (if you wish) be controlled by swiping the rear screen, but more importantly, passing can be triggered on the top screen. Simply press where you want the ball and the player will try to pass it there, even if they are not currently pointing in that direction. It’s not a replacement for traditional button play, but for situations where you see a possible ‘play’ (even if your player and teammates are not all in the right positions, or facing the right way), then touching is a superb way of triggering a counter attack.

This could be a system seller.

WipEout 2048

This was simply blinding. It looked amazing. It was fast (locked at 30 frames per second I think the developer said – which on an OLED screen is better than 60 frames on a LCD), has all the features a WipEout game would have, and a great selection of tracks. Controls were as you would expect, in addition to tilt control, which felt really comfortable.

One of the really cool elements was the implementation of Cross Play. This meant that Wipeout HD (on PS3) users could play alongside PSVita users where the tracks were the same, both with local play and with online play. We tested this feature using local wireless and it was seamless. We also have to point out that the game looked better on that cool OLED screen.

WipEout has become a smaller franchise in recent years, but the Vita could see it blossom again and become the mainstream racer it once was.

Gravity Rush

Beautiful is not often a word associated with games, but once in a while a game comes out which is lovely to look at. It is not trying to be realistic or fluorescent in tone, but is simply mind expanding. Gravity Crash is beautiful to look at but also to play.

How can we explain it? Well it is a third person brawler (in some ways to its detriment as it could be a puzzler, like Portal with some more imagination), where you can shift the centre of gravity. Your main character can fly through the air, suspending and switching the perspective on the fly. It is beautiful and is fully realised by taking advantage of the control set of the Vita. The dual sticks, the motion controls and traditional buttons all come together to allow the gameplay to flow along without it feeling clumsy. That, you see, is why it is beautiful. The gameplay is allowed to develop and involve you, as the hardware is able to display and perform the code the way the designers have clearly intended it to be experienced.

 

The demo was short and didn’t explain much about the setting. All that was clear was that you play a young girl, who has a cat as a friend, who doesn’t understand where she is or how she can control gravity.

I’m sure the story will be bizarre to match the gameplay, but that’s just fine. Along with traditional IP such as FIFA and WipEout, this should be one of your launch purchases.

It comes in a BLUE box!

PSVita Summary

So to summarise, the launch line up does have some real gems. Sony will need to work with its third party developer to make sure there is a constant flow of new games soon after launch. A 3DS style vacuum of games to follow till August 2012 could kill the system, so we hope the games we saw were only the start of a constantly growing line up.

However, with FPS games not even shown off and with at least Resistance confirmed for release soon after launch, and third person shooter Unit 13 recently announced, it seems Sony are on track to offer a comprehensive selection to any early adopters.

A true tablet for gamers is what the Vita offers. The platform has the potential to offer superb £40 games, digital games at £5 and possibly ‘marketplace’ style apps for 80 pence. We also saw some of the serious apps, such as Twitter, the web browser (not fully working) and other social-orientated applications which shows that this could be a hardcore gamer’s one stop shop for media consumption, and a true player in the portable digital market.

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Written by Steven G

Steven Gurevitz is the CEO of 2002 Studios Media LTD and a founder of gaming accessory company Asiiya. 2002 Studios started off as a music production company, but produces a range of content from videos to videogames. The company specialises in localizing content for global brands. He also owns the Urban Sound Label, a small niche e-label. He is a freelance music tech writer, having co-written the Music Technology Workbook and is a regular contributor and co-owner CriticalGamer.co.uk. He enjoys FPS, Third person 'free world', narrative driven and portable gaming. He is a freelance music tech writer, having co-written the Music Technology Workbook and is a regular contributor to CriticalGamer.co.uk.

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