PlayStation Vita First Impresions

By Archie Easter

With the PlayStation Vita’s Feb. 22 launch date soon approaching, a new contender is being readied in the collective battle for gamer’s pockets. I recently had a chance to go hands on with Sony’s newest portable at a PlayStation Blog Social Club event hosted in Chicago, and one thing was made immediately clear: The Vita is one serious piece of hardware.

The first thing many will notice on the system is the screen. Pictures don’t do this thing justice. The 5-inch OLED screen is huge, vibrant and clearer that anything that’s been seen in a handheld gaming device to date. That’s not to mention that the response time is snappy and more than capable of keeping up with all of the action on-screen. Issues such as “ghosting” that plagued the PSP are a thing of the past.

Once gamers have had a chance to take in the general feel of the system, another fairly quick observation is how light the system is. Although the dimensions of the device are fairly large (to accommodate that massive screen), there isn’t much heft to the Vita at all, and I found it quite comfortable to hold. There’s more than enough room for hands to grip the device without becoming cramped or quickly fatigued.

If I had to levy one criticism toward the system’s design at this point, it would be directed at the Vita’s analog sticks. While it’s great to finally have true dual analog control on a portable, the sticks are considerably looser than what players would see on a controller, an issue I could only see getting worse as wear and tear start to take their toll.

While I didn’t get a chance to sample the complete launch lineup, I was able to check out a number of titles on display. My thoughts on some of the games are as follows.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss

Uncharted: Golden Abyss plays just as well as its big brothers on the PlayStation 3. The dual analogs are a welcome addition, and for the first time aiming and navigating an environment feel just as intuitive as playing on console. Unlike the PSP, it doesn’t feel like any compromises were made in the game’s controls to make it portable. After a very brief acclimation period, I found myself guiding Drake along walls and dodging bullets every bit as well as in the series’ previous entries.

Wipeout 2048

The Wipeout series has always been able to push whatever tech it is running on to achieve stellar visuals. Case in point – Wipeout 2048 on Vita looks absolutely gorgeous. While not running at 60 frames per second like the PS3’s Wipeout HD, this game is incredibly fast, and the breakneck pace of the other entries in the series is here in spades. The game’s analog controls were buttery smooth and racing was every bit as tight and precise as it was in Wipeout HD. The demo let players choose from a track selection of about six or so tracks, and they were equally incredibly detailed to show off the hardware stunningly well.

Reality Fighters

While Reality Fighters does some cool tricks with augmented reality, it is hard not to walk away from the game feeling that it’s just a gimmicky launch title. The game uses the Vita’s rear-facing camera to place the in game fighters on any flat surface in view. Initially it’s a bit novel, but I didn’t really find the fighting compelling enough to want to keep playing beyond a few minutes.

Modnation Racers: Road Trip

I briefly took the Vita version of Sony’s other “Play, Create, Share” series for a spin, and it also compares favorably well to the PS3 version of the game. The Vita version does sport some new features that utilize the rear touchpad to assist in creating tracks, but for the most part the Vita version of Modnation Racers seems like very solid port of the console experience.

All in all, this was a great event and an awesome chance to take the Vita hardware for a spin before release and see the system first-hand. I definitely walked away impressed with the tech, but it remains to be seen how the system’s purportedly short battery life will also factor into real-world gaming situations. For now, I think I’ll clear out some extra pocket room just to be on the safe side.

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