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First things first, the system itself; is one hell of an attractive piece of hardware. The screen is truly gorgeous and the system feels much more comfortable in your hands. Even after several hours of continued use, I didn’t have of the usual finger cramps you get from the original PSP. The analog sticks are easily what grab your attention the most upon first using the Vita; they are extremely comfortable and feel just as solid and responsive as the ones you would find on any controller. The triggers are also much better than the ones on the original PSP, which felt more like big buttons in the shape of a trigger whereas these function similar to the L2 and R2 buttons but felt easier to use. Both the face buttons and D-pad are a lot smaller than the PSP and unlike the PSP, the D-pad is one button now instead of four separated arrows. This wasn’t an issue on any of the games I played, and it still feels as though there are four separate contacts underneath but it’s going to take something like Mortal Kombat to truly put it to the test. The tilt function was very awkward to use because the systems were attached with thick cables, I’ve never been a fan of tilt controls, but Super Stardust Arcade put it to very effective use.
Last on the list of Vita features are the touch screen and reach touch panel. The touch screen is pretty much what you have come to expect and is extremely responsive. The rear touch panel can be a little awkward due to the width of the system, however I was using it in a fixed position with cables attached so I imagine when you’re able to hold it properly this won’t be an issue. The touch screen is mainly what makes the Vita so incredibly easy to use. It was used for gameplay in all the games I played and apart from being grossly un-necessarily used in Uncharted for zooming in for sniper rifles, its functionality was put to very good use. The only complaint regarding the touch features I have is that when you have to use both at the same time or change between the two. They work best when only one is used, and when you have to use both it feels a little clunky, again, having it in a fixed position didn’t help here so I’ll reserve final judgement on this for when I can hold it how I please. The only thing that I found to be a real problem was the volume level wasn’t very high, even when set to maximum and using headphones. I realise this might seem a little petty, but if you’re going to be using this system in busy environments, like for example, an event room full of people using a Playstation Vita. You’re not going to want the sound obscured by background noise.
A lot of the technical options were locked out unfortunately, so I can’t comment much on the gory details. The systems I used seemed to have 16GB sticks in which all had 13 games demos as well as some videos installed which left them with 6.7GB of free space. If you’re not going to be saving a bunch of video then I would say 16GB should be more than enough to start out with, I couldn’t get any information as to how much space game saves or downloadable titles will be so we’ll just have to wait and see. When checking the profile settings, I did notice an option titled “trophies” so hopefully your PSN account will span both your PS3 and Vita games and keep track of similar statistics.
Right, let’s talk about some games now shall we? I’ll start with the obvious first, I played some Uncharted Golden Abyss and there’s not much to say about that game except that it’s certainly an Uncharted game. It is extremely impressive from a technical perspective but it’s not going to convert anyone that doesn’t like these games and Uncharted has never flicked my switch. The most impressive game I played is unfortunately one that isn’t a launch title for the system and that is Super Stardust Arcade. This is the game that truly makes you appreciate that second analog stick, because this game is a dual-stick shooter. A genre that is absolutely perfect for a handheld but never worked properly because you need dual sticks to actually play it properly. This game was the most impressive for a number of reasons but mainly because it made perfect use of the wide control schemes the Vita has, special abilities are mapped to the touch screen and rear panel and are pulled off by tapping them and are very responsive. You can shake the system to trigger an EMP blast and tilt to see around the curves of the levels which can be used to plan out your attacks. Not to mention that the game looks absolutely stunning, all the models in the game are really sharp and have great texture detail. The colours are vibrant and nicely varied and the frame rate is as smooth as anything. On the one hand, I find it really weird that the game that impressed me the most was a dual-stick shooter, but on the other it really does the best job of showcasing the Vita’s controls.
The other standout game of the event for me was Escape Plan, which is a 2D platformer with a thing for puzzles. The main reason this game stood out amongst the others was how it controlled, Little Big Planet makes use of both front and reach touch, but felt a little clunky due to how it was implemented. Escape Plan is controlled entirely with the touch screen and panel and handles it a lot better and didn’t sacrifice anything in the gameplay department to pull this off. Swiping across the screen causes you to move and you stop simply by tapping it, pinching the character using both front and rear touch causes you to dash forward at high speed, which is used in certain areas as you need what is basically a power up that enables the ability. The puzzle elements in the game are handled by pushing and pulling various items in the environment using the touch panels. You can push out platforms and walkways using the rear touch and push them back using the screen, which can also be used to activate pressure switches. This all might sound a little odd, mainly because this type of game hasn’t really been done before as the front and rear touch control scheme simply didn’t exist until the Vita. I’m really hoping other games will make clever use of touch panel and touch screen controls as it’s something that really makes the system feel unique.
If you are interested in seeing a game that shows the technical muscle of the Vita, then you need look further than Wipeout. I was hoping this game would show off the guts of the system and it did not disappoint in the slightest. Within seconds of playing I switched to first person mode, now don’t get me wrong, the game controls just fine with the traditional view. But when playing in first person mode you get the most out of the visuals, going into turns almost vertical while travelling at what seems like the speed of sound and everything looks incredible while you do it. Wipeout is a prime example of how visuals really compliment its gameplay, the motion blur effects rival that of what I’ve seen on consoles. I’m looking forward to see what other race tracks are in the full game, and if there isn’t a night level crammed full of eye-melting neon goodness then they have missed a trick.
Now if there’s one game that was made for the touch screen on the Vita, that game is Little Big Planet. When I first saw it I was a little skeptical that they had just bolted on some touch screen controls and left it at that. But now I can’t imagine playing LBP without that touch screen, being able to pick up and move objects around with it feels a lot better than selecting it and hitting a button. You can also use it to flip switches and swing objects from side to side and the traditional controls never get in the way. LBP also makes use of the tilt function, but again, when the system is attached to a unit, it’s very awkward to use it properly. This goes double for the rear touch panel features too, they work well enough, but it feels very weird when you can’t move the system how you would want to. Unfortunately the level editor wasn’t available during the event, which seems pretty odd seeing as that is a major aspect of what makes LBP what it is but the level shown was pretty great.
From what I saw of the Vita over the weekend I feel very good about picking one up when they launch in February. I really would have liked some clear differentiation between the online capabilities of the Wi-Fi model and 3G model, but that information will be out there when it launches so you won’t have to wait long. The Vita is an extremely impressive system and will definitely prove a worthwhile investment for any early adopters.