PlayStation Vita - Uncharted: Golden Abyss - Nathan Drake

The PlayStation Vita will be released on Wednesday February 22nd. Should you pick one up? Now that I’ve had a few days with the system, I’d like to share my first impressions of the system itself and the game I’ve spent the most time with, Uncharted: Golden Abyss. The PlayStation Vita is a powerful machine with great graphics and the best controls a portable has ever seen, but it’s UI and launch titles are plagued by an unnecessary overuse of it’s various gimmicks such as two touch screens, cameras and gyros. At a $250 price point, getting one is a no brainer to me, but the real value of the system won’t be obvious until we see how successful it will be, and what kind of support the system gets from developers.

Playstation Vita size compared to a Playstation Portable and Nintendo 3DS

A PSP, PlayStation Vita and 3DS

The size of the system is larger than Sony’s previous handheld, the PSP and Nintendo’s current offering, the 3DS. It’s not so large that it’s not portable, and a lot of that size is in the screen, which is really noticeable. With an amazing resolution of 960×544, the 3DS with it’s laughable 400×240 main screen offers no competition and this is apparent by the breathtaking graphics this system is capable of pulling off.

PlayStation Vita - Menu Screen - Page 2

The UI for this system is complete garbage as far as I’m concerned. The PlayStation Vita is superior to every phone with a touch screen only interface because of it’s buttons and analog sticks. Despite this, Sony has chosen to have the UI accessible only through use of the touch screen. This is stupid, and one can only hope this will be improved in a later firmware update. Touch screen technology is not new, but with the way the Vita overuses it, you would think it’s some great new innovative technology being pawned off to an unsuspecting public.

PlayStation Vita Web Browser is kind of useless

There’s not much in the way of apps on this thing. Based on it’s specs I was hoping this would give my iPod touch a run for it’s money, but although Twitter, Facebook and Netflix apps were promised, these are nowhere to be found. The web browser shares the UI’s limitation of only working via the touch screen, and with no support for flash or HTML5, it makes a considerable portion of the Internet unusable.

PlayStation Vita - Near shows many people close to me currently online

The “Party” app will allow you to set up something which seems similar to an XBox Live Party, which is good considering the system is capable of running many applications in parallel. Interaction with the PlayStation Network friends lists also extends to trophy support and a fun application “near” which shows players close to you also on their PlayStation Vita. There were a number of people in my city playing despite the official launch day being a few days away, but their choice of games was pretty lame. Apps for music, video and picture browsing are also included.

PlayStation Vita transfering saved data

Moving your applications and content to and from a PS3 or computer is done pretty simply via USB. I was able to copy all my screenshots off my system for use in this post with ease. I was also able to copy PSP titles and saves to my system for those games which I had downloaded through the PlayStation store. The PlayStation store is similar to what you’d see on the PS3 or PSP, though again it was disappointing that there were no applications available for download.

But who cares about all that, what about the games!

PlayStation Vita - Uncharted: Golden Abyss - Shooting a fool

If you’re not getting Uncharted: Golden Abyss, you shouldn’t be getting a PlayStation Vita. This original game is the headliner of the Vita’s launch titles, and shows us what this system is capable of, and what it shouldn’t be capable of. Note that as of writing this review I’m only on the 14th chapter of the game. The game looks truly amazing. People ask if this system can do PS3 caliber games, and the graphics aren’t quite there, mainly due to the fact that the screen is just smaller and not a full HD display, but the graphics themselves really do remind me of playing the first Uncharted title. Don’t take my word for it, the screenshots included in this article are taken with the system’s built in screenshot feature and are at the native resolution of the system.

PlayStation Vita - Uncharted: Golden Abyss - Chase and Nathan Drake

The game’s story is pretty solid, introducing some new characters such as Drake’s new lady friend Chase. The gameplay is what we’re used to, and for the most part uses the system’s two analog sticks, triggers and buttons to play like any console first person shooter would, a first for a handheld. The analog sticks are not as responsive as those on a PlayStation console, so they take some getting used to, and the sensitivity can be adjusted in game. The game includes all the staples like collecting treasures and climbing up all kinds of crazy obstacles. It also includes some new and fairly unwelcome game mechanics.

PlayStation Vita - Uncharted: Golden Abyss - Slide to boost in this QTE

Swipe up to give Chase a boost in this QTE

That damned touch screen. Though some touch controls are optional, like taping an enemy instead of hitting square for a stealth attack, or drawing a path for Drake to scale with your fingers, others are necessary. Pictured above is one of many QTEs which require you to swipe to do something like open a door or give someone a boost. During melee attacks similar prompts appear making you swipe to fight your opponent. You may think this is a cool use of the touch screen, and that’s okay, but you’re an idiot.

PlayStation Vita - Uncharted: Golden Abyss - Rubbing off something with the touch pad

Rubbing one out

The game also breaks for random mini game type things such as rubbing charcoal all over a piece of paper to get an impression, cleaning off a dirty artifact by rotating it with the back touch screen, and then rubbing it with the front one, putting together a puzzle by rotating and moving all pieces with the touch screen and even opening a combination lock by mindlessly spinning a wheel to the predetermined numbers.

A child's puzzle

A child's 18 piece puzzle

PlayStation Vita - Uncharted: Golden Abyss - Combination lock

A very challenging combination lock

None of these stupid gimmicks present challenging gameplay. They are a pointless exhibition of the touch screen controls.

PlayStation Vita - Uncharted: Golden Abyss - Rotate to move left or right

There’s also the occasional use the gyros for things like balancing Drake while he walks across a beam or moving him as he goes down a waterfall. While this is at least somewhat challenging, it takes a person out of the gameplay and I never appreciate a separate game mechanic that feels this tacked on. It should be noted that the tight rope type balancing as well as grenade aiming were in the first Uncharted game, so let’s hope that should the system live long enough for a sequel, we will return to more traditional controls.

PlayStation Vita - Uncharted: Golden Abyss - Put the system up to a light

And then the game actually made me hold the camera up to a light

Finally the stupidest thing I’ve experienced in the game was a request to hold the system up to a light to read a piece of paper. So much of this game is unnaturally tacked on to demonstrate the system’s stupid gimmicks that it really makes me wish this system had nothing but it’s d pad, buttons, triggers and analog sticks. Surely some people love these gimmicks, and again that’s okay if you’re that kind of person. It’s okay that you’re responsible for everything that’s wrong with games today. Luckily unlike something like the Wii this system on top of it’s gimmicks also has real controls, so good games can be released on this system.

PlayStation Vita - Uncharted: Golden Abyss - Nathan Drake scaling a wall

But enough about the good game. I’m sure you want to hear about the bad game I got free with the bundle I pre-ordered!

PlayStation Vita - Little Deviants - Using the back touch pad

I don’t have much to say about “Little Deviants” because I honestly only played it for about 5 minutes. I only did two levels, and didn’t bother to try to unlock the others. The first level I tried showcased the back touch pad as I very awkwardly created a bump in the ground to push around a little ball. It was lame.

PlayStation Vita - Little Deviants - Shooting robots in my bathroom

The other level used the camera to superimpose robots onto the actual image of your surroundings. A neat gimmick but an annoying game that just made me want to keep playing Uncharted. This game is nothing more than a tech demo of what the system can do, and in doing so focuses on all the controls that make this system worse than it needs to be. The $0 I paid for this game was probably more than it was worth.

PlayStation Vita - Uncharted: Golden Abyss - Monkey bars

The PlayStation Vita is making me more excited for handhelds than I’ve been since the time of the Gameboy Advance’s launch. Though I was a late adopter for the PSP I found it to be a great system with a small but solid list of great titles. It remains to be seen if the system will really take off with the public, and only at least moderate sales will encourage developers to put the decent titles we all know this system can handle on this thing. While I would recommend readers pick up this system which is a bargain at $250 considering what it can do, I make no prediction as to whether or not it will go the way of the Dreamcast.

PlayStation Vita - Uncharted: Golden Abyss - I'm shipping these two

For now, we have a really cool Uncharted game, and a few other titles which look good but are otherwise available on other consoles like Marvel vs. Capcom or Ninja Gaiden Sigma. I’m personally most excited for the upcoming game “Gravity Rush” due out in May. I’ll leave you with a trailer for that.