Sony PS Vita handheld console - playtest

PlayStation Vita

We try out the new hardware with some of the PSV launch titles, including WipeOut and Uncharted

Sony’s new PS Vita is a pretty impressive bit of kit. It’s the most powerful dedicated handheld gaming device on the market. In practical terms it’s pretty much a PS3 in your pocket. The full HD OLED screen really pops and, due to the processing power, the graphics are incredible. However, this isn’t just a PSP with extra muscle, there are some innovative tweaks that make it a genuine next generation addition to Sony’s hardware arsenal.

Firstly, the machine sports something gamers have been demanding for a long time: dual analogue sticks. They may be small but they’re perfectly formed, the addition genuinely does make gaming easier. Now onto the bigger additions. The kit comes with two in-built cameras, a nice extra and also means you can drop yourself into games. In Reality Fighters you could create a character with your own face, then, utilising the new Augmented Reality feature, you project your fighters into the real world.

One of the biggest changes is the new touch screen but there’s a twist as the back of the PS Vita is also a touch pad. It’s instantly intuitive to anyone who owns an iPhone or similar device. Added to this is a six-axis motion sensor. Little Deviants was the best title to show off these new features: on one mini game you could make the landscape distort by running your fingers across the touch pad at the back. It took some getting used to but was very nicely implemented. On another level you tilted the PS Vita itself to guide your character though a maze. Great fun. However, in other games it felt like a bit of gimmick. The touch screen machete slashing in Uncharted: Golden Abyss disrupted the flow, but in the same title it was utilised for zooming in while using the sniper rifle which felt very natural (also bear in mind we only had access to a two level demo of Uncharted).

Unfortunately the 3G and wi-fi features weren’t operating on the test models, but promise easy access to the internet and incredibly user friendly online gaming. Due to the new high performance CPU you can play friends and strangers online who are sat at home on their PS3. Sony’s demo of WipeOut 2048, in this PSV vs PS3 set up, worked seamlessly and there was talk of Call of Duty coming soon. This appears to be the first handheld that can manage online gaming with the same ease as we’ve come to expect from home machines.

Before we all get too excited any UMDs you might have from your PSP are no longer compatible (the Vita will support a new flash memory-based card), but Sony are offering a ‘UMD Passport’ system which will transfer PSP titles to your Vita at a discounted cost. It’s a fairly pricey gizmo (approximately £229.99 for the wi-fi version or £279.99 for the 3G model) and one of the biggest problems with the PSP (screen glare) hasn’t been addressed. Gaming in dimly lit areas is pretty much perfect but once you turn the lights on the screen is obscured by reflections, something that’s exacerbated by greasy fingerprints with the new touch screen.

Despite these problems it’s the best portable device available for serious gamers. Sony’s biggest hurdle, however, is do people want a super slick machine that only plays games? Sure it connects to the net but with the likes of iPhone, Android and their ilk could this be the last generation of handheld games machines?

The PS Vita (Sony) is available from Wed 22 Feb.

It's Official – PlayStation Vita is Here!

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