New Playstation Vita Owner — First Impressions

Black Friday found another victim.

I normally don’t succumb to the hype surrounding the so-called “biggest shopping day of the year”, but I found a deal I just could not pass up. I had been eyeballing the Playstation Vita since its February release, but I was waiting for a bundle and/or a price drop before taking the plunge. Enter: Amazon.

Normally the Vita Wi-Fi system on its own costs $249.99, but Amazon put together a bundle with more content for a much lower price. For a grand total of $179.99, this bundle came with a white Vita, a 4gb memory card, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, three free months of Playstation Plus (which includes six free Vita games), and a $10 off coupon toward the purchase of the PS3/360 version of Assassin’s Creed III. On its own, this package would cost twice the sale amount, which is just ridiculous. Merry Christmas to me, I suppose.

White Playstation Vita

Since my package arrived last week, I have been trying out everything at my disposal. The system itself is an amazing piece of technology with a slick, stylish design. The five-inch OLED screen is gorgeous, and the ability to use both front and rear touch pads is a nice inclusion. Former PSP owners will love the addition of a second analog stick, which will come in handy with shooting games.

The touch screen interface is simple to navigate and customize, and I have found that the button-based system is much easier to use than the PS3’s XMB menu. Every function is easy to get to and fast to load, and connecting with friends is even smoother than before.

The only real problem I have come across has nothing to do with the system itself; rather, it’s the high price of its memory cards. Rather than use the reasonably priced SDHC cards, Sony opted to make its own line. This wouldn’t be a problem if the damn things weren’t so expensive! Since the Vita has a heavy emphasis on digital distribution, a good-sized memory card is needed to get full value. The biggest size offered, 32 gb, retails for a whopping $99.99. I should be able to get by for now with my two 4gb cards (the second of which was on sale for $9.99), but I can already tell it’s going to be frustrating to swap them out repeatedly.

Onto the games. I have had the chance to play both games the system came with, as well as a handful of those offered for free on Playstation Plus. Here are my quick thoughts on them, based on my limited playing so far:

Assassin's Creed III: Liberation
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation
The only Assassin’s Creed game I have ever played was the first one, and quite frankly it was terrible. What seemed like a cool concept quickly deteriorated into a series of repetitive events — it felt more like work than fun. From what I’ve heard, the series has improved drastically since then, so I was willing to give Liberation a shot. I have played through the first few missions, and so far I’m digging it. The gameplay feels more refined, and I haven’t run into any monotony yet. It’s still early, but I’m feeling much better about this than I ever was with the first game. Also, I really dig the 1780s setting, and it’s pretty cool that the main character can change disguises to complete different tasks.

Gravity Rush
Gravity Rush
This is one of the most intriguing games currently on the Vita, and it’s the one I am enjoying most. Gravity Rush is a slick-looking game with dazzling visuals and a fantastic soundtrack, and the ability to change gravity is a fresh gameplay mechanic that is also very rewarding. Being able to explore the floating town of Hekseville is fun in its own right, but given the ability to fly adds a whole new dimension to it. There’s a very good chance that this will be the first game I finish and review.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
I’m not a big fan of fighting games, but this collaboration of Sony and third party mascots is quite enjoyable so far. I have been playing as Sly Cooper, but I love the variety in characters available (looking forward to trying out the Big Daddy from BioShock). I have only played through a handful of matches, but I have been dominating. I tried out the online feature and promptly destroyed everyone in the four-player match despite my opponents already being ranked well over level 200. I can’t possibly be that good, right??

Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack
Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack
It’s kind of amazing that this is the fourth highest rated Vita game on Metacritic. After playing through a good chunk of the game, I can see why. The platforming action is fluid, and many of its touch-screen additions work surprisingly well. I also love the sub-levels that make you tilt the Vita to move the blob to the end of the course (a 21st century spin on the wooden Labyrinth puzzle, if you will). While I got this for free thanks to PS+, its regular $7.99 price tag is a steal.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
I have only played through the prologue so far, but this Uncharted looks and feels just like its PS3 brethren. Some of the touch screen controls are a bit ludicrous (i.e. swiping the screen to climb), but thankfully most appear to be optional. I’m looking forward to playing through this in its entirety.

Wipeout 2048
Wipeout 2048
Wipeout HD is one of my favorite PS3 games, so I was excited to play its Vita counterpart. It’s pretty much the same Wipeout I know and love, which is definitely a good thing. My only concern is, what’s up with the excruciatingly long load times? As a digital game, this is inexcusable, especially for a portable system. The racing action is great, but it takes a long time to get there.

Conclusion

The Vita has a lot of momentum right now, especially since Playstation Plus is offering free downloads as part of its Instant Game Collection. Being able to play Uncharted, Gravity Rush and others basically for free is a huge positive, and I can’t wait to see what else the service brings in the future. I am very happy with my purchase so far, even if the upcoming release lineup is a bit thin, and this is easily the best handheld gaming system I have ever played. Now if only Sony would lower the price of those memory cards…

What do you guys think of the Vita? Anyone else out there own one? What are your favorite games for the system?

Video Game Review: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception [PS3, 2011]

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception [PS3, 2011]

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
System: Playstation 3
Genre: Action/Adventure/Platform
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: November 1, 2011

Past adventures of Nathan Drake, star of the Playstation 3’s best-selling Uncharted series, have taken him all over the world. The Amazon Rainforest, Tibet, Istanbul, Borneo, Nepal. The dude has been everywhere. With Uncharted 3, Drake can now scratch even more locations off his list, including an extended run in the Middle East.

Uncharted 3 begins with a massive bar-room brawl. Drake and his long-time pal (and mentor) Victor Sullivan (“Sully”) get caught up in a deal that quickly turns sour, forcing them to fight their way through dozens of enemies, complete with broken whiskey bottles and snapped pool sticks. This works as a tutorial of sorts, as it demonstrates the slightly modified combat system while throwing our heroes directly into action.

This is the core of Uncharted 3 — moments of intense action interspersed with cutscenes to help flesh out the story. The opening bar-room brawl is only the tip of the iceberg. This time around, the big adventure set-pieces include a dashing escape out of a rapidly burning building, frantic manuevering out of a sinking cruise ship, and an elongated trip through the stifling Rub’ al Khali Desert with no water to speak of anywhere. These exaggerated sequences are the biggest reason why most gamers have fallen in love with the series, and they do not disappoint in the trilogy’s conclusion.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception [PS3, 2011]

For those looking for a bit of back-story about Drake and Sully, you are in luck. The mysterious relationship of our favorite treasure hunters is elaborated on in a series of flashbacks, even allowing gamers to play as a teenage Drake. The overall story arc is still relatively simple, but fans of the series will be pleased with this further insight.

The Uncharted series has always featured a seamless transition between its platforming and third person shooter gameplay. Naughty Dog are known for their excellent platform skills, and Drake’s jumping from ledges to chandeliers to poles or whatever else he can grab onto is flawless in execution. The gunplay, however, remains a bit of a burden on the series.

Simply put, little has changed with the game’s combat system, so the same annoyances remain in place. The shooting system feels dated and rough around the edges, and there are a few too many set-pieces that rely heavily on long gunfights. The new addition of being able to throw back tossed grenades is a welcome one, but it does not excise the occasionally awkward shooting controls. Thankfully, the campaign is spaced out with good variety for the most part, making these moments a minor annoyance more than a burst of frustration.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception [PS3, 2011]

Unfortunately, while Uncharted 3 boasts a beefy multiplayer mode, it requires an online pass ($9.99) to use it (unless you buy the game new). Outside of the co-op missions, I never really fell in love with the online features in this series, so I cannot justify spending an extra $9.99 on something I will not get maximum value for. If you are into the multiplayer aspects, you might be better off just buying this new.

Even though Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception still suffers from minor gameplay issues, the single player campaign is still a blast to play. This is as close as you’re going to get to a *good* Indiana Jones game, complete with outrageous action scenes that will make your heart race. This also may be the best-looking game I have seen yet in this current console generation, as the attention to graphical details is impeccable. If you have been following the series, you ought to do yourself a favor and finish the trilogy. I would consider it a toss-up between Drake’s Deception and Uncharted 2 as to which is the best, and both are absolutely worth playing.

8.5/10

Video Game Review: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [Playstation 3, 2009]

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [Playstation 3, 2009]

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
System: Playstation 3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: October 13, 2009

I liked the original Uncharted quite a bit, but it took me a while to get a hold of the sequel. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves expands upon the original in every way while maintaining the same adventure/platforming gameplay that was so great the first time around.

Uncharted 2 picks up right where the first game left off. Treasure hunter extraordinaire Nathan Drake is back, this time trying to find out what happened to the lost fleet of Marco Polo. Aided by new and old characters alike, Drake’s journey takes him across exotic locales all over the world. Jungles, snowy mountains, hidden villages — you name it, it’s there.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [Playstation 3, 2009]

Building upon the epic nature from the first game, Uncharted 2 is grandiose in every sense of the word. Again playing out as a big-time summer blockbuster movie, the game has a number of insane cinematic moments. The opening chapter of the campaign heaves itself in your face, forcing you to learn the game’s controls while Drake is trying to climb up a wrecked train that is hanging — just barely — over a cliff. Yeah, this “tutorial” is only the beginning. There are a lot of ridiculous and over-the-top action sequences scattered throughout, and they are just AWESOME. Drake has almost superhuman jumping abilities — which come in handing for the game’s excellent platforming sections — and does a lot of stuff that is physically impossible, but it works because this is a *video game*. For sheer cinematic brilliance in gaming form, Uncharted 2 is among the best.

It certainly helps that the game is stunning, one of the most gorgeous titles available on any platform. The character models are top-notch, and the aforementioned exotic locales are simply beautiful. The details found while traversing these areas are subtle but brilliant, such as Drake having snow get stuck to his pants while in the mountains, or having his clothing become wet after jumping into a lake. With an impressive musical score and some excellent voice acting, Uncharted 2 definitely feels like an action movie.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [Playstation 3, 2009]

While this sequel is all-around more polished than its predecessor, it still struggles with some minor gameplay mechanical issues. Combat is much improved, as now you don’t have to empty clip after clip into enemies before they finally drop. However, there are still occasional problems with the covering system, namely Drake getting sent to hide behind the wrong piece of cover than what you originally intended. This tends to happen right in the heat of important battles, and can lead to some frustrating deaths that are faults of the gameplay, not the user. There is also a lot of repetition in the game. There are moments where there seems to be gunfight after gunfight, which gets tiresome. Naughty Dog usually does a good job dividing up segments into different styles of gameplay, but there were some areas where it became redundant. Still, there are a lot of EPIC sequences that make up for the occasional monotony.

Perhaps most intriguing about Uncharted 2 is its addition of a multiplayer mode. At first I was wary of this because Uncharted is very much a single player experience, but I was pleasantly surprised as to how well-executed the online play turned out. There are both competitive and co-op options available, each of which has different game modes. I found the co-op games to be the most fun online, as you can either play through various levels while fighting off countless enemies, or you can play an “Arena” mode where you shoot your way through ten waves of villains. The competitive modes include traditional Deathmatch, Plunder (a spin on “capture the flag”), and Turf War (control areas to win), among others. There is still a good-sized community active today, and that should remain for the foreseeable future.

Uncharted 2 has received an impressive amount of accolades — and Sony has made sure that we are aware of this by listing “25 Perfect Review Scores” on its cover — and most of these high marks are deserved. While I still found issues with some of the gameplay quirks and general repetitiveness, I greatly enjoyed working my way through the single player campaign. The addition of a high-quality multiplayer section is just the icing on the cake. If you’re a fan of giant action/adventure epics, you will feel right at home with Uncharted 2.

8.5/10

Video Game Review: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune [Playstation 3, 2007]

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune [PS3, 2007]

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
System: Playstaton 3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: November 16, 2007

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a hybrid action/platforming game that plays out as if it were a summer blockbuster movie. High production values, top-notch voice acting, over-the-top cinematics — its got it all. The game has a similar storyline to Indiana Jones movies and Dirk Pitt novels. You play as Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter who claims to be a descendant of English explorer Sir Francis Drake. Nathan is on a quest to find the famed artifact known as El Dorado, a giant golden idol hidden somewhere deep in the jungle. As any good fortune-hunting movie would have, Drake is accompanied at times by two supporting characters: Victor Sullivan, a grizzled cigar-chomping veteran who has a penchant for telling old travel stories, and Elena Fisher, a snarky reporter trying to land her next big news story. The plotline is hardly anything groundbreaking, but it is entertaining enough, especially since it is aided by some strong fleshed-out characters.

As mentioned earlier, Uncharted is a combination of an action/shooting game and a platformer. Since the game was created by Naughty Dog (Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter), the platforming sections are designed rather well. While some platforming games get beyond frustrating due to touchy controls and mistimed jumps, Uncharted really excels in that department. Nathan is able to make some pretty incredible jumps, and the game is more forgiving when you are off by just a little bit since it usually allows him to desperately cling to the edge and pull himself up. The platforming areas are genuinely fun, as Nate traverses some large rooms by jumping along the walls, using vines, ledges, chandeliers and whatever else he can land on.

The combat, however, is where the game could use some work. The main enemies are pirates who are racing to get the treasure first, and they are all over the freakin’ place. The enemies themselves are not the problem, although some more variety would have been nice. I was more disappointed with the actual shooting aspects. I couldn’t tell you how many times I emptied a dozen rounds of an AK-47 into a pirate just to see him stumble around like he was drunk. Really, it should not take more than a few shots to down an enemy. Not a huge problem, but an inconvenience nonetheless.

Where Uncharted really excels is in its presentation. It is no exaggeration when I say that this game truly feels like you are playing a movie, and it is helped greatly by its impressive visuals. Even for a relatively early PS3 title, Uncharted’s graphics are stunning. The jungle comes alive with lush green colors, the animations are virtually perfect, and the attention to detail is just remarkable. One neat aspect that stood out to me: if you end up in the water, Drake will emerge with his clothes soaking wet. Cutscenes are interchangeable from the regular graphics, as the same engine is used for both. Throw in a strong musical score and high-quality voice acting and you have a memorable experience.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is simply a blast from beginning to end, even with the occasional repetitive combat and agitating shooting mechanics. You are going to have to suspend disbelief with this one — which shouldn’t be a problem if you enjoy Indiana Jones at all — because Nathan Drake does a lot of things a normal guy couldn’t do. But hey, this is a video game, and playing games is all about having a good time. Uncharted is a fun ride and doesn’t require much thinking, just like a good summer blockbuster movie. I greatly enjoyed playing through the game, and I can’t wait to play its allegedly even better sequel.

8/10