April 27th, 2012, 01:12 Posted By: wraggster
The future will always catch up with you. I remember when I bought my PSP in 2005: it was a darkly shiny piece of magical technology smuggled back decades from a super-cool sci-fi age. There had never been a screen like that, and rarely a gadget so satisfying in its dense heft, its minimalist piano-black-and-metal aesthetic. Even the crosshatched metal of the analogue stick (or as people took to calling it, a bit disgustingly, the ‘nub’) felt good, roughing up my thumb in sweet punishment. Playing Wipeout Pure on this thing was such a time-warp rush; it felt wholly improbable, as though some laws preventing cosmological anomalies had been stealthily broken.
Seven years on, the future has arrived, and it’s choking me with brick dust. Or at least that’s how it feels to be playing the nearer-future and tediously chaotic Wipeout 2048 on Vita: like chugging steampunk. But even without the substandard Wipeout, and even with all its impressive technology, Vita somehow feels like a less futuristic device. Next to the PSP, it looks… well, ‘fat’ is the
word that springs ungenerously to mind, even though my Wi-Fi Vita (260g) is lighter than my first-gen PSP (280g). Unlike the chic, streamlined PSP, Vita bulges with gentle embarrassment, as though there wasn’t quite enough internal space for the designers to be able to cut out those lanyard holes properly.
That weight difference is also a symptom of the sad fact that Vita has a more plasticky (and less fetishistically detailed) build. An aluminium ‘unibody’, now the prevailing cliché of gadget build specification, would at least have brought Vita more up to date aesthetically; without one, it somehow lacks gravitas. (Note to multimedia students desperate for master’s thesis topics: compare the rise of the ‘unibody’ in consumer electronics and the playsuit, or ‘onesie’,
in fashion. You’re welcome!)
Hardware bitching aside, though, the prospects for the variety and quality of Vita’s games are arguably more exciting than they ever were for PSP. By far my favourite launch title is the idiosyncraticEscape Plan, with its gorgeously desaturated artwork; its childish, sadistic audience; and its beautifully silly ‘Intermissions’, with the pudgy enemies in their creaking black leather bodysuits (onesies again, see?) dancing badly to classical music. Escape Plan also – as any experimental launch game should – usefully demonstrates the limitations of the intriguing new control methods festooning Vita. In particular, it shows that players should not be asked to tap accurately on the rear touchpad first time, and also that any required ‘pinch’ movements – touching front and rear panels simultaneously in the same place – ought to be more forgivingly calibrated.
Unit 13 is also mightily encouraging. Breaking twin-stick gunplay down into a huge variety of bite-sized sandbox missions is not just the ideal paradigm for portable shooting, but one I wish more full-sized console games would follow. (And this is just the kind of game – whether it be surgical faceshooting in particular, or anything else requiring a real depth and range of input – that a buttonless slabphone simply can’t do.) And then, of course, there’s the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, including Peace Walker, which I abandoned on PSP since face-button aiming was so depressing. When that comes out, you’ll find me obsessively playing it for weeks, in the cosy world-cancelling environment of an overturned cardboard box.
It’s hardly Sony’s fault if the future has caught up with it: to achieve the same level of future-slap as the original PSP, Vita would have to be thought-controlled and beam 4K images directly onto your retinas. What is Sony’s fault, on the other hand, is that for decades there has lurked an evil little subdepartment deep within the company whose entire raison d’être is to try to screw up every single product launch by mandating infuriatingly user-hostile ‘features’. These include wildly overpriced, product-specific proprietary storage media and charging
cables, and even accessories that aren’t fully compatible with the things they claim to be accessories for (stereo Bluetooth headset and Xperia phones: great work, evil mini-Sony). After years of patient and cunning industrial espionage, I can now exclusively reveal why this is so. The dark, malign Sony-within-a-Sony actually began as an April fool’s joke by a high-ranking executive with a devilish sense of humour, but before he could confess his brilliant comic coup, the executive suffered a tragically fatal heart attack on the golf course. Since no one else in Sony knew that this new department was supposed to be a joke, they just let it carry on and obediently executed all its insane schemes. The good news is that all the new head of Sony, Kaz Hirai, has to do in order to turn round his corporation is to track down this rogue department and burn it to the ground. (Note to Sony: please send my enormous consulting fee care of Edge Towers. Thanks!) Let’s just hope that they haven’t already managed to suck the life out of Vita, because I, for one, am already beginning to
find its helpless chubbiness rather lovable.
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