Editorial: The PS Vita and the “full console experience”

Those three words above have been thrown around by just about every gaming website and blog when it comes to talking about Sony’s PlayStation Vita. Even here on Past the Pixels I’ve been guilty of tossing up a little FCE when describing the Vita. But what makes a Vita game the so-called “full experience” we are so used to on our PlayStation 3? And is the term even merited?

James Pikover’s recent Kotaku write up on Unit 13 proclaims it “proves that the PlayStation Vita can deliver a full-console experience in the palm of your hand”. A fair enough statement, but it is the next part that leaves me scratching my head:

“For example, it doesn’t have a story. Instead, it gives mobile gamers an experience more similar to smartphones games: small bites instead of the whole cow. Zipper [Interactive] manages this by exchanging a full-fledged plot for 36 standalone missions.”

Reading that in isolation, it doesn’t really sound like what we’d expect from a full-fledged console game. I get what Evan means though, Unit 13 is the twin-stick action shooter game, the likes of which we just haven’t had before on handheld systems. A whole genre of games that were restricted to the home have now been opened up to the PlayStation Vita. But it’s still not a FCE in the (or my) strictest sense of the term.

The key word in all this is the word experience. It’s not just one aspect (ie: the right analog stick) that makes up this experience. It’s the combination of control, storyline, visuals and game-engine that all create the experience. In theory, if a Vita game has that magical FCE, it should be able to stand up to what is similarly on offer on the PS3. Of all the Vita games so far, in my opinion only Uncharted: Golden Abyss does this in the most traditional sense.

With Golden Abyss, you could pretty much take the whole thing and slap it on a PS3 disc and nobody would really bat an eyelid. The story is typically Uncharted in its scale and characterisation, the locales are all beautifully rendered, and combat and climbing is exactly as it has always been in the series (right analog stick FTW!).

So this “full console experience” isn’t just about having the extra analog stick, HD graphics or a game engine just like its genre stablemates on PS3. It’s about all of these individual attributes coming together to create a full package comparable to what we expect from that black box sitting under our TV. And then there’s the whole other argument as to what makes this full experience: Is it story-driven epics like Bioshock or finely-tuned arcade legends like Street Fighter IV? It’s very difficult to label one singular title with the FCE label. So why try?

To be successful the Vita will need more than just PS3 experiences, it needs to have its own unique hook. Games like Escape Plan and Gravity Daze/Rush are already giving a glimpse at what can be done on the handheld. You can’t help but feel that as the console’s life progresses it will move away from “PS3-esque games with unique controls”, and more towards what Unit 13 and others are looking to provide, a Playstation Vita Experience.

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