While the Playstation Vita has been described as being a home console in a handheld device, there haven't been enough games to prove the point. With new games Killzone: Mercenary and Tearaway, Sony Computer Entertainment hopes to make it clear that their portable game system is unlike anything else available.
In competition with Nintendo's DS and 3DS and the host of Android and iOS devices that are being used to game-on-the-go, the Vita, which is available in a WiFi only model for $250, hasn't been able to find a niche for itself in the market.
Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai told the Wall Street Journal during an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month that the numbers are "on the low end of what we expected." And in November, the company lowered its sales forecast for the fiscal year ending in March.
At a Sony press event Wednesseday in Los Angeles, Sony showcased the advantages of the Vita's market-leading processing power and demonstrated how the unique-to-Vita controls can be used in creative ways.
While the Killzone game is sure to fire up first-person-shooting fans, Tearaway (planned for release sometime in 2013) demonstrates what can be done with the touch controls on the handheld game system. An adventure game from Media Molecule, the studio that created LittleBigPlanet, Tearaway is designed around the theme of paper.
"Everything in the game is made of paper and acts like paper, and that is what the game mechanics are all about," explained a spokesman.
Players are actually characters in the game, assisting either Iota or Atoi, two paper messengers with envelopes for heads, intent on delivering their messages.
The fingers of players actually enter the made-of-paper game world. Tapping on the back touch panel of the Vita can create holes in the environment, for example, or activate bounce areas on the ground to launch Iota or Atoi into the air. The front touch screen is used to "peel" layers off the environment. "The aim was to make a tactile game that you could touch and feel," said graphic designer and animation director Rex Crowle.
Together Iota or Atoi travel through the paper world inspired by "folk tales and half-forgotten stories."
And in the way that the LittleBigPlanet games provide tools for players to create their own levels for the game, there is a creative component to Tearaway in the form of paper craft projects that can be unlocked and then made in the real world. The paper trophies can be printed on any home printer. Entire scenes and dioramas and characters from the game can be constructed out of paper. It's exactly the kind of charm that's expected from the developer that brought Sackboy to life.
On the flip side of playful Tearaway is the Cambridge studio of Amsterdam-based Guerrilla Games, developer of Killzone: Mercenary (scheduled for release on September 17). Matthias De Jonge, director of game development in Amsterdam, who is overseeing production on the game, said that because the Vita has roughly the same processing power as a Playstation 3 home console, they are able to deliver the "full Killzone experience on a handheld."
Mr. De Jonge said Mercenary, which has a story that spans several Killzone games, was built on the Killzone 3 engine, used to develop the last game for the PS3. The visuals are stunning, with lighting and fog effects that rival anything created for big screens in living rooms. Even Sony's earlier portables couldn't handle the graphics that are in the new game.
Players become Arran Danner, a former soldier now a soldier of fortune, working for a private military contractor.
The six-eight hour single-player campaign is enhanced by a Contracts mode unlocked after the mission is completed that should appeal to more hardcore players. This allows for replay of the mission using one of three styles: demolition, marksman or stealth. Failing to meet the objectives, said Mr. De Jonge, resulted in the mission ending. But each time the contract is completed, he added, there are bigger and bigger game bonuses.
The multiplayer supports four-on-four play on six maps and in three modes: Death Match, Team Death Match, and Warzone, which provides 5 alternating objectives. Performance on multiplayer is recorded on your "Valour cards" which is not simply a fun collectible, but also acts as a balancing mechanism: The best players have the most valuable Valour cards, making them bigger targets.
The Vita may not be selling as well as Sony would like, but these new games show off the power and the potential of the handheld system, and executives hope they can spark sales after a disappointing debut.