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Argued by: Mikel Reparaz, Senior Editor
All right, so there’s no denying that the Vita has a lot of significant obstacles to overcome right out of the gate. The 3DS has bounced back from an anemic launch to become a strong contender. The stigma of the PSP’s assorted missteps is still fairly strong, and is routinely projected onto the Vita by pessimists. And the high cost of the Vita’s memory cards – not to mention the system itself – has already alienated a sizable chunk of its potential audience.
Forget all that for a moment. Taken on its own, the Vita is an undeniably badass piece of hardware, crammed to the gills with cool functionality and capable of better visuals than any other handheld. Its screen is beautiful, it (finally!) has two analog sticks, its games look near PS3-quality and it supports Trophies for your existing PSN account. Assuming it can negotiate the aforementioned hurdles and build up a solid library of games in its first year (and maybe drop its price at some point), the Vita will become a destination for experiences that simply aren’t possible on the 3DS, iPad or any other competitors. And if that happens, then this could be the first non-Nintendo handheld to not only rival the company’s dominance, but finally upset it.
Sony’s exclusive lineups have been getting stronger every year, and while we still don’t know everything about its plans for 2012, what we’ve seen so far is pretty exciting. Where Microsoft appears to be putting all its eggs in two baskets marked “Halo” and “Kinect,” Sony’s already starting a rollout of strong titles you won’t find anywhere else.
Car-combat revival Twisted Metal is right around the corner, and Starhawk’s mix of third-person shooting, tower defense and transformable vehicles isn’t too far behind. Journey is jaw-droppingly pretty (especially by the standards of PSN games), Dust 514 will be the first-ever shooter to be tied to a PC MMO, and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time will finally bring back Sly’s long-neglected, somewhat morally ambiguous series of platformers, which was one of our favorites during the PS2 era. And that’s not even counting all the stuff that’s only going to exist on the PS Vita this year.
Then there’s the stuff that could arrive this year, although there’s no way to be sure at this point. The Last of Us, the new property from Uncharted developer Naughty Dog, could represent an interesting new take on the zombie-apocalypse genre, and The Last Guardian has been teasing us for years with the promise of beautiful visuals, innovative boy-and-his-monster gameplay and a potentially moving storyline. So yeah, Master Chief is great and all, but against a lineup like this, even Halo can’t win the fight singlehandedly.
As unemployment rates climb and the economy continues to tank, gaming on the cheap is becoming increasingly important, and that’s an area where Sony is rapidly starting to outmaneuver Microsoft. Sure, the PS3 itself is expensive, but assuming you bought yours a few years ago, there’s a wealth of inexpensive downloadable games you can now download and delve into. Where Microsoft relegates indie games to their own dark channel, Sony elevates them to prominence. And while Microsoft has a decidedly strong stance against anything being free, Sony routinely hands out game downloads for nothing (well, more often than not it’s “nothing” plus the $50 you’ll pay for an annual PlayStation Plus subscription, but still).
Above: See this? It's free. Yes, free right now
It’s not just that PS3 is a more open platform for indie games, either. Free-to-play MMOs have become a huge trend on PCs, and the PS3 version of DC Universe Online became part of that trend last November, opening up hundreds of hours of gameplay to PSN users for the price of however much time they spend downloading it. If more free-to-play MMOs follow, the PS3 could be the best console with which to weather the recession.