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Three Gaming Hours with Sony NGP

It is always more difficult to write an article when you have little material to illustrate it. I am talking about photos, screenshots, videos and other stuff that liven up an otherwise dull or uninformative text. For example, today the gaming community is dying to get a breath of fresh info on the new MMORPG Ц Star Wars: The Old Republic. About a month ago the developers of the game invited journalists all around the world to London and let them play the game for two sessions 8 hours each but with a condition that they take pictures or make videos while in the gaming lounge Ц this must have been quite a task for reviewers to convey their impressions but they managed to do so. The absence of live screenshots has been replaced with a ton of new information about the gameplay, physics and many other details and that's what the community needed Ц more info.

As you can guess I found myself in the same situation. May 19, a hot day in London, the Millbank tower: Sony invited journalists from many countries and let them play NGP without being disturbed, or almost. It is a pity that there were less than ten titles available to try out but it did not spoil the moment or my impressions of the new console. Now let's get down to business.

From PSP to NGP

Sony released its first portable gaming console in 2004 first in Japan and in early 2005 in Europe and the US. Back then it was a breakthrough in mobile tech. a year before that, in 2003 Nokia released its gaming smartphone N-Gage and for a few years was trying to promote it but neither the original model nor its successor ever became popular or successful. There was a bunch of loyal fans who hanged to the gadget for some time (me to Ц for some time I believed that the only if a really cool game once appeared for N-Gage it would flourish). The PSP story was completely different Ц the console became as popular as it was possible for such a specific device (back then PSP was something strange and unusual). In February 2011 Sony reported 67.8 million sold PSP consoles. Just compare this number to puny few millions of the most popular mobile handsets.

The first PSP was revolutionary in many aspects: from the handy dimensions and controls to Wi-Fi connectivity back in 2004. Add the ever-growing number of games developed exclusively for PSP. The company was looking far in the future and the PSP successors proved it Ц changes mainly considered design and were superficial Ц until recentlyЕ

Two years after the original PSP in 2007 the company released PSP Slim and PSP Lite (PSP 2000). The console became thinner and one third lighter than the predecessor but this was the reason the battery got a shorter life span. The new model received twice more system memory and storage space Ц 64MB instead of 32MB. It also got a TV-out jack, USB charging and other improvements.

Another year later in 2008 the PSP 3000 is released: it got a brighter screen with more vivid colors, a mic for Skyping and a different design. This was majorly a cosmetic restoration.

In summer 2009 the company announces PSP Go Ц this was the first change of the form factor of the body. The specs of this console were similar to the previous ones (same processor, same amount of system memory) but instead of a UMD drive it received 16GB storage and it got lighter but it also received a smaller screen. But the main change was of course the body Ц it was now a slider so you could hide the controls when you watch a movie.

This concludes the history of the original PSP. However, between PSP and NGP there is yet another device Ц Sony Ericsson XPERIA Play. You can read a review of this smartphone here. To be frank, I am disappointed that the PSP brand will be forever tainted by this mediocre Sony Ericsson product Ц but this was the company's decision.

When I was following the news about this new Sony console I wondered how carefully would the company develop it? What will remain the same and what will they add into NGP? Thanks to the popularity of the device the company could simply pack in some new hardware and sell it as a next gen device or they could start anew create a completely different device. This is a situation the creators of a very popular movie or a video game face. The sequel can fail either due to excessive changes or because it was pretty much the same and boring. After three hours of playing Next Generation Portable I can assure you that Sony has produced the console we've been waiting for or near perfect.

Next Generation Portable: A Few Specs

I must remind you that NGP is a working name of this PSP successor Ц the commercial name has not yet been announced. And I think that the most important decision Sony had to make is to leave the form factor untouched Ц the dimensions have hardly changed and you immediately recognize the original PSP in its design.

The dimensions are to those of PSP: 182x83.5x18.6mm/7.2x3.3x0.7in (NGP) and 170x74x23mm/6.7x2.9x0.9in (PSP). It has gotten a bit bigger than PSP but also a bit thinner. The first difference you notice is in the controls: the first PSP had two control blocs Ц the directional pad, the face buttons and a row of secondary buttons.

NGP features all those and a few extras: firstly, it now has a touchscreen; secondly, the back panel of the device now features a touchpad with multitouch; thirdly, two analog controllers below the control blocs. Also some games use either the front or the rear cameras or both of them.

The new console uses a quad core ARM Cortex A9 processor, SGX543MP4+ graphic accelerator (200MHz, 4 GPixel/s fill rate). The screen and its resolution have gotten bigger: it is now a 5" OLED display with the resolution of 960x544 and 24 bit color. The console features GPS, Bluetooth, G-sensor and (optionally) 3G.

All these specifications are yet preliminary though the company first announced the console early this year the final specs will be announced in a few weeks at E3 conference as well as the sales start date and the price of NGP. Meanwhile let us get to gaming.

Next Generation Portable: Gaming

I don't think I will be able to veritably describe the gameplay of the games I have played so I will try to simply put down my impressions about the most interesting details about NGP gaming.

Uncharted has left the biggest impression on me. At first, the game reminds Tomb Raider Ц a lot of running, finding ways out, mount climbing, jumping and puzzles. The game has a nice combat gameplay and you never feel a need for another kind of controller, a keyboard or a mouse. For example, your character engages a squad of hostiles and takes cover so when you return fire the pointer is always near one of the hostiles Ц the game assists you in targeting greatly simplifying the process.

At some points you can use the touchscreen and the G-sensor in the game: when the character needs to over some logs instead of using the arrows you can scroll through the logs on the screen. Another example: when jumping over pits you can tilt the console a bit while pressing forward and jump to increase the jumping range of your character. The game uses your natural moves Ц just remember how often you shake the gamepad trying to push your character.

The graphics is excellent Ц while I was playing I wasn't paying attention to details like shadows, dynamic lighting, wind in leaves of trees and bushes or models of NPCs. What is important is that all these details actually create a world and you don't notice any flaws that would put you out of picture. Uncharted is a very cinematic game Ц there are a lot of script scenes and spectacular camerawork, close-ups and panoramas and it all looks very nice or at least it does in the demo I have tried.

One of the interesting I games I have played but failed to understand is Little Deviants. You play for umЕ a ball that rolls over countryside without any route or goal while knocking over obstacles and opponents. The absence of any goal is made up by nice graphics and ability to change the landscape. If you press the touchpad on the back the landscape changes getting rougher. This is another example of how the multitouch works here.

I have also tried Reality Fighters Ц a funny fighting: you can customize your fighter make a brutal fighter or a manager in suit. You can use pictures as the background for arenas and use photos of people to create opponents.

WipEout 2048 Ц an arcade racing with very vivid graphics and a complicated (for me) control system Ц you not only need to press the right buttons but also tilt and turn the console to get into turns.

Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to tell you about other games I have played so I will just post a few screenshots of games that are being developed for NGP.

Bottom Line

As I have already mentioned it very difficult to describe my gaming impressions in plain text. I would love to document everything and tell you but, alas, I may not. But, anyway, the wait is almost over and in a few days Sony will reveal all the information about Next Generation Portable including I hope the sales start date and the price.

In an interview on the official website the president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios (SCE ) Shuhei Yoshida replied to the question of how he thinks gamers and the media view NGP:

How do you feel the reception to NGP from the public and the media has been?

It's been fantastic. We have worked hard on the NGP platform from the software development and creative standpoint, and judging from consumer and media feedback, our belief on various aspects of developing NGP has been well founded. The feedback we have been getting from game developers has been enormously positive, too. Overall, the reception has been hugely energizing.

And I think this is true. When you hold NGP for the first time and start playing you feel really excited. You really enjoy the top-notch graphics and various many various controls and the console feels great just to hold. The start of sales will show what users think about it but as far as my opinion is concerned Ц after having played for just three hours, I must say, I am quite impressed.

Do you want to talk about this? Please, go to our Forum and let your opinion to be known to the author and everybody else.

Artem Lutfullin (artem@mobile-review.com)
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Translated by Robert Mugattarov (mugattarov@gmail.com)

Published — 02 June 2011

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