We’re a few weeks into the new/current generation, and as an owner of a PS4 and a Vita, I have to say that I’m more or less satisfied with the Vita as a remote play device in my home. What I’m NOT happy about is the Vita as an augmented gameplay device that I can use in conjunction with my PS4.
There’s a big difference between remote play and second screen functionality. Remote play is exactly what it sounds like, a way to stream your game off your PS4 and play it on the more portable Vita. Second screen functionality, however, is an entirely different beast. It’s essentially what Smart Glass is on the Xbox One, or the Wii U tablet controller, when it’s being used as an additional/auxiliary method of playing with a game. The problem with the Vita is that, aside from a recent DLC addition to Sony’s camera game, The Playroom, NOTHING ELSE for the PS4 currently uses the Vita as a second screen.
This is made even more problematic by the fact that on the PS4 and even on the PS3, there are already some very good examples of what the Vita could be doing, but isn’t.
Assassin’s Creed IV, already has a great companion app that is designed to run on iOS and Android devices. This is a great glimpse into useful second screen functionality that Ubisoft didn’t bother to bring to the Vita. Instead, they insisted you break out your phone or tablet and use that instead, downloading a specific app from the respective app store. It acts as an additional “start” screen, giving you access to your maps, your database, the ability to play the Kenway’s Fleet mini-game on the device itself, and the ability to track, in real time, your own movements on the world map while creating waypoints on the device map that are reflected in your game. It’s the ultimate navigator, and, as with games like Dead Rising 3 on the Xbox One, allows someone not actually playing to play the game with you.
It was an original and technically complex use of the Vita
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the highly underrated Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for the PS3, which used the Vita as a second screen to great effect. By linking the PS3 to the Vita, the Vita acted as a first person “Treasure Radar/X-Ray Viewer” that allowed players to “cheat” by looking around levels in first person, with all the collectibles visible as silhouettes. It was an original and technically complex use of the Vita that is currently available on a last gen console and not Sony’s new flagship hardware. It took advantage of the fact that the Vita has analog sticks, and gave you or a friend the ability to play the same game at the same time, albeit in a different way. It’s still an unsung highlight of Vita/console second interaction that not many people know about.
Right now, as a second screen, there’s only thing you can do with the Vita on your PS4. You can load up The Playroom, you can go to the AR Robots mini-game, and you can now use the Vita to draw shapes that you can then send to the AR Robots as a virtual toy that they play with. You can also do the same thing with the official PS4 app, which, again, makes the Vita redundant.
I’m excited about the prospect of using the Vita as an “augmented input” device for games. Like the Wii U tablet controller, it has all the necessary inputs required to allow players to interact—in real time—with their game in meaningful but original ways. I love the remote play function and will continue to use it, but I think the Vita could be a serious rival to the Wii U tablet controller and Smart Glass if developers sit down and really think about ways to use it to add to the gameplay experience. Thieves in Time and Assassin’s Creed IV have already shown us some ways it can be done.