This fall was supposed to be the time for the Playstation Vita to kick it into gear. Sony’s struggling handheld got two major versions of AAA releases recently – first, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, and second, Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. Amongst a few other releases, those games could have been the keystones of a stronger Vita lineup and an answer to the oft-repeated call that there are just no games for the Vita. That hasn’t happened.
Reviews for Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified have come out recently, and the game is getting panned within an inch of its life. It’s currently got a 32 on Metacritic. Frequently appearing words include “mess,” “disappointing,” and “embarrassment.” Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation is fairing a bit better at 70, but it’s a far cry from the killer app that could finally juice lagging sales.
Liberation wasn’t a bad game – not great, just good. It had a brown color scheme that had a way of looking muddy on the small screen, and it contained a tiny, tiny fraction of the content in Assassin’s Creed 3, but the core experience was intact, if buggy. That’s not good enough for the Vita. The Vita needs to prove that a powerful, dedicated gaming handheld is not only adequate but necessary, and it’s still struggling to do that.
These two games reveal an uncomfortable fact about the Vita – it still doesn’t have games that can stand up to its older console brother, and yet it costs the same. Aside from the $250 system, the games cost less, but barely less – Black Ops Declassified is $10 less than Black Ops 2, but appears to have a small fraction of the content. Same goes for Liberation — smaller game, disproportionately big price. In a world where these games are at least theoretically competing with the best of the iPhone, making the argument that they are 40-50 times better than a $1 game becomes laughable.
I imagine that both of these games went into production long before the Vita started to put up the disappointing sales numbers that have characterized its short life so far. In the future, it could be even harder to get big name developers signing on to make new products for the handheld. Either Sony needs to swoop in with some serious first-party muscle, or this system is going to fizzle.