Rolling through Los Santos with a Vita as a substitute for the PS4 - how playable is GTA Online and is it possible to earn that all-important RP away from the big screen?
"Aim/brake and fire/accelerate are mapped to the left and right shoulder buttons, so doing the most simple side jobs - stealing cars and delivering them to Simeon - are achievable."
Any time I'm not playing GTA Online is time I'm thinking about playing GTA Online. I'm close to Rank 80 and when I'm not cruising through Los Santos I'm mentally sketching out my next moves to push for increased Rank and cash.
I do play GTA Online just for fun, don't get me wrong. But this has become more than fun. I look at GTA Online as a part-time job. The game suffers enough with long load times so I need to maximise every minute I'm in Los Santos. Do I score a few missions from Trevor or Gerald, breaking out my newly-purchased Buzzard to fly in, cause havoc, snatch the meth and leave the cops/Lost/Ballas eating dust? Or do I jump straight into Deathmatch with some members of HDSQ to dominate punks and scoop up the glorious winnings. Every minute counts. I ain't got time to bleed.
Unfortunately I have responsibilities and all the tedious bullshit that comes with being a grown-ass man. I can't always be slumped on the sofa, staring at my own fat reflection in a TV screen as I attempt to escape the mundane existence of real life. What I needed was a solution where I can exist in other places outside of my living room but still have access to GTA Online. My solution was to play GTA Online via Remote Play on the PS Vita.
Like many of you, I have a PS Vita knocking around somewhere. It's a glorious machine with few decent games. Sure, it's a nice little console for some very smart indie games, but it's not the next-gen-console-in-your-hands it was originally sold as. I think the last big-budget game I played on it was Killzone Mercenary. Yeah, I know.
The good news is that Remote Play technically works very well with GTA Online. After the mandatory update I'm playing one of the best PS4 games on a handheld and it looks fantastic. Unfortunately screenshots have been disabled but if you've seen the (still glorious) Vita screen do its thing before you'll have some idea as to what I'm talking about. Remote Play is still a little bit of magic to me, at least in those early 5 minutes of a game. It's a technical marvel.
But as nice as GTA Online looks on the Vita, the game is not designed to spread its clutter on a 5 inch screen. You can just about read your character's iFruit mobile phone screen - which is used a lot in GTAO - and chances are if you've played a lot you'll know its app layout and function by memory anyway. But it's still an uncomfortable squint to use.
— Matt Martin (@m_spitz) November 27, 2014
"On Vita the mini-map is too small, you'll struggle to make out important locations and icons, and in Deathmatch it's useless for spotting weapons and armour."
Job invites are much harder to process. The title is clear but the associated text is hard to read, and if anything else is happening on screen at the same time you're going to struggle to pay it the right amount of attention. GTA is a HUD-heavy game, and on the Vita a lot of crucial info can be missed.
This squinting extends to the mini-map. Even if you know the streets of Los Santos like the back of your hand, it's never not useful. On Vita it's too small, you'll struggle to make out important locations and icons, and in Deathmatch it's useless for spotting weapons and armour. Bring the map up full-screen and it's still tricky to make out all the locations you're used to.
As with most Remote Play situations, the main differences playing on Vita are the control compromises. Aim/brake and fire/accelerate are mapped to the left and right shoulder buttons, which is absolutely fine. The basics work well and you'll be able to play a chunk of GTA 5 single-player without huge problems.
For online play doing the most simple side jobs such as stealing cars and delivering them to Simeon are achievable. As are a lot of the daily chores of a career criminal - stocking up on bullets at Ammu-Nation, getting badass tattoos and ridiculous haircuts, changing clothes, upgrading your personal vehicles, depositing cash, and all the other day-to-day business. It's almost as satisfying as it is playing on the big screen.
Any touchpad functions on PS4 have been transferred to the center of the Vita's screen. You're putting your stumpy fingers right in the middle of the action so it's a clumsy way to flip between third and first person view. The best solution is to make sure you have your view preferences set up on PS4 before you switch to Remote Play. And I'm sure you won't bother cycling through driveby weapons or radio stations when you're behind the wheel using the touch screen either.
Where it gets really troublesome is using the the weapon wheel, which is mapped to the left hand side of the rear touchpad, and using cover, which is mapped to the right rear touchpad. The weapon wheel is sensitive, so it's never second nature to bring it up, highlight your chosen weapon, and be back into the action in an instant. It takes crucial seconds, and in a firefight that's the difference between life and death.
"The rear touchpad is a poor compromise. You will die because it won't register your need for cover quick enough. You'll lose track of enemies, you'll lose your bearings and you'll die in a hail of bullets."
The cover button is the worst compromise of all. During Deathmatches, Last Team Standing or any other situation that requires cover and bursts of gunfire (pretty much 75% of your time in GTA Online), the rear touchpad is a poor compromise. You will die because it won't register your need for cover quickly enough. Combine this with the right analog stick's erratic movement and you're looking at a real motion-sickness situation. You'll lose track of enemies, you'll lose your bearings and you'll die in a hail of bullets. Repeatedly.
After a few Deathmatches I was about ready to puke on my shoes. I didn't score too badly, but it's not really any fun when you're fighting the controls more than other players. Other online Jobs such as races are more manageable, but anything that requires real precision is pretty much a bust. There's a bit of a misconception that GTA is a simple game - you run around blasting each other and thrashing cars around wide city streets - but playing on Vita will quickly help you miss all the little touches you apply to your game on a daily basis. Headshots, taking out tyres on a moving vehicle, barrelling down a tight alley at high speed, performing a driveby - none of that is possible with any skill on the handheld.
I should have known better I guess, but I hoped there would have been more thought put into the layout of the buttons. Maybe slow-performing actions such as a combat roll or climbing could have been mapped to the rear touch pad and the Square button used for cover. Or maybe not. Playing GTA Online on the Vita is only recommended for basic tasks - which it performs admirably. We all need to restock our gear, get that transmission upgraded on the Zentorno, or go for a nice suit fitting.
But that's just daily life in Los Santos for me now. That stuff is peanuts. The important things in life - the Jobs that further my criminal career - have to be performed with precision, ruthless efficiency and without mercy. The Vita's Remote Play isn't up to that, unfortunately, so for now the PS4 is still the perfect tool for the job.