True PC Gaming Power, In A Handheld

Glad to admit, I was a Steam Deck skeptic.

Valve’s history with hardware is very similar to Captain Ahab’s with Moby Dick. While everyone has their passionate advocates, the Steam Controller, Vive VR, and Steam. Link can all reasonably be classified as anything less than a colossal success. And here they are again trying to push through a new hardware niche. But this time it is clearly too ambitious: to turn the PC into something little more than a Switch.

As someone who has played games primarily on PC. Since the first boot Ultima Underworld 2 at 33MHz 486 with a huge 4MB of RAM. Valve’s Steam Deck promises seemed far-fetched. Over the past 30 years, the capabilities of the PC have always been ahead of the console market. By at least one step, and sometimes half a dozen steps. There’s a reason the car box is about the size of a small bookshelf: it’s not a console. And he needs all that space for… you know, so many hamster wheels. (Welcome to Digital Foundry.) A portable device pretending to be able to do the same thing. Sounded silly and like a boast that would fall flat upon release. Oh boy, I was wrong about that. It’s a thing a car.

Valve sent me the mid-range model, a 256GB deck

That lacks only the anti-glare screen and super-powerful NVMe SSD of the top 512GB version. Whatever you choose, even the lowest-spec, ridiculously small 64GB eMMC build (install half a game!). You get the same real tech to run games. You have a bespoke Zen 2 RDNA 2 processor from Valve and AMD. The same 16GB of RAM, and a 1280×800 LCD touchscreen. If that’s mostly gibberish for you too, then let’s boil it down to what’s really important: is it enough for modern games to work properly? To which the answer is a resounding yes.

But there is a more subtle question that needs to be addressed: will you enjoy playing computer games? And this answer is much more nuanced

I thought yes, ok, that won’t work. Zero dawn horizon or god of War, but I can live with it – as someone with a penchant for low-spec indie games. This could be an excellent device to play with without having to sit at my desk. But, just to see, the very first thing I installed on it was the PlayStation 4 PC port of Guerilla. Zero dawn horizon. I wanted to get an idea of ​​its limitations, but immediately found that there didn’t seem to be any.

It worked ridiculously well. And it was unverified, full spec, not limiting the game to native 30fps.

He stuttered a couple of times the first time. I went outside (Steam automatically transferred my latest game save to my desktop without even warning me). But then he caught up and didn’t even stutter. when I fought four vehicles, accompanied by at least six NPCs, in the game’s outlandishly colorful world. If I needed to play the game properly on the deck, I would definitely set its frame rate to 30. Just to allow for a smoother gaming experience. And since that’s what she worked on for the PlayStation, that’s not a problem.

But is this a computer game?

(Of course it is, take to the sea with your PC master racing horror.) What about something that is, at its core, all PC? What about…Total Warhammer III? I went to install it to see what was possible with these trackpad mouse replacements and it just said no. “Not supported.” To be honest, it’s not what I expected. I thought it would be impossible to play intelligently, of course, but not actively against even trying. However, the warning message that appears when you try it says. “This game’s graphics settings cannot be configured to run properly on Steam Deck.” That graphics? HM. Total Warhammer 2 can be played, although you are warned that this may be an effort. Then I thought, no, let’s be really stupid, and set Stellaris. Again, Deck warned me that Paradox’s complex mouse-controlled strategy game was unlikely to be comfortable, but described it as “playable.”

Look, the obvious truth is that I chose this to try and break it.

But wow, seriously, it’s really “playable”. First, the right trackpad works great as a mouse, just as good in every way as it does on a laptop despite its tiny size. (Then, to my surprise, the left pane zoomed in and out by default, which is great.) But what I didn’t expect was that the touchscreen would be such an effective option. It’s not perfect, and obviously the game doesn’t remove the mouse cursor when you use it, but it worked the vast majority of the time for clicking tiny UI fields. A deliberate attempt to find a game that shouldn’t work at all ended up showing that this machine is even suitable for RTS games. Not perfect, although much better than it should be.

Of course there are problems. As you’ve probably heard by now, the battery is the biggest. There is no getting around his poverty, even though something better might not be possible.

From my Luddite perspective,

It seems extremely impressive that it’s even possible to have something capable of playing high quality AAA games on a battery. I’m so used to putting up with massive game downscaling on the Switch simply because it’s is an floating in my hands with no wire coming out of the wall so that the deck manages its miserable pair of hours is a feat. And yet the fact remains that it’s impossible No to compare it with the Switch in terms of portability.

That my Nintendo laptop will work reliably throughout my train journey and, perhaps more importantly, happily charge itself with a USB cable plugged into a cheap power bank while using it, becomes my expectation. A deck playing something like God of War will hardly take me to the next station, and I was laughed at when I tried to charge it with a standard USB cable, and not with a special 45W plug. From the looks of it, a top-notch 45W+ PSU would do the job, so it seems like a future (expensive) investment.

But for me, the bigger problem is the fussiness of Steam.

Not the deck interface, which is good but could be much better, but the account itself. I, like all normal people, always have Steam running on my PC. I invariably have two or three games left in the background. (Honestly, if you don’t always have Tametsi or pictopix constantly on your desktop, I struggle to imagine how our friendship will last.) Steam deck No happy about it. It doesn’t want your Steam account to be used in two places and if you start playing your deck you will be automatically logged out on your PC.

The idea of ​​starting to play on one device after leaving the other seems to still be relevant. Saving to the cloud means you can save progress and such. But having to type your password back in and then get the Steam Authenticator code from your phone and hope that the game you left running will still work is not a lot of fun.

Of course, I understand that this is to prevent the unspeakable horror

Someone sharing their Steam account with a friend because it would destroy modern society and kill all puppies at once. But here it prevents you from using your Steam account in the most normal way. It seems so obvious that there must be a way to register your deck on your PC and let them coexist happily. Yes, it could be used to your advantage, but I think that Valve will deal with a lot of lost profits from this. (Hell, even the greedy Nintendo bastards let me run my account on two Switches at once, just checking to see if the same game is running on both at the same time.) This seems like something that needs to be addressed pretty quickly.

Ultimately, and most importantly to me, the real challenge is how to play Steam Deck while curled up on the couch? At the very least, isn’t this device designed to let me play PC games (which have always been my main source of gaming entertainment) without sitting at my desk? The sofa test is what he needs most to succeed.

This is where my biggest problem with the device seems to be most relevant: analog sticks. They are just too high. It’s such a weird experience to hold that chunky rectangle with your eight fingers naturally landing on its eight back and shoulder buttons, but your thumbs stretch to play. I’m used to it, but I’ve never felt good about it, and it’s just weird that it’s like that at all. The real estate of the front panel of the device is such that the “Steam” and “…” buttons could be at the top, then the analog and trackpads moved down. To be honest, the all-important Steam button is very hard to find without looking and would benefit from a replacement too.

“But then why not just use the much cheaper Switch?!”

You shout somewhat belligerently. Well, I answer yes, a lot of things. Except I have fifty squillions of great PC games on my Steam account that have never been released on Switch and I love playing them. Not to mention the important point that this is a much more powerful machine capable of playing much more graphically impressive games. It’s the full gamut of the greatest collection of indie games combined with a truly satisfying way to play cutting-edge behemoths on the go.

I understand that repeatedly committed the sin of comparison Switch

I understand how useless it is. But really, when you’re holding a deck, you can’t stop your brain from drawing straight lines. With more indie games moving to Nintendo handhelds, a direct comparison can be made here. However, this is an a completely different car, with completely different ambitions. And when I met them, Steam Deck really surprised me. Valve really did it. They have created hardware that achieves its main goals right out of the box. Despite my skepticism, I can’t deny that this is a portable PC capable of playing just about anything on your Steam account. There are compromises, because of course there are, but… yes, they did.

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