Steam Deck Hands-On Review: Impressive And Unnerving In Equal Measure

2022-12-06 16:37:27 By : Ms. Bella Zhang

The Steam Deck is a pretty remarkable piece of gaming kit.

Now that the Steam Deck is nearing its Japanese release, I’ve been able to give the handheld a good going over and see whether it can handle modern Japanese games.

With the Steam Deck released back in February in the West, it’s finally coming to Japan on December 17. However, the gaming landscape in Japan is decidedly different, so I wanted to test out the Steam Deck with a variety of different Japanese games.

The technology aspect of the Steam Deck has been already widely covered elsewhere, so I won’t be going into too much of that stuff here. Suffice to say that it played most of the games in my library and the few it had issues with could be resolved by using a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

The latter point is also a pertinent one, as with the Steam Deck dock coupled with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse you have a pretty decent gaming PC setup at your disposal. Anyway, all that aside, onto the games.

The first game I tried out was Ace Combat 7. I had already completed the game in its entirety on PC and bought all the DLC. All of this was reflected on the Steam Deck after I finished downloading the game.

The game played as well as it did when I reviewed the original PlayStation 4 version and had no performance issues to speak of. In short, the Steam Deck handled the game brilliantly and it was a tad surreal to be able to play such a high-end game portably.

Following that I checked out Metal Wolf Chaos XD. While this is not really a performance heavy game, it is a functionally technical one. Again, my save data was carried over fine. I was able to play through the game the same as I do on the PC and on the PlayStation 4 version I reviewed a while back.

Keeping the mecha theme I moved onto Daemon X Machina. I played and completed the Switch version at release, which I also reviewed. This is again a more technical action type game and certainly more involved in terms of its controls. Thankfully I had transferred my Switch save data over to the PC version, which meant all my parts and mecha configurations were available on the Steam Deck.

The Dock is pretty comprehensive on what it offers, but the decision to have the main connection via ... [+] USB-C on the top is an odd one.

For starters, Daemon X Machina runs much smoother on the Steam Deck compared to the Switch, it is also graphically more sophisticated in a visual sense. The only minor issue was that I had played the Switch version so extensively, I was sort of dialled into how the controls felt. However, with a bit of adjustment I was back into the groove of how the game worked in no time.

From there I moved onto Dragon Quest XI S, which also has a Switch version. The Switch side of things is also worth bringing up here, as many compare what the Steam Deck does to the Switch. The reason for checking out Dragon Quest XI S, is that it is more menu driven and has a fair amount of inventory management. Not to mention a decidedly different pace of gameplay. Again, the Steam Deck excelled and didn’t have any performance issues, or things like the text being too small.

I then moved onto more retro themed games, such as G Darius and Dariusburst. These require careful and precise input. G Darius looked amazing and even Dariusburst worked out fine, despite it having a much longer and letterboxed screen.

All in all, I was expecting the Steam Deck to not handle such a wide variety of games so well, especially the kind of games that fall outside of the Western PC gaming comfort zone. Talking of the PC gaming comfort zone, I felt compelled to check out Titanfall 2 and that ran beautifully as well.

As for any real negatives here, there are a few but by no means serious issues. The two main faults are that the battery gets hammered very quickly in portable mode. It’s not quite Atari Lynx bad, but it’s noticeably quicker to drain compared to something like the Switch. The second point is that while most games work fine, you do have to download and test out those that are on the fringe of being supported. Thankfully, you have a library panel that shows the games that are fully compatible, to speed this download and test cycle up a bit, but it’s definitely something that can slow down the pace of your gaming.

The last main issue is more of a design niggle of the Steam Deck and the dock itself. While the Steam Deck and dock are beautifully put together, the USB-C port is inexplicably on the top of the Steam Deck. This means the dock has a USB-C cable to attach. Why Valve didn’t choose to have the USB-C port on the bottom of the device with a corresponding pin in the base of the dock is beyond me. It’s not a major issue but it does detract from the overall design sensibilities and sleek aesthetic of the Steam Deck.

I would argue that the Switch is probably a more practical handheld, both in terms of its battery life and dock setup, not to mention full compatibility with every game in its software library. However, the Steam Deck has finally brought my varied PC gaming library out into the portable open. It’s both a technical marvel and unnerving to behold. Unnerving in the sense that I never thought that the games in my Steam library would ever be playable on a handheld, especially at comparable fidelity.

Finishing up, you will definitely want to pick up a beefy SD card to increase the Steam Deck’s storage. As it’s based around downloading games from your Steam library, the more storage you have the better.

The Steam Deck is released in Japan on December 17. You can pre-order the Steam Deck from Komodo’s site in Japan across three variants; 59,800 yen with 64GB of internal storage, 79,800 yen with 256GB of internal storage and 99,800 yen with 512GB of internal storage. The Steam Deck Docking Station is also sold separately and costs 14,800 yen.

Disclosure: Komodo sent me a Steam Deck and dock for the purposes of this review.

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