We've looked at Playstation Vita's AR games, and the crazy brand of witchcraft that powers them. It's time to explore another of the console's offerings. Near is a free piece of software, pre-installed on the system, and an impressive one at that.
It's a similar concept to 3DS's Streetpass function. Users can put the console on standby while out and about, and automatically share information with other owners they happened to pass. Their charming little avatar, or Mii, will flit onto your 3DS, and vice versa (At this point, I like to imagine the recipient scanning the local area for the ridiculously-bewigged transvestite they just passed, as my Mii is currently sporting Princess Peach's crown and flowing blonde locks). Near, then, is much like Streetpass. If Streetpass has been working out obsessively, and is now hugely beefed up and infinitely more impressive than before. Streetpass could now kick your ass effortlessly.
When Near is activated and updated, it'll present you with a simple graph-like map. This will show the avatar of each player in range, and how far from you they are. It's not entirely clear what this range is, but you'll get a ‘65 people playing nearby' notification which is reassuring all the same. Selecting an avatar will show you a list of that person's recently played games. You can choose to pry further at this point for more details. You'll get a comparison of their play habits with your own, a list of their collected trophies, and the opportunity to add them to your friends list. Presumably before the police arrive to issue you with a restraining order, this is where your cyberspying ends.
Such extensive data collection defines the software. It will record the kilometers/miles you've travelled that day, and overall. It will add new players, games they're playing you haven't encountered in this way before, and more to a ‘discoveries' menu. If you use Near in range of the same player a certain number of times, it'll let you know. Let you know in the sense of proclaim it with the pride of a pet cat presenting you with its latest disgusting little dead victim. Except, unlike the cat, it won't leave the player in question in a horrific pool of mouse blood on the doormat, for you to inadvertently step on. Vita knows it's uncool when that happens.
While Near lacks the certain oddball personal touch offered by Nintendo's swapping of Miis, its effect is the same. The constant influx of new information serves as a great reason to always carry the Vita with you. It helps to prove that, in a world increasingly addicted to phone and app gaming, dedicated handhelds still have a place in bags and pockets everywhere.
Article by Chris Littlechild