A week down the line, I can safely say that I'm a big fan of Sony Ericsson's Xperia Play. It's comfortable to play, I've got no complaints about the screen at all, and it's big enough without feeling too bulky.
That said, I'm rather more enamoured by the handset's potential than with the current quality of the launch titles. Games like FIFA 10, for example, are so bad that it's astonishing EA would even put its name to it, and it's by no means an isolated case. Even the half-decent games feel like quick and dirty shovelware.
But then perhaps that's launch line-ups for you. Further down the line, it'll be interesting to see whether it can carve a niche for itself as the smartphone of choice for more traditional console-style games. As the only handset around with physical controls, it's got the market to itself for the time being - now it just needs some decent games to justify the hefty asking price.
When Gameloft issued its Halo clone on iOS platforms, it didn't really matter how good the game was, and nor was it especially important how lovely it looked. It's the same story with any mobile first-person shooter. The developers do their best, with gyroscopic aiming and so on, but if you can't quite control it properly then you may as well not bother.
You can probably guess, then, that Xperia Play changes all of that with its slide-out control pad. Within an instant you're able to play the game intuitively, and move and fire with almost the same level of freedom you'd expect from a normal joypad.
I say almost, because the flat analog pad takes a fair bit of getting used to. In fact, I found it much easier to move with the d-pad and aim use the right analog pad for aiming. After that, everything fell into place.
The only problem with having better controls is that it exposes the appallingly generic game design at the core. For the most part, N.O.V.A. 2 is a weary return to the bad old days of samey enemies, boring linearity and uninspired combat.
The fact that there's 12 levels to work your way through might be a plus were it not such a routine, uninspired tour of duty. Occasionally you'll man a turret, lay down sentry guns or strap on a mech suit and stomp around, but there's minimal intrigue as you rinse your way through wave upon wave of undemanding foes.
You could argue that it's the best mobile FPS released to date, and that it's great value, especially given the five-mode, 10-player online multiplayer - and you'd be right. But if ever you wanted proof that value does not equal fun, N.O.V.A. 2 is a textbook example.
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