The Steam Deck Review – Game Informer

The Steam Deck Review – Game Informer

Valve’s highly anticipated Steam Deck is finally here, offering a portable gaming solution with broad appeal. The nature of that profession is very different depending on your perspective. Some mainly console-focused gamers may find cheap access to at least some of the PC gaming experience. For more dedicated PC players, it offers a chance to take on the go what may already be an extensive Steam library, albeit with only specific titles currently optimized. Either way, the Steam Deck is an impressive first step into a promising future for portable PC games – with some key issues holding it back from greatness.

The Steam Deck is large. At nearly a foot wide and weighing about 1.5 pounds, it’s a little surprising the first time you pick it up — even if you know in advance how big it is. The benefits of that weight are immediately apparent, though, with roomy controls, a large number of inputs and most importantly an impressive 7-inch screen.

The LCD screen is touch-sensitive, mainly for navigating the user interface, and the 1280×800 visuals are more than enough to make games like Deathloop and Horizon Zero Dawn pop. And while most will probably plug in a headset or plug in a compatible Bluetooth option, I was pleasantly surprised by the built-in stereo speakers, which provide clear percussive sound even at limited volume.

Though heavy, the device feels good in the hand, with a pleasing rounded curve under the palms that looks more like a PlayStation controller than the flat Switch handles it’s probably compared to. The thumbsticks are snappy and textured, although even bigger hands will feel their placement is a little too high for a completely relaxing resting position. This is due to the location of the two touchpads just below it. Those have a satisfying haptic response which I liked. The touchpad is functional for the games that need it while playing, but I struggled to achieve the precision I’d expect from a real mouse.

The modified version of Steam works great whether you’re navigating the store or chatting with your friends. I especially liked the functionality of the quick access button, which allowed me to adjust brightness and audio settings, and get performance overlay options that helped me tweak my technical settings on the fly.

Valve has been improving performance and firmware right up to its release, so the device will likely continue to change in the coming weeks. Nevertheless, compatibility at launch is not guaranteed. Many Steam games work well with few compromises, but others have notable caveats, from display issues to small in-game text. Still, it’s remarkable to see games like God of War and Dark Souls III running smoothly. In testing dozens of games, many ran pretty well, and with settings you’d expect in a good mid-range rig.

Battery life is a big issue. Unlocking the frame rate, turning up the brightness or volume, or otherwise taxing the system puts it in the space of less than two hours of playtime. You can increase it significantly if you lower the settings. With PC game install sizes, you should also expect the hard drive to fill up fairly quickly, even if you’ve opted for one of the two larger SKUs. Luckily I had good luck playing games from a micro SD card for a ton of extra storage. I’m also a little bummed about the lack of an Ethernet port for faster download speeds, but a separately sold USB-C hub solves that.

Like any gaming PC, the Steam Deck is a complex beast, and many features are likely to change in the coming months. But as Valve is making its way into the handheld market, it’s providing access to a wealth of on-the-go portable games that you’ll never get on a mobile phone or even on your Switch. And for many, that should be reason enough to overlook any shortcomings, even if it never fits in your back pocket.

The verdict

The Steam Deck is an impressive piece of technology and provides solid gaming performance for a growing library of Steam titles, with an impressive display and user experience. Punitively low battery life, minor ergonomic issues, and questionable compatibility with many Steam games make for a hiatus, but Valve’s experiment transports many games into the portable realm with commendable success.

Price

$399 (64GB), $529 (256GB)$649 (512GB)

More information

steamdeck.com

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