In The Game: An Early Adopter’s Take on Valve’s Steam Deck

”Why do you always have to be an early adopter?”

Those words were spoken many, many years ago by my lovely now ex-wife (and the wonderful mother of the Biff Bam Pop! Princess). Now, I can’t recall exactly what piece of tech she was referring to because, as she said, I tend to want to jump head first whenever something new and shiny hits the market. My best guess is she was referring to my purchase of Neil Young’s Pono Music Player, which was supposed to be the next big thing in high-res audio and which barely lasted two years and is now gathering dust beside the Zune player someone I once worked with said was better than anything Apple was putting out (luckily, that was gifted to me by said person and guess what, it wasn’t better than an iPhone of iPod).

I had the first iPad when it arrived shortly before the birth of the Princess and I loved it; I’ve purchased subsequent versions of the iPad over the last decade plus. In fact, I’m typing this article on an iPad Pro and its Smart Keyboard, which for the record, is the best iPad combo I’ve had and highly recommend for anyone looking for one.

When it comes to gaming consoles, I’ve always been a PlayStation person. I’ve had the previous four generations, and am still shocked that I managed to score one of the first batches of PS5s that went on sale nearly two years ago. You can’t imagine the obsession to get one I would have faced had I not been one of the lucky few; I can envision constant refreshes on legit websites and probably succumbing to scalper prices had it not worked out in my favour. There’s also a Nintendo Switch here for me that, from a pure fun factor, remains one of, if not the greatest console for families you can find. As for the Xbox family, I did have a Xbox 360 for a few years, purely so I could play Rock Band on it. With PlayStation being what it is, I’ve never felt inclined to jump back into that console.

And then there’s PC gaming, a world I have never, ever been a part of. When it comes to laptops and desktops, we’re a Mac family here, and while Steam can be used on a Mac, with so many other devices in-house, the appeal was never there for me to sit and play on a system that didn’t have the power of gaming PCs. Heck, I barely know anything about them, as it is, but when Valve announced the release of the Steam Deck, a portable gaming PC, my ears perked up. This would be my gateway in to a new ecosystem; it would also allow Biff Bam Pop! to start covering PC games, which we’re often asked to look at but hadn’t been able to. I was ready to early adopt yet another piece of tech.

This summer, I finally got my hands on a Steam Deck. In this case, it was the 250gb version, along with an additional 250gb microSD card (there’s also 64gb and 512gb versions, the former of which I believe is just too small to really make sense, since most AAA games take up nearly that much space). The device is decidedly heavier than the other high-profile portable gaming system, the Nintendo Switch, but holding it in my hands for the first time, I definitely liked its sturdy nature. The Steam Deck feels well made and that’s definitely a big selling point.

There are two elements to the Steam Deck – the PC side and and the Steam Game side; you can flip between both of them, though I’m spending most of my time on the Steam Game side. If you’re into tracking down emulators or turning the Steam Deck into a de facto PC computer, than you’ll likely be thrilled to tinker with that side of things. For me, though, the appeal of Steam Deck was having a high-powered console in the palm of my hands, and if that’s what you’re looking for, you will be extremely happy with the device.

Over the last few weeks I’ve dove in to Batman: Arkham Asylum and Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered, and I can safely say that, having experienced both on PlayStation consoles over the years, playing them on Steam Deck has been the most fun and engaging time I’ve had with either. I’m not going to delve into all the resolutions and hardware that make up the Steam Deck, that’s not my expertise, but what I will tell you is that both titles look fantastic. Batman: Arkham Asylum is an older game and it feels as fresh as something that came out today. Meanwhile, Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered is amazing on Steam Deck; it may not be 4K, but it appears pretty damn close. The control schemes for both games work marvellously on a handheld, and while the Steam Deck may not rumble in your hands, the portable nature of the device makes me feel like I’m inside the games. Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered in particular just feels designed for a portable experience, so if you’ve got a Steam Deck, this is one of those games you’ll want to immediately pick up for it.

Those are AAA titles, and Steam Deck delivers them wonderfully, but there are a lot of other, smaller titles that also play well on the device. The recently released tactical turn-based RPG Circus Electrique is a steampunk-esque game with great graphics and strong voice work that I don’t think would appeal to me on a tv screen, but laying back on the couch holding the Steam Deck, I got right into it. The comedic 60 PARSECS!, an older Steam title that just received multiple updates, is another fine example. Mainly text based, you play as a member of a spaceship that needs to keep his crew alive and healthy (I didn’t, if you were wondering); its fun vibe and endearing graphics are perfect for short bursts of play on the Steam Deck.

Not every game I’ve played have been homeruns, and that’s likely because their developers have either been testing them, or that the games haven’t been optimized for Steam Deck yet. I’ve been pretty frustrated playing the demo for horror game DarKnot; it looks good, and has some creepiness, but when I played I wasn’t able to save my progress and repeatedly had to restart from the very beginning. When I tried out the first person sci-if game Return to Enen, the game played extremely buggy, and while it was beautiful to look at, I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be doing. I’ll revisit both titles, but those first experiences haven’t been stellar, and whether that’s because of the games themselves or how they play on Steam Deck, I’m honestly not sure.

It’s worth noting that, because the Steam Deck is doing a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to AAA games, its battery life can be relatively short, usually around 2-3 hours. A lot of hardcore gamers are taking issue with that, but for my purposes, that span of time is absolutely fine. I typically only spend about an hour or so at a time when I’m gaming before I want to take a break, so I have no problem with putting down my Steam Deck and having it charge. Experience and opinions definitely vary though, so keep your personal playing habits in mind if you’re considering purchasing a Deck for those big time titles.

One of the best things about entering into the Steam ecosystem is being able to purchase games from Humble Bundle, the online store that offers weekly bundles of top-notch games, with proceeds going to various charities. Since I purchased Steam Deck, there have been bundles devoted to Resident Evil and 2K titles, which have made it extremely easy to build up my library at a ridiculously low price while also helping do some good along the way. There’s currently a Humble Bundle raising money for the Starlight Children’s Foundation that features a ton of Star Wars titles; it’s pretty much a no-brainer for Steam gamers.

In closing, as an early adopter, I know at some point there will be a Steam Deck 2, but in the meantime I’m absolutely impressed at this first generation console. Is it perfect? No, but for gamers looking for the experience of a high-powered console in their hands, I don’t think anyone will be disappointed. And unlike my Pono player, I’m pretty sure I’ll still be using my Steam Deck a year from now.

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