Over the weekend we got our hands on the Steam Deck, a device that has seen an incredible amount of hype since its announcement. It was supposed to be the "next-generation" of portable gaming, taking our Steam libraries and making them handheld. This wasn't a fan creation that turned a childhood console into a handheld monster, this was an officially licensed service that transformed into a handheld monster in itself.
I was excited to give the Steam Deck a try due to its polarizing views, specifically "expectation vs reality." While the Steam Deck advertised itself as a game-changer, for some, it didn't live up to their expectations out of the box. It's a handheld PC, which opens the gateway to many possibilities. Although it runs on SteamOS which is a branch of Linux, tech-savvy users have found ways to install Windows. This turned the Steam Deck into a customizable powerhouse, including an emulation box if one should prefer.
However, while I was aware of what the Steam Deck was capable of, I wanted to see for myself if any of my personal choices made the cut. Realistically I wouldn't be able to afford a Steam Deck with my current budget, but if I were to own one, would the following games I'd be interested in work with the glorified portable PC? Here is the list of games that I ran my tests on.
1. TEKKEN 7
Tekken 7 was one of the first games I wanted to try and was one of the two that was deemed "incompatible" with the Steam Deck. Out of the box, there are games that "Works Great" with the Steam Deck. Some work with the Steam Deck but with "minor issues." Finally, games like Tekken 7 are "incompatible" but I believe the term "Untested" may be a better choice of words. Subjectively, I think the whole rating system is to be taken with an entire salt shaker.
It wasn't 100% perfect however due to an issue that would exist throughout my tests. The Steam Deck's default resolution is 1280 x 800, which is a 16:10 ratio. A bit off from the default standard ratio of 16:9 when it comes to widescreen, this ratio causes some games to appear broken. In Tekken 7's case, the image breaks on the top and bottom borders while the game runs in a forced 720p ratio. The best change to this is changing the resolution to 720p, exiting the game, and starting it again.
Perhaps the "Incompatible" comes from this graphic issue, but running it on 720p with max settings worked flawlessly. I even increased the rendering resolution to 200%, meaning the game ran at 1080p but scaled down. Tekken 7 never ran below 60 fps and I was able to do my combos almost as cleanly as I could on my actual set-up. The controls for the Steam Deck would take some time to get used to as the buttons are scrunched together. For this first run, I was pleasantly surprised.
2. Inertia Drift
This was one of the games that "Worked Great" with the Steam Deck, which I assume was thanks to the publisher itself for testing and verifying it themselves. Inertia Drift is a twin-stick racing game that requires the skillful usage of both to drift and drive as cleanly as possible. This type of game was perfect to try as I would get more usage from the twin sticks than Tekken 7. While the buttons felt crunched, the sticks felt amazing. It had a smooth dead zone and they were raised to a decent height. Most problems I have with analog sticks are that they are either too low or too stiff. The Steam Deck has neither of these problems.
As mentioned, the left analog stick is to steer the car while the right stick uses the car's Inertia to go into a Drift hence the title. I've spent many hours playing the game outside of the Steam Deck so I was aware of the game itself. As to be expected from a game meant to "run great," it plays amazing even in the 800p resolution mode. The intro video did show graphical errors but honestly, it was a small price for the overall experience. Poor driving skills aside, it was a pleasant experience for an already pleasant game.
3. Final Fantasy XIV
Do you know the story of how Icarus flew too close to the sun and burnt his wings? I decided to be Icarus with extra waxed wings and try Final Fantasy XIV. There were several reasons why this wouldn't work with the SteamOS out of the box and I was presented with a major one. The game doesn't load the launcher, which is where the game is downloaded. Since the game hangs on the launcher no matter what I did, I couldn't get to the first step much less install it. However I'm sure with a bit of tinkering it is most certainly possible, but alas (Butter Lass) I'll have to make do with playing on my laptop for "portable FF14."
4. Jet Set Radio
Next up was Jet Set Radio, one of my favorite video games of all time that has yet to be ported on current-gen consoles. A decade ago, Jet Set Radio was released on XBLA, PSN, and Steam to great fanfare. It wasn't as great of fanfare because of the polarizing player bases between Jet Grind Radio and Jet Set Radio Future. I'm not here to discuss which game is better, but rather to see how the original plays on this device.
The game, like Inertia Drift, utilizes two sticks, with the right stick laying down graffiti once in graffiti mode. Tagging is a core element in Jet Set Radio and I opted to do none of it. Instead, I decided to see how well the controls transitioned to the Steam Deck. A major complaint with JSR for those who weren't used to the original game was how tricky the platforming is. Having played the game for over two decades, this was a non-issue.
On the Steam Deck, trick loops I was able to knock out with ease proved daunting at first. The tiny button formation was doing me zero favors, but I was able to get the hang of things after a while! Jet Set Radio on the Steam Deck will sadly remain the official way for players to tag on the go until Sega gets their act together, sadly. #PutJetSetRadioOnTheSwitch
5. DJMAX Respect V
Finally, we come to the main event, for me at least, as this one was personal for me. Back in my high school days when I made enough money to purchase a PSP from my Summer job, I bought DJMAX Fever to celebrate. It was, at the time, the first and only DJMAX title to release in the United States and I remember it being a budget title at GameStop. I got plenty of mileage out of that game and it opened up to all of the DJMAX games on the PlayStation Portable console.
I fell in love with the series during that summer and I'd play it during subway rides, trip rides, waiting for class, whenever. DJMAX Portable 3 to this day remains the final handheld DJMAX game that was developed in-house. Sure MUSYNX existed but it wasn't the same. So a lightbulb lit in my head. What would happen if I tried to run DJMAX Respect on the Steam Deck? It said it was incompatible but surely that was a lie.
I'm happy to say that it was indeed a lie. I was able to play through songs as it was on the PSP, except the PSP's button layout was made for DJMAX. The crunched button layout of the Steam Deck reminded me too much of playing it on the Vita. It was enough for me to adjust my finger placement and I got used to it. I was playing poorly but who cared, I had fun.
Of the games featured, this would be the "killer app" for the Steam Deck but I cannot justify dropping hundreds of dollars just to play a DJMAX title that has almost every song from every game in one collection. Okay, I lied, maybe I can justify it if I made a tiiiiiiny bit more money.
I Stand By My Original Statement...
Out of the box, the Steam Deck is a glorified Beta Test. There isn't enough time in the world to test every Steam game and verify it as "Runs Great On Steam," but it all falls on chance. Is it possible that your favorites may not work on the Deck? Absolutely. Is it also possible that games that are labeled "incompatible," run just as well as the compatible ones? Of course. Depending on what you're using the Steam Deck for, you'll be disappointed or impressed.
For gamers who want to play their favorite Steam games out of the box as intended, they run a greater risk of having their games not run properly. Now, there's always the option of modding the Deck and unlocking its capabilities, but for the price range, you'd do better buying an alternative. A Raspberry Pi in a portable shell can be just as great as an emulation box for a fraction of the price. For the beefier games outside the Pi's capabilities, the Steam Deck is perfect. If you're purchasing for its intended purpose, just be aware that in its current state, gaming is a gamble.