PlayStation Vita Hacks, Overclocking, and a Retrospective


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While the Vita has come under fire for "having no games" (objectively untrue) in addition to Sony's poor business practices with it (objectively true, see poor marketing and memory card prices), it did quite a bit of things early on that we take for granted with the Switch. Playing handheld games on a home TV? Yeah, the Switch does it 1,000,000 times better, but the Vita did it first with PlayStation TV. Console gaming on the go? Well, when done by a good developer, the Vita *could* pull it off. There was even an Infamous game planned for the Vita, as well as an Uncharted: Golden Abyss sequel, an original turn based strategy BioShock game set in Infinite's universe, an MGS4 port, and a Tekken game, but these were canned due to a lack of faith in the system, which most likely stemmed by Sony's atrocious marketing of it.

However, due to the desire to make it as slim as possible, Sony cut back on things that would have boosted performance. Cutting down clock speeds was a big one. With the release of HENkaku, we can finally see what potential the Vita had, at the expense of battery life.

Borderlands 2
A disaster that could have easily been avoided had the developers not forced the game to run at the Vita's native resolution, Borderlands 2 took a different approach compared to the other AAA open world game port on the Vita: Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Most Wanted renders at 640x368p with 4x MSAA, saving rendering time for things like achieving 30 FPS and implementing physics, particles, and even basic things like shadows. Considering that this port had Sony's backing, it shouldn't have been a disaster. As for the overclock, you're maybe getting 5 frames more on average.

Here's the real fix: By using a decrypted or patched game, you can lower the resolution using the command of 80 02 00 00 70 01 00 00 for an effective resolution of 640x368p. Wanna know how much it improves performance? Well, you basically go from 10 to 20 FPS, occasionally hitting 30 with the overclock, to being above 30 FPS at all times. In other words, another case of gamers fixing a game for the developers for free.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted
The game already ran at 30 FPS most of the time, save for heavy asset streaming and heavy crash physics. Owing to the Vita's limited memory, SWAT trucks were removed, the AI was heavily dumbed down, and the Deferred rendering setup was replaced with a Forward render (probably for the best, as I'll cover later). So, how does the overclock fare? The game now runs at 30 FPS during scenes requiring lots of heavy asset streaming and cutscenes where car LODs are jacked up, something not even the Wii U did in regards to the latter.

Killzone: Mercenary
Killzone: Mercenary is sort of a "what-if" title. What if Sony actually gave a damn about the Vita and commissioned more high quality AAA games to be released on it? What if developers actually optimized their games for the Vita instead of releasing broken messes like the XCOM: Enemy Unknown [iPhone] port? The developers aimed high with this title, running at a native 960x544p with 4x MSAA, the only sacrifice compared to the PS3 engine was the switch to a Forward render in addition to some insanely low resolution alpha effects (lower than the PS3 games), mainly to get MSAA working at a native res. Everything else, including the AI (something Need for Speed didn't do), physics, post processing, and lighting techniques (not the rendering setups used), was ported successfully. As you can see in the video, it comes at the expense of performance, with my personal experiences being that the game's framerate can become a slideshow during the final boss or when you're using a grenade launcher. However, with the overclock in place, it runs at an almost flawless 30 FPS.

Assassin's Creed III: Liberation
One thing Killzone and Need for Speed had in common was the teams' decisions to exchange renderers, saving bandwidth. Assassin's Creed III: Liberation takes no such approach, adopting the overdraw heavy Deferred Lighting/Light-Pre Pass solution from Assassin's Creed III on 7th gen (that includes Wii U, deal with it) consoles and PC as opposed to the Forward solution used in pre-III Assassin's Creed games. The result? 720x384p with no AA and a framerate that is arguably just barely better than Borderlands 2, and worse than the launch versions of Assassin's Creed: Unity. The biggest hits are during combat, which the overclock doesn't really address, and this effectively makes combat a chore. There could be a way to reduce the resolution as seen in Borderlands 2, but I have yet to find it.

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD
This is the only HD remaster on Vita that actually deserves the title of HD. The developers made serious optimizations to get to the system's native resolution, and although performance is hit big time, leading me to wonder why dynamic scaling wasn't used, there are sections where the game can go above 30 FPS. With the overclock in place, the game now runs at 30 FPS or above almost all the time, only occasionally dropping during heavy streaming, which is super rare. While it is exponentially smoother than the game with the vanilla clock speeds, you still will notice judder owing to the uncapped framerate + v-sync, which makes me wonder why the developers didn't include a 30 FPS cap.

God of War Collection
An utter mess of a port, God of War Collection is not only not HD, but it runs at more than half the framerate of the PS2 games. While the games targeted 60 FPS on the PS2, mostly running between the high 30s and low 50s on average with constant tearing, the Vita version caps the game at 30 FPS. While this may seem sensible (it's not, the Vita should be able to run PS2 games at 60 FPS and HD) to avoid judder, the game spends a good portion of time below 30 FPS during combat. With the overclock in place, you now get a solid 30 FPS during combat, though nothing as smooth as the PS2 versions.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2
While this game isn't exactly the pinnacle of optimization, with the PS4 version still running below the 750 Ti and Xbox One even after a patch, the Vita port is absolute god damn garbage. Whereas Revelations on 3DS could actually cast dynamic shadows for enemies, Revelations 2 on Vita doesn't even feature shadows. Whereas Revelations on 3DS used high quality assets and ran at a solid 30 FPS save for loading new areas, Revelations 2 on Vita uses textures that wouldn't look out of place on the N64 and is unplayable. While the overclock does get the game to 30 FPS in some areas, Raid mode is still unplayable, and don't even try co-op. I'm still absolutely disgusted that Capcom deemed this okay for release.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss
A technical marvel for the Vita that features effects that weren't even in Drake's Fortune for PS3 (SSA0, per object blur, triple buffered v-sync, actual particles for explosions, more realistic animations) and a Deferred renderer, firefights are basically unplayable as a result, mostly averaging at 20 FPS. I found the game to be very hard to play as a result. However, with the overclock, it now approaches and the level of performance found in the PS3 games. Input latency is still a problem, as it was in the PS3 games, and sadly, there are no plans to make a 60 FPS update for the PS4. It's a real shame, because if the Wipeout 2048 remaster showed, Vita to PS4 updates are game changers. I still enjoyed this game immensely regardless, and like Killzone, it's a showcase of what Sony could have done had they had faith in the system.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus
I wasn't a fan of Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, or Sigma for that matter, but Sigma Plus just ruined it. The cut down framerate that gets even worse on harder difficulties which basically forced the developers to dumb down the game, horrendously forced touchscreen controls, broken scoring system, lack of leaderboards, and tech problems from the PS3 still present (screen tearing, long loading times) reeked of laziness, but it *was* a launch game. Did they fix any of this with Sigma 2 Plus? Well bearing in mind that I think Sigma 2 is better than vanilla Ninja Gaiden II barring the cut down enemies and gore (fight me on it), this port fixed none of the issues in Sigma Plus and introduced new ones. While Sigma was a clean game, running at 960x544p with 2x MSAA, Sigma 2 Plus runs at a dynamic standard definition resolution constantly and can become more unplayable than the infamous staircase fight on the 360 version. With the overclock, it can actually run at 30 FPS in combat, but it is still inexcusable, especially since Dead or Alive 5+ was actually a really damn amazing port.
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