Today Valve dropped the news that it’s making yet another piece of black plastic: the Steam Deck. This time it’s a handheld (though I use the term loosely) starting at $399 (though anyone actually using it will probably pay more than that). The device is very reminiscent of the Nintendo Switch — only roughly twice as heavy according to the specs. It’s also larger than a Wii U gamepad. You could absolutely kill a man with this thing; you wouldn’t even need to get creative.
On the bright side, it plays a damn sight more games than either of those systems. It’s basically just a gaming laptop with analog sticks. Meaning it ties directly into your Steam library. It seems you can download games from there directly or stream them similar to the Steam Link (a little guy for your entertainment center Valve used to sell). I’ve personally used my Steam Link a lot and, at least connected via ethernet on my home network, even that old thing worked a treat. The Steam Deck does actually come with an ethernet port, which is sure to make the Smash Ultimate players who spent years begging for one on the Switch to feel some kinda way.
What it does not come with is a dock. That’s sold separately for an as-yet-undisclosed amount of money. Said dock will connect the system to a TV while charging the “40 watt-hour battery.” The latter of which is a fancy way of saying “It’ll run Control or Star Wars: Fallen Order for about two hours.” The maximum battery life, if you’re just streaming stuff or playing “smaller 2D games,” is promoted at 7-8 hours. No word if it supports shovelfuls of AA batteries like the Sega Game Gear from 1990. Which is what a lot of people are likening the hardware design to.
Personally, I don’t think the system looks terrible, but I’m a 6’2″ frost giant whose muscles haven’t been completely eroded by HRT yet. I’m working on it, though; thanks for asking. At the same time, I think the D-pad and sticks look too close together. Possibly this is to make room for the two trackpads on either side of the controller. It’s like two little touchpads from a PlayStation controller transplanted under your palms — kinda-sorta mimicking the Steam Controller everyone tells me is bad. The idea, of course, is to emulate mouse movement with a thumb. Results on other devices have been mixed. Though it’s still probably better to have the option than not on the Steam Deck. There’s also a gyroscope if you’re using tilt controls.
Beyond the buttons, people probably want to know about horsepower. The tech specs don’t look as impressive as, say, a PlayStation 5 or even an Xbox Series S. However, the Steam Deck does have a dedicated GPU to complement its CPU — like a gaming laptop rather than the Switch or a smart device. It also doesn’t fire the 4K beams or anything close by default. The 7″ screen outputs a 1280 x 800 resolution at 60hz. That’s not a particularly grand ask. Not unless you buy the optional dock to pump up the jam on a monitor. Finally, it runs a custom version of SteamOS that is supposedly optimized for the hardware. Though you can wipe that and install Windows, according to IGN.
You won’t be installing much at all for $400, though. The entry level device has a laughable 64GB of internal memory. That basically makes it a handheld Steam streaming device by default. There will also be 256 and 512GB versions for $529 and $649, respectively. Though that’s woefully inadequate for most games these days. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 top out at twice that highest number for $150 less — which is still not much storage.
The very, very bright side is that the Steam Deck supports MicroSD cards. That’s yet more money to spend, of course, but at least it adds blessed versatility. A quick check of online retailers shows some 1TB cards for about $170 apiece. Whichever way you slice it you’re paying out the ass for anything but the most barebones version of this thing. Which honestly makes now the perfect time for Valve to put it up for preorder. It’s still basically impossible to find a PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, or even a non-lite Nintendo Switch. Tech-starved PC gamers will trip over themselves for this thing. At least Valve is betting they will. They’ll have to pay for the privilege, too, since preordering at all comes with an additional “reservation fee.”
Hopefully the fee will at least curb scalpers. Speculation is one of several reasons it’s so damn hard to find game consoles right now. As capitalism continues to ravage our society and environment amidst a global pandemic, some have turned to flipping everything from Pokémon cards to Super Mario 64 cartridges. Valve would like to treat that symptom. One other way its doing so is with a staggered reservation system. Anyone who’s made a Steam store purchase before June 2021 can preorder a Steam Deck at 10 a.m. Pacific on July 16. Anyone else (i.e. newcomers and dummy accounts made to scoop up hardware for resale) will need to wait till Sunday.
We’ll try to get our hands on one ourselves soon and report back on just how deadly the device feels as a potential melee weapon.