Steam Deck Review: A game console for the Quintessential player
There’s a new hard-to-reach game console this year that’s not a PlayStation or an Xbox. It is only sold online. Most casual gamers probably have not heard of it.
It’s $ 400 Steam Deck, a console as utilitarian as it sounds. The handheld device, a disc of bulky black plastic with a built-in game controller, has the aversion to a supercomputer and a touch screen. It’s like a gaming computer and a Nintendo Switch had a child.
Valve, the company in Bellevue, Washington, known for its Steam online game store, began taking orders for Steam Deck last year, and the consoles arrived recently. The company has not published sales figures, but estimates indicate that hundreds of thousands have sent. People who try to order one today will not get the device until the fall.
Steam Deck is the result of Valve’s ambitious efforts to mix the benefits of modern gaming devices. It includes game-dedicated computers; Nintendo’s handheld Switch, which focuses on family-friendly games; and Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, which are living room consoles with faster computer chips to play more intense games.
Steam Deck is trying to be a jack of all trades. It runs Linux, the open source operating system, which enables it to load a wide variety of new games, including titles made for personal computers and some PlayStation and Xbox games. And just like with a computer, Steam Deck can be customized to run older games by installing emulation software, which are apps that can run digital copies of games for older consoles.
As someone who grew up with consoles all the way back to Atari, I decided to try Steam Deck. Verdict: This is the console I recommend for serious gamers who do not mind doing tricks to enjoy new and old games. But it has major shortcomings, and it is definitely not for people looking for a plug-and-play experience offered by a traditional game console.
Unlike standard consoles, such as PlayStations and Nintendo, which can play games stored on discs and cassettes, Steam Deck is completely digital, meaning it only plays games downloaded over the Internet. Players will first and foremost get titles through the Steam app store. So to get started, users set up a Steam account to download games.
From there, there are many alternatives. Players can choose from Steam’s library of tens of thousands of games, including popular ones such as Counter-Strike and Among Us. Some great titles that were previously exclusive to PlayStation, such as Final Fantasy VII: Remake, are now also on Steam.
Those who feel adventurous can move outside of Steam to get more games. This involves switching to desktop mode, which converts Steam Deck to a miniature Linux computer that can be controlled with a virtual keyboard and a small trackpad built into the controller.
Here you can open a browser to download some files to set up Steam Deck to work with Xbox Game Pass to play Xbox games, or to install emulators to run games made for older consoles like the classic Atari from 1970s and PlayStation. Laptop from 2005.
Thinking if you dare
In my tests, the Steam deck was fun to use to play Steam games. It ran smoothly modern games with intense graphics like Monster Hunter Rise, and the controller, which includes triggers, joysticks and buttons, felt comfortable to use.
But fixing it to run games outside of the Steam store was a difficult task, and at times annoying. I watched several video tutorials to run EmuDeck, a script that installs emulators on your device. The process took more than an hour. I eventually had to connect my own keyboard and mouse because the trackpad and keyboard of the Steam deck often did not detect clicks and keystrokes.
Valve said that it still improves desktop navigation and that there were situations where people had to connect a keyboard and a mouse.
After I finally got emulators up and running, I had a cute setup that runs new, new and old games, like Vampire Survivors, Persona 4 and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII.
The bottom line
Steam Deck lacks the Polish and practical functionality of standard gaming devices, making it difficult to recommend to casual gamers.
Although it’s nice to have at home, I would not take one with me on a trip or to a cafe, which exceeds the purpose as a mobile device. Battery life is the most important of the faults. In my sessions, the Steam deck lasted about 90 minutes before it had to be connected, even when playing games with minimal graphics, such as Vampire Survivors.
For another, it is large (about 12 inches long) and heavy (1.5 pounds) for a portable gaming device. This makes Nintendo’s smaller and lighter Switch, which lasts up to four hours on a single charge, a superior laptop.
Although the trick is only optional, it’s one of the Steam’s main selling points – and compared to using a gaming computer, customizing the Steam deck with the keyboard, mouse, and desktop software is not fun or easy.
Finally, while some may not mind Steam Decks’ digital approach to buying games, many who prefer to own physical cassettes and discs – which can be easily shared with friends and resold to others – will see it as a breach of contract.