Although I make efforts to stay on top of the day-to-day happenings in the video game space (partially for my job, partially out of habit), I consider myself a lapsed gamer. I don’t have much desire to play the latest and greatest titles, and lack the drive to comb the untouched games in my Steam backlog.
Well, I should say that was the situation. My love for gaming returned on May 25, 2022. What’s the significance of that date, you ask? That’s the day I received my Steam Deck.
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The Steam Deck Effect
Valve’s chunky and surprisingly powerful handheld gaming PC changed everything for me. It let me take my Steam library to the park, bar, or any other location, which is something I’ve wanted for years. Sure, the Nintendo Switch gives me that home-and-away functionality, but I’m primarily a PC gamer. The appeal lies in the decades-deep catalogs; catalogs that I can tweak to get the best performance. The Steam Deck does just that. More importantly, and this may sound like an oxymoron for someone who loves PC gaming, the Steam Deck pulls me away from the accursed desktop.
The COVID-19 lockdowns and work-from-home protocols drastically altered my lifestyle, as they did for millions of other people. Suddenly, my apartment felt like a prison. I worked there. I dreamed about better days there. I played there. I cried there. Eventually, I got sick of being there. So, when New York City’s COVID-19 restrictions lifted and I began venturing out more, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was park my duff in front of a monitor. I occasionally brought my Switch with me, but its library lacked Cyberpunk 2077, Fire Pro Wrestling World, The King of Fighters XV, and many other titles that I longed to play. So, that was it for me and video games! I wanted to be as far away from the PC as possible, and the Switch wasn’t scratching my gaming itch at that moment. I didn’t game, as in really game, for nearly two years.
Now, with the Steam Deck in my possession, I game all the time. I’m back, baby.
Vanquish on Steam Deck
Steam Deck-Verified Games
I began my return to gamerdom by perusing the list of Deck-Verified games penned by my colleague Jordan Minor. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain? Mmm-hmmm. Streets of Rage 4? Perfect. Vanquish? Yup. Windjammers 2? Don’t mind if I do. Even better, I already owned those games. I was extremely happy to see that the Proton-powered SteamOS lived up to its promise by letting me play my many Windows games without Windows. In fact, only one game out of the dozens I tested refused to boot in the Linux environment: Shock Troopers, a game listed as Unknown in Valve’s compatibility database.
That alleviated the one fear that gripped me upon plunking down $649 for the high-end Steam Deck unit. I knew that Deck Verified and Playable games were worry-free affairs for the most part, but I was deeply concerned about the number of games in my library that could be potentially listed as Unsupported or Unknown. I’m sure a few more troublesome games will pop up here and there, but I’m very satisfied with the Steam Deck’s ability to play a good portion of my game library. And, speaking as someone who is paid to analyze consumer technology’s software wing, the fact that GabeN and company lessened Windows’ importance in the realm of PC gaming is extremely exciting (and spicy).
Speaking of under-the-hood matters, the Steam Deck lets me tinker with frame rates, shaders, and other in-game options, and even create per-game settings. I absolutely adore it. Experimenting with different options to squeeze more juice out of the handheld’s battery has become a pastime unto itself. It taps into one of PC games’ joys: customizing your game experience for optimal performance. Valve’s pushing out SteamOS updates on a fairly consistent basis, so here’s hoping for more options to play with in the near future. Tip: For Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, cap the screen’s fresh rate at 40Hz and the frame rate to 40 frames per second to enjoy more than five hours of battery life. That’s roughly two game playthroughs on Normal difficulty.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge on Steam Deck
Steamy Days and Nights
I’ve discovered that the Steam Deck has changed how I play, too, and I don’t mean the obvious docked vs. undocked scenarios. Take Vanquish, for instance. I’ve been a fan since the Platinum Games-developed shooter dropped in 2010. However, I didn’t beat it. Now, I’m on the verge of doing so, blazing through levels with pinpoint shots and deft use of the bullet time-like AR Mode.
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Initially, I dismissed my newfound drive to finish Vanquish as part of the Steam Deck’s honeymoon period where I just want to play, play, and play some more. However, I think my Vanquish success is attributable to more than Steam Deck freshness. Holding the Steam Deck’s incredibly comfortable, ergonomic grips and focusing my eyes on that large screen that’s only a few inches from my face is highly intimate and engrossing.
What’s on Deck?
So, what’s next in my time with the Steam Deck? I don’t know, but I’m having a ball. I downloaded and enjoyed a grip of demos during Steam Next Fest, and I’m currently logging heavy minutes with Broforce, Cyberpunk 2077, Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX+, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, Transformers: Devastation, and Vanquish. Sure, they’re mostly older PC games, but they’re some of my favorites. That said, I’m looking to expand my horizons.
The Steam Summer Sale has just arrived, so I’ll be combing the Steam Store with wild abandon to find the next great portable PC game. I’m actively seeking genres that aren’t typically my bag, such as RTS and shooters, just to futz with the Steam Deck’s trackpads. So, maybe, the Steam Deck will help me spread my gamer wings a bit, and taste things from the far end of the video game menu.
The COVID lockdowns are no more, and I no longer despise the idea of sitting at my PC to play my favorite games. Still, I’m hooked on the Steam Deck’s ability to untether my game sessions from a big, bulky box. I’ll probably return to the desktop in the near future to play Elden Ring or some other time-demanding title that isn’t conducive to holding a device that weighs 1.5 pounds for a few hours. But for now, the Steam Deck is all I need to enjoy the wonderful experiences that only video games can deliver. It feels good to be home.
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