OnLive: A cloud gaming review

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I should point out that I’m in no way affiliated or involved with this Product/Service/Woman. I am not being paid to write this. Hang on, why aren’t I getting paid to write this? Godamnit.
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Over the last few months I’ve been seeings ads on the U-Tubes for a service called ‘OnLive’, some sort of cloud gaming service, and it really grabbed my attention (mark of a good ad campaign, is that.) According to everyone who runs a two-bit tech or gadgetry blog, a group which is bizarrely greater in number than there are actual people on the planet, “Cloud + Niche” is a winning formula at the moment and seems likely to revolutionise the way we do stuff. I can’t see cloud gaming being an exception.

So my cloud + niche ideas may not be quite as viable as cloud gaming. What of it? Just throwing ideas around here, people. Just throwing ideas around.

;

The concept appealed to me for a few reasons. Firstly, I’m a leper Mac user and every developer in the industry, especially Bethesda, hates me for it. Even my own mother once called me some hurtful, unrepeatable names just for attempting to pursue a gaming hobby on a Mac. As I can’t imagine cross-platform functionality improving, or my mother cutting me some slack, being able to play titles I’d otherwise lose out on via an online app sounds ace to me (compared to being stuck playing Bejewelled: Mayan Mahem and crying a lot.)

Kid DJ

XXXTREME, DUDE!!!!! This kid is officially certified 'cool' enough to enjoy GAMING ON THE CLOUD!!!! Also get your filthy hand off that record.

The other reason I was keen to try out OnLive is for monetary reasons. Writing about video games has some obvious overheads, and while it’s not as pricey as maintaining a blog about, say, latest fashion trends or scuba diving or even the latest fashion in scuba diving, games still cost money. Doing the mathematicals, I generally spend three months on each game here at the site, so that averages out at something like an outrageous £5 per month. OnLive offer a plethora of games for £6.99 a month, so naturally I didn’t really hesitate to sign up.

False economy, smalsh smeconomy I always say (especially when making poor fiscal decisions.)

That brings us onto the first part of the review…

The Price

The Price is Right! Or is it?

Although I agreed to pay £6.99 a month (no contract) for access to their ‘play pass’ or whatever they call it, the service itself is actually free if you want to just buy games on the go. You don’t even need an account to play their demos which are generally available for every game on the site. So the price is certainly right.

The games themselves are priced okay, too – pretty much RRP for most stuff. I don’t think they’ve yet got the purchasing power of Steam in order to offer some of the great deals Valve do on a regular basis, but OnLive certainly seem to be striving to offer as much value for money as possible. For instance, next week they’ve got a bunch of titles on half-price (things like Arkham Asylum for a tenner) so I’m pretty satisfied that they’re genuinely trying to offer value rather than recoup the suspiciously absent subscription fee through inflated prices.

If you do opt for the play pass which gives you access to around 200 titles in the library (generally older / less mainstream titles), the benefit is that you get 30% off any purchases from elsewhere in the library. If that isn’t a damned good incentive, I dunno what is.

Downside? The rental prices. You can buy day passes for games at just over one pound a day, which seems a bit steep to me. If a game is £15 for the full version and the 5-day pass is £5.99, just buy the full version? I’m guessing that’s EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO DO though and is probably all part of the New World Order and why they put chem trails in the sky. Make of it what you will.

But a slightly more substantial niggle is how a some of the titles on site have the rental prices displayed, and some have the full price displayed. You can hover over and get the full details, but it’s a bit of a slowdown when you want to quickly browse through the library on site.

Title Library

Reading? Screw that, they've got San Andreas installed on this thing.

A solid selection. Nothing much which has just been released, and there are a few notable omissions (no Valve or Bethesda titles although I’m not really surprised), but we’re talking things as recent as Dead Island, LA Noire and Driver: San Francisco. The latter two get two big nicotine-stained thumbs up from me, as an aside. Highly recommended even if you don’t think you’re a fan of either genre.

So plenty of good titles to choose from in the store. But what of the games included in the Party Pass bundle? There’s around 200 here so far, and I thought it was going to end up as a NetFlix kinda affair – you pay your subscription to get exciting access to ten thousand obscure Swedish dubbed films, Jennifer Aniston’s back catalogue and the original Tron movie.

My suspicions were almost confirmed – I didn’t even know Ecco the Dolphin had a son, and I’m not sure which publisher thought it’d be a good idea to name their game ‘AaaaAAAAaaaAAaaAAA!!!!’ (I’m not kidding). It seems that the bulk of titles in the bundle are random Genesis games or Tetris clones, which I guess would be off-putting to a lot of people. On the other hand, I’m overjoyed at having access to some of the better retro games. ESWAT? Forget about it! I loved that game. Abe’s Oddyssey? Oh, that brings back memories!

So out of the 200 (ish), we’ve got about 120 which can be written off, 50 which are extremely good nostalgic titles, and 30 more ‘modern’ (I use the term loosely) and enjoyable games like Bioshock, Sid Meier’s Pirates, Arkham Asylum, Saint’s Row II, Deus Ex… is playing stuff like that worth £6.99 a month? I’m branding it a pretty subjective ‘yes’ for now. Judging by the dates added, they seem to add new games with regularity, but if they don’t I guess I can just cancel my payments once I’ve had my fill.

Platform Support

Wow, stream games directly to your TV? To your tablet device? Sweet!

Well, not really. I found out pretty late into the proceedings that to play on the telly, you need to buy one of their box and controller thingamies which will set you back £69 plus £6 shipping. That said, if you’re already paying the £6.99 for the Party Pass you get 30% off the price, so you can get this swag at a reduced price of… er… I dunno. £30 or something.

The tablet device thing is a bit of a misnomer, too – it’s not available on iDevices. As Apple have 58% market share at the time of writing, I think this is a bit of a swizz particularly because I’m pretty sure I saw iPads featured in OnLive’s marketing, or at least something that was designed to give a very strong impression of an iPad. They are working on it, but it turns out their biggest pulling point doesn’t deliver for now. For me at least, because I really wanted to play Shinobi in bed on my iPad. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do in bed. (My sexual therapy sessions run on Tuesdays.)

Oh, really? REALLY, ONLIVE? I require your first born son in recompense for your LIES!

Oh, but there is an OnLive app in the Apple store. So what’s that about if you can’t play games on it? Actually, it’s pretty cool – you get to live stream other people’s games as a spectator! As they describe it, it’s akin to flicking through the television channels except every channel is someone playing a different game. The picture quality is a bit lossy (in fact it makes the screen on my iPad look like its been dumped in a vat of vaseline) but I like it nevertheless.

Performance

This is the part you’ve probably been waiting for. Surely running a game stored on some dude’s server through a glorified web browser is as bad as it sounds? I know Quake Live works well enough, but that’s a pretty old game and does have some framerate issues on full screen. What about streaming something like Modern Warfare, multiplayer, on a 27″ screen?

Typically, I have no idea. The first thing I played was the aforementioned Abe’s Oddyssey which is a fourteen year old game. Hardly putting it through its paces but I had a burning desire to see if it would be doable to have the game as a series on Iron Man Mode. It isn’t – I die fifteen times in the first few minutes. Man that game is unforgiving.

But that was cool – playing a PSone game on my iMac without going down the maddening road of emulation, which has previously and on many occasions made me want to sit in a warm bath and slit my wrists.

But let’s really step it up a gear and take this mofo to task…

So I install Alien vs Predator, a game which is only twelve years old. Full screen, 256080 x 1440 resolution, all graphics settings on max, and playing over a pretty rubbish broadband connection… hey, this is pretty good? No lag at all, frame rate is flawless and everything is as it was in the original.

I don’t know how the system handles a connection drop out as it’s not happened yet – Virgin Media seems to have a policy of timing disconnects when I’m on Skype to an important client during work hours rather than when I’m playing games in the evening – but otherwise I’m very impressed by the performance, which is the very thing I thought would hamstring the entire concept. Looking forward to trying it out with a more CPU-intensive game, like Altered Beast or something.

CONCLUSION

Yeah, it was pretty okay?

6 Comments

  1. Oh, and what resolution were you playing at? It certainly wasn’t 256080×1440 :P

    • Hah, good catch. It was actually, I’ve got an iMax screen at home. A very long and exceptionally thin one.

      You make a great point about physically owning a game. I’m big on owning books and would never buy a kindle as a result. It’s also just occurred to me that not having the game on your hard drive removes modding potential? I prefer playing games vanilla anyway, but this would be a turn off to a great many people.

      Looking forward to trying it out multiplayer. I did log on to Unreal Tournament in-system but nobody else was around… will try later with something more current.

      The TV pack arrived yesterday and it’s fantastic… BUT there’s only one controller, so I have to shell out yet more so my partner and I can both play. Gahhh.

    • I think that’s where the true strength of this lies – in the MMO arena or the old skool video games.

  2. Cloud gaming is in its infancy though. You know, there is a growing trend now towards some MMORPGs coming out to head that direction using Kalydo and the Unity plugins. In those cases, a lot of the processing is handled on their own end, which is nice, and so you can have pretty decent games with lower-end hardware.

    I think within the next decade we will see a very strong evolution in this idea. Heck, the Orbis and the Durango are going to be going that way in part when they launch in 2013.

    I still dislike not owning physical copies of games though unless they are games I simply don’t care much about other than to want to play it. But…If I didn’t want to own it, I likely wouldn’t waste my time with it at all anyway.

  3. So … you basically wrote this to validate (to us) you buying one?

    Dude, if you want one, buy it. You don’t have to convince me of your need. LOL

    • Oh, I’d already ordered it before I started this. Just thought I should pull my finger out and write something this week.

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