OnLive: What you need to know

Is the latest on-demand gaming service set to revolutionise the way we play?  

Almost a year after its release in the USA, OnLive has finally landed in the UK. Hooray!

Whist Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo grapple over console supremacy with the festive season nearly upon us, OnLive has made a huge splash, and an even bigger impression on gamers.

The small yet mighty console stole the show at last week’s Eurogamer Expo, boasting a release to rival any other.

But that’s enough hype for now, let’s take a look at what OnLive actually is.

OnLive is cloud gaming. An on-demand gaming service that allows users to play the latest games on either their TV, PC, Mac or iPad and Android devices. It delivers games instantly and entirely through an internet connection, which are hosted by state-of-the-art servers – meaning the games are too.

The service also grants users the ability to tune in to other gamers as they play, allowing them to spectate the action for themselves. It comes complete with voice chat so gamers can connect as they play and provides the ability to save, upload and share replays.

Sounds pretty good right? It gets better.

Its promotion was backed by an equally impressive and impossible to turn down offering – allowing the interested masses to test out the service first.

Boasting over 100 games ready to play at launch, its superiority over other platform launch’s is clear. Complete with an offer to purchase your first game for a mere £1, even more gamers began wetting their lips.

I mean, who can honestly say they wouldn’t pay £1 for Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Right? Exactly.

And for those few individuals doubting the system, labelling it all as just on-release gimmicks, designed to pull people in, only to be disappointed and ripped off when the system is in full swing? Well, enter the play-pack. OnLive’s optional monthly service, which costs just £6.99 per month. A service which grants you access to the play-pack bundle of over 100 games, ranging from previous blockbusters such as Batman: Arkham Asylum and Borderlands to award winning classics such as Bioshock and the original Deus Ex.

Of course, lets not get carried away. OnLive isn’t about to dominate the gaming industry, rendering traditional consoles and PC gaming obsolete. But that’s not to say it isn’t going to try.

Like many small creatures, creeping their way into the big pond for the first time, OnLive knows its audience. It knows its prominent features and it knows its limitations.

Let’s set the record straight.

It isn’t a next-gen console set to blow away the competition with its full HD graphics, although it manages a modest 720p.

It wont be the centre of your home entertainment system, playing the latest Blu-ray titles and streaming your latest TV shows.

It will, however, offer simplistic, convenient, portable gaming to those who want or need it.

OnLive aims to serve an audience that is arguably unfulfilled in today’s gaming market. It is a low-cost-on-demand games service designed for the casual gamer. Its level of convenience is matched only by its simplicity, something un-rivaled by other on-demand services.

It banishes the various evils of gaming we’ve all come to endure such as lengthy installs and downloads, DLC, patches and system updates, all you have to do is play the game.

This probably sounds all well and good, and it is, but what may be the system’s biggest downfall is its audience overestimating it.

OnLive won’t replace your console or high-end gaming PC, the two simply cannot be compared. OnLive is a different breed, one that currently, should be considered as a compliment to traditional gaming, rather than a replacement.

The message we are being constantly fed, is that cloud gaming is the future. That it is more cost-effective than console gaming, eliminating the need for high-performance hardware.

OnLive is an achievement that has to be appreciated. The ability to stream a fully interactive 720p feed to gamers is astounding. Much like Steam did previously, OnLive opens up an entirely new avenue of options for developers to publish their games and generate revenue.

However, and without trying to burst its bubble, OnLive does come with its problems.

As impressed as I was whilst playing on the service for the first time, gingerly rendering The Joker’s hired goons unconscious as Batman in Arkham Asylum, I can’t help but maintain the sense that the service has come before its time.

Another good idea that has been released prematurely, and whilst the groundwork (impressive as it is) has been laid, the technology and infrastructure surrounding it needs to catch up for it to reach its potential.

As a cloud service, OnLive is heavily dependant on a high-quality internet connection, with the service itself stating that it recommends a minimum of 5MB for optimal performance.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my internet connection is far from the best, and below the recommendations made by OnLive. However, upon testing the service on a number of different connections, I was continuously greeted by the familiar pixelated performance. Temperamental is a key word I’d use here. Most of the time, my game experience was flawless. Other times, I would be saving the day as a very blurry caped crusader, often mistaking walls for people.

Let me tell you, as genuinely unnerving as some of Arkham Asylum’s elements are – notably the Jokers face – they are only amplified by blurriness. Other times, the service simply couldn’t connect, or would crash mid-game, leaving me to sit there whilst my controller vibrated its way out of the room, letting me know each time a rather large man reworked my face with a lead pipe.

I can’t even begin to imagine what the multiplayer gameplay in games such as Battlefield 3 or Modern Warfare 3 would be like (shudder.) As I write this, I can hear the collective groans of horrified gamers everywhere, simply considering the possibility.

To sum it all up, OnLive achieves what it aims to do. It is a low-tech alternative to console and PC gaming for those who consider themselves casual gamers, or those who wish to play games on the move. It is also a saving grace for gamers who lack the necessary hardware to power the latest games.

Whilst certain games work well on the system – particularly single-player modes and campaigns – as the service stands right now, I simply can’t see multiplayer gaming as a viable option, which will ultimately hurt its value. Again, it is important not to overestimate OnLive for more than what it is, at least for now. As a solution to playing the latest titles and their single player modes, with slightly reduced performance and presentation, it is near perfect. However, for those of us who are more concerned with multiplayer modes and crisp, top-quality gameplay, don’t expect to be too satisfied with what the service has to offer, stick with your consoles and PC’s.

OnLive – and other services like it – will one day be a huge part of the gaming market, with cloud gaming possibly retiring the concept of console gaming. But for now, it’s much better suited to meeting the needs of its smaller audience.

Greg Lockley.



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