October 1, 2011, Author: James Joell-Ireland

Imagine a gaming service with no downloads and no waiting around for that latest demo or latest release. Imagine the ability to immediately watch what your friends are playing and interacting with them while they do so. There is no need to use your imagination any more as this technology is real and somehow just like Frankenstein; it’s alive! Actually, should that be OnLive!

OnLive is a video-game streaming service that launched on the 22nd September 2011 in the United Kingdom. The service launched on the opening day of the Eurogamer Expo and stole the show. Lucky members were able to leave with the micro-console, whilst others left with a registration card twiddling their thumbs waiting for their new console to arrive via post over the next few days. If you are still waiting for that shiny black box to arrive, we’ll be happy to give you the low down, after all, nothing else is on your mind now is it. Well, perhaps sex but let’s not go there! Animals.

Soon to be a threesome!
OnLive presents users with choice, the ability to play the latest games at 720p visuals without having to pay hundreds on fancy graphics cards. So as long you have a PC or MAC with relatively new operating systems, you’ll be able to use the service. The only other requirements is at least a 2MB connection (5MB preferable), then you are ready to play. It’s recommended you have a monitor capable of 1280×720 resolution to get the best out of the service too, and if you haven’t already got a monitor capable of those resolutions, then why the hell not?

OnLive’s cloud based system gives you the ability to play between the PC/MAC, TV (via the micro-console) and various supported tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy and iPad. Whilst the tablets are supported, the only functionality they have is to view the arena (a place where you can watch other gamers play games). The service will start to support playable games on these devices in the future, most likely ones that make sense, such as puzzle titles etc.

When you first put OnLive to the test, expect an instant mindgasm moment when you experience instant loading of games off the bat. Once logged into the service, switching between games is effortless and what’s more, this service offers you access to demo everything in its catalogue by loading up the full game and cutting the stream after a set time. This feature alone was a massive draw, especially for those that make their decisions on purchasing games after getting hands on with the code itself.

The client is ready to see you now
A clean interface can be everything and with OnLive they have done everything they can to make the service accessible for all. A clear and clean menu dashboard makes for easy navigation and button selections take you straight into your designated area. Whilst for the most part, OnLive’s accessibility is good, it does need you to visit their website to set up your payment details and make profile amendments; nitpicking much? I’ll move on. I will say, though, the jury is out on whether the marketplace section can be kept user-friendly as more games get added to the service. A big overhaul may be required in the future.

So what are the real features of the service itself? Well, we have the no downloads required streaming element, view games others are playing, interact with players; but that is not all. Have you ever wanted to show off on your Facebook wall just how good you are at a game or share that treasured glitch? OnLive allows you to do this at a click of a button, you’ll only have ten seconds though, so be quick about it! The feature is called ‘Brag Clips’ and I seriously hope that in future you have more time to actually brag. At the moment the limitation seems a little harsh, it’s not exactly enough time to show your friends how good you are at pwning noobs!

The marketplace on OnLive is a varied one and currently, on average, more games support keyboard controls than a controller, but only fractionally. Games seem to be added to the service on a weekly basis and the choice is extremely varied, from casual games to the downright bizarre. The service will need to regularly drop down the AAA titles to make it a viable option for most though, and currently, whilst they have the support from big name publishers, we’ve yet to see decent support for sports titles. While they are offered, they seem to be one or two iterations behind the latest release.

The only service to offer dog soccer!

As well as having the ability to watch people play instantly, people can also watch you as you play your game, which opens up a whole new world of community. Already I have experienced someone offering to help me when they saw I was stuck. Forget a game walkthrough; I had my own personal aide assisting me through to the next mission. Though, I did wonder what level of boredom he was at, watching me play Cargo! The Quest for Gravity. If you don’t like the sound of some poor soul (who probably reads Hayne’s car manuals from back to front) offering you help or someone smack-talking your performance, you do have the ability to restrict people from talking to you.

To subscribe or not subscribe, that is the question!
PlayPack is OnLive’s subscription service, which gives you access to 100+ games for £6.99 a month. It boasts titles such as Saints Row 2, Just Cause 2, Homefront Multiplayer, Fear 3 Multiplayer, Borderlands and Bioshock, just to name a few. For over 100 titles, subscribing to this service is a complete no brainer. The mix of big titles with the obscure, classic PC titles and casual releases, serves up a complete cocktail that will no doubt deliver a few flavours you won’t like, but you’ll drink them anyway because you will want your money’s worth. The PlayPack bundle will need to be expanded and refreshed from time to time to keep subscribers. Whether they can meet that remains to be seen, but so far I’m personally happy to roll my subscription on at least for another six months.

If the PlayPack bundle contained too many of the games you owned on console, then you could look at using the PlayPass option. PlayPass will give you a traditional rental access to the latest releases. Saints Row 3 and Batman: Arkham City will be readily available on their launch days, so you can be sure the service will deliver some big hitters. The traditional rental passes work out cheaper than going down to a local Blockbuster to rent too, so when we speak about value for money OnLive certainly delivers it.

Traditional messaging features also exist.

OnLive also gives you the chance to ‘buy’ games. The prices when using the 30% discount for PlayPass members deliver a competitive pricing system, however without the discount they don’t seem so alluring. For a service that ‘will guarantee support for at least three years’ banded around in the terms and conditions, it is little wonder the physical media purists are apprehensive of dipping their toes into the water.

Black and full-bodied, just like my coffee!
If you have dabbled around with the PC/MAC client, you’ll know by now whether you are considering giving the TV micro-console a spin. For £70.00 the unit provides you with a micro console unit with HDMI output producing 720p visuals (1080p capped in maintenance mode), wired and wireless capability, wireless controller, charger pack and 2x AA batteries. The unit is incredibly easy to set up. Just plugin the power cables and HDMI out to your TV and you are ready to go. One firmware update later and you are ready to play.

Some would argue whether the console unit itself is a worthwhile investment for existing console owners and that really depends on how many games you play. For hardcore gamers this technology is a must, just for the new experience it offers you and the instant access play it gives you. For those yet to enter the console space OnLive’s micro-console is a no brainer. In fact, once you are done reading this head over to their website and buy one.

The controller is superb. It’s taken its design aesthetics from the Xbox 360 controller, which is a good model to follow. The analogue sticks both reside in the same palm space so in some essences it is a hybrid between the PS3 and Xbox 360 controller, which meant it felt natural to me from the off. Below the main functions is a few flat buttons which control the playback section of OnLive. That blessed record button is also contained in this area so get your fingers at the ready!

Somehow it defies logic and works!
One of the biggest questions about OnLive is it’s reliability and throughout the extensive testing we’ve given the service. It is surprisingly smooth. We tested on a connection that has a variable downstream between 7-10 MPS and when hardwired to the micro-console the device is extremely smooth. We did notice a few connection issues with wireless connectivity, but it does clearly state on the WiFi FAQ’s that they recommend using a 5 Ghz network, which we didn’t. We also have an incredible amount of devices using the WiFi network from iPhones, iPads and devices in standby, such as the Nintendo Wii processing system updates. All of which are broadcasting signals to interfere with the bandwidth priority that OnLive needs to operate successfully.

With this in mind it’s worth mentioning that if you have a family environment with multiple PC users, unless you are running fibre optic broadband or Virgin’s Cable service you’ll need to be sensible with how broadband data is shared around your home. If your home environment doesn’t put you in control of monopolizing the broadband data then OnLive may not particularly be for you.

The controller rocks and future tablet play is all kinds of awesome!

A technical achievement that will scare purists
Experiencing some of the ace cards that OnLive has given me has been an absolute pleasure. It has brought smiles and fuzzy head moments, not experienced since hearing a voice through my Xbox 360 headset for the first time. The technology is future proof and is only bound by broadband speeds, meaning that OnLive will be around for some time.

Concerns lie with a few that this technology will serve to wreck consumer freedoms, but if anything it’ll aid choice but bring down piracy. It’s also captivating a market that doesn’t have big money to spend on games but has the money to rent them. From that standpoint OnLive is a perfect service offering the disposable generation a disposal-free way of experiencing the latest games.

OnLive’s catalogue will need to be regularly supported by the biggest of publishers and by throwing in a mix of exclusive titles, it could be a major player for the future. I can’t recommend the micro console enough but don’t take it from me, download the PC/MAC client and give this service a whirl and let the application itself do the talking!

So the next time I’m in a mood for gaming and my husband wants to watch Eastenders, no problem; I’ll load up my saved game on the PC. A marriage kept together by OnLive.


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