I was skeptical when I first heard about OnLive and its Cloud Gaming capabilities earlier this year. The idea of a console which streamed games live via an internet server seemed like a troublesome concept, which surely wouldn’t work smoothly and without problems. The mere idea of cloud gaming itself had me in two minds over the reliance on streaming digital content over actually owning physical copies of games.
As a lifelong gamer who enjoys collecting and building a library of titles, there’s something a little worrying about the idea of an entirely digital future. It’s fraught with such problems as the inability to transport your games or trade them in. Then there are the issues that arise if a game you’ve bought is eventually deleted or removed from the server. Sure, it’s certainly the likely path in which gaming as well as other media is eventually heading – but there’s definitely as much about the idea that’s troubling as it is potentially exciting.
But, despite my reservations, I couldn’t immediately dismiss OnLive. No matter how old-fashioned and skeptical I felt towards the concept, it remained endlessly intriguing. Questions continued to rattle around my head as the console edges closer to its U.K launch. How on earth would it stream HD gaming without noticeable lag? How would it compete with existing systems on the market? Most of all though, could this really be the future of the gaming industry?
Sitting down with OnLive at Gamescom and spending some hands-on time with the console, I hadn’t anticipated just how quickly my apprehension and doubt would turn into wonder and excitement over a unique new system which I found myself quickly falling in love with. While my preference for physical media has a long way from dissipating, the system offers enough interesting features and value for money that it holds definite reason to coexist alongside other consoles. OnLive brings forth an exciting new approach to gaming, as well as an aesthetically pleasing design with social features unlike anything else currently out there.
With a sleek design consisting of a small and discrete black box and a controller which feels comfortably similar to that of the Xbox 360, there’s no faulting the design of OnLive’s stylish gadgetry. As with most new HD tech, it connects via HDMI and features two USB ports and functionality for up to four controllers or Bluetooth headsets. After connecting it to a wired Ethernet port (sadly Wi-Fi, although possible, isn’t recommended) gamers are greeted to OnLive’s stylish dashboard and several interesting and inventive new features.
Launching the Arena for example, sends the user into a live feed of different games being played by other OnLive users. The genius of this feature is that it allows users to immediately see for themselves not only what games are currently popular with the community but what the games themselves are actually like. Clicking on a friends profile will allow you to become a spectator, offering help or perhaps taunting them as they try to finish that difficult boss battle.
Similarly, a feature titled Brag Clips encourages players to record interesting or impressive gameplay at the touch of a button. We got to see the possibilities of the feature, with a Brag Clip showing an OnLive user downing a chopper in Homefront with just a pistol. Perhaps more interestingly, the feature could be used to highlight amusing glitches, or provide a walkthrough for difficult stages – all of which is provided with Facebook integration. While the potential of cloud gaming is what draws most interest to OnLive, these unique social design features are just as impressive and help establish the console as something completely different from the competition.
Of course, it’s all irrelevant if the system is restricted by high internet speeds, expensive subscription fees or laggy games. Shockingly however, the minimum required speed is a mere 2mb, with an easily achieved 5mb speed for optimal results. During my hands-on with OnLive, I attempted to play arcade style racer Split/Second Velocity. When I say attempted – that’s on account of me sucking at the game and not the abilities of the technology.
Playing the game was smooth and without any noticeable lag or loss of image quality. The controller felt comfortable, well designed and easy to immediately adapt to. If I didn’t already know that the game was being streamed via internet, I’d never have guessed.
Pricing meanwhile, while not yet confirmed for the U.K launch, has been confirmed as comparable to current U.S pricing plans. The console itself retails at a decent $99, with new releases costing essentially the same as they would if bought for any other console.
Where things get really interesting is that all of these games – which includes a line-up consisting of new releases and classic PC titles like Deus Ex and Hitman 2, can also be rented for up to 5 days from as little as $3. Going even further, all games featured on the OnLive marketplace can be tried and tested completely free for 30 minutes. For the high percentage of gamers who find themselves unable to afford the latest releases, this feature is definitely a strong selling point of the console.
It’s not only useful for those strapped for cash either. Gamers who find themselves wanting to play a game that’s been labeled as short or underwhelming, will have the ability to try the game for a few days to make up their mind before purchasing. Also there’s the cheeky ability to download new releases at exactly midnight on day of release, giving OnLive gamers a significant edge over other consoles.
Talking of significant edge, another one of OnLive’s selling points is its ability to stream high-end PC titles which would normally require an upgraded computer. This allows for usually restricted PC titles to be introduced to a console market. As someone who has always enjoyed PC gaming over the years but has been unable to keep up with the need for consistently upgrading hardware, OnLive opens up the ability for games to evolve graphically with no effect on the console itself.
As well as a frequently updated marketplace which includes titles from most major publishers including THQ, EA and Ubisoft, OnLive users also have access to subscription packages which offer surprisingly good value for money. We can only hope that the UK isn’t cheated in terms of pricing, with the U.S service offering a PlayPack subscription – a $9.99 optional monthly fee offering unlimited access to an updated library of over 80 games. Once purchased, the subscription offers access to games like Borderlands and Just Cause 2 as well as a 30% discount on other titles.
I was already impressed with OnLive, forcing me to rethink my initial feelings towards cloud gaming. Then came the jaw-dropping news of its tablet compatibility with the amazing OnLive app. Providing the device is capable of video streaming, be it an Apple iPad or eventually an Android device, you’ll be able to stream any game from your existing game library over Wi-Fi or even 3G.
The idea of playing something like the upcoming Batman Arkham City, uncompromised on a portable device with an internet connection is an amazing thought. Some games are even being developed with touch screen support, whilst others are playable via wirelessly connecting an OnLive controller to the device. This feature is in its early days, but the potential here cannot be understated.
OnLive has some way to go before it can prove itself as a true competitor to today’s established and successful consoles. In order for cloud-gaming to become embraced by gamers and convert the naysayers, OnLive’s crucial U.K launch in September will have to bring the success and competitive pricing of its U.S launch over to these shores.
How the console will be retailed here is yet to be confirmed, and there’s still the chance that a U.K partnership with BT could bring forth a more controversial pricing plan. But from my time with the console, I’m ready to accept OnLive as a groundbreaking piece of technology which offers many unique and innovative features to gamers looking for something different.
It might take a while yet for me to happily declare it as the future of the industry, but from my initial impressions, I’ll certainly be there to find out when it launches here next month.
OnLive comes to the U.K on the 22nd Of September 2011, with pricing and services yet to be announced.
For more information about the console and news on its upcoming launch, check out the official U.K site www.onlive.co.uk