Published on April 9th, 2011 | by Bryant Kazmerzak, Contributor
I first heard about the OnLive service in 2009 when I read a Penny Arcade comic/blog post about it. OnLive is a cloud-based gaming service that allows a game to be rendered completely and streamed to your computer via the OnLive client and played quite effectively. This is a boon for the gamer who wants to play great, graphics-intensive games but are on a fixed income (Such as myself). With an ever-growing catalog of great games, I really couldn’t see myself using anything else…
… Except when I really step back and take a look at it, I can see a lot of issues with the service.
For instance, OnLive hates wireless networks. Sure, the games are playable via Wifi, but good luck doing anything else, like watching YouTube videos or checking Facebook. I recommend that you hook up a network cable to your computer before using OnLive, because your performance will dip considerably.
My second gripe was that you need a fairly fast, stable internet connection to use it. That in itself isn’t a bad thing, I mean a 6 MB/s connection is fairly easy to come by, but I know from running network diagnostics tools that the client uses only 2-4 MB/s at any given time.
The games themselves, while great, are also pretty pricey considering that you’re already paying for the OnLive service, the ability to connect to OnLive’s multiplayer servers, and more. Take into account the fact that the game isn’t truly “owned” by you – It’s owned by OnLive. You don’t get a physical copy mailed to you, you don’t get a redemption code to be redeemed for a physical copy should OnLive, heavens forbid, fall into hard times and cancel the service. I just feel like a game shouldn’t cost any more than fifteen dollars when you will never, ever see a physical disc. One can argue that by that virtue games should also be cheaper on Steam, but the thing is that you actually own and download the games with Steam. You can back the games up on an external drive and carry them with you. You cannot do that with OnLive, so to me it’s hard to justify any game costing more than fifteen dollars.
There is, however, the PlayPack which has 49 games to choose from for one pretty reasonable monthly fee, with the first month being completely free. This in itself is a saving grace, but the games in the library are already 2+ years old, such as World Of Goo, Bioshock, and F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin. Games like Homefront and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood are available, as will be Red Faction: Armageddon, F.E.A.R. 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution when they come out later this year.
On the topic of actual gameplay, the OnLive service can be kind of hit and miss. For one, every game has a default play method of keyboard and mouse, at which most PC gamers will nod in approval. But, the fact is, a lot of games simply play better with a gamepad, for example Assassin’s Creed, Arkham Asylum, and Just Cause 2. For this, OnLive has the option of plugging in an Xbox 360 controller or similar gamepad. For some odd reason, the ability to use an official OnLive controller (Which comes with a Microconsole, more on that later) with Windows simply doesn’t exist (Yet; I am told by customer support that that particular feature will be included in a future update).
The games are certainly playable. Similar to a YouTube video, the better your internet speed, the better quality video can be streamed to you. OnLive has the capability of delivering 1080p video output, but at times the quality can really hit the ground depending on network traffic. For instance, Just Cause 2 has a huge playfield, and in the early morning light one can see almost the entire island of Panau when cruising at high altitude. This is pretty cool… When the connection is working 100%. However, if you’re, say, streaming Pandora or watching a YouTube clip (Or on a wireless connection), then the video will be very grainy and will sometimes tear or freeze. When OnLive detects the connection is dropping, it will pause for five minutes or until the connection improves, which usually takes less than 30 seconds on my connection. Xbox 360 and PS3 quality this is not, but it’s better than nothing.
The service itself handles friends lists, as well as allows you to watch a person play games and cheer them on or send them some nastygrams in the form of jeers. I found this to be annoying in the beginning, especially when kids would come on, join an audio channel, and start calling me a f***ing f****t for sniping in Homefront… I mean c’mon, sniping is a totally legitimate strategy! But, once I figured out how to mute all voice channels, it was a lot better. A lot.
One of my first concerns when jumping into OnLive the first time was input lag, AKA mashing a button and seeing a delay in action. This is a problem that games like Street Fighter 4 have on Xbox LIVE, and it can be very frustrating when in a competitive setting. However, I noticed that the overall latency with the OnLive client was actually quite manageable, as evidenced by my large killstreaks in Homefront multiplayer. Even though the graphics quality can at times go to hell, making it difficult to snipe or see far away, the control latency stays pretty steady. I honestly get the idea that the graphics will dip automatically to compensate for such things, which may actually be a good thing.
Speaking of Homefront multiplayer, how about a shout-out to all eighteen or so people who play it? Hi guys!
My prime complaint about OnLive is that very, very few people own or use it. One of the reasons I redeemed my review code for AssBro was because I heard the multiplayer was absolutely phenomenal – Imagine my stark disappointment when I sat in a lobby for thirty minutes with not a single person to get my sneaky-stab on with. The same was true for Splinter Cell: Conviction, F.E.A.R. 2, and Borderlands. I was actually quite upset, because Borderlands is truly one of my all-time favorite games. Homefront was the only game I saw that had any online players, which in itself wasn’t bad – Homefront, in my honest opinion, has better gameplay than Call Of Dookie.
In case it isn’t obvious by now, I am actually quite a bit enthusiastic about OnLive, though not in it’s current form. Don’t misunderstand me; I like this service. I am poor as can be, and I cannot afford things like Xbox 360’s and Playstation 3’s, so being able to play with this service the past couple weeks for free has been a godsend. I have missed out on so many good games because of my being unemployed that it’s literally depressing. Being able to finally play F.E.A.R 2 after it has been out for two years, and especially after playtesting it since it was pre-alpha, has been a breath of fresh air. Being able to plug in my Gamecom 777’s and jump at all the spooky sights and sounds has been a lot of fun, and it’s been something that I missed.
I just believe that if OnLive made some changes to the way it does things, it would be nearly perfect, and would be able to cater to a broader range of gamers, not just the poor or console-challenged, but to the on-the-go gamer, the businessman who doesn’t go anywhere without a laptop, or the kid who carries the client with him on a flash drive (Haven’t tested that yet, so if it cannot be done then don’t chew my ass out please).
The first thing I would change would be the pricing. While I understand that devs and publishers need to make money, the gamer isn’t paying for their own copy; they’re paying to play OnLive’s copy. OnLive shouldn’t be charging anything higher than $15 USD for access to a game. The PlayPack is a great idea, and it’d be hard to get bored with the variety of games on it, but the deal with Homefront and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood being $50 USD is nearly ludicrous.
Secondly, the multiplayer falls short in a lot of games. In a game like Borderlands where the gameplay gets exponentially better when played with one or more friends, the lack of people to connect with is very depressing. I would fix this by at the very least allowing the multiplayer servers for games that are also on Steam or GameSpy servers to connect with eachother. This is, however, not an easy fix for Microconsole players, but, once again, more on that later.
OnLive has two methods of playability, the first of course being the PC client. The other way is by ordering the Microconsole, which consists of a very small box that connects to your TV via HDMI or Component and allows you to stream the games to your TV the same way the PC client does. The box has an ethernet port and fiber optic audio port on the back. It comes complete with a controller that resembles a 360 controller in button and trigger/shoulder button layout, but with the sticks and d-pad arranged in the style of a PS3 controller, as well as including playback buttons on the player-facing edge. The controller is wireless, but has to be connected to the box via USB at least once to sync or recharge. The console has the ability to have up to 4 controllers synced at once, much like the PS3 and 360. The gameplay doesn’t change a whole lot between the PC client and the Microconsole, so that’s where the analysis ends I’m afraid.
My main complaint with the Microconsole is that the two LCD displays I have in my home that have HD Component-in aren’t compatible with the Microconsole; You need a 720p compliant or better display in order to see video, which isn’t a problem with other consoles, so why OnLive has to be different is beyond me.
To be perfectly honest, if OnLive included the features that I touched on above, the service would certainly deserve a higher score than what I am going to give it. I hope that the PR reps that I will be sending my review to will take note and send this off to the development team, because I am highly optimistic that this service in the future can be quite awesome. I only hope that more publishers allow OnLive to put more of their games on it. I hope to one day be able to play Crysis 2 on it.
Thank you OnLive for the review opportunity and for sending me a Microconsole, and for allowing me to have unlimited access to the game library.
OnLive has no montly fee (Unless you subscribe to the PlayPack), and has reduced prices for many games. The Microconsole costs $99.99 USD, with optional Component Video Adapters costing $29.99 USD and extra controllers costing $49.99 USD. Games rated E through M.
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