OnLive – review – Console news

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There’s a school of thought which states that the future of video games lies in the cloud, and the arrival of OnLive – the first credible cloud-based gaming service available to consumers – offers a great opportunity to test such claims.

Head for its website, and you will discover an impressive level of flexibility – once you’ve signed up (for free), you can pay to stream a large library of games to your PC, Mac or, via downloading apps, iOS or Android tablet. But, most impressively, you can buy a micro-console that lets OnLive operate through a bog-standard TV.

The latter setup represents OnLive at its most compelling – on the PC, you can buy boxed copies of most of the games for similar amounts to what OnLive charges (although there’s a PlayPass subscription option, for £6.99 per month, that gets you free access to 100-plus games and discounts on new releases).

It’s true that it gives Mac users access to games about which, hitherto, they’ve only been able to dream – such as Batman: Arkham Asylum, BioShock, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Borderlands – and the same applies to the tablets, although they remain hamstrung by their familiar control-system issues.

But if you fork out £69.99, you get a tiny box roughly the size of two cigarette packets, a controller (which is pretty reminiscent of that of the Xbox 360) and a bunch of cables including, commendably an HDMI.

Plug it into your TV and your broadband router, and you’re taken to a home screen which lets you jump instantly into a library of games which is generally pretty impressive – full titles are mixed up with shorter XBLA/PSN-style games including the likes of Braid – although it does have some conspicuous gaps, such as the complete absence of anything published by Electronic Arts, Activision or, of course, rival console manufacturers Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo.

Nevertheless, there are some absolute gems to be found, and the overwhelming impression is that it would provide the perfect, low-outlay introduction to games for someone who has never owned a console.

It has some tricks up its sleeve, too. You can use it to jump straight into multiplayer games like Homefront, and you can spectate on games being played by anyone on the system. Plus you can record clips of your finest moves, and upload them straight to Facebook.

The enabling technology behind OnLive converts the graphics of games running on the system’s servers to video, which it streams to you without having to go anywhere near a graphics processor. But that strength is also a weakness in one crucial respect: the quality of the visuals it provides is entirely dependent on the speed of your broadband.

Unable to acquire more than 2Mbps bandwidth, we found that visually, it lags way behind the graphics of the current crop of consoles (perhaps approaching the performance of the original Xbox). We reckon it would take about 8Mbps for it to approach the visual polish of the Xbox 360 or PS3.

You often notice a blockiness typical to video-compression and, of course, when you experience broadband slowdown spikes, the graphics become murkier.

That doesn’t necessarily detract too much from your enjoyment of the games: older titles such as Borderlands never looked great anyway, and one aspect of the system that is mightily impressive is the complete absence of any discernible lag in the controls.

If visual aesthetics are a concern, and you don’t have access to the fastest broadband available in this country, OnLive probably isn’t for you.

But if you’re looking to generate a gaming library from scratch, without paying huge amounts of money on a pile of games and a pricey console, plus are happy to forgo the big blockbusters such as Modern Warfare 3, Fifa, Battlefield 3 and their ilk, then OnLive should make you very happy indeed.

And when super-fast broadband becomes widely available, it will become a much more attractive proposition. OnLive isn’t the future yet – but it will be one day.

Rating: 3/5




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Steve Boxer © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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