Onlive might just be the best thing to happen to mobile gaming in a long time. When the service was first announced, it was met with a whole heap of scorn; a gaming service that streamed live video and sound of a game you were playing on a server thousands of miles away? It will never be playable, the lag will be atrocious, etc etc.
Well, now Onlive is here, and here in force and, while it may not have silenced the critics totally, it has at least kept them down to a low murmuring. To those who have no idea what game streaming is, let me explain a little bit further. With Onlive, you play games that are physically on a computer far away. So, you have the controller in your hands, but all the actions you perform on it are sent over the Internet to the server or PC that is running the game, and this PC then sends the video and audio of what is happening to your own screen in near real time.
The beauty of this system is that all you need is a controller, a screen and basic PC with an Internet connection, you don’t need a fast PC or games console to play these kind of games on Onlive. There is also an Onlive console, a very cheap bit of kit that plugs into your TV, and now a host of mobile apps. The downside? Well it means your entire gaming experience is dependant on network conditions, and problems can come from your own home setup, your actual broadband speed and network status, and of course the Onlive servers and systems. Not to mention a couple of thousands miles of network cables which, depending on your location could be running for hundreds of miles undersea.
So, you can see there are many potential problems, but also some massive benefits.
The Onlive app itself looks very much like the desktop version, with some features such as Facebook setup and billing info having to be dealt with on the main Website. You can make friends, view the actual game they are playing live, watch others playing in the arena, and boo and cheer players you are watching, as well as make some brag clips to show to the world.
You can also browse the marketplace, where you will find all the games. Most of the games have 30 minute trials available, and I was able to restart these 30 minute slices as many times as I wanted, although whether you are actually supposed to get unlimited trials for each game or if there is a bug I don’t know. You really have three choices when purchasing games. You can rent them for different time periods, buy the full game at top price, or purchase a Playpack bundle for a low monthly price that gives you unlimited access to over 130 of Onlive’s games.
The video quality can vary. At it’s best it looks like a medium resolution version of the game as you would expect, but at its worst it is comparable to a fairly decent YouTube video. In my experience the picture tended to be pretty good, and it all looks much better playing on a mobile device, although this did make some text difficult to make out.
All the screenshots on this page were taken from my Xperia Play.
All the games are PC versions, so Onlive have adjusted some of them to work well on a touchscreen Android device, and some work better than others. Kingdom for Keflings works great, but Puzzle Quest is an exercise in frustration. Some of the more complex games, like Darksiders and Virtua Tennis 2009 have also had touch controls mapped, and they actually work really well. It did take me a long time to get used to the myriad of virtual buttons on Darksiders, but I found that taking a slower approach to the game helped.
There are only 23 games currently enabled for touch screen, so if you do have an Android with a touchscreen, then I would only recommend Onlive if you plan on using it alongside either the PC/Mac or console version of the service. There just isn’t enough touchscreen content there yet to justify a purchase. You can always use either an official Onlive controller or compatible Blue-tooth pad, which I imagine would work particularly well with a big tablet.
Performance is an issue on mobile, as you have to use WiFi. Onlive is usually only really happy with an Ethernet connection straight into a router, and I have to say that performance does suffer a bit. It can run really well for hours but then just stop working completely, stuttering very badly to an unplayable level. Even the smallest bit of lag hurts games like Dirt 3, so you should bear this in mind. Onlive recommend a 4 Meg connection but I wouldn’t use this unless I had at least 8 Meg.
The great thing about playing Onlive on Xperia Play is that Onlive have now updated all their gamepad compatible games to work perfectly with the Play. So, yes you are going to get to play Batman: Arkham City, Unreal Tournament 3, Aliens vs. Predator, Homefront and LA Noire on your humble phone and have them play exactly as they do on the big consoles. I have to say, this is as awesome as it sounds, and Unreal Tournament 3 is particularly well suited to the touchpads on the Play.
Batman and Darksiders also work well, but games like Homefront and Battle:Los Angeles that require real precise aiming, are more difficult to use. I can also confirm that many of these games are fully playable online, so 32 player UT3 deathmatches are a go.
The touchpads and all the buttons are supported, and the volume controls act as the missing LB and RB buttons. I would like the option of having the left and right hand sides of the touch screen as LB and RB respectively, as having to come out of the app to turn the volume up and down can be annoying(Update: You can just close the slider to enable the volume buttons again, thanks to Scott MacGillivray from the comments for the info!).
Overall, I really like Onlive. A great idea is executed well, and if you have an Xperia Play then this is pretty much an essential download, and I would recommend the Playpack bundle as a great starting point. If you have a touchscreen only Android phone, then I would only recommend it at the moment if you plan on using it on other formats or have access to the correct controller.
A fantastic service, lets hope it continues to improve.