Unless you’ve had your head underground, underwater or under wraps for the past few weeks you’ll have probably noticed the UK launch of OnLive, a streaming game service offering you the chance to play a selection of games without having to install or download anything. By doing all of the leg work on a computer elsewhere in the country and streaming the results to you, there’s little need for fancy hardware, which obviously makes things a fair bit cheaper. We’ve been playing around with the service both on a desktop PC and using the MicroConsole itself, and even now the results are bafflingly impressive.
Incidentally if you’re using OnLive and fancy adding us to your friends list then our Gamertag is, somewhat surprisingly, GamingReview.
Signing up to OnLive is simple, and can be done on the website or through the system itself. Whether you log in using the MicroConsole or the client, the experience is the same and that’s what we’ll focus on for a moment. Having logged in you’re presented with a well designed and easy to navigate interface giving you easy access to your profile, games, friends and other options, with a big OnLive logo in the middle to access the various options available to you. Playing a game is as easy as viewing your list of games (or finding a new one in the Marketplace) and hitting “Play” – within seconds the game fires up and you’re playing. The full game. Just like that. You even get a demo of most games which gives you a set time to try the full game. Now, it’s worth noting that a wireless connection isn’t the most stable way to hook up to the Interweb, so if that’s how you roll then don’t expect miracles. That said, however, I had a fair bit of gaming using my wireless desktop without too much trouble. The MicroConsole doesn’t let you use a wireless connection, so there’s no issue there. Any saved games that you save also get stored in the cloud, so if you play for a while on your PC then switch to your MicroConsole you can pick up where you left off. Ace.
You can also play online with full voice chat, which worked great when I tried it on Homefront and DiRT3. There are OnLive-only servers which is to be expected but everything seemed perfectly responsive and there was no lag to speak of. Given that the game connections are done using the OnLive bandwidth the lack of lag is a welcome assurance to have and isn’t down to the connection of the players themselves, something that most gamers will love.
You can also capture Brag Clips, whereby the 20 seconds or so before you press the button are captured as a video file which you can share with your friends, send to Facebook or just leave for others to watch in the Brag Clips gallery, another main menu option. But obviously the important thing is the gameplay experience, which is bewilderingly brilliant. Visually everything depends on your connection speed, and you shouldn’t expect something on par with a 360 or PS3, but you know what? It’s not a million miles off. Not only that, but there’s no discernible lag either, which considering you’re inputting the controls, which are sent to the host computer, processed then sent back to you, that’s pretty impressive. OnLive have done a great job with the general service you get, and add in a fully integrated friends system with messaging, sending Brag Clips and a configurable notification system and you’ve got something very slick indeed. Early connection issues also seem to have been ironed out as well, and over the past few weeks we’ve only had one problem of not being able to connect, which was fine 5 minutes later.
When our console turned up, I was a bit confused. It’s tiny, so much so that I thought something was missing. It sits comfortably in one hand, and yet has all the technology crammed inside it to offer a network port (quite important when you think about it) an HDMI connection, optical sound for those 5.1 surround sound games, a mini-USB connection and a power port. Seeing really is believing, and if you like your gaming area to be tidy it’ll sit neatly behind your TV without being seen. The first time we powered up there was a small update (which turned out to be for the controller) but everything seems to work so well there’s little need for any big changes. The games themselves are updated elsewhere so there’s no need to worry about updates, patches and so on. The console itself is £70, which is obviously a good chunk cheaper than a PS3 or 360.
Now then. The controller is an odd one. Taking cues from both the XBox360 controller and the Dual Shock 3, it’s very comfortable in the hands, lending its shape more to the 360 pad. There are also four shoulder buttons that are more like the 360 controller, with the rear of the buttons acting as triggers, accelerators and so on (whereas the DS3 seems to change depending on the game type). There’s a good healthy dose of rumble in there too, and fresh from the PS3 side of the fence the two analogue sticks are both in the centre, with concave ends giving you less finger slippage.
Along the bottom is a set of buttons letting you control media playback as well as record a Brag Clip easily, and there’s a button in the middle which opens the in-game OnLive menu, much the same as your choice of “normal” console would. It’s an odd thing really in that PS3 owners will find the shoulder buttons tricky to get the hang of, and 360 owners might not like the dual stick positions, but it’s actually a pretty good controller and certainly fits the bill for most games available so far. I’m a fan.
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