If you would have asked me twelve months ago what I thought about cloud-based gaming, I would have laughed and said that it could never happen. Here I am, less than a year later, ready to eat crow. After spending some quality time with OnLive, I am truly a believer in the technology this company has managed to create. While not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it definitely ranks up there with some of the most impressive advances so far this generation. If other companies can adapt what is here, I can easily see this becoming the future of gaming as we know it.
So what exactly is cloud gaming? Well, think of it like Netflix streaming, except with videogames, and you get the idea. Imagine titles on demand without having to download anything (including patches) to your console, plus no worries of system requirements. Sure, it sounds like a pipe dream, but the guys and gals at OnLive have somehow managed to pull it off with minimal setbacks. It is an impressive piece of technology that is easy to dismiss until you experience it for yourself.
The first thing that I loved about the system is that I could play it anywhere. Being a father, sometimes it is hard to get my gaming on in the living room. My OnLive account can be accessed from my PC as well as the tiny console (more on that in a bit) plugged into my TV and even my iPad. I simply use the same login and load up my dashboard. Setup like most online gaming services, OnLive has a nice set of features and functions right from the menu. You can browse games, your friends list or enter the Arena. The Arena is actually a collection of other users playing games online that you can view, and even comment on. OnLive integrates some cool community features, including the ability to track game time and send clips to your friends and display your skills for others to watch in the arena.
What comes in the box is always important to gamers. When my OnLive kit arrived, I was shocked at how small the box was. Once I opened it up, I was even more surprised to see one of the slickest designs in a while. The actual console is extremely tiny and only houses the essentials including an HDMI output, AC plug, optical out and Ethernet port. On the front of the device is two USB ports for the controllers and it all fits in the palm of your hand. I absolutely loved the design as it was simple and took up such little space that it could sit next to my PS3 in the entertainment center.
The unit outputs video at 1080p and uses a special technology that I won’t even try to understand to compensate for lag and jittery images. It is truly amazing, and it even supports 3D if you have the technology and the games to back it up. This is truly a marvel of modern technology, and I hope that it at least becomes standard for console and PC makers over the years to come.
The controller that comes packed in with the unit will feel very familiar to anyone who has ever used an Xbox 360 pad. The biggest difference is that the OnLive controller feels more flat in certain areas as opposed to the 360’s rounded design. The analog sticks are also placed like the Dual Shock with both in the middle bottom. Everything else feels familiar and the buttons are identical outside of the play and record functionality. As I mentioned you can record brag clips on the fly using the controller, which is definitely cool and light years beyond the inclusion on a per game basis that exists on other home consoles. Another cool feature is that the console will pair with other controllers including Microsoft’s own 360 one granted you have one that works on your PC as well.
This, of course, is the most important aspect of any gaming system, and to be honest one of OnLive’s weakest aspects. The selection of titles is over 100, and there are some great ones on the service including Darksiders, Duke Nukem Forever, Red Faction Armageddon and more, but anyone hoping for brand new releases or certain publishers will be disappointed. Most games let you take a free trial, which is awesome, and they offer great bundles chock full of gaming goodness, but the overall selection will grow thin quickly. I applaud that they are constantly adding more games to the service, and I hope it grows into a massive collection of titles before the end, but I would be lying if I said the selection impressed me.
Setting up the unit was as easy as entering my account details and getting it connected to the Internet. Once you have that squared away, you literally just plug in the controller and start playing. It is obvious that the system as designed with ease of use in mind. I was up and playing BioShock within ten minutes of getting the console out of the box. The controller uses two AA batteries or a charge cable that plugs into the unit via USB, so you are never without power.
Overall, I was highly impressed with the unit and hope that it continues to grow, or perhaps ends up as a piece of tech for the console makers to incorporate in the next generation. The concept is brilliant and almost flawlessly executed. This really is a breakthrough technology that deserves to continue to improve and be implemented into our gaming experiences. I also love the compactness of the design and the ease of use. It is obvious that this thing was focus tested to death, and other console makers should take notice. OnLive may not replace my Xbox 360 right now, but its potential is impossible to ignore.
We were provided an OnLive micro console and account for the purposes of this review.