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OnLive Review (current version)

Thought I’d write out a mini-review, if for no other reason than that I can refer to it later when deciding to continue using the service or not (I got invited to be a part of the “Founding Members” program where I got a year of basic service free; not free games, mind you, just the basic service).  You want to know the gist of the review?  It doesn’t really work.  Read on for more.

OnLive, for those of you who don’t know, is a new cloud-based gaming service.  Basically the games run on a remote server with supposedly stellar hardware, your keyboard and mouse input passes back and forth from the client to the server, and you are in essence watching a video of yourself playing the game.  For those who can remember such things, it’s like using a dumb terminal connected to a mainframe, i.e. you type and see things locally but all the processing is done remotely.

Why did they do it, and what are the benefits?  Two words: gaming anywhere.  It doesn’t matter if you are using a Mac, a PC, a TV, a iPad, a iPhone, or even one of those little mini computers.  Since all the processing is done remotely, all you have to have is a device capable of video output, some form of input (keyboard/mouse/etc), and a internet connection.  And since your game is on the cloud there’s no physical media to have to keep track of, and if you want to start a game at home and continue it elsewhere you can, all save files intact.  So to recap, no high-end PC needed to play games, play them anywhere, on virtually anything.

That’s the theory at least.  And at trade shows like E3 the staff at IGN were impressed.  But how does it fare in the real world?  As I said above, not well.  The main issues are:

  1. Lack of content.  I looked at the games, and many I thought would be there are missing.  One of the key missing games is Crysis, a reason to use OnLive in and of itself.  That game requires one hell of a rig to play it (properly) and the game was featured using the OnLive service at E3.  But now it’s gone.  And of the games that are there (maybe 20 or so?) none of them stuck me as high powered PC only games, i.e. reasons to play them via OnLive rather than via a console like the XBox 360.
  2. Lack of demos or full games.  Some of the games that were available are only playable as a demo, i.e. I can’t even buy the full game.  Some of the others are only available as a full game, i.e. no demo to try it out first.  Being able to play the demo is nice, but what happens if I want the full game?  And it’s a rare game indeed that I’ll pay full price for without trying it first (at least at the $40-$50 level).
  3. Long term availability of purchased games.  When I glanced at a game that I might be interested in, it said that the game would be available for me to play till sometime in 2013.  That’s not cool with me.  If I buy a game, I bought it.  It’s mine indefinitely.  And don’t try to tell me that I won’t want to play it.  I still play games that are several years old, some going back 15 or more years.
  4. Graphics.  For games that are supposed to be running on high-end machines, the video compression makes them look just so-so.  I don’t care if they are running the PC version of a game which has better graphics than the console counterpart.  If you compress the video coming to me too much, it looks far worse than the console counterpart.
  5. Lag.  I wondered about it, and it’s true.  In every game I’ve played using the service, there’s been some nasty lag, even when I got on a pure gigabit connection.  For some games it was just annoying, then I played Dirt 2, a fast racing game.  It sucked.  Badly.  I kept crashing into wall after wall because my keyboard input wasn’t going through fast enough, and I was on the easiest mode the game had.  For other games I experienced similar things.  That’s just not going to work.  For a RPG, maybe, but racing and shooter games just won’t work as the service is now.

Perhaps I’ll come back later and things will be better.  I hope so.  I do have a year’s worth of service already paid for, so I’ll keep a eye on it (if nothing else so I can cancel it before it auto-renews or something).  But as it is now I won’t be using the service for a long time to come.