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Tarvu avatar 10:31 PM on 10.10.2011
Tarviews: Onlive (and) kicking



It's been two years since the announcement of Onlive, and late in September they rolled the service out to the UK with a heavy presence at the Eurogamer Expo and an introductory offer of only paying 1 (buck fiddy) for your first game. Since I'm on a low budget right now and have too much spare time on my hands I purchased Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine on the system, or should I say I purchased the right to stream it. The idea of streaming current generation games has been something I have considered current broadband standards simply not good enough for and with this venture into new territory I planned to develop a more solid feel for it.

Since I wasn't dedicated enough to be one of the thousands who queued for hours to pick up an Onlive microconsole on the Eurogamer Expo showroom floor, I played the game on my PC which is a horrifically noisy and rapidly degenerating beast of a machine running 32 bit Windows 7 Home Premium with an AMD Phenom II dual core 3.00 GHz processor and a second hand ATI Radeon HD 4800 series graphics card. But then of course that should not factor hugely in the experience. My internet connection is with UK ISP TalkTalk, I do not know the speeds we should be getting but speedtest.net can tell me what we are getting, which is a downstream connection peaking at just over 12 Mbps and around 0.8 Mbps upstream, with a ping of ~50ms to servers in London.


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Before buying the game, I used most of the trial time I had for the game in a preliminary test. Trial time with Onlive games is spent playing the full version of the game, I assume because it's easier to stream it to you than to host a demo alongside the full game. The graphics were neither unplayable nor perfect, and the game responded well. I used an Xbox 360 wireless pad to play the game, rather than learn different controls to what I had played of the demo on Xbox 360. In the entire time playing the trial I only had one momentary issue which was caused by Skype crashing and taking Windows explorer down with it. At least one person spectated my session, every game you or anybody else plays on the service can be found on the seemingly infinite wall of screens in the Arena part of the Onlive dashboard. I find this feature quite damn impressive myself and you can choose to talk to the player and fellow spectators with the voice chat (currently in beta).


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As I said previously, the game is not pretty within the confines of being playable, but at times there were graphical glitches when quickly turning around. The service itself never taxed my connection, my download rate never exceeding 800 KB/s and sitting under 400 KB/s when not actively playing a game, upload fluctuating and generally not exceeding 25 KB/s. Noticeability of latency issues varied, infrequently being almost nonexistent, but when playing with a controller were hard to detect overall. I was able to play on the normal difficulty as proficiently as I had done on the Xbox 360. One last thing I'd like to comment is one property of the Onlive service on PC, being able to easily set the window to any desired size whilst locking aspect ratio, since I often have a sea of windows and I am content to play games in the corner of my screen.


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An interesting thing to note is the total lack of multiplayer for this game, with the implication that it is only not available yet. The game retails for 35 on the service, which, like most games on there, is similar or an exact parallel to the pricing on services such as Steam. I find paying the same price to only stream a game rather than play it in better quality locally to be fitting for a rather niche audience, if any audience at all. The saving grace is that many games on the service can have passes bought for them that last usually 3 or 5 days for under a fiver, and over a hundred games on the service are fully accessible as part of a 7 per month deal that also grants a 30% cost reduction on everything else on the service.


To conclude, Onlive functions well enough to play games. Something not relying on reactions or brilliant graphics would likely be perfect for the service. It's definitely worth checking out in this country with the introductory offer and so you can oggle the games of complete strangers playing BioShock and Batman: Arkham Asylum. Most people out there, especially those who would call themselves PC gamers, are likely going to want to ignore this for now since installing their games and playing them in beautiful quality is their bag. Those who can snag a microconsole however would likely be pleasantly surprised by what the little box can do for them, just don't go playing it on the largest TV you can find. Last of all, playing a game such as Space Marine can use in the region of 2GB of downstream data per hour of play, so it is not a better option than download services for those on a download limit.

 
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