Cloud gaming looks set to be the future whether you like it or not, and while streaming service OnLive has been around for a little while now, it’s only now that I’ve been blessed with an internet connection that doesn’t cry when downloading a webpage. For the last two months a little black box has been sitting underneath my television set delivering big name games right to my TV without me having to put a disk in a drive or download a gosh-darn thing.
I couldn’t even put a disc into the console if I wanted to. The rather un-inventively named OnLive MicroConsole TV Adaptor doesn’t even feature a disc drive for you to stuff, and because of the complete lack of moving parts – it doesn’t even need a hard drive – it’s absolutely tiny. Feeling about as big and as heavy as two iPhones taped together, although maybe still a little thicker, this tiny baby is a solid piece of aesthetic design. It’s black glossy exterior with tapered edges and a pleasingly symmetrical front makes its unobtrusive presence in the living room seem even better when you do notice it.
The MicroConsole comes in a rather stylish, almost carbon fiber, looking box. Its design shows that OnLive have really taken aesthetics into mind with this product, even the controller – which resembles an Xbox 360 pad in build quality and in its general layout – although the d-pad has more in common with Sony’s controller. Setting it up is a breeze too, with the only caveat stopping the design from being utterly genius is the need for an ethernet connection to connect the device to the internet. This decision is clearly down to a wired connection being faster and more reliable than a Wi-Fi one, however it means I’ve had a very long ethernet cable trailing through my house for the last two months – something that really isn’t very practical.
Once you delve into the secrets the black box holds, or at least plug it in and get going, OnLive is a rather impressive piece of kit. While it’s currently available on tablet devices and computers, having it right in the centre of your living room is very handy, as sitting down to enjoy a game with a hot laptop on your legs or sitting at a desk for hours just really isn’t as relaxing as slobbing it on the sofa with a bag of Doritos and a pot of salsa.
Thanks to OnLive being entirely streamed content, the visuals of a game are always the best they can be thanks to the servers running them, and as OnLive are responsible for upgrading that you’ll always be running the latest hardware. I sat through some Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dirt 3, Driver: San Francisco and some Batman: Arkham Asylum and every title was pretty damn impressive to look at and play. Comparing them to the console versions I’ve played, they stack up quite well with image quality only dipping when my connection slowed slightly due to others using it. At no point was there any lag, tearing or dropping of my connection. For a moment I was genuinely sold on cloud gaming and the service OnLive provides, the future was inside that little black box, however these feelings didn’t last too long.
Looking through what you get on OnLive, and the prices you’ll be paying, it’s quite hard to decide if it’s really worth making the jump to game streaming. An attractive PlayPack subscription service is certainly tempting as it offers up 200 games for you to play, as well as offering discounts on many titles across the service too – but many eligible games are rather old and for any serious gamer the PlayPack is just not worth the time and money – that is unless you want to widen your collection of games you’ll never play. The services ‘latest releases’ are games that have already been on the market for a fair while, and any self-professed gamer would have already snapped up. When titles hit the service from day one, then it’ll be worth the time of day.
OnLive also brings in a raft of social features such as Friends Lists, Spectators section, and ‘Brag Clips’ – user recorded videos of their in game actions. While these all sound like pretty good community features, they just don’t quite cut the mustard as many of the spectator sessions are dull play throughs of older games with relatively inept players pissing about. What the service needs here is a dedicated account for showcasing new content and titles, or providing walkthroughs for others who may be stuck. Friends lists also are largely unimportant as it’s yet another list you need to fill if you want to enjoy any online modes, but it’s unlikely that you’ll have any real-life friends who also own an OnLive account or system – and who will be online at the same time.
Ultimately, the OnLive MicroConsole’s biggest problem is itself. The free to download and install OnLive Desktop version is actually a much more attractive proposition as it means you can pick up and play some classic things here and there, or demo some games you fancy. The MicroConsole on the other hand means that it actually has to compete for your attention against your PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 – something it really can’t do. Why would you wait an extra month or so for a title you really want when you could just pick it up for a console you already own? And because you either bought a physical copy of the game or downloaded it to your hard drive, it means you wont have to endure that ghastly wire across your home or have a continually active internet connection just to play your games.
It seems that the MicroConsole is really better suited to those who want to play casually instead of seriously, yet for the price is it really something a casual player would want? OnLive needs bigger games sooner, it needs a deeper community infrastructure, and ultimately it needs to ditch that wire and deliver itself as a more attractive package. The future may be in cloud gaming, but it isn’t ready quite yet.
Audio/Visual: 4/5 - Visual quality changes from game to game, and really can’t be judged, however it was nearly always a smooth picture and fantastically sharp and responsive during our play test.
Gameplay: 3/5 - Ok, this is actually more how easy it is to use, and it’s really pretty painless and simple. The menus however are a bit heavy, and it’s not as attractive as just logging on and pressing a button to get to a game, but still it’s not bad.
Innovation: 3/5 - This is really where OnLive should really excel. It offers some grand ideas, but doesn’t follow through on them like you’d want it to. With more refinement though it could be killer.
Value: 3/5 – If you pick up the MicroConsole it’ll set you back £70, which isn’t bad for a console, but then you’ll be paying on top for a subscription and to purchase games that aren’t exactly the newest around. The desktop version however is a much more attractive prospect due to being free. PlayPack also provides you with plenty to play if you’re not bothered by the latest titles.
Final Score: 3/5