About the test: The games where mainly played on the 99 dollar Onlive TV box that can be purchased through the company, unless noted otherwise. My internet connection during the play was 15 Mbps and my closest Onlive server was in Washington DC and was tested well North of New York City.
The idea of Onlive is hard to argue, a streaming service akin to Netflix that allows users with barebones computers–even net books— to play some of the most advanced and graphically impressive games out for the PC. When it works well it is almost indistinguishable from the same game on a modern console, only with slight enhanced PC grade graphics. The downside is that when it doesn’t work it feels like any of the games are simply unplayable.
The idea for this test was to grab the service and test it out between games that I knew, some rather well, and compare how they played on a gaming console, a mid-grade PC rig, and Onlive. The result of my experience to this point with the system has been mixed at best, but mainly comes down to three entirely different games that defined the experience.
The first game that I played to test things out was Red Faction Guerilla. On the PC I have sunk a couple dozen hours into the game and know how it feels, so it seemed like it was probably going to be a great testing ground for how the service worked. The first thing that I noticed was that the game looked slightly worse than its counter-part on the console and had a strange pixilation effect when things moved too fast, very much like Netflix does when there isn’t a great connection. Surprisingly, though, this did not affect the control of the game at all. Even if everything was a little muddied the game still controlled like a dream, and oddly the slowdown that would sometimes happen on both the console and PC when a massive building was destroyed was altogether gone as the game held a constant frame count.
The second game that I tested out was Ninja Blade, which my only experience with before Onlive was a short play session right after it came out. The one positive thing that I can say about this is that the controls where still as if I was playing it on a local system. Aside from that everything was terrible. Granted this is a port of a PC game that was in turn a port of a middle of the road console game, and also the PC port of the game had no effort put into it—so it wasn’t started from a good point. The real problem was that the moment that anything happened, at all, the screen became blurry enough to obscure everything on it. At one point even the menus became unreadable. I rebooted several other times to make sure that it wasn’t a network problem and it always seemed to be exactly the same results.
The last test was on Mini Ninjas. Saying that the game was console perfect is an insult; it was visually as good as a high end PC running the game and played as if the disc was sitting inside of my 360. This was again tested more than once to make sure it wasn’t a fluke and that the game would continue at this level which it did.
Other games where tested/played besides the three listed, most of them ended up playing almost exactly the same as Red Faction did with slightly worse than console graphics but wonderful and responsive controls. The two outliers of the experiment seemed to be both Mini Ninjas and Ninja Blade, although it should be noted that almost every game that was tested would consistently return similar results as long as network bandwidth held (the only issue was around 3-5 in the afternoon when school let out). Although the real problem is perfectly expressed with these two games, as the majority of the games on the service must be bought at full retail price, with the fact that there are odd times that certain games don’t seem to stack up with others. This is kind of a massive issue when paying 50 dollars for a game that might not be playable for some odd reason.
The upside to all of this, though, is that there is a monthly program that has dozens of games on it. While not all of the games are wonderful, or not even worth mentioning, there are the random great games on it– like Trine– as well as the fact that the company is constantly adding new games to this plan, Borderlands was added just this week. For the people that do end up taking the plunge and picking up the TV adapter it is also great to note that all game saves are done in the cloud, which means that not only can the game be played anywhere the account is accessed, but the progress made in the game can be continued on the PC if the TV is being used.
While Onlive has been around for a little while it still has some room to grow. In all honesty I can’t see buying a full retail game through the service when there is a slight chance that it would ever play as Ninja Blade. That isn’t to say that it is all a waste, as the 10 dollar a month plan is totally recommendable and almost none of the games on that ever seemed to display the same issues that game did. While the company might be currently experiencing some growing pains it is good to know that there is already a really strong foundation that they are building on, hopefully sometime in the future the service might even be able to take over home consoles.