OnLive Service Overview: So How Is It Doing?

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It was just over a year ago that the OnLive Games service finally launched in the United States, allowing players to check out their favorite games either on a MicroConsole (without the need of game discs – it’s a cloud gaming series) or on their computers (PC and Mac are both supported). The service now has over 100 games to choose from, with several more on the way from the likes of THQ, Square Enix, and other studios. Now that we’ve had the service for over a year, how does it fare?

Well, there are several things we need to look at. Let’s break it down, piece by piece.

Performance

For the most part, the OnLive Games service has performed admirably. There have been times where the games have had graphical hitches, mainly Duke Nukem Forever shortly following its launch and some titles in the PlayPass package (offering unlimited selections for play, at around $10 a month), but overall, this cloud-based service hasn’t let us down yet. Games load in a matter of seconds, and they perform just about the same as they would on a console. The only concern is with the MicroConsole. Although it’s a tough little mother, it sure does get warm in a hurry – even when it’s turned off. On the bright side, it doesn’t have much of an overheating risk as the older Xbox 360 models.


Between devices, we found no flaws in loading up our games. On our PC, all of the games performed up to speed, both general platform (Split/Second, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.) and computer exclusive (AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin). The MicroConsole has kept suit, though it is mildly disappointing that some games won’t work without a keyboard and a mouse plugged into it. (This includes F.E.A.R. 2, which is mind-boggling, since F.E.3.R. works just fine with the regular controller.) Perhaps this is something OnLive should address with future patches.

Any general hitches that we did run into with new releases, mainly Homefront and Duke Nukem, were fixed via patches, which didn’t take long to process at all. They took only a few seconds to upload and we were on our way to gaming again.

Overall, it’s not quite perfect, but for a cloud-based gaming package, OnLive is living up to its promise of high-end gaming without the need of disc media.

Game Controller

We’re speaking mainly about the wireless controller that was included with the OnLive MicroConsole, which looks like a hybrid between a PS3 pad and an Xbox 360 controller, but with extra buttons for recording/playback functionality. As far as its performance goes, it’s okay, but it feels a bit plasticky. The analog sticks, for instance, can wear down on your thumbs over time, and the controllers feel slightly awkward being indented way out, rather than something comfortable along the lines of the Xbox 360 pad. What we do like, though, are the extra functions, such as being able to record boasting clips with a press of a button, rather than needing to fumble around with a remote or an extra recording device. Setting up these clips to show to your friends is relatively easy – and will assist you in getting some cred.


A new arcade-style controller wouldn’t be a bad idea, something along the lines of what Microsoft did for its original Xbox pad. OnLive should definitely consider it with future MicroConsole packagings. It would definitely sell units a little better.

Interface

OnLive’s interface remains one of the best we could ask for in a video game service. Being able to head into the Arena and watch people as they play games in real time is absolutely fantastic; you can check on their progress and even provide them with a thumbs up for encouragement, should you feel they deserve it. There are literally hundreds of players on the service, so there’s no shortage of stuff to watch and get into when you’re not playing yourself.


We just wish it was easier to track down friends and invite them to games. We’ve had the service for a year; so far, we’ve only found eight players who we know personally. OnLive would be wise to add some more user-matching functionality in order to get people connected better. This is definitely a great community to do it in – and it’d be nice to run into friends outside of hosted events and tournaments.

Speaking of which, the Frag Doll night that happened a week and a half ago was a complete blast. Kudos to those lovely Dolls and Cadettes that took part, as well as Ubisoft and OnLive. Let’s get another one going when Rayman Origins eventually hits the service.

Games

Now let’s get to what’s really important on the OnLive service – the games.

Regarding the monthly PlayPass service, OnLive has done a solid job getting together some good packages each month. Along with familiar hits like Homefront and the better part of F.E.3.R. (that’d be the multiplayer), it also provides several heralded classics that we haven’t played in ages. Advent Rising, we missed you like a bandit. For that matter, having Ghostbusters: The Video Game around isn’t too shabby either, but we could do without the more forgetful fare, like the Night At the Museum game (really?). Oh, and more Puzzle Quest, please.

Now, as far as the main offerings go, there are only a few studios supporting full day-and-date releases, and some of them have fallen behind. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, for instance, just debuted on the service, months after the release of the On Stranger Tides film – better late than never.


There are several great games to choose from here, including Split/Second, Osmos, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Red Faction Armageddon (say what you want, but it’s FUN), and a number of others. That said, it’s obvious that a few of the “big dogs” are sorely missing here. EA is nowhere to be found (they’re sticking to their Origin service – and hammering Steam in the process); Sega’s kind of wavered off after some initial releases; and there’s no sign of Namco Bandai or Bethesda.

What OnLive needs to do is coax its current partners to release more games for the service. Have THQ bump up the Saints Row games in anticipation of the upcoming release of Saints Row The Third. Call upon Ubisoft to re-release Rayman while we patiently await Origins. Square Enix is a partner, so why not talk to them about re-releasing some of their classic RPG’s, like Xenogears, Chrono Trigger, or something in the Final Fantasy line-up? Clearly, that would get more interest in the service going – and it’d offer a nice change of pace from the PC-exclusive role-playing/strategy games that we have floods of.

What’s more, it should talk to more partners about joining up. We know Capcom will soon be entering the picture with Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (which, in turn, could also lead to an optional outlet of arcade favorites), but we need to get Namco, Atari (especially with The Witcher 2), and other partners to see that OnLive has something to offer. Reach out to the community, just as you’ve reached out to your users. Interest is sure to peak.

Overall, the games that are here aren’t too bad at all, and the fact that OnLive holds plenty of sales to build your library is a nice touch. We recently snagged Darksiders for the bargain price of $5, and Splinter Cell: Conviction goes for roughly $6. There’s plenty of deals, not to mention the PlayPass in itself. Definitely shop around.

Overall

Despite some speed bumps in performance and some big third-party partners that haven’t taken the leap yet, the OnLive service has performed significantly well over the past year, and things are only bound to get better from here. Several big name releases are already being pushed for day-and-date release – Driver: San Francisco, Warhammer: Space Marine, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The services are likely to expand even further when OnLive introduces its full mobile app for iPad, iPhone, and other devices later this year. If you haven’t checked it out yet, now’s the time. There’s something for everyone’s price range, and the fact you can check out most of it without the need of additional equipment (save for a cheap Microconsole) is a nice touch. Cloud away!

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Robert Workman
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