OnLive Gaming for iPad review

Streaming video game service OnLive has introduced an array of popular video games formatted for smartphones and tablets – including iOS devices. And we’re not just talking Angry Birds, puzzlers and social games. These are top-tier titles like Batman: Arkham City, LA Noire and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. The company launched a version of its client software that supports tablet game play, bringing to mobile devices high-end games that iOS hasn’t seen before.

OnLive isn’t a gaming console in its own right­. It’s actually a streaming service. Games run on OnLive’s remote servers and are streamed to the company’s client software, which runs on your computer, through your TV (powered by the OnLive micro-console), and now your iPad or iPhone – assuming the app gets approved, a process that has been dragging on a little. We tested out a demo version, and gathered our thoughts ahead of the launch.

OnLive’s video compression technology greatly minimalises streaming lag, making the delay unnoticeable to players and ensuring that this doesn’t affect gameplay. Signup is free, and most games have free demos available for subscribers to try out before deciding to rent or buy the title.

Users have a few purchasing options. Complete games range from £1.99 to £44.99, or you can opt for a 3- or 5-day game rental. OnLive also offers a Play Pack option for £6.99 per month, which includes unlimited play of more than 100 games. (Many games can only be enjoyed in multiplayer mode through Play Pack.)

If you purchase or rent a game, it’s available to play on all platforms, and because game-saves are stored in the cloud, you can pick up where you left off on any OnLive-powered device. You could, say, play a game on your iPad during your morning bus ride to work, continue playing on your computer during your lunch break, then finish up when you get home on your OnLive micro-console.

Previously, OnLive offered a viewer app available for the iPad, where you can access the OnLive Arena and watch live gameplay from other players, watch Brag Clips of games recorded by others, and access the social aspects of OnLive like sending messages and adding friends. But now OnLive subscribers can actually play games with the new software and still have access to all previous app features. There are some Wi-Fi system requirements: games are playable with as low as 1Mbps, but 2-3Mbps is recommended to get the full HD experience. 5GHz-only Wi-Fi yields best results, but 2.4GHz works fine. You can play via 4G connectivity on certain devices (such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab), but you must be on Wi-Fi to play on iOS.

The mobile software includes three different types of game formats. The first and most impressive of the bunch are the native touch games that support iOS Multi-Touch functions. Players move through games by dragging characters to move them, tapping objects to pick them up, and using pinch and zoom controls. These touch features are still a little buggy; we often had to repeatedly jab the screen to get a game response and apply more pressure than we usually do when using our iPad. Only five game titles have been programmed for Multi-Touch support, including LA Noire and indie favourite Defense Grid Gold.
About 20 more titles have been formatted with a touch overlay. Some games have an Emulated Mouse overlay, while others have a virtual gamepad (VPad) overlay – a series of touch-enabled buttons and controls that emulate the OnLive wireless controller. Hold your iPad or iPhone like a controller, and use your thumbs to hit the buttons. While both overlay styles work fairly well, the VPad overlay can be a little counter-intuitive. We kept instinctively tapping the New Game button on the menu screen of each game, before we remembered to use the touch cursor and A/B buttons. Touch-overlay games include Lego Harry Potter and Batman, Virtua Tennis 2009, and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.
The remaining games in the mobile library are those that require an OnLive controller to play. This gamepad connects to your iOS device via Bluetooth, and functions as if you were playing through a standard console. We recommend an iPad stand if you’re using the controller – prolonged gameplay is awkward and uncomfortable if your device isn’t propped up on something. Batman: Arkham City, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and 150 other games are available for mobile play with the added controller. The £39.99 universal OnLive wireless controller can be purchased through OnLive’s website, and can be paired with your micro-console, TV and mobile device.
Although the games available will initially be limited, OnLive president and CEO Steve Perlman has stressed that many games developers are currently working to provide more native touch and touch-overlay titles for mobile use. To use the new OnLive app, you must sign up for a free OnLive account. The release of individual games is up to the game developers, so expect to see more iPad and iPhone-friendly games rolling out as the app beds in.

OUR VERDICT

This is a good service, and we love the fact that high-tier games are being brought to the iPad (but not iPod touch and iPhone, sadly). The social networking and multi-player options are nice too. The service works well with native touch games, but can be a bit more clunky when using the VPad virtual gamepad overlay, As more games are relased for the OnLive app, the play should smooth out, and the gamer’s dream of never having to stop playing, wherever you are, could become a reality.

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