E3 2011 – Hands-on Playing OnLive on the iPad
Ever since I first started up with the service back in March with the release of Homefront, I’ve become a bigger and bigger fan of OnLive. Having only recently bought a PC that can handle basic functions like word processing at the same time as web browsing, it has been nice to have a service that skips over the need to worry about what kind of hardware you’re packing and just bring the games. OnLive just streams PC games straight to your system over the Internet, with no need for extra special hardware.
Plus they always have pretty nice deals.
But the service seriously wowed me during E3. I moseyed over to the OnLive booth on the show floor because I’d heard that the service’s tablet app was being shown off, and that it was capable of magic. Turns out, both were true.
OnLive currently has an iPad and Android tablet app called the OnLive Viewer, which allows users with a free OnLive account to spectate on other people’s games. It’s an interesting service and allows some tapping into friends lists and other such features, but it’s not especially useful. And it was really only a precursor to the main event: an OnLive app that allows players to use the full service on their tablets.
It’s hard for me to express the gravity of this situation. The iPad 2, for example, is a cool little device and a snazzy gaming machine. It has HDMI output (over the air with the upcoming iOS 5), a dual-core processor, and most of the features we’re seeing in the upcoming Playstation Vita, like an internal gyroscope, 3G access and touch controls. It’s also a highly portable device with a long-lasting battery and a screen small enough to remain portable but large enough to actually enjoy content.
So OnLive’s move — bringing its streaming PC gaming service to the iPad, as well as Android tablets — is simply brilliant. But here’s the real kicker: It actually works. And it’s kind of stunning to be able to play a full PC title over the Internet on the iPad, without the need for any further technology.
OnLive was showing off its OnLive Player app on the show floor, and I got a few minutes with it on the iPad. The company will be debuting a universal bluetooth controller not unlike the gamepad that comes with its micro console sometime this year (alongside the app, likely, which is also due this year), which will make playing a snap. All you’ll need is something to prop up the screen with and you’re in business.
The controller isn’t fully necessary, but playing without it isn’t anywhere near the ideal conditions for gaming. Still, OnLive provides virtual controls like those seen in plenty of iPad games already available in the iTunes App Store. It overlays transparent control sticks, face buttons and other controls over the screen. There’s also a touch control mode — which is basically the iPad’s inherent swipe-type controls — and a virtual keyboard for interacting with friends.
When I played with the app, it was on Red Faction: Guerrilla, and the streaming was pretty solid. OnLive undoubtedly brought their own Internet capabilities to E3 with them, since whatever Internet coverage was available in the Los Angeles Convention Center was miserable, and there were a few hiccups with the connection. But for the most part, the app ran just fine, even as I started wandering around Mars, smashing things with my sledgehammer.
OnLive didn’t have their universal gamepad handy when I played, so I was forced to use the virtual controls, which are spotty at best. It’s not that the controls aren’t particularly good, because they work just fine. The trouble is that it’s hard to play with a flat, square piece of glass that spreads the controls out over a larger space than a regular gamepad. It works, it just doesn’t work well, because the buttons are hard to reach and tough to keep straight.
But the overall point is that OnLive on the iPad works exceedingly well. Better than it should, by rights, and well enough to get me extremely excited about the possibilities. It also makes me want to own an iPad, because for all the cool things it can already do, it can also play real live video games just about anywhere. And OnLive is also bringing the app to Google’s Android platform, as well: we’ve already seen it on the HTC Flyer.
I can’t see not grabbing a tablet when it has the capability of playing full-on hardcore PC games with a full controller and even outputting everything to a TV without wires (in addition to capabilities like web browsing, Netflix and Hulu and other handy functions). It’s hard to come up with a cooler application for the technology, and the possibilities for portability and travel are kind of amazing. If you can’t tell, I’m very excited about what OnLive has in store.