What is OnLive? Well it’s a Cloud Gaming platform. In its simplest terms that means it enables you to play decent titles regardless of your actual hardware as all the heavy lifting is done in a data centre and the resulting gameplay is streamed to you. Think of it as a Netflix for video games (I hate the old “It’s a Netflix for X” style statements, but it really is accurate here), obviously as the heavy lifting is done elsewhere this opens up our shiny Android devices to a world of titles we wouldn’t usually have.
The technology behind OnLive is far cleverer than just your typical remote desktop session and surpasses even the fancy things you might be able to accomplish should you happen to have the exact hardware and software required to use Splashtop THD to its full potential. I could probably fill this entire article with technobabble around custom encoding hardware, latency reduction methods and ways of handling input lag; instead however I’ll just say that honestly it works, it works bloody well and to the point where I’ve seen people convinced that it’s either an elaborate hoax or some kind of technological voodoo. Rather than bore you to death with how it works though I’m sure you are much more interested in what YOU could do with it.
Once you’ve installed the OnLive App, created an account and signed in you’ll be presented with a menu enabling you to check out the different aspects of OnLive. For now we’ll just focus on the ones directly related to playing games.
If you head to the “Marketplace,” OnLive is clever enough to realize that you’re using an Android device and as such you’ll notice that the first section in the marketplace is dedicated to touch enabled games. OnLive have been feverishly working at creating custom touch overlays for several popular titles, which at present include titles such as Dirt 3, Darksiders and a handful of the Lego games. These overlays are pretty impressive and rather than just acting as a virtual gamepad you’ll notice that they’ve tried to make them as relevant to the title as possible. You’ll see in this screenshot for example that Dirt 3 features a slider for acceleration. At the time of writing there are in excess of 20 titles with custom touch overlays and many more to come.
In addition to the games with a touch overlay, Rockstar Games recently released a special OnLive exclusive version of LA Noire which features a totally overhauled UI designed expressly for touch. This is hopefully a sign of things to come and OnLive will soon be home to even more exclusive versions of titles rebuilt with touch in mind. I’ve probably plowed in excess of 15 hours so far into solving cases in LA Noire via my tablet and not only have I loved every minute of it, I’ve attracted the ire of many console fanboys which is always fun!
If you’re tempted to check out any of these touch enabled games you’ll notice that almost all of them offer the ability to enjoy a 30 minute free trial enabling you to test out for yourself just how the games work without stumping up any cash. Yup, if you hadn’t yet noticed OnLive is free to sign up for and you can enjoy free trials of titles. In my opinion it’s worth giving it a shot as free is always good! Should you be tempted to purchase a title, that’s all done from within the app, or alternatively you can rent games for a period of time.
The astute among you will have realized by now that the opening screenshot of me playing Assassins Creed didn’t feature a touch overlay. This is where we get to what is in my mind an even cooler feature of OnLive on Android – The Universal OnLive Wireless Controller. This sleek black gamepad, resembling the love child of a 360 pad and a PS3 controller, can connect to your phone or tablet (or pretty much anything else tbh) via Bluetooth enabling you to play games that haven’t been optimized for touch, such as the aforementioned Assassins Creed games, Saints Row the Third and even the fantastic Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
The OnLive android app will also enable you to use a Wired 360 pad provided your device has a USB port (and supports USB host mode) or in the case of a Sony Tablet S you can use your PS3 controller. The Asus Transformer Keyboard and Mouse are also supported by OnLive as are several other devices probably the most exciting of which is the Xperia PLAY gamepad. There’s also an app called GameKeyboard which you can use to refine the input methods for titles which otherwise would have been Keyboard and Mouse only.
Should your Android device offer HDMI out you can also stream your gameplay to a TV, however as the Android App pulls in a video stream designed for smaller screens you might find the output loses a little clarity; still, turning your tablet into a portable gaming console is damned impressive!
There is a lot more to OnLive than just Android devices though; they offer a PC and Mac version of the OnLive application enabling you to play hundreds of games on any PC or Mac (even aging netbooks) along with also offering an OnLive Game System that you can wire up to the TV. The beauty of OnLive is that as all your gaming is done in the cloud your progress and saves are all there whatever device you use. Bored at work and feel like finishing off a couple of missions in Assassins Creed? Whip out your phone and Ezio is there waiting exactly where you left him. You can also either buy titles individually, or subscribe to their ‘Play Pack’ plan which offers in excess of 200 games for $9.99/£6.99 a month and grants a 30% discount on purchases of hardware or other games.
- The OnLive Android app is currently available from the Google Play Store for the UK and the US; it’ll run on most Gingerbread or higher devices.
- The Universal OnLive Wireless controller is available direct from OnLive themselves (UK Link) and requires a Honeycomb or higher device. (Unless you’re pretty au fait with Android modding)
- For more information on OnLive, to download the PC or Mac versions or to buy the OnLive Game System, you can click here to visit the main OnLive website (UK Link)
For this article I used an Asus Transformer Prime, Sony Xperia Play, My personal OnLive account and controller and a wireless connection to my home broadband (30mb).