Since its initial launch last week Electronic Theatre has spent a considerable amount of time with OnLive, proposing arguments for and against the opportunities it presents. The debate between the tangibility of physical media and the immediacy of digital distribution may yet continue for many years, but as a device attempting to offer a glimpse of what that future may eventually become OnLive is certainly leading the pack at present. However, for the well-versed gamers – OnLive’s core demographic at present – there is more to playing games than simply knowing how to set up a digital box, and as a new living room addition OnLive is inevitably being compared to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii.
The most immediate comparison to the three major formats comes with the controller. Clearly designed to emulate the Xbox 360 control pad, some – including members of Electronic Theatre’s team – might question the position of the left analog stick at first. The PlayStation 3 has become notorious throughout the core demographic for relying on an outdated design for it’s controller, but here with OnLive the analogue sticks remain as comfortable as with Microsoft Studios’ effort thanks to the positioning of the grips. The controller so closely resembles the Xbox 360 design that not only does it utilise the same labels for it’s buttons, but with a number of the software titles Electronic Theatre has experienced the on-screen prompts are in fact the same which would be used for an Xbox 360 game; the yellow Y Button and white circular Start Button are a giveaway for software that was originally intended for play with an Xbox 360 controller but quickly adapted for OnLive. And the fact that videogame publisher have the option to do that in itself shows that OnLive is in a commanding position when it comes to offering an additional revenue stream for already existing products.
Of course, one of the many benefits of being an early adopter with OnLive is the opportunity to purchase any currently available game for just £1. Big budget releases such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution and DiRT 3 are accompanied by recent hits and a number of critically acclaimed titles, including Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine and Batman: Arkham Asylum respectively. It doesn’t take long to realise that OnLive has looked at the market and created a compelling offer to get gamers involved, and the free thirty minute trial of each available game – from which players will automatically save their data, ready to continue should they choose to purchase the full game – means that the step from your £1 game to purchasing a full title at a slightly lower cost than a retail packaged product isn’t actually all that far at all.
Of course, one of the most important aspects of OnLive is just how well it manages the data transfer. During Electronic Theatre’s time with the machine thus far, there have been no problems encountered with regards to latency or picture quality. Playing OnLive, with the evidence presented, is almost identical to playing the game from a disc. Of course, gamers with lower broadband speeds may find a deterioration in quality, and the real challenge will be playing with those gamers in online games.
From the moment of choosing you game til the time you put the controller down, there is currently nothing to suggest that OnLive offers an inferior gameplay experience to the traditional home console. The controller is well designed, the Achievements system has been incorporated on a player level and the account structure means that gaming-on-the-go is wholly possible, if potentially costly when factoring in 3G usage. However, here at home with the Microconsole, OnLive is undeniably a contender for that fourth spot next to your Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii.