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First Impressions: OnLive is indeed on and live

After over a year of hype, expectations, closed beta testing and more than a little skepticism, the OnLive PC and Mac streaming game service is now open to the public. The service turned on just after E3 2010 ended so we had to wait until we got home to see if it worked as advertised.

Our first impressions, based on playing a couple of hours of several of the titles, show that OnLive does indeed work as the company claimed it did. With our 25 mb connection we were able to play games like F.E.A.R. 2 and Just Cause 2 along with multiplayer matches on Unreal Tournament 3 within just a few seconds of selecting the games in the OnLive UI. While there was some lag in the games we played it wasn't terribly noticeable and and we don't think most players will mind it. However that doesn't mean we care for everything about OnLive.
So here are some pros and cons we have for OnLive as the service stands right now:

  • OnLive promised that we could play PC games almost instantly with just a little bit of a download via their service. That indeed is the case. There is just a few seconds wait before you are in the game.
  • The OnLive user interface is well designed. In addition to graphical menus that are easy to figure out the UI is designed to work with a mouse almost exclusively (although you can use a keyboard if you wish).
  • Being able to spectate in other people's games is different and cool.
  • In many games you don't have to purchase the full version. You can rent the game for a few days for much less than the full price. This is good for consumers who want to check out the full title without having to pay full price while at the same time giving publishers a new PC game revenue stream.
  • You can also start playing the full games on the service for free for 30 minutes.
  • If you play a game and then have to stop, you can start again where you left off on your own rig or any other PC or Mac that has the OnLive client installed.
  • There's a solid mix of high end PC titles along with indie games like World of Goo, Defense Grid and others.
  • The biggest issue we have with OnLive is that you are basically stuck with a fixed graphical resolution and set of graphics features when you play the titles on the service. The games have been redesigned to eliminate ways to raise the resolution and put in things like anti-aliasing and other high end graphics items.
  • As a result of the removal of graphics options, the games themselves don't look as good on our PC as they would if they were on our hard drive. Unreal Tournament III in particular looked pixelated, blurry and lacked high end textures and visuals. It was playable, sure, but hardly the best looking game we have ever played.
  • The service requires a small client download but anti-virus programs apparently don't care for it. Our Norton Anti-Virus program wouldn't even let us install the client software until we shut it off.
  • Of course the service does require a broadband internet connection to even work which means even single player games like Assassin's Creed 2 won't play without having the connection working 24/7.
  • There are only about 23 games on the service at the moment although certainly more will be added in the future.
  • If you play the free first 30 minutes of a game and then decide to pay for it, the save games from the free portion won't transfer over which means you will be playing that part of the game again.

We have a feeling that in the future all PC games, and indeed all games period, will be handled via "cloud computing". OnLive is the first big step in bringing high end PC games to this type of service. But it's still a first step and that means it's not perfect. Hardcore PC gamers who want their games to look as good as they can on their rig might want to pass on OnLive, at least for the moment, but if you have a low end PC rig and can't play, say, Just Cause 2 (a DirectX 10 only game) this might be something to look into. OnLive is certainly making it easy to try out the service with its offer of free use for the first year if you sign up by July 15. But will people want to pay for OnLive on a monthly basis after that first year is over? We may have to wait until June 2011 to find out.

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