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Hands On: OnLive's cloud synced revamp is a tricky bet

Mark Hachman | March 6, 2014
OnLive, the cloud gaming pioneer that essentially vanished in 2012, is back--but with a new goal of enhancing online distribution services like Steam, versus competing with them.

New interface is slow and laggy — games are not

I tried out the service using both my somewhat laggy office network as well as my at my home — where I've used OnLive to play a game or two to completion (I have participated in other trials and tests of the OnLive system since its inception).

Game-spectating services like Twitch.tv have become immensely popular, but OnLive was first. So I was initially disappointed to see that the new service mostly downplays this experience, placing spectating options only within the game pages. The main screen shows you what's new, your last game played, with a few spectating options displayed at the bottom.

Navigating the user interface with a controller or with a mouse and keyboard felt sluggish. Fortunately, the games did not — but it took up to 45 seconds just to load one. Exiting a game, syncing a saved game with the Steam Cloud Sync service, and then going back to the UI is also a slow process.

Buying CloudLift rights to a game entails unlocking the game via both Steam and OnLive. If you buy a Steam game via OnLive, you'll need to buy it from OnLive, receive the code via email, redeem it in Steam (via the tiny "Add a game" option in the lower left-hand corner), and finally ensure that your OnLive account is linked to Steam by entering your Steam log-in information into OnLive. It's a confusing process that tripped me up initially.

But if you're an OnLive subscriber, you'll be happy to hear that the service continues to work as advertised — at least in my experience. I downloaded Batman: Arkham Origins to a Surface Pro 2 tablet connected to an HDMI display plus a mouse and keyboard, and the game ran just fine at resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels, with all graphics enhancement options turned off. And when I ran it on OnLive at 1600-by-1024 resolution, with 8x MSAA, and all other graphics options set to high or maximum, it ran smoothly there, too, both with mouse and keyboard attached to its docking station and with an Xbox controller.

Switching back and forth between platforms also preserves saved games in the OnLive cloud, so you can pick up where you left off, no matter the platform.

OnLive representatives told me the Android tablet experience is still being fine-tuned, and that gamers should use a controller. I agree. The touch interface simply refuses to scroll through a list of games (including down to L.A. Noire, which has been remastered for a touch interface). Games are impossible to play without an existing wireless controller, anyway. Search also refused to work.

 

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