updated 11:00 pm EDT, Wed June 8, 2011
We use OnLive's iPad app first-hand
Among the numerous things OnLive unveiled at E3 was a demo of an OnLive Player app for the iPad and the HTC Flyer. We gave it a turn at E3 and came back with a strong promise, although there were some bumps along the way. Read ahead for our early impressions.
For the most part, the interface is a dead-on replication of what you'd find on a a Mac, a Windows PC, or the MicroConsole. It's similar in some ways to the "wall of TVs" and has quick access to your games, the store, ongoing live games, and Brag Clips, the well-known 10-second replays of gamers' favorite moments. Touching to navigate is very intuitive in this view; the only real difference between the Android-based Flyer and the iPad is the smaller seven-inch screen on the HTC tablet.
Because the gameplay is based on a low-latency, 720p, 30 frames per second stream, much of the experience is exactly the same as you'd get on the desktop, just on a smaller and much more portable screen. That's a good thing: there's a slight hint of the compression needed to get the video reliably over the Internet, but on a good connection it's very hard to tell the difference between OnLive and local play for responsiveness. Control is handled through the obligatory on-screen gamepad simulator, but you can also choose to bring up the keyboard or limit it to a pointer, depending on the type of game.
The limitations we saw were mostly confined both to the touch nature of tablets as well as the early state of the app. Of course, playing a first-person shooter or real-time strategy game that would benefit from both mouse-like control and a keyboard is off-limits. The best games on the iPad or Flyer are those that either need few buttons or support gamepads, like Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands and Virtua Tennis. Our view of the early test version lacked the Xbox 360-style bumper controls and wouldn't let us play certain games properly. Menuing also often needed a double-tap when not using the gamepad mode: once to highlight the option, and a second to select it.
We didn't have access to the Universal Wireless Controller linked up to either the Flyer or the iPad, but it's known to be working over Bluetooth and should be ready by the time the gamepad itself is ready nearer to the end of the year.
The overall concept looks to be a good one. We'd definitely recommend the universal controller if you plan to game heavily -- especially on the Flyer, where it's liable to feel more cramped. OnLive as always also requires a certain ideal Internet environment to work: you want at least a stable 3Mbps connection, which not everyone in the US (or their hotel Wi-Fi) can get. But if everything clicks, it could be a very viable way to get 'real' gaming away from a computer.