OnLive looks reasonably good, and will be fine for the majority of people. But, if you're the kind of person who needs to see a game looking as good as it possibly can, you'll be disappointed.
Interface, Arena and Brag Clips
Regardless of which platform you're using, the OnLive interface is the same. It's fairly uncomplicated, consisting of a simple grid of nine tiles. From this home screen you can launch games, download new titles, tinker with your profile or chat to friends. We're pleased with how simple it is to navigate around.
OnLive offers some very cool features that take advantage of its streaming technology. One such feature is 'Arena', which lets you watch other OnLive users playing their own games, peering through their virtual eyes like an annoying backseat driver. You can offer those gamers a thumbs up or thumbs down, to let them know exactly how you feel about their skill level. If you don't want anyone else spying on you, you can stop them from prying using the privacy settings.
We were impressed with Arena, and found that watching other players was a surprisingly entertaining experience. You'll find yourself seething with impotent frustration as the gamer you're watching fails to perform even the simplest task, and sharing in his glory as he drives a lorry headlong into an enemy building. Arena is also a great way to get a look at a game you're curious about without actually buying it.
OnLive lets you capture the last 10 seconds of game footage at any time, so, if you perform an in-game feat of incredible skill or witness a game-ruining glitch, you can record it after the fact and play it back. These 10 second videos are called Brag Clips, and you can store up to 50 of them, as well as watch other gamers' efforts via the main menu. Like the Arena mode, Brag Clips are plenty of fun, and something we suspect wouldn't be possible to emulate on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.
The game selection on offer is so-so. Name a popular game and the chances are you won't find it in OnLive's library. But there are some recent big hitters to be found, notably Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Warhammer 40000: Space Marine, Homefront and Dirt 3.
If OnLive becomes more popular, we've no doubt that publishers will be keen to get their games onto the service. But, as it stands, the OnLive library is hardly a compendium of compelling titles, and it won't be the sole source of gaming goodness for avid gamers.
That said, unlike buying a console, there's very little risk involved if you want to give OnLive a go. You can register, install and be playing a 30-minute demo inside of 10 minutes, without paying a penny. There's no harm in trying OnLive out, and you can then ditch it if you don't like the games on offer.
At the time of writing, OnLive is running an offer whereby the first game you buy after signing up costs just £1. After that, though, you'll pay full price. Blockbuster titles will set you back around £30 to £35, or potentially more.
It's disappointing that the coolest OnLive games aren't notably cheaper than their boxed equivalents, especially when you consider that, with the slight lag and drop in visuals, you're likely to get an inferior experience to playing off a disc. That said, there are some good deals to be found -- you can get a play pass for some games, letting you rent them for three days for £3.49, or five days for £4.99.
There's a subscription model, too, that gives you access to a pre-defined library of titles for £6.99 per month, although we noticed that some of the newer, big titles weren't included in that library.
Whether or not OnLive succeeds will depend on several things. First, the games need to be numerous and important enough to tempt gamers onto the service, and cheap enough so they keep coming back after making the first purchase. Needless to say, lag will also need to consistently be kept to an absolute minimum, or gamers will take their coin elsewhere.
OnLive has convinced us that on-demand gaming has huge potential, and could well be the future. We're not sure whether OnLive will be the company to make on-demand gaming massive, and we're not positive that Internet technology is reliable enough yet to make it popular on a large scale, but we're excited to see what the future holds.
OnLive's streaming game system is a really cool concept, and the ability to access a library of games with no downloads, discs or storage worries is definitely cause for excitement. Some gamers will be put off by the occasional lag, though, and the list of currently available games isn't hugely tempting.
Still, OnLive is an exciting proposition, and it costs nothing to try it out. It probably won't suit you if you're pernickety about lag and image quality, but we'd recommend checking it out nevertheless. If OnLive doesn't tickle your fancy, there's always the Xbox 360, our favourite console currently on the market.
Edited by Charles Kloet