- Lets you play current-generation console games on the iPad.
- Dependent on network speeds. Controls can feel laggy.
- Requires the wireless gamepad accessory to play most OnLive games.
OnLive for iPad is impressive because it lets you play modern console games on your iPad, but performance issues make it come up very short compares to dedicated game systems or a PC.
OnLive is a very ambitious service. It promises console and PC gaming on nearly every platform, from computers and consoles to tablets and eventually HDTVs. It streams gameplay between the user and OnLive's servers, running games on the servers, taking controls sent over the Internet and streaming the audio and video back to the player. We previously reviewed the OnLive MicroConsole ($99, 3 stars), and while it wasn't perfect it was a suitably impressive example of technology. Now OnLive has an iOS version, made for the iPad and promising the same current-generation games on a device that shouldn't be able to handle it. It's a free app, but you have to pay for the games, and most of the games require OnLive's $50 wireless controller.
The interface is effectively identical to the PC and MicroConsole versions of the OnLive software, with a grid-based menu system that lets you select, Mega Man-style, the My Games, Marketplace, Profile, Arena, Showcase, Last Played, Brag Clips, and Friends features. You'll spend most of your time in My Games, which holds all of your game purchases and lets you select the games you want to play.
OnLive offers a selection of almost 200 games with more added regularly. The software is free, but players can subscribe to the PlayPass for $9.99 per month, which offers access to over 100 games. They can also individually rent and purchase games, with rates ranging from $3.99 and $5.99 for 3-5-day rentals to $59.99 for purchasing new retail titles. Once a player buys a game on OnLive, they can play it through any device that can run the OnLive software, including the iPad, Android tablets and smartphones, PCs, Macs, and the OnLive MicroConsole.
While you can play every game on OnLive with the OnLive Wireless Controller ($49.99), over two dozen games have been adapted for play with a tablet's touch screen. Some games, like L.A. Noire and Defense Grid Gold, have gotten complete control system redesigns to make them work with a touch screen. Others, like Lego Batman, map controller buttons onto the screen like the virtual controller in most mobile games that require directional controls. Games that haven't been modified to use touch screen controls require the OnLive Wireless Controller, so be prepared to spend $50 if you want to play games like Batman: Arkham City and Deus Ex: Human Revolution on your iPad.
I tested several games through the iPad version of the OnLive software, and while they were functional and loaded without issue, they regularly suffered from significant graphics and lag problems. The gamepad controls felt floaty and inaccurate in Unreal Tournament 3 and Tomb Raider Anniversary, making fine aiming all but impossible. In the PCMag labs, network congestion made the games look terrible, as the OnLive servers turned down the video feeds' bitrates to the point that text instructions were almost unreadable. These are network issues in a Wi-Fi-congested lab in an office building in New York, however.
In my apartment, on my home network, the service fared much better despite some issues. The graphics looked cleaner, and everything was much more playable. However, network hiccups still disrupted my game occasionally, and the controller still felt laggy. For a really enjoyable, responsive gaming experience, you need to have some pretty high network speeds over Wi-Fi. If you can't keep a fast connection, OnLive won't work very well on the iPad.
Like the OnLive MicroConsole and the OnLive PC software, OnLive for iPad is a remarkable piece of technology that lets you play current-gen games on a platform that shouldn't feasibly handle them. Unfortunately, because the graphics and controls are streamed between your iPad and an OnLive server, how good the games look and how well they play is completely dependent on your network connection, and since you can't plug an Ethernet cable into an iPad, that means relying on the speed of your Wi-Fi network. Also, unless you get the OnLive Wireless Controller, you can only play a fraction of the games available through OnLive on the iPad.
Copyright © 2010 Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings Inc.
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