OnLive iPad review: Hands-on

PC gaming comes to Apple and Android tablets

What is a hands on review?
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Our first look at cloud-based gaming service OnLive came at E3 2011 earlier this year and it didn't take long for us to be impressed by the potential of playing PC games on tablets and even our smartphones. To our minor disappointment when OnLive launched in the UK, support for the iPad 2 and Android tablets was missing but from today the OnLive app that makes it all possible is available for the iPad and most Android tablets.

We were fortunate enough to spend some time with the new OnLive app running on the Apple iPad 2, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Amazon Kindle Fire as well as checking out the universal controller that brings a console-feel to proceedings. But could this really be the birth of PC gaming on mobile devices?

OnLive iPad features

Prior to the launch of the OnLive app, we’ve only been able to see the iPad 2 and the HTC Flyer Android tablet showcase unplayable content, while the current OnLive app only enables users to interact with social elements of the service. Once you’ve downloaded the Player app from the App Store or the Android Market you'll be able to play 25 games which will support ‘native’ touchscreen controls and the majority of games currently on offer with new OnLive Universal Wireless Controller. OnLive says it has been working with publishers to ensure that games are tablet optimized, but you can expect to see games look and feel just as they do on your PC, Mac or HDTV.

Running over Wi-Fi, if you’ve already got an OnLive account, you’ll be able to access games you have already purchased allowing you to continue games you began playing on your MicroConsole from exactly the same point. In terms of bandwidth required to play, OnLive suggests a 2-3 Mbps connection which compared to the 5-6 Mbps needed for running OnLive on your TV is a notable drop in bandwidth.

OnLive controller and touchscreen controls

If you’ve seen the controller that is bundled with the MicroConsole, it’s much the same here with design elements clearly inspired by PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 controllers, such as the close positioning of the joysticks and the four point D-Pad. Connecting the controller to your tablet is done via the latest version of Bluetooth which should help reduce latency issues. You can alternatively sync the controller by plugging the dongle (which is supplied) straight into your device. All is powered by two AA batteries or a rechargeable battery which you can expect to get around 20 hours of use from.

In what Onlive referred to as ‘native’ touchscreen controls, the company says it has looked closely at virtual controls already used in mobile-friendly games and have opted for something that is not too dissimilar in terms of layout but is likely to vary for some games. Some titles available through the app will only support touchscreen control, others will have the option to choose between both methods of control. There are no plans to merge the two control systems together at the moment, but OnLive hopes that with more developers on board, these are the kind of elements that they can look to introduce further down the line.

OnLive Games

So here’s where things get a bit special. As we mentioned earlier, games that you have already purchased as an OnLive customer will be available to play on your tablet. So you’ll be able carry on your gaming session in your bedroom from the point you left it, if you’ve been booted out of the living room so someone can use the TV. While a similar feature is set for the PlayStation Vita and the PlayStation 3, this hook up will only be limited to a few games to start with, while OnLive promises this for its entire catalogue.

The first game we got to take a look at was tower defence game, Defense Grid. Already available on OnLive, developer Hidden Path has added touchscreen controls allowing you to interact, pinch and zoom as you would expect on a tablet device. More impressively though, was our look at OnLive versions of Batman: Arkham City and Assassin's Creed Revelations running smoothly and lag-free on both the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Apple iPad 2. While game loading times felt a little long, with the universal controller in hand, there wasn't anything drastically different from our experiences when playing via the MicroConsole on a TV even without the full HD image quality.

The best was saved for last,and while we weren’t allowed any play time with it, OnLive teased us with a full version of LA Noire optimized for touch gesture control. OnLive worked closely with Rockstar to make it a reality and while we didn’t get confirmation of a release date, an LA Noire Touch launch is imminent.

OnLive iPad price

The OnLive iPad app and Android app will be free to download, while usual OnLive pricing will apply for games. If you’ve already bought a copy of a game, you'll only need that copy to access it across all your OnLive-enabled devices. When you've download the app, you’ll also get a copy of Lego Batman for free to kick off your OnLive tablet action.

The OnLive universal controller will be priced at around £39.99 and includes the dongle to sync to your tablet, and the rechargeable battery pack.

OnLive iPad UK release date

The OnLive Android app is available to download now with the OnLive iPad version awaiting approval by Apple. The wireless controller is available to buy in the US now with a UK launch set to follow at a later date.

In the future, there are already plans to bring OnLive to smartphones in the UK and for those of you fortunate to be in the US, the OnLive app will already be available on LTE with a bandwidth requirement of just 500kpbs. Over in Blighty, we will have to wait until 4G lands on these shores as the guys at OnLive believe that 3G still has quite high latency issues.

We hope to have a full review of OnLive on the iPad and Android, so make sure you stay tuned to T3.com.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.