Outwardly, the updated controller is looks identical to the outgoing MicroConsole pack-in model, but this one connects to Macs, PCs and just about any mobile device thanks to new "adaptive wireless" technology. Those seeking extra low latency can use its bundled USB dongle to link up to four of the controllers and a single Bluetooth headset for voice chat with one PC. The gamepad's media controls can also navigate iTunes in addition to playback of Brag Clips within OnLive. When it debuts, you can expect to pick one up for about $50 (£39.99 in the UK). OnLive CEO Steve Perlman was kind enough to walk us through using this new bit of kit, so head on past the break for our full impressions and to see the controller in action.
OnLive iPad app and wireless controller hands-on
Between our chat with Steve (above), the outfit's E3 offerings and an early peek we got at the app and controller back in June, we've been teased enough -- let's dive in and see what OnLive's been cooking. If you've played with the home version (you know, OnLive PC client and / or MicroConsole), the outfit's new tablet app will look extremely familiar. Streaming a nearly identical menu as its desktop and television counterparts, the application takes only the lightest liberties with the existing OnLive interface. Sure, the marketplace now opens to a "featured for iPad" page and navigation has been tweaked for a touch-friendly environment, but overall the tablet app keeps things just the way they are.
While cross-platform uniformity is nice, the app stops shy of the finer polish that might solidify it as an ideal tablet experience. Most notably the app ignores the slate's native touch keyboard as soon as the user gets past the login screen, instead adopting the existing alphabetical chicken peck menu the desktop and MicroConsole use when navigated by gamepad. This method of text entry is certainly serviceable on a tablet, but feels unnecessarily cumbersome when compared to the iPad's touch keyboard. The marketplace is also a little too identical to its desktop counterpart, showing only mouse, keyboard and gamepad compatibility icons for games, making it difficult to discern which games are adapted for touch controls. The market's genre filter contains a new "touch" category, but as of the time of this writing, selecting it yields only an empty screen. Our contact at OnLive told us that a backend fix for this is on the way, indicating that the tablet experience is still being tweaked. Update: In fact, a "touch" icon appeared in the market after launch, and its corresponding search category has filled out considerably.
Gameplay on the slate varies by title, segregated into three categories of control: Native touch, emulation and gamepad supported. We only got to try our hand at a single game that rocked the "native touch" overhaul, a tower defense game titled Defense Grid Gold (as seen in Steve's demo video, above). Whereas the title's original PC controls locked the birds-eye camera to the player's mouse, the revised touch controls allow the user to drag the landscape around in proper tablet style, complete with multitouch pinch-to-zoom and drag-and-drop item use -- creating a play style markedly different than the original title's offering. Other native touch games are in the works as well, including a tablet-friendly overhaul of Rockstar's LA Noire, which, regrettably, wasn't ready for consumption.
Virtual thumbsticks have been a bit of a mixed bag for mobile gamers, leaving players to either adapt to, or accessorize their touchscreen's impalpable gamepad. Whatever your feelings on the touchstick, OnLive's virtual gamepads probably won't change them -- but if you're a master of the tactile-free tango, you'll find the app's pre-configured layouts satisfying, responsive and well designed. Although only a handful of games currently use the virtual gamepad overlays, the titles we tried surpassed our expectations. We waded deep into the gamepad emulation pool, sampling touchstick versions of Darksiders, Split Second, DiRT 3, Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4, and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, each with a comfortable layout that almost made these games feel at home on the iPad. Titles that require buttons to be held for targeting or acceleration had special "button stick" features, or sliders that allowed us to simulate a partial trigger depression. Playing these titles on a proper gamepad is still preferable, of course, but we found the overlays to be a passable and satisfying alternative.
Mouse emulation permeates the nearly the entire OnLive library, but not every game is compatible with the faux pointer. Simple puzzle games such as Around the World in 80 Days and Puzzle Quest work quite well, and even more complicated touch games like World of Goo are passable (although not as sleek as their native tablet counterparts) -- but other titles that could potentially be played with just a pointer, such as Fallout and Fallout 2, just couldn't be coaxed into playing nice with the fake mouse. Overall, we had a positive experience with the apps' emulated controls, although we would have liked to see an option allowing us to fine tune mouse sensitivity, or create our own virtual gamepads for games without pre-configured setups.
Almost every title in the library, save for those that require a keyboard and mouse exclusively, plays nice with OnLive's new universal wireless controller -- replicating the control experience of the MicroConsole to a tee. Excepting a new wireless logo painted just north of the gamepad's guide button, the dual-analog pad is physically identical to its predecessor, already a solid mash-up of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 controllers. The unit we tested wasn't quite ready for prime time, arriving without the proprietary wireless dongle that will allow it to pair with Macs and PCs -- a trick the original OnLive controller simply couldn't pull. Although the controller can be connected to a computer via USB, we had trouble calibrating the gamepad, and were left with a mess of jittery sticks and unmapped buttons. Our contact at OnLive HQ told us that our preview controller didn't have the final drivers and had been tuned exclusively for our tablet demo, hence the missing wireless USB adapter. The gamepad's internals still allowed it to connect an iPad however, letting us breeze through the app's menus as if we were parked in front of a MicroConsole equipped TV.
We had hoped to find a hidden fourth control option by pairing a Bluetooth keyboard to the slate, but sadly, it was not to be. Although the external keyboard paired with the device fine, and even allowed us to exert limited control over the app, it behaves like a gamepad -- with the keyboards A, B, X and Y buttons directly translating to the same toggles on the OnLive gamepad. Similarly, we found that if we activated the OnLive gamepad before logging in, extraneous characters would occasionally appear in the text entry boxes of the login screen. The bottom line? You aren't going to be able to use the app's emulated mouse and a bluetooth keyboard for a makeshift WASD setup.
As with any streaming service, your mileage varies by connection speed -- we tested OnLive's latest while pulling down 10Mbps over AT&T U-Verse out of San Jose, California, neatly outpacing the service's recommended 5+Mbps connection. Our results? Mixed. While connected over WiFi, the our OnLive equipped iPad didn't stumble, but it didn't shine as brightly as its desktop and MicroConsole counterparts. Hardwired to the source, our MicroConsole delivers a crisp, 1080p image with only a hint of compression, and our OnLive equipped notebooks (both Mac and PC) didn't lag far behind their dedicated compadre over WiFi.
The iPad however occasionally jumped from crystal clear to early-YouTube fuzzy, but most often found a satisfactory middle ground that erred on the clear end. Most quality drops seemed to be a quick fix to keep the framerate rolling --- yes, the servers would occasionally toss us some blur, but usually the game didn't stutter. We did hit some curious snags when using the wireless gamepad, however, like a particular section of Batman: Arkham City that froze up with action-halting lag exclusively when the iPad was paired with the controller. Blindly punching through the same scene with the emulated mouse, or plugging through the section on the MicroConsole, PC or Mac went off without a hitch. We ran into similar trouble while testing Homefront and Darksiders with the controller, albeit to a lesser extent. As far as we can tell, our connection didn't falter -- chalk it up to the ghosts of pre-release software. OnLive promised to toss a fresh gamepad our way after the rig's firmware is finalized, and we're looking forward to giving it a more thorough review when it's ready.
Lag was negligible for most games, but the same input delay we experienced in our MicroConsole review cropped up here as well. A few short fractions of a second between our action and the on screen destruction may not be much to write home about in Lego Harry Potter or Darksiders, but it can dull your competitive edge in twitch based games. The input lag with the iPad / controller combination seems on par with that of the MicroConsole -- nothing new here, but the delay is an unfortunate truth that bears mentioning.
The app itself still has a lot of room to grow, and would definitely benefit from a bit more polish. Games sporting a virtual gamepad, or titles that had been redesigned with native touch still warn the user that they need a gamepad or mouse and keyboard to function properly, even though they worked fine after we ignored the warning. We also had some trouble inputting text for search, due to an inability to press return and launch the query. Some mouse emulated games, such as Around the World in 80 Days, wouldn't start on the tablet unless they had been run at least one time on another client first. In-app purchases aren't available on the iPad either, and will need to be done via Safari, or on another platform. Conversely, our contact told us, the Android version will have no problem making in-app purchases.
For all its faults, the OnLive tablet app is still a worthwhile experience. More often than not, it streamed a clear, playable and novel experience that otherwise wouldn't be available on a touchscreen slab. The cloud based nature of the service offers a consistent experience across multiple platforms, and using it to leap from tablet, to laptop to television is satisfying and convenient. In the end, the app is a free, novel addition to the cloud gamer's arsenal -- we can't think of a good reason for a tablet owning OnLive user not to pick this up.
[Co-written by Sean Buckley and Joe Pollicino]
Top Console Titles Now Available Instantly on Mobile Devices for both Touch and Controller Play
New Universal OnLive® Wireless Controller Enriches Gameplay on Most Tablets, Phones
OnLive Utilizes New 4G LTE Mobile Networks for Low-latency HD Gaming
Palo Alto, CA – December 7, 2011 – OnLive, Inc., the pioneer of cloud gaming, announced that it is bringing console-class gaming to tablets and phones with the revolutionary OnLive app for tablet and mobile platforms. The latest, top-tier, high-performance games-previously limited to only consoles and computers-will be available for instant play via the free OnLive app on over 500 million mobile devices over Wi-Fi or mobile networks in the US and UK. A growing library of 25 console-class games have been adapted for touch-screen control, including the gritty, award-winning hit L.A. Noire from Rockstar Games and family titles like LEGO Batman™: The Videogame, which will be given free to anyone who downloads the OnLive app. Additionally, almost all games in OnLive's growing library of nearly 200 games are playable with the new Universal OnLive Wireless Controller, compatible with many tablets and smartphones.
OnLive harnesses the power of the cloud to instantly deliver high-end games on demand over the Internet with the simplicity of streaming video. OnLive's breakthrough cloud gaming technology has enabled gamers on PCs, Macs® and TVs to instantly jump into console-quality games on demand, without discs or lengthy downloads, regardless of the performance of their local device. With today's launch, gamers can experience the same instant-play, top-tier games on tablets and smartphones, despite the fact that these games require vastly higher performance than is achievable on a mobile device.
"Today marks a major milestone: OnLive is now delivering the latest, console-class, top-tier games-literally to your fingertips-on tablets and phones for instant, on-demand play anywhere, anytime," said Steve Perlman, OnLive Founder and CEO. "Through the free OnLive app, tablet and smartphone gamers can play top console and PC titles like Assassins Creed®: Revelations and L.A. Noire-one of the most highly acclaimed, graphically sophisticated games to date-with exclusive OnLive Cloud Touch controls or with the new mobile-compatible Universal OnLive Wireless Controller. Tablets and smartphones, the fastest-growing consumer product categories in history, are now capable of running the hottest, highest-end games. Gaming and mobile devices will never be the same."
Marking the most dramatic departure possible from the side-scrollers and 3D puzzlers that have defined the current tablet gaming marketplace, the award-winning L.A. Noire is now the first high-performance console video game developed specifically for touch-enabled play via tablet cloud gaming-with exclusive distribution on the OnLive Game Service. The release of a game this immersive and cinematically engaging heralds a new era-and new market-in high-end gaming.
Over 25 OnLive titles, including L.A. Noire, family titles like LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 and 5-7, and indies like Defense Grid Gold, will work with touch control on tablets and smartphones. And most of the nearly 200 games in OnLive's growing library, including recent top-tier releases like Batman: Arkham City, Assassin's Creed: Revelations and Lord of the Rings: War in the North, are immediately playable on virtually any device with the Universal OnLive Wireless Controller, which utilizes OnLive's exclusive adaptive wireless technology to automatically find an optimal wireless connection for a given tablet, smartphone, PC, Mac, TV or Blu-ray player. The Universal OnLive Wireless Controller will be available soon for purchase in the US and the UK, for $49.99 and £39.99 respectively.
As always, any game purchased on one OnLive app device (TV, PC, Mac, tablet or mobile device) can be played instantly on any other OnLive app device with full cloud save game data intact, allowing users to start play on one device, and continue playing on any other device, whenever and wherever they want.* OnLive's cross-platform capability extends to multiplayer gaming, enabling, for example, a tablet gamer to play with TV, PC, Mac and smartphone gamers. OnLive's exclusive social features, such as international massive spectating and Brag Clip® videos, are available on tablets and mobile devices, as well as chat and Facebook posting of videos, messages and achievements. And unlike downloaded games, OnLive games are streamed over the internet just like streaming music and video, never taking up storage on any mobile device.
In addition to play over Wi-Fi, OnLive is also unveiling compatibility with 4G LTE cellular service, enabling full, HD-resolution, low-latency cloud gaming everywhere there is 4G coverage on devices such as the HTC Jetstream, Samsung Galaxy Tab and Motorola Xoom. With this new compatibility, OnLive is truly playable everywhere, whether indoors, outdoors or even in the back seat of a car at highway speeds, for the first time bringing complete mobility to console-class gaming.
The OnLive app is available for free download for tablet and mobile devices starting today (release dates and times subject to mobile app store certifications). The Universal OnLive Wireless Controller will soon be available for purchase in the US and UK through the OnLive web store at www.onlive.com/store and www.onlive.co.uk/store. As always, most OnLive games purchased on one device or through the OnLive website can be played on all devices, and L.A. Noire and other touch-adapted games will continue to work with controller and/or keyboard/mouse as they did before, including with the Universal OnLive Wireless Controller.*
*Some games not available or playable on all devices.
*Verizon is currently in the process of acquiring AOL, Engadget's parent company. However, Engadget maintains full editorial control, and Verizon will have to pry it from our cold, dead hands.