I mentioned in my impressions piece for OnLive's UK launch that playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution on an iPad was a pretty gratifying experience for this gadget hound. Sat in a swanky MoreLondon office complex earlier this week, controller in hand, having Batman beat up some goons in Arkham City on a Samsung Galaxy tablet was pretty cool too. But deploying cannons with a touch of my finger in Defence Grid Gold on a Kindle Fire was even better.
OnLive on a tablet - Android only for the moment, with Apple still yet to give OnLive the green light (more on that in a bit) - is a cracking experience. The app is free, as is the copy of LEGO Batman that comes with it. Of the 25 titles that have so far been optimised for touch and gesture inputs, a handful of these - such as Defence Grid Gold and, excitingly, the upcoming debut of L.A. Noire on the service - have been further developed in conjunction with OnLive specifically for this purpose. What that means is that you get a bespoke touch interface designed by the developers themselves.
Elsewhere, as in the aforementioned LEGO Batman for example, there are V-pad overlays for control schemes that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has already dabbled in tablet gaming. The control setups are fairly standard, the screen restriction minimised wherever possible and Grove says that players will be able to customise their interface setups. The default overlay also changes from game to game, optimised through rigorous testing to match the needs for the game in question. That said, playing Darksiders on a Sony Tablet S with a touch interface was pretty horrible, the sheer number of virtual buttons proving rather overwhelming when you don't have the gamer's claw to fall back on. The touch interface does, however, mean that all of the budding artists who made the most of Duke Nukem Forever's whiteboard may have a reason to come back.
Thankfully, if you're anything like me and find V-pads highly frustrating, the new controller will solve all of your problems. Running on Bluetooth 4.0, which is much faster and offers vastly reduced latency in comparison to even the Bluetooth 3 controller that came bundled with the microconsole. Duffing up LEGO goons as the Dark Knight is now a joy, hacking and slashing as an apocalyptic horseman is an utter delight. It's virtually identical to the microconsole pad in terms of aesthetics, with the exception of a little white wireless logo in the middle at the top.
Navigation via touchscreen is, obviously, brilliant. Procrastinating in the arena is somehow given a more personal touch when you're swiping through videos, indeed holding a tablet inches away from your nose, scrabbling through games you've previously enjoyed from your couch, is a strange yet warming feeling. Out on the road, we encountered a fair bit of OpenZone lag, and O2's cloud was awful, but back at home (on my 8MB TalkTalk connection) everything was fine. The graphics can slip, the framerate dropping at moments and side-by-side we're not entirely sure if the app offers quite the same level of service as the microconsole or PC launcher. We're eager to test out the twitch game capacity of the app once the controllers arrive. We spent a good couple of hours playing through LEGO Batman back on base, though, so too DiRT 3 and, although the quality dropped suddenly a fair few times with the later (mainly to keep framerate up), we were quite pleased.
Sadly, the same can't really be said of smartphones. We only spent a brief amount of time with a Galaxy S2 and, even with the massive screen on that device, it was something of a cluttered mess. I will readily admit that my large hands make for interesting dextrous work when it comes to V-pads on a smartphone already, but this was a little ridiculous. We'd be interested to hear how you guys are getting on with it, though.
The widespread reaction to OnLive in this country, indeed we gave the service itself a very positive review, has been that it's an excellent premise with vast amounts of potential. The key to success, however, lies in two areas that require efforts beyond those of the men and women clad in OnLive's trademark black and orange. The first? Content - it's imperative that the service attracts bigger and better titles. As the UK's new General Manager for OnLive, Bruce Grove, said to me last week, "It's never finished, we're constantly pushing forwards to try and make the service better. When games launch on other platforms the people involved get to take a breath, exhale, that sort of thing. We have to step it up a gear."
The second consideration is one that can only improve. 3G is utterly incapable of providing any sort of reliable service (that we've seen so far) and so it's only when we start see widespread implementation of 4G in this country that the mobile OnLive app will really come into its own on the go. On a wider scale, our own government has started laying out plans demanding that we overhaul our country's frankly archaic internet infrastructure for fear of being left behind. The verdicts in October could have been summed up in a single sentence: OnLive's cool, but too dependent on a reliable internet connection. Results, needless to say, have been variable. But it is something that will only get better as time goes on, and OnLive have been talking to ISPs to reassure them that their data consumption operates within the confines of the law. "We had to chat to a couple of ISPs, TalkTalk included, once it became apparent that the strangleholds on packet data allowance were causing problems," says Grove. "Part of that was simply reassuring them that we weren't a P2P download service, that we were perfectly legitimate."
Early impressions, then, are positive, though we're eager to see the app appear on Apple's devices (Our esteemed editor has just gotten his hands on an iPad 2). Since a good number of the demos have had an iPad front and centre, the press release from mid-week seems a little presumptuous without confirmed backing from the tablet market's current leader. Should Apple fail to back OnLive completely, which seems unlikely, suddenly Android gets a big boost. It might not reveal itself quite like that immediately, but with rapid and steady growth for the service predicted, handing Google an exclusive would seem churlish. Apple's biggest beef will be the OnLive marketplace, which will almost certainly be greyed out if the approval goes through.
The attraction of gaming across smartphone, tablet, netbook, laptop, connected TV and microconsole cannot be undersold. This goes far beyond Kojima's bizarrely titled 'Transfarring', this is real multi-format, multi-platform, single-account gaming. And it's here. Now. Right now. There are still a few kinks to iron out, and OnLive will be starting up a UK base of operations to ensure that the European region is no 'second-tier' consumer base. The app is free, it'll interest any gadget nut of gamer and there's really no good reason not to test drive it.
We'll have a longer impression piece in a week or two and you can expect to see our huge interview with Bruce Grove next week where he talks to us about OnLive on tablets, working with developers, community feedback, the UK launch so far and plans for world domination.