Waking up with The Console Killer

Opinion: Tom Pakinkis has his head in the cloud

Here's what man should not be able to do: Man should not be able to wake up at 10:30am, drag his E-Systems, 1.73GHz, 1024MB RAM laptop onto his chest and play Batman: Arkham Asylum within five minutes of booting up - without owning the disc - while he slowly starts to feel ill with laziness.

But guess what I did on Saturday morning?

I, probably much like the rest of you, had always dismissed OnLive in the past. "It'll never work," I thought, "Streaming down the internet? Pah! I'll give them something to stream down the internet..."


It just seemed like a pipe-dream, an experiment: Triple A games zipping down the phone-line to be played in real-time on something as piddly as a netbook or the living room TV. It didn't add up.

Besides, what's wrong with what we've got now? Our PlayStation 3s and our Xbox 360s - Sony and Microsoft have been keeping their consoles in line with the times for long enough, there's balance, order, the excitement of the cycles, and it works.

Except it doesn't work. Not like it could. That's what I realised on Saturday morning.

At around 10:30 I logged onto the OnLive website, filled in a short registration form, downloaded a free, 800kb client in seconds and started to browse the catalogue of games.

By about 10:40 I was playing the first 30 minutes of Batman: Arkham Asylum for free on a laptop that's only just qualified to play a 3D match in Football Manager.

This wasn't some stuttering, spluttering attempt at Arkham Asylum either, it was the Rocksteady masterpiece as it had been on my PS3 months before.

The opening cut-scene faded onto my 15.4 inch laptop screen, the rain falling on Gotham illuminated intermittently by lightning. The Batmobile dashing down the concrete, kicking up leaves as it gets closer to the mad house.


It was an odd feeling, seeing this deeply atmospheric, excessively detailed and beautifully eerie scene falling out of my little laptop. I'm on the end of a fairly good internet package, my last speed check had me downloading at 7.6Mbps (a little over the national average of around 6Mbps) but, like I said, the set-up as a whole isn't exactly what you'd call a gaming rig.

I was soon locked behind Arkham's walls punching face-painted psychopaths around the head and body. No console, no disc, no more than what I usually deemed a word-processing/net-surfing device. I'd like to think of myself as the every man when it comes to basic day-to-day computing and OnLive had me more than a little bit impressed.

My laptop lacks the luxury of an HD screen so Arkham Asylum wasn't at its crispest but, for what started as a mid-morning passing curiosity, it was one of the prettier things I'd seen in dirty standard definition and, if I could have been bothered to lift a leg, I was only a cable away from an HD transformation.

Of course, the smoke and mirrors of the whole operation come in the form of much more powerful computers floating on the OnLive cloud. My measly little laptop wasn't actually doing any of the work at all, the game was simply being pumped to screen via that tiny client as my directions and actions were fed back to base in real-time.

This is where what was always going to be the biggest stumbling block of cloud gaming comes in. Yes, that's right, OnLive is a victim of the gamer's most powerful and irritating enemy - lag.


I'd say it's about half a second delay between button press and on-screen arm break. It doesn't matter all that much when it comes to The Dark Knight, as long as you keep your rhythm he'll spring from one goon to the next no problem. Try to take on some precision driving or a twitch based multiplayer with OnLive though and you'll feel that half-second like a (virtual) bullet through the head.

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