Does the availability of the OnLive cloud-based gaming service make the Xperia Play the ultimate gaming phone?
To be honest, I am quite happy with my Xperia Play phone. It packs the Android operating system, which I am comfortable with, and the phone is a nice size, unlike my other two Android phones (yes, I have a bit of a phone fetish). The Xperia Mini is frankly a joke, and the Evo 3D (I admit it, I thought a 3D phone would be cool) is like a massive slab of chocolate when in my pocket – something which occasionally leads to moments of unexpected joy followed by utter disappointment and a desire to quickly find a sweetie shop.
But there is one thing that disappoints me about the Xperia Play – the gaming. As a phone with a slide-out gamepad, I was expecting to do more gaming on it. Despite the massive support for touch-screen controls, I don’t like them and would much rather have buttons under my thumbs. In this respect, the Xperia Play seemed ideal and was one of the major factors in my choice (that and the free Android tablet that I got – Win!).
However, it quickly became apparent that there are actually very few games that actually supported the gamepad. There are the few, and I mean few, PS1 titles that were ported over by Sony, and then there are a handful of Android games that actually use the gamepad, with perhaps the best being GameLoft’s offerings. But the reality is that the vast majority of games still require the touch-screen controls.
Which left me feeling somewhat uninterested in the recent launch of OnLive for Android. Don’t get me wrong, I love the service and am enjoying some very impressive gaming on my tablet. But on the small screen of the Xperia Play, with my big thumbs blocking half of the screen, I just didn’t see the point. If only the service would support the phones gamepad…
Lo and behold, the Gods of gaming must have been listening as support for the slide-out gamepad was recently announced. So – big time gaming on the Xperia Play was finally and option.
It has to be said that playing games through the OnLive service on the Play is an incredibly smooth experience. Due to the small screen size, the amount of data that needs to be streamed to the phone is much lower than playing on the PC, through the micro-console or even on a tablet, meaning that gamers with a somewhat less than impressive Internet connection, of which I am one, can enjoy the service as it is meant to be enjoyed. Also due to the small screen, everything looks simply incredible, even the older games in the PlayPack. Playing THQ’s Space Marine on such a small screen is quite amazing.
But it still doesn’t quite make for the perfect gaming experience. Many of the games on the service require a keyboard/mouse input and so are unplayable. The dedicated touch-screen games work as well as they should, but again the small screen hampers the enjoyment. The controller-based games, which now can use the built-in gamepad, are the closest to perfection. But even they are let down by a couple of aspects.
Firstly, all of the controller-based games that I tried use a modern controller layout. As the Play only has two shoulder buttons, the buffer buttons are assigned to the volume controls – which are positioned in between the shoulder buttons. This is not really ideal and feels incredibly awkward, and also means that there is no way to change the volume once playing.
The second problem comes as a result of the Play designers and their need to include those god-awful touchpad control thingies. Frankly, they are just horrible and I find them very difficult to use with any degree of accuracy. But as they are the equivalent of analog sticks on modern controllers, all of the games on OnLive that I have tried use them for movement and, for games that require it, aiming. There appears to be no way of swapping these actions to the actual buttons, which work great, so the player is stuck moving and aiming with absolutely no precision at all.
This will all become completely redundant once the OnLive Universal Controller becomes available. I will be sure to try the controller out on my Play as soon as I have finished using it with my Tablet. But the built-in gamepad, if implemented properly, would still be the most ideal solution.
Playing OnLive games on the Xperia Play is an incredible experience – games that look this good simply do not belong on a phone. But it is not quite the perfect experience I was hoping for. If the gamepad layout issues are fixed though, we could be looking be looking at the best mobile gaming experience currently available.