Play PC games on your iPad later this year

by Phil Hornshaw

The iPad 2 might be a pretty sick machine for games, but it lacks capabilities that traditional video gamers crave – the power to play full retail titles that one might see on a PC or a game console.

That’s all about to change, because not only can the iPad play PC games, it can play them pretty damn well. And it can do it with a real-live game controller.

During the Electronic Entertainment Expo Tuesday in Los Angeles, I got a chance to mess around with the updated version of the OnLive app for iPad. OnLive is a cloud-based video gaming service that actually allows players to stream full games to their PCs and a specially made micro-console that hooks up to a TV.

The power of OnLive is that it allows players to get in on PC games without having a powerful computer capable of playing those top-tier games, and it bypasses the need for an expensive console (the micro-console only runs $99 and OnLive often gives it away for free with pre-orders of big-name games). The service just passed the 100-game mark, and it also has an iPad and Android app that lets users spectate on what other players are currently playing.

But later this year, OnLive will update the apps to make them actually compatible with playing games. That’s right – the free app allows you to stream PC games and play them on your iPad (or Android tablet). You only need pay for the game just like you would if you purchased it in a store or rented it, unless you opt for OnLive’s monthly subscription service that includes better than 50 games in an all-you-can-play setup, and you’re ready to go.

On the show floor at E3, I tested out OnLive’s improvements using the game’s virtual controller. The setting lays see-through buttons on the screen just like many iPad games already do. It was by no means an ideal way of playing the game, but it was possible, and it’s hard to overplay the fact that I was running Red Faction: Guerrilla, a PC and console game, on an iPad.

Virtual controls are available immediately to everyone, but the real way to play OnLive will be with a controller. The app supports a universal controller that likely will be paired to the iPad using a Bluetooth connection. That one addition suddenly turns the iPad into a video game console, complete with all the accoutrements – it just requires an Internet connection to play. Better still, iPad mirroring currently available with iOS 4.3 and an HDMI adapter allows you to play OnLive right on your TV using your iPad as the console, and when iOS 5 rolls out in the fall, you’ll be able to do it wirelessly with Apple TV.

OnLive’s app is set to take the tablets in an entirely new direction – hardcore, real live video gaming. The only question that remains right now is “when?”