Streaming video games has always been a dicey proposition, since even a second or two of lag can mean the difference between soaring success and ignominious defeat. The Amazon Fire TV is the latest box to get in on this noble experiment. The GameFly streaming service has a lot of room for improvement, but it's functional, and that's a good place to start.
GameFly, for those not familiar with it, is a game-rental service that sends you discs, then lets you send them back for another game when you're done. Its new streaming program, GameFly Streaming, is currently available only on the Amazon Fire TV. Rather than renting individual games, users pay between $7 and $10 for "packages" that include unlimited streaming of multiple games.
I tried out GameFly streaming firsthand on a few different titles. There are 36 in total, with a good variety of genres and age ranges, including action/adventure titles, shooters, kids' games and racing titles. Most of the titles are a few years old, and core gamers have probably played them before.
For my evaluation, I ran through levels in Lego Marvel Superheroes, Batman: Arkham City and Shank (an ultra-violent side-scrolling brawler). The first thing I noticed was that even on a wired connection drawing 80 Mbps, the graphics were not very good. I encountered a lot of fuzzy textures and indistinct level geometries, although nothing actually got in the way of gameplay.
Something else that didn't hamper gameplay was lag. Thankfully, there isn't any, although that doesn't mean that the games stream perfectly. The games clip (fail to render every element of the screen) and tear (hang on a frame, then jump ahead several frames) frequently, particularly the two 3D titles. (Shank ran better, possibly because it is the least graphically intensive of the three.)
During screens in which the animations got blurry and the screen got pixelated, I found that the camera (the player's focus) was the first thing to take a hit. (But my coworkers and I noted that it had no problem constantly highlighting Catwoman's hindquarters during scenes in Arkham City where she took center stage.)
The GameFly app is free, and you can try any game you like for 10 minutes, so it's worth a shot for anyone who has an Amazon Fire TV. If the project proves profitable, perhaps GameFly will expand its service to boxes such as the Nexus Player or the Apple TV. My hands-on didn't convince me that streaming big-budget games is finally 100-percent viable, but it worked well enough to actually play through a game, and that's a good start.
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