RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Dec 5th 2020 at 01:00:00 PM by (zophar53)
Posted under Luna, Amazon, cloud gaming

[img width=700 height=393]https://i.imgur.com/NRhtFbp.jpg[/img]

It's been nearly one year since Google Stadia limped out onto the internet, bringing cloud gaming to the masses. It was pretty half-baked right out of the gate. Amazon's own cloud gaming service, Luna, is now in early access. I've spent about three weeks putting it through its paces to see how it compares to Stadia, and more importantly, if it's worth your time and money. The short answer is yes, it actually is not only a better cloud gaming option than Stadia, but also a decent enough service to warrant consideration. That said, it still has a ways to go if it's going to compete in a meaningful way with Xbox Game Pass. Read on for the details.

To recap the Luna package, the base service itself is $5.99/month (early access price) and requires either a PC or a recent model Amazon Fire TV device to work. Once you're signed up, you can purchase a Luna controller for $49.99 (also an early access price), but this isn't required. Luna works with any modern Bluetooth controller. Like Amazon's Prime Video offerings, you can subscribe to the Ubisoft "channel" for an extra $14.99/month ("beta price") to gain access to a selection of their games on top of the games that are included in the base Luna subscription.

[img width=700 height=297]https://i.imgur.com/MptgrNj.png[/img]
The first thing you see when you sign up.

If you're familiar at all with the way Amazon Prime Video and/or Fire TV devices work, you'll feel right at home early on with Luna. Setting up the Fire TV stick is extremely easy, especially if you buy it from Amazon directly since they link it to your account before shipping it to you. After that, you simply download the Luna app to the Fire TV stick (or download the Luna launcher to your PC, Steam-style) and you're ready to go. The controller is easy to set up as well, requiring only a Luna app you download to your phone and syncing the controller up with that app. Unlike the Stadia controller, which requires you to input a device-specific code whenever you want to use it, the Luna controller connects to Amazon directly through your wifi, so whatever device you're playing on, it just connects.  Compared to the laborious process of setting up Google's Chromecast, the Stadia service, the Stadia controller, and getting all three to "talk" to each other, setting up Luna is a breeze.

[img width=700 height=443]https://i.imgur.com/b9B4J1D.png[/img]

[img width=700 height=442]https://i.imgur.com/K1AOFp4.png[/img]

Once you're in the Luna app, the interface is set up just like Amazon Prime Video, with rows representing the different categories or "channels" and squares representing the games within the rows. Again, anyone who's used a Fire TV, Roku, or other modern video streaming device will need little instruction. You can set up a playlist, view trailers, and access settings. Curiously, there appears to be none of the social features that players have come to expect from games for the past few generations. No friends list, no in-app options to take screenshots or videos, no native streaming options, and no achievement system. It's possible these features are being planned for later next year, but Amazon hasn't mentioned anything about that for the time being.

[img width=700 height=443]https://i.imgur.com/jCZoWOK.png[/img]

[img width=700 height=443]https://i.imgur.com/yMFNaQq.png[/img]

Actually playing the games, fortunately, works well. I played nearly a dozen games both on my PC with a hard line internet connection and on my TV over wifi, and the vast majority of them worked like a charm. Did they look as good as the same games played from a hard drive? Depends on the game. As one would expect, less graphic-intensive games looked better than those that were designed to look more detailed, but performance-wise, I was surprised and quite pleased. Brothers, Furi, Shantae, Sonic Mania, Sundered, even racing games like Grid and Redout, all performed without any delay that affected my ability to compete.

Stepping up to more taxing games like Metro Exodus, Hard Reset, and the Assassin's Creed games, I began to see hits to the frame rate and resolution, even on a wired connection. But even then, the occasional hitch wasn't enough to significantly affect my ability to play the games. As I've mentioned before, Amazon's gotten pretty good at content delivery over the years, and this was a clear example of how much better their Fire TV devices are than Google's Chromecast. The experience was good enough that I found myself putting significant time into Control and Assassin's Creed Origins, and even checked out the first few hours of Assassin's Creed Valhalla.

[img width=700 height=454]https://i.imgur.com/hC2cgfk.jpg?1[/img]
There are initial loads, but they're not too bad compared to PS4 and Xbox One. And the loads between areas are fairly short as well.

The Luna controller, unfortunately, isn't quite as pleasant to use. The ease of connectivity of the thing is great, but actually playing a game on it is just awful. It feels decent in the hand and has grippy bumps on the underside of the handles, but the buttons don't feel good at all. They're flat and don't have much give when you press them, making them feel stiff and uncomfortable. The bumper buttons and D-pad are equally unsatisfying. I quickly decided I will never, ever use the Luna controller to play a game where my preferred control method is the D-pad. It's not the worst controller I've ever used, but among all the modern controller options out there, it's near the bottom of the pack. If you do decide to give Luna a try, skip the controller. It's not a good value at $50, and will be an even worse one after the early access pricing ends and it goes up to $70.

[img width=700 height=1516]https://i.imgur.com/f1FQxjg.jpg[/img]

[img width=700 height=1516]https://i.imgur.com/p60f7ug.jpg[/img]
Once you use the app to set up the Luna controller, there's not much else you need it for.

Thankfully, Fire TV sticks can sync to a Bluetooth Xbox One or DualShock controller just as easily as your PC will. Interestingly, an Xbox controller may be a better option anyway, since in many of the games I played, their options menus frequently mentioned button configurations that were labeled with Xbox controller conventions. This suggests that minimal port work was done, whether due to them being rushed out the door or that porting them to Luna required little effort and thus was not worth going back in to update the button labeling. Also, a lot of the audio/visual settings in the games I played were much more in line with what you'd find on PC versions. While Luna does appear to support HDR, it's currently only streaming at 1080p, with 4k coming "later," so a plethora of visual options seems irrelevant. Isn't the whole point that they manage all of that stuff on the back end so the player gets the best experience without all the fuss?

[img width=700 height=454]https://i.imgur.com/bx8xg27.jpg[/img]

There are also some quirks in the channel-like style of Ubisoft games. In the same way Amazon Prime Video handles add-on subscriptions like HBO or Showtime, when you subscribe to the Ubisoft add-on, it acts as a back door login to your Ubisoft account. If you don't already have one, you sign up for one right there from within Luna. The upside to this is it means you then effectively have a Ubisoft Plus account, and can play their games through the Ubisoft launcher on your PC, in addition to gaining their cross-save functionality. Through this method, even though Luna doesn't have achievements, you will earn Ubisoft achievements when playing their games in Luna, which is nice.

It's worth noting that should you end your Ubisoft channel subscription, you lose access to those Ubisoft games and cross-save functionality. This created an unfortunate situation with me when playing Assassin's Creed Origins. Last year I started playing the game on PS4, and I'd forgotten that I'd made a Ubisoft account at that time. Playing the game in Luna, I'd played past the point I'd stopped at on the PS4 version, but because I didn't remember I already had a Ubisoft account login, I created a new one. In researching why my save file wasn't syncing to Ubisoft's servers, I learned that once you sync your Ubisoft and PSN accounts, trying to switch them to other accounts breaks the cross-save functionality, so when I go back to my PS4 copy I'll have to redo about 5-7 hours of work. Also, the games included in the Ubisoft subscription are the Gold Editions, and if you only have the base game on your console version, that too will disqualify you from using cross-save.

[img width=700 height=442]https://i.imgur.com/XJEfvU1.png[/img]
When you move from the TV to the PC, Luna automatically detects you started gaming on a new device and prompts you to change which platform you want the controller to work with on its own, easy peasy.

[img width=700 height=564]https://i.imgur.com/wk6OOej.png[/img]

Stadia has gotten better over the last year. The performance has improved (though it's still not as good as Luna), the selection of games it offers has grown, you can now access the store on your PC instead of just your phone, and many of the options that were grayed out at launch are now functional. But you're still paying full price for games that live on Google's servers and don't perform all that well when you actually want to play them. The base Stadia service is free, but if you're not willing to buy games, there's not really any point. The $10/month for Stadia Pro just isn't worth it, even when you factor in the 2-3 games they give you every month for being a Pro subscriber.

Compared to Stadia, Luna is a much more compelling option for those interested in cloud gaming, especially for someone who's already in Amazon's content ecosystem. It performs better, the game selection is better, and the Xbox Game Pass-like subscription model is a much better value. But here's the thing, at the moment Luna has about 50 games available on its base plan, plus another 10-15 or so with the Ubisoft add-on. It's a better list than Stadia started with, but is still nowhere near the 500-plus that Xbox Game Pass offers. And as good as Luna is, once you compare it to Game Pass Ultimate, it's not even a question of what the better value is. Xbox has been extremely aggressive with building out Game Pass with as many titles as possible, and at only $15/month, plus an option to add on Xbox console financing, and their own cloud gaming service coming in the near future, it really is a no-brainer.

Amazon hasn't stated how long the Luna early access period will be, or how much the monthly fee will be once that period ends. Unless the price stays where it is and they add a massive influx of titles when Luna comes out of early access, I don't see it making much more of a dent in the gaming market than Stadia. Personally, I think that's a shame, because having spent a few weeks with Luna, I think they actually have something here, but it needs more work to be a serious contender. It needs a lot more games, the social features gamers have come to expect, and they need to keep the subscription cost down. Or better yet, they should integrate a Luna subscription into the cost of an Amazon Prime membership somehow.

I wouldn't recommend most people rush out and sign up for Luna early access right now. But for someone who isn't keen on spending half a grand on new consoles (or more for a gaming PC) and doesn't really care about friend lists, streaming, or achievements, I think Luna is a service to keep an eye on, especially if they already have a Fire TV stick and spare Xbox controller lying around. That said, if Xbox can combine Amazon's tech and its own vast library of games, theirs could be a cloud gaming platform that sees mainstream success.

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