Is Google’s Browser the Next Great Gaming Platform? Reviewing Chrome for Gaming on a Netbook

At Google’s I/O developer’s conference in May 2011 Google expanded their Chrome Web Store in the wake of the Chromebook’s launch, tying the announcement to the release of Angry Birds for the browser. The Chrome team also announced its Native Client SDK (or NaCl. Yeah, a chemistry joke. And you guys thought I was a nerd!) citing the classic PC game Quake right in its FAQ and promising cloud save features. There is little doubt that Google has its digitized li’l eyes on the multi-billion dollar video game industry.

For this feature, we’re dusting off our old friend of GUO’s OnLive testing, the second worst netbook known to consumers, the $150 Woot Special Eee PC 900. Heck, if OnLive can deliver a quality Metro 2033 experience on this “system”, then surely it’s good enough for some browser games, right? Come with us as we dive into the Chrome Web Store’s gaming section with six of the most popular games and see just what the misspelled version of 10100 has in mind for gamers. Is this Chrome quality or does it flake off at the first signs of use?

Specifications of Our Testing System

    • Asus Eee PC 900 netbook
    • Intel Celeron 900Mhz
    • Intel GMA 900 GPU
    • 1GB RAM
    • 4GB SSD
    • Windows XP
    • Google Chrome 16.0.912.63 m

Angry Birds

Let’s start with Angry Birds. Rovio’s bird based artillery game is estimated to be worth $1.2 billion and loved the world over for its charming character and simple yet challenging gameplay.

Sadly, there was no love for our decrepit little netbook. The game install only installed a shortcut to chrome.angrybirds.com which works fine in any HTML5 compatible browser. The game ran like a slideshow and completing a single level took, literally, over six minutes with the hard drive indicator blinking furiously most of the time. The game ran no better once it stopped. Upon quitting out to the main menu I noticed a SD/HD toggle located below the bottom of the screen, outside of the screen resolution of the netbook. Framerates would remain erratic throughout, but would finally provide acceptable results. Unless the ads were being drawn in.

angry birds chrome

In spite of logging with with a Google account, progress was not saved between systems. Progress was stored for subsequent sessions on the same machine, but not between browsers.

Bastion

Bastion made a splash with critics when it originally debuted earlier this year for the Xbox 360. Combining fast paced gameplay, RPG like advancement, and a personable narrator, this latest version promises to include cloud support for saved games and we can’t wait to-

Aw, crap.

bastion chrome

Same ol’ PC gamer headache. The Eee PC’s graphics card isn’t good enough. Or you need to edit an options file. Or update a driver. Or sacrifice a black cat on the eve of a full moon using a #2 Philips head screwdriver. I check the suggested settings. Same error. Moving on.

Bejeweled

The “App” for PopCap’s addictive match-3 puzzler Bejeweled is nothing of the sort. The install simply adds what amounts to a bookmark leading to the HTML5 version of Bejeweled, playable on any modern browser. Well, sort of playable. On the Eee, Bejeweled stutters and chugs its way through the game while the music cuts in and out in the background. Thoughtlessly trading fancy for fun, this game I spent hours playing using a freaking Palm Pilot refuses to run smoothly on a 900Mhz Pentium computer. At least it is playable.bejeweled chrome

While an offline high score table is recorded locally, there is no online leaderboards and your scores do not carry over to another machine (or browser).

Cargo Bridge

I have to confess to never having heard of Cargo Bridge before finding it on the “Popular” section of Chrome’s Web Store. Turns out Cargo Bridge is a delightfully animated bridge building game. Create spans sturdy enough for your Lemmings-like worker(s) to gather up assorted cargo and push it back to the office using a simple drag and drop drawing method.

The Chrome install once again merely gives us a shortcut to a website that functions for any browser. This time it points to webstore.limexgames.net/cargo_bridge/index.html. What we get is an Adobe Flash game… Running perfectly! It may not have anything to do with the Chrome browser but, by all that is techy, it’s good to play something without reservation!

cargo bridge chromeCargo Bridge provides even provides online leaderboards. Progress is saved locally,even across browsers as Adobe Flash plug-in uses a unified cache.

The first game I’ve praised is running under Flash? Yeah, this is going well…

Plants vs Zombies

Firing up another of PopCap’s major titles, I begin to see the pattern. Once again we have an “App” install that gives us a shortcut. This time it points to chrome.plantsvszombies.com which runs just fine in Internet Explorer or Firefox and features an Adobe Flash embedded demo version of the game. At least this one is playable. Things start to chug a little after level 1-6 when the festering flesh start to fly, but not to an unplayable level and the demo ends shortly thereafter anyway, prompting us to buy it on some other platform. While game progress was saved between browsers (courtesy of Flash’s offline cache), there was no online storage go between systems.PvZ chrome

Pocket Legends

Pocket Legends, a cross platform free-to-play MMO, tells us straight up on the store page that it may not work on this computer. Sure enough, it doesn’t. After a lengthy loading period the game suggests that old PC tech support mainstay: Update your video drivers. I think we’re done here.

pocket legends chrome

So, is Chrome the next great gaming platform. No. It hasn’t even made it to the starting line yet. The Chrome Web Store amounts to little more than a bunch of bookmarks linking to embedded games playable on any other browser. The two titles that appear to be Chrome specific did not function at all on our low spec test system. Furthermore, HTML5 has a long way to go (or, perhaps, its programmers do) and had us looking at Adobe Flash is a whole new light. Sure, we stacked the deck against Google’s browser, but it is the same stacked deck that OnLive shuffled, dealt, and beat us 3 out of 3 hands with. It hardly seems unreasonable to expect an old netbook to be able to run browser games.

In our option, you would be better served looking at Flash gaming portals such as Armor Games, Kongregate, NewGrounds, or even Facebook instead. With these other services you gain a wider variety of titles, browser independence, and frequently achievements and online leaderboards.

1 comment :

  1. um, i dont think the comparison with onlive is valid one.

    Onlive just streams video, same with Gaikai. So is like seeing an youtube movie.

    worst part is only available in the US for now. So the rest of the world cant use it.

    On the other hand i wouldnt expect an old intel 900 to play some of the NaCL games that are coming, i.e. from dust (ubisoft).
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19wK7ciBTdc

    Anyway the main point for nacl is another one, is that native apps can now run in a browser or another OS apart from windows, with very little investment. Cloud is the future.

    Am not tied so much to windows, so I can now use my ubuntu linux a lot more for some leisure time.

    anyway, nice blog.

    ReplyDelete