What scandal is this? Reviewing an app that streams games instead of a Mac game? HERESY! I hear you cry. But wait, dear reader, put down your pitchforks and torches. This app lets you stream *Mac games* as well! Problem solved! "But Jon, you groundbreaking critic," I hear you say, "isn't this app mostly used to stream non-Mac games?" To which I say, "quiet over there!" I need a loophole to post this.
The concept here is simple: Download the app or use a browser to play a supported game in your Steam, Epic, Ubisoft, or Origin library. You'll need an NVIDIA account and a quick internet test to get started. After that, you can tweak the settings if you need for audio, mouse support, or even the amount of bandwidth used if that's a concern. Then it is off to gaming! Logins are pretty quick, although it seems to log you out of the game service itself in some cases. Since I have 2FA set up on all my accounts, this is sometimes pesky. But better safe than sorry.
Image and audio quality is excellent on this service. The default paid service promises 1080p/60fps gaming across the board. In many cases, it's almost indistinguishable from playing natively - at least if you have a paid tier. Some users complain about stuttering or fuzziness, but that seems to be a minority. Of course, it probably matters if you're far away from a data center. Still, support appears to be growing globally, with the EU mostly covered, I think, and Australia recently launched. Nice. I got a few random glitches when my router was weird, but a restart fixed that.
GFN supports more than you might think. In most cases, cloud saves work fine, meaning you could play on your desktop natively, then play on the go on a laptop or other device and have it all be in sync. Rad. Sometimes cloud saves don't work, however, and in the beta, it actually deleted some of my native saves in the cloud. Yikes! That only happened once, though. It also supports mods in the Steam Workshop which is AWESOME. I loaded up stuff like Vermintide 2, Witcher 3 (or back in beta, Total War Warhammer II) and have all my mods and progress available. Wicked.
There are other features I don't use revolving around screenshots or capturing 10-second clips of gameplay. Some players may find this compelling, but I never bothered with it.
The obvious use of GFN is to play games your computer is incapable of playing. For the majority of Mac users, this will be PC games. Load up Cyberpunk 2077, Apex Legends, or Destiny 2. (I really like shooters.) But, I find it convenient to play Mac native games in several ways. Of course, my uber-iMac is capable of playing this stuff. I could also Bootcamp and play windows games just as well for the most part. (Except no RTX.) But convenience is king, and boy, is this service convenient. You don't need to download anything. You can play in a browser window or the app. Logins are fast and never fail. Maybe you're short on hard drive space. Perhaps a friend suddenly wants to play a game you don't have installed. Maybe you just want to demo a game out. GFN to the rescue!
A TON of free-to-play games are supported on this service which is a boon to fans of those kinds of titles. Combined with the 1 hour free sessions, you can genuinely have a good time without spending a dime. However, you may have to wait for a slot to come up on a free tier. I've never tried this, but my buddy has and never seemed to have to wait more than a few minutes at a time. Although I believe I've read reports of waiting 20 or 30 minutes from other users. Paid tiers grant you no-waiting time, 6-8 hour play sessions (you can just log out/log in again if you're some kind of marathon gamer), and of course, fancier rigs supporting higher graphics. They just launched a new 3080 tier which is double the price. I don't really think it's worth it, even if it adds 1440p/120fps support and the ability to go from High/Ultra to Ultra/Max visuals. Mostly, there's one game that uses the power of a 3080 card on the service, Cyberpunk 2077. (It does look fucking rad all cranked up, though.) I did hop on that tier to try it out for 6 months, but I'm unlikely to keep it and revert to the regular paid tier instead.
The value will be a rather an individual determination. If you weren't a beta user, you don't get the rad 50% discount. The regular service is $10 a month or $50 for six. But as a "founder," you can get six months for $25. The catch being the moment you stop paying for it, you lose the discount. Still, it's pretty darn cheap, and I'm happy with it. The new premium 3080 tier is expensive at $99 for six months. And founders only get a 10% cut on this one. Still, what kind of games you want to play vs. the hardware or budget you have could turn this from seeming expensive to very inexpensive. A 3080 card and equivalent hardware cost a pretty penny, after all.
The only fundamental limitation is the supported library, which grows by the week. However, it's evident at this point that certain games or publishers will simply never be available on the platform due to competition. Bethesda, for example, has its own streaming service for its game library. So while all of it was available in the GFN beta, once it hit full launch, all kinds of stuff was pulled. I find this nonsensical since GFN doesn't earn any money off the games you buy, and there's no storefront in the service itself. But publishers are going to do what they are going to do.
If you're new to the service, you may not notice, but as a beta user, it hurts to see so much stuff vanish. We had all Blizzard/Activision games, all of Creative Assembly (Total War stuff basically), all of Bethesda games (Dishonored, DOOM, etc.), and all of Gearbox. They would even add day-one versions of open beta games, like the latest Call of Duty. Lovely stuff, but now gone and unknown if it will return.
Despite this, there are many games in the GFN library, including many big publishers. Thankfully, Ubisoft has committed to the platform, so you can easily play any of their stuff. The last few weeks, I just had a grand old time chopping my way through medieval England in Assassins Creed Valhalla.
I have fond memories of OnLive, the first cloud gaming service over a decade ago. They were ahead of their time. These days, cloud gaming is everywhere with Stadia, various passes for consoles, and more on the way with Amazon's Luna. (I tried the beta, it's shite.) At the moment, I say GeForce NOW is king. Whether anyone can take their crown, we'll find out down the road.
- 1 hour free sessions
- Great visual quality
- Increasing global support
- Super convenient and easy to use
- Requires fast and stable internet
- Cloud saves don't always work or can bug out
- Can get expensive
- Lots of big publishers/games not available