In between hourlong sessions with Pokemon Moon, I’ve been getting into some indie platformer games lately. Following my long-awaited delivery of Guacamelee, Stories, and Axiom Verge in beautiful IndieBox collectible steelbox cases, it’s been Metroidvanias all night. Shovel Knight and Rayman Legends on my Vita probably had a hand in that recent shift in game style taste as well.
The common thing with all of these games is that, in my opinion, they are much better played with a controller with a joystick. There’s something about being connected to the character in a platformer with a controller that just doesn’t translate for me on a keyboard, in the same way that I can’t feel connected to a first-person game with a controller. I’d been trying to get into the indie games with my 360 controller, but sitting in a computer chair, leaning forward and holding a controller just felt miserable. Enter: the Steam Link.
I had only heard of this device a few months ago, and to be honest had not much use for it. After all, I’m rarely in my living room at all, and I game on mostly small screens, ie. handhelds. But with my recent influx of IndieBoxes I was reading into it a little bit. Queue Black Friday and I had one ordered for the sum of $20. Can’t really beat that – it retails for over $50!
Essentially what the Steam Link does is stream games to your TV. You plug a controller (or mouse and keyboard) into it, and it forwards that input back to your computer. So your gaming PC still does all the graphical processing, it just forwards that video stream right to your big-screen TV of choice. Sounds pretty simple and sweet, right?
A few days later and it arrived in the mail and I got to setting it up. It’s a nice looking little device – smaller and thinner than an AppleTV, about the size of one of those portable device chargers. As I only had a single Ethernet cord available to my room (and, at the time, no switch or hub), I opted to set it up to work over wi-fi, despite warnings I had read about some mild latency in input feedback as well as stream delays.
I fired up Axiom Verge and, to be honest, it played damn-near perfect. There was an average of 3ms of input latency, and every couple of minutes the stream would drop a bit. Although I believe that had to do with my location of the router and how far the data was actually traveling. Of course, if you’ve played Axiom Verge, you know it’s not a graphically-demanding game in the slightest. I wanted to see how this bad boy would fare with something a little more graphically intensive!
I had a whole bunch of games already installed that were controller-focused, and in some cases hadn’t even been played. The dual-joystick puzzler Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, was one that I’d purchased during a Steam Sale of yester-year, but had only played for a measly 10 minutes. I fired it up and played it for a few minutes. It ran, but the quality wasn’t great, and the stream dropped too often much to really keep it going, as it became more of an exercise in patience.
I decided to bite the bullet and pick up a gigabit switch off Amazon for $18. Two days later and I think I have the best possible setup! Let me tell you, this thing runs incredibly well. I mean, there is virtually no latency in video or input. There’s a little on-screen performance monitor that you can enable, and according to that, there is less than 1ms of latency, both for video and input. It’s completely unnoticable, as if I were playing the game right on my computer screen. In fact, I turned my computer screen towards my TV, and there is absolutely no noticeable difference to the human eye.
Of course, this wasn’t exactly a revelation, given that I’d read enough reviews before spending $20 on the Link to know that the hard-wire is the preferred method of communication.
I played a few other games as well, all of them performing perfectly and without a hitch. Off the top of my head, Ys: Origins, Bioshock Remastered HD, and Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. The Steam Link software works great, as does Big Picture Mode. Not once have I had to step over to my computer to exit out of a prompt or fix something that couldn’t be done with my Xbox 360 controller. Never even had to plug in a mouse or keyboard for the initial setup!
So far, the Steam Link looks like an awesome product, and I’m very happy with my purchase, but who is this really for? Well for starters, those of us with larger televisions who like using a controller and being comfortable while playing. My only advice would be, if you could benefit from this product, go the extra mile and set it up to work over the wire. It’s a night and day performance difference and really makes it realistic for high-definition fast-paced gaming. While I wouldn’t recommend first-person shooters with anything other than a mouse and keyboard, if you have the setup in your house, there are three USB ports to play with, so you’re good in that aspect.
Get off that computer chair that’s bad for your posture and go grab yourself a Steam Link!