Each week, there seems to be a new company promising innovations into the gaming market that will enhance your gaming experience and proclaiming that they are the future of the medium. Currently however, none of these have had an impact on my life. I still use a PC that I built – it may not be perfect, but it’s decent enough to play the games I want to play.
Blade are a company that want to try to change this status quo by offering a souped up Windows 10 virtual machine (VM) for you to play games on, called Shadow. You can log in to your Steam account on their machine, download your games and play them from that machine on any device that can run their software. What this means is that, in theory, you could play top tier games on a laptop or mobile device, provided you had an internet connection.
What is it?
Shadow is essentially a virtual computer for you to play your games on, with specs that are adequate for most high end games. With the virtual machine, you can install Steam, Origin or any other gaming platform of your choice onto it, log in and play your games after you’ve downloaded them. Due to the nature of the machine as well, what you download will stay there across every platform. So if you start playing a save of Football Manager on your PC, then need to hop onto a train, you can just play it on your tablet or phone while connected to the train’s WiFi.
The prices start at around £27 per month, with no “contract”, so you can cancel it whenever you like.
I mentioned it above, but the biggest positive is without a doubt the ability to pick up and play wherever you are, and not lose any progress. You don’t need to transfer files across to a separate machine, you don’t need to worry about whether your smartphone or tablet can handle it, you just pick it up and carry on playing. As long as you have a travel controller to go with your mobile device, Shadow basically makes every game a mobile game, and who wouldn’t want that? You do have to make sure your connection is stable and not terrible, but with 4G spreading across the country and 5G coming in next year, that should be easily manageable.
Blade have committed to something quite brave – upgrading their service as new components arrive on the market. Given advancements are made every few months with hardware, it’s going to be challenging to keep to that promise, but if they manage it and keep it seamless for consumers to play their games, then there’s arguably no reason why anyone would need to continue with their own hardware when it can cost upwards of £500 to create a machine that’ll last a few years.
I was, at first, worried to log in to websites and software – especially Steam – on an essentially unknown entity’s servers. All the information, and everything you input however, appears to be completely secure. All of Blade’s data centres are highly secured local data centres so you’re not sending your data anywhere totally dodgy, and can rest assured that what you’re connecting to has been crafted using best practices.
When the VM starts up for the first time, you have to go through setting up Windows. This isn’t a huge problem really, but parts of it are in French. I can understand this to a degree because the VM is hosted in France, but forcing it to English shouldn’t be a tricky step, and given that the bulk of the customer base would probably speak better English than French, I can’t see why this hasn’t been changed already. I also think setting up Windows is a pain in the backside, so would’ve much preferred if they had a quicker way to set this up, but that’s just me being nitpicky.
Shadow comes with a 256GB SSD, which has great read/write speeds and gives enough space for a few games. My issue is, I like to switch between games quite a lot, so I’d install maybe ten or eleven games just so I can have a variety of what I play. The downside to this is that games these days are getting enormous. PAYDAY 2 for example, one of my go-to games, is 50GB. Fallout 4 is over 60GB as well, so if I wanted to see these games in all their glory, I’d not be able to install a bunch of other titles and play the way I want to. Obviously, this is just a limit of the hardware and maybe in future they’ll provide additional storage for different prices.
I do also have some concerns over the pricing, though they aren’t anything major. From my point of view, if you can afford £300/year for the service, you’re likely to want to just build your own computer. If you can’t afford to build your own PC, then you may not be able to pay for the service either. It gets even more expensive – far too expensive in my opinion – if you don’t choose to go for the full year either. Trying it out for a short period is not overly affordable, which would definitely put me off.
The Final Word
Generally, I think the service works pretty well. There are a few problems that I detailed above, but I didn’t find any serious technical issues that would put me off using the service. Playing top tier games from a mobile device is a pretty nifty concept and one that I really enjoyed. They do require you to have a decent(ish) internet connection at 15mb down, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’ve lived in quite a few places across the country that do not have this, so you do really need to be able to hit minimum standards before you try it.