I played The Witcher 3 on a MacBook Air and it didn’t suck

Computing Editor Michael Passingham achieves the dream of cash-strapped gamers, playing The Witcher 3 on a MacBook Air with Nvidia GeForce Now.

Yes, it’s true. You can now play AAA games on your cheap-o laptop from three years ago, and even your MacBook Air. You can thank Nvidia GeForce Now for that.

Related: Nvidia launches new Shield console and Spot smart assistant

What is GeForce Now and how does it work?

GeForce Now is a way to access games you already own on the likes of Steam, GOG, Origin and Uplay without having to invest in gaming hardware. When it launches in March you’ll be able to play for up to eight hours without paying a penny/cent. Here’s the pricing structure:

  • 8 hours free (GTX 1060) or 4 hours free (GTX 1080)
  • $25 for 20 hours of GTX 1060 playtime or 10 hours of GTX 1080 playtime
  • Mix and match what GPU you play on
  • You need to own the games you’re playing
  • Yes, it’s complicated

That eight hour figure applies to a remote gaming rig running a gaming PC with a GTX 1060 graphics card, while you can half that if you want to play with a GTX 1080 instead.

When I went hands-on with a MacBook Air (it’ll also be on Windows), I had a lot of questions. Luckily, an Nvidia rep was on hand to answer them.

How many games will it have at launch?
  100. Nvidia plans to launch 50 additional games per month. The focus will mainly be on AAA titles.

How much latency is expected? 30ms ping is the target.

Are there GeForce now servers in Europe? Yes, but only for the Shield subscription service. Nvidia has no announcements on whether it’s coming to Europe.

What’s the recommended internet connection speed? 25mbps, but the service can scale down to 10Mbps if required.

Is there game capture support? Not at the moment, not sure if there will be.

Will it support surround sound?

Does it stream beyond 1080p?

How does it handle the differences between Mac and Windows keyboards
? Your keyboard is read as a Windows keyboard unless the game is compatible with MacOS. Each game will be vetted for this before being launched onto the service.

Will it support controllers? Yes.

Who is it for? People who have fallen out of touch with gaming hardware but still want to play a AAA title every now and then.

Which devices support it? Nvidia couldn’t say which devices will and won’t support it. They said most will aside from those that struggle with 1080p video decoding.

When? Early Access begins in March.

Hands-on with GeForce Now

I had a few minutes to play The Witcher 3, one of the most graphically advanced PC games. The key things I was looking out for was video quality and input lag, and I wasn’t blown away. It’s damn impressive that you can play a game like this on a laptop that’s simply not capable of running it, but I’d want to see more before recommending GeForce Now to anyone.

Despite being one of the gaming industry’s power houses, Nvidia can’t change the way the internet works. On the connection at Nvidia’s CES suite, input lag was noticeable in the game, and rapid mouse movements presented a delay that would affect accuracy when aiming with a mouse.Nvidia GeForce Now

Every internet connection varies, but on slower or higher latency connections I think a controller would be a much better bet, as they’re much more forgiving with latency. Just ask anyone who’s played games on super-slow television.

Video quality was good but not exceptional. Compression was particularly noticeable when looking at shadows, where dark patches would appear blotchy and grey instead of black. Well-lit scenes looked a lot better, though.

My demo was running on a remote PC with a GTX 1080 on board. The problem is that you don’t see the power of the GTX 1080 when you’re playing at Full HD with a compressed video stream. I’d be amazed if the GTX 1060 looked significantly worse, if any different whatsoever.

It’s still early days for this iteration of GeForce Now,  so it could improve significantly. I’m also very glad Nvidia offers a free trial. Whether the service is right for you will depend entirely on the quality of your internet connection, which is a problem.  If you have a controller and a good connection, there’s every chance GeForce Now could fill your gaming void. It just won’t work for everybody.

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