Gametap: A Review by d Galloway

This is a review I’ve been meaning to write for almost a year, but haven’t had the time or research to do. Well, here we go.

-Background: What is Gametap?-

Gametap is a premium gaming service by Turner Broadcasting. The best way to visualize it is a very big emulator that you pay for. New games are added every Thursday, ranging from a large number of platforms, from the Atari 2600 and Commodore to Windows and Dreamcast (although the last one has only six games so far). The question, then, is whether or not Gametap is worth the cost (about $10 a month). Well, I guess that’s what I’m here to answer.

-Installation: A Whole Lot of Downloading-

First and foremost, your computer must meet the minimum requirements:

Windows 2000 or XP
Pentium 4 or Anthlon equivalent
Broadband Internet Connection
Direct X 8.0 graphics card (higher cards are required for a few of the Windows games)

First step is to visit the Gametap website. Once there, you have to fill out the usual online subscription information (name, address, major credit card, etc). Once that’s done, you will be able to download the client, which is about 25 megs in size (nothing too terrible this day and age). You can also find a direct client download in the FAQ, but unless you just want to play Burgertime, you’ll need to sign up.

Once you’re registered, and have your two free weeks, you simply start up the client…and wait…and wait some more. Startup time for the client depends heavily on the speed on the internet connection, but that’s not the worst part, though. The first time the client is launched, it needs to pull the game library from the server. This step can sometimes take up to ten minutes, so I suggest you get a sandwich or something. It has to repeat this step every time the client is patched, although it only takes five minutes in those instances, and only thirty seconds to pull new games.

After that, Gametap will be completely installed. Next step is to login…

-Game Library: The Good, The Bad, and The 4-Bit-

After the relentlessly loud and annoying five-second intro, the client will show a splash screen, showing clips from Gametap TV (more on that later), a list of the new games for the week, what games have multiplayer (again, more later), and random high scores. Once you close that blasted window, you’ll be presented with Gametap’s menu, which is really just a big ring with a title cap for each game. You can sort games by genre or by system, and even organize favorites, but no matter what, it takes a while to move the ring around to any games in the middle.

Anyway, the following systems are supported:

Atari 2600
Commodore 64
Neo Geo
Sega 32X
Sega Dreamcast
Sega Genesis
Sega Game Gear
Sega Master System

You see something missing? Yes, there’s no Nintendo, for obvious reasons (coughWiicough). Also, despite the large number of Sega systems present, they are rarely updated, possibly again due to the Wii supporting Sega games. The largest sections are the Windows and Arcade, and the smallest are the SG-1000 and Dreamcast sections. The Neo Geo section is also growing exponentially, while the Intellivision hasn’t been updated once since I started using the program last February.

Currently, there are about 670 games, with about three to five games on average being added every Thursday (lately, however, the number of games added has exploded, with close to thirteen added this week). There is a nice variety of games across all the genres, although most still come from either the action or classic arcade genre. However, the way games are divided by genre is suspect at times.

When you choose a game, you are taken to another menu scream, which shows a general summary of the game, as well as a single screenshot. On the left side of the menu are instructions (how to play the game), controls (the buttons used, can be redefined n most cases), and bonus material (useless bits of trivia and hints). On the right are parental lock controls, add/remove from favorites, and in some games, manual pdfs and system requirements. Now that that crap’s done, let’s get on to the game…

Only you have to download it first. Smaller games take about fifteen seconds to download, but suppose you wanted to play Splinter Cell, or Baldur’s Gate 2? Windows games can take upwards of two HOURS to download, depending on the size of the game itself. The longest download ever was Planescape: Torment (roughly four hours); I left my computer on, went to class, and it was still downloading when I came back. Fortunately, once you’ve downloaded the game, it’s available to play instantly anytime.

-Gameplay: The Mercifully Short Section-

Nearly all games run inside the client window. At anytime, you can press escape to change controls, review instructions, or exit the game. Dreamcast games use the DCX emulator, which launches in a seperate window. The escape key still functions the same, but you have to exit the game to get back to the client. Windows games all launch in their own windows.

One of Gametap’s best features is the fact that all games play “out of the box.” There’s very little fiddling with options to get them to work; games from 1995 run perfectly in Windows XP w/ SP2. This is a major leg-up from the norm, which may involve nearly an hour of fiddling to get the game to barely run. Multiplayer, however, is rather laggy, but hopefully the problem will soon be fixed.

-The Rest: The Evil That Is Gametap TV-

Remember old G4? When it was all about video games and crappy shows about video games? Well, they’ve found a new home on Gametap TV, a streaming video section that has about fifty programs, all of them crap. There’s several music videos by shitty bands, informative programs that tell absolutely nothing or commit grievous factual errors, the usual “list” show, and an animation section that, despite being heavily hyped, is never updated except for new episodes of “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.” Some of these videos also stream when downloading a game, to the point where you will probably gouge your eyes and shove electric drills into your ears to escape the pain.

The only other section is the account section, which is mostly ignorable except for the game cache. Basically, games take space on your hard drive, depending on the size of the game itself. You can erase games on a one-by-one basis or simply clear the whole cache, but doing so also erases all saved games and high scores.

-Summary: Is It Worth It?-

Gametap doesn’t do anything MAME or other emulators do, so why pay for it? Gametap does have some major positives:

*Windows games. Some of these games are impossible to find, and it is easier to run them using one program rather than three or four.

*Convenience: You have a bunch of games in one spot, many of which you will have never played otherwise.

*Legality: Since Turner pays royalties, Gametap dodges the legal questions about emulation.

*Constantly improving: Gametap now is not at all like it was back when I started. The service is constantly being upgraded and added to, fixing up major issues and improving functioning all around. Turner actually gives a damn about their product for once.

Now for the major cons:

*It’s US only. Unfortunately, there are no plans to take Gametap overseas anytime soon.

*No Nintendo.

*Multiplayer is still laggy as hell.

*Gametap TV.

*Long game downloads.

In the end, I enjoy Gametap; it’s a great collection of games, many of which I have wanted to play for a long time. Hell, I’ll be in heaven next week (The Last Express is slated to be added then). However, I can see how this service is not for everyone, since it’s really just a very big emulator. That you pay for.

There, my shitty review is done. I’m going to get some dinner.

Just made my day :slight_smile:

Too bad they don’t emulate Saturn.

You know, I had been trying to find out how much the service was, and I never could seem to locate an actual cost number on their site. Maybe I was just a little blind at the time.