Rainway – Interface
Across every device, Rainway utilizes a clean, tiled interface. It’s minimal and polished, if a little rudimentary. There’s a section for Games and Settings, and a grid of games installed on the gaming PC you’re hosting from. This interface is largely the same whether you’re looking at it from the host PC, a Chrome browser, iPhone or Android phone, or a Shield TV or Apple TV.
But weirdly, it doesn’t function the same across these devices, especially when it comes to settings. For instance, on Rainway for Web, the stream quality setting can be toggled between Fast, Balanced, or Beautiful. But on iPad, that same setting can be changed from Fast, Balanced, Beautiful, Very Pretty, and Extremely Pretty. (Side note: who knew “very pretty” was better than “beautiful?”). These apps may be on different software versions, but with so many different apps available, it gets perplexing, fast.App stability, too, is often determined by which device you’re streaming to. At one point on my host computer, I stretched my browser window and all my games disappeared from view. A quick reboot fixed the issue but disconnected the phone streaming from it. Meanwhile on iPad, the settings can only be scrolled through if you swipe up and down on a thin column of text – but not to its left or right. Sure, it’s a minuscule problem, but these tiny issues popped up enough times to make me wonder if the app proliferation had spread the development team a little thin.
Rainway can automatically populate its tiles with the games installed on your host computer, and I was delighted by how well the feature worked. It quickly pulled games from game launchers across Epic, Steam, Riot, and Uplay without being prompted. Occasionally, I had to refresh the client or open the games through their original launchers to get them to appear. When games don’t appear, which only happened twice for me, the solution was to add to Steam as a non-Steam game. This worked once and failed once. No matter what I tried, Rainway couldn’t load Hyper Scape.
Recently, Rainway added the ability to link your Steam account and download any games that aren’t already downloaded right from Rainway, which is a nice, small feature for those setting up new computers.
If you’re planning to stream your games predominantly on touchscreens, Rainway has three input methods. You can pair a controller, use a nebulous “touch” control scheme that is seemingly designed entirely for point-and-click adventures, or display a semi-transparent on-screen button layout. I could write an entire 1,000+ word review on this on-screen layout, but suffice it to say it works well enough, but – no surprise – the virtual buttons aren’t practical for serious gaming.
While Rainway’s interface and setup are simple enough, opening apps often displays your host computer’s desktop as the launcher loads. I often had to use an Apple TV remote to close a pop-up window or relaunch a game on my host computer’s desktop. At one point, I began to feel like Robert Downey Jr’s confused method actor from Tropic Thunder. I’m a dude, streaming a game, streamed from another game launcher, on another PC, through Rainway.
Rainway – Performance & Latency
It isn’t easy to measure Rainway’s performance empirically. It depends on so many factors – your internet speed, whether you’re plugged into ethernet, how powerful your host computer is, which games you’re trying to play, even which device you’re streaming from. To make matters even more complicated, Rainway seems especially prone to network hiccups that can cost you an overtime goal in Rocket League or ruin a good match in Apex Legends.
No surprises here, but Rainway performed significantly better when the host computer was connected directly to an ethernet cord. It also was less prone to problems when the computer was also in the room with the router. Moving too far away had a small but noticeable effect on latency, especially in the first five minutes of play.
I tested games on just about every device in my house – like a PC, iPad, MacBook, Nvidia Shield, Android Phone, and Apple TV. I played Dauntless for nearly five hours without any noticeable visual degradation, and it never stalled out, rubber-banded, or froze.
But latency varied dramatically depending on the game: Halo Reach’s online multiplayer worked incredibly well – I never even felt disadvantaged – but I couldn’t play Metro Exodus at all. The game stuttered so severely I was killed by the first enemy I encountered. Rainway’s on-screen latency reading also seemed to be drastically different from what I was experiencing. It claimed to hover between 7 and 14ms. I’m not convinced.
Rainway states that streaming at 1080p consumes data ranging from 1GB an hour to 6GBs an hour, depending on graphics quality. That’s nearly 3GBs an hour less than Google Stadia, and there are additional settings that can impact these numbers. For instance, you can turn the FPS from 60 to 30 or even 15, or change visual quality to “Fast” or “Balanced.”
Maybe the most frustrating problem with Rainway was the constant, incessant audio problems I encountered. Nearly half of the games I played started without audio of any kind. There was no rhyme or reason to the audio glitches. Oftentimes restarting the game fixed the issue – sometimes, it did not. Rainway’s FAQ’s had plenty of proposed workarounds, but none of them seemed to work as well as restarting the game.
I’d be remiss not to mention that in my time testing Rainway, the developer has released myriad updates. These updates have fixed plenty of bugs, brought the service to even more platforms, and added features (like downloading games from Steam). I’m hopeful one of these updates will squash the audio bugs I’ve experienced, but so far, no dice.
Streaming games from a computer you own also has some exciting benefits while posing unexpected challenges. For instance, all your games are already downloaded, your friend lists are already populated, and you never have to re-log into any account. But when a game refuses to start or requires an update, Rainway can feel frustrating and awkward. At its best, Rainway feels magical. At its worst, it feels like you should just be playing on your PC.
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Rainway – Purchasing Guide
Rainway is a completely free game streaming service and you can get started by making an account with Rainway.