Can you really play PUBG on a terrible old Mac? Thanks to Nvidia’s Geforce Now service, you (kinda) can.
A funny thing happened, the other day. I was watching a video of popular streamer StoneMountain64 – the guy who got me into PUBG in the first place – playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on a Mac.
He was playing a custom zombies game with seven of his buddies, and sure enough, he had a second camera pointed down at the MacBook laptop on his desk. I believe they call that ‘receipts’ in today’s parlance.
As is often the way, he was being sponsored to do so, and had a link to the software that made it possible in the video’s description: Nvidia’s Geforce Now streaming service.
You might be familiar with Geforce Now – essentially Nvidia’s answer to PlayStation Now or Netflix – as a service usually associated with their Shield devices. That’s either the Tegra-powered Shield tablet, which is sort of like a proto-Nintendo Switch, or the Shield TV, which is like an Ouya (but not shit).
Neither the Android-powered Shield tablet or the Shield TV have the internal grunt to run modern titles (though they handle mobile stuff rather well). Instead, they’re designed as a streaming target – either from your own high-end PC, or from the Geforce Now service.
If you’d like to have a go at streaming but you don’t have an Nvidia device, take a look at this guide for streaming from your PS4, or this one for streaming from your PC to an Android smart TV (the process is totally transferrable for a Droid-powered tablet or phone, too).
As it turns out, the Geforce Now Mac client is a new product – in addition to the initial Shield-powered offering – and Nvidia would very much like people to check it out.
In order to do that, they’re offering beta sign-ups for free. And, for reference, we’re not being sponsored to say that.
They obviously want to get as many to test it as possible, but they’re not going to piss off their publisher friends. So that doesn’t mean access to an unlimited library of games to play (like Netflix), rather, the ability to link your Steam (or Battle.net) account to your Nvidia account and stream the games you already own via Geforce Now.
Sign-ups for the Geforce Now Mac beta are open now in both the US and Europe. In the US, where they have a lot of infrastructure, sign-ups are immediate and queues are short. In the EU, where the service is more limited, there’s a waitlist to join.
My first port of call, then, was a VPN proxy into the US. And it was terrible.
Don’t get me wrong, it totally worked; but with a latency of over 130ms between my client and the US-based Geforce Now servers, it was borderline unplayable.
That didn’t stop me killing someone in a game of PUBG and finishing 25th, but I should probably point out that I spent a good portion of that time stuck in a bathroom, unable to see what was going on but hearing cars go past, praying they didn’t stop. Nobody did; it was the omnipresent blue which got me in the end.
Still, it proved the point and I wanted more of it.
So I contacted our friendly neighbourhood PR rep at Nvidia, and asked if they could get me in. It was Thanksgiving weekend and games news had been totally dead, so I needed something to write about.
Whether the rep obliged or the waitlist was short, I couldn’t tell you, but I was connected to the EU servers within a couple of hours.
Then I waited another 45 minutes because the service queues in the EU can be enormous at times – the service status page has been carrying a ‘degraded’ warning for weeks – but I did eventually get in and, to my surprise, it actually works!
I opened up with three solo games of PUBG, and managed a tenth, fourth and third place respectively. That wasn’t just hiding in bathtubs, either – that included seven kills across the three games, including two by vehicle (which I am traditionally not very good at, so the latency of Geforce Now can’t have been hampering me too badly).
The really amazing thing is that I’ve not just been playing PUBG on a Mac, but playing it on an ancient, terrible Mac. Specifically, that’s a 2011 MacBook Air, with an ultra-low voltage i3 processor, Intel HD 3000 graphics, and a whopping 4GB of RAM.
Seriously, this thing is awful. From making horrific fan noises when streaming any video, to deciding to pack up and shutdown with a reported 40% of battery left, it’s fit only for the scrapheap. Yet here I am, playing an incredibly demanding online game on it, artificially extending its life like some sort of Unreal Engine-powered iron lung.
That’s not to say that playing PUBG – or anything else for that matter – via Geforce Now has been a flawless experience.
Connection drops are fairly frequent occurrence, and while you’re usually able to jump back in after a few moments, that hasn’t been without its issues.
To be fair, if I was playing something other than PUBG, I might not mind so much. But if, for example, you were pressing the ‘W’ key to move forward just as the game crashed, it would continue receiving that key press until you rejoined. That’s led to some hilarious Forrest Gump moments in duos, with Mrs B watching me sprint off over the hills on autopilot, powerless to stop me. She did offer to shoot me once, but I declined; I’m sure once she revived me, I’d just set off running again.
The crashing, while random, also really picks its moments.
I’ve overturned more of the hideously unstable sidecar motorcycles than I’d care to admit because of drop-outs. I’ve also re-enacted scenes from Dude, Where’s My Car? with alarming regularity. On one fateful occasion – armed with a Kar98k, an 8x scope and a sniper rifle suppressor, the holy trinity of non-crate PUBG loot – the game dropped out and was unable to reconnect me immediately. I re-joined the EU queue and, by the time I got back in, I’d been left behind by the blue and dead for a good five minutes or more.
It’s hard to say whether these issues are due to the service status warnings on Nvidia’s EU servers, or whether my aged Mac is to blame. It could be a little from column A, and a little from column B. You could also argue that I’m a fool for playing a competitive game via Geforce Now – there’s a reason StoneMountain64 was dicking around with an unranked zombies game – but I’m more concerned with kicking tyres on the service than my own stats. [We fight for the users – Tron Ed.]
You can have bother with the settings, too. Within the Geforce Now software, there’s an option for favouring low latency over beauty, and also an option for direct mouse input, which all seems fairly self-explanatory. Then just when you think you’ve got these two the right way around, the next game you join, it’ll all seem wrong. Particularly in the case of the mouse option, where I find myself unable to click and drag – and therefore, unable to drop stuff or easily change attachments in PUBG – until I drop (or get dropped) out and switch that mouse setting toggle.
Later, I’ll have the exact same issue with the toggle in the new position; switching it back to the ‘problem’ position from earlier then seems to resolve the issue again. At least, for a while. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Another issue – specific to PUBG, I’d wager – is that Nvidia is clearly keen to show off their graphical prowess with the Geforce Now service. I’m sure they’ve got data centres full of high-end GPU hardware powering this thing, and the mind really does boggle that I’m not just playing PUBG, but playing it on ‘ultra’ graphics settings, on this terrible, ancient Mac. I understand the desire to flex their muscles, I really do.
But when you’re playing PUBG, a game of small margins, the last thing you want are the shadows maxed out, or worse, the foliage. You certainly don’t want motion blur turned on. Unfortunately Geforce Now defaults to ‘ultra’ across the board in the name of showing off, and you have to keep undoing these settings every time you join – or indeed, re-join – a game.
That being said, I’m just impressed that Geforce Now not only works, but works well enough – with a couple of niggles and caveats, that I’m sure Nvidia are working on – to allow you to play top-end games on bottom-end hardware.
‘Hardcore’ gamers often like to joke that you can’t game on a Mac. Specialist Publisher Feral have been working hard to address that myth for the games they can port, and for the ones they can’t? Nvidia’s Gefore Now service might just fill a vital gap.
And I sincerely hope the dude I killed on the US service – crappy VPN, thousands of miles of undersea fibre, towering pings, treacle-lag and all – is one of those snobby jerks. I hope he’s reading this. I’d love to see his face if he knew who got the better of him, and what a potato they were playing on.