The Google Stadia has arrived and general reception to the platform has been nothing more than lukewarm. Stadia’s launch was mired with technical hiccups and awkward issues. Even a few weeks after the launch, the platform still has some issues, but Google’s inaugural effort into the world of gaming has proved that the future of cloud gaming could be viable.
Stadia’s primary selling point is the ability to be able to play your video games from anywhere, leveraging Google’s cloud and livestreaming technologies to serve players HD gaming in 60 fps at a dynamic resolution based on your bandwidth. In practice, this actually works fairly well…most of the time.
As an early adopter, I purchased the Launch Edition. This included a Chromecast Ultra with Stadia firmware and the Stadia controller, which looks like a modern Xbox or PlayStation controller, but communicates with Google via WiFi. In the time since launch, Google has released Stadia-compatible firmware for anyone with a Chromecast Ultra. Speaking of the Chromecast Ultra, while it can communicate wirelessly, it comes built with an Ethernet port and I would highly recommend Stadia players to hardwire it. It will make a significant difference.
Let’s be frank. The Stadia’s launch was frustrating for owners everywhere, and I wasn’t immune. Initial setup required downloading the Stadia app on my phone (with no other way to make it work), then connecting my Google account to it, which required a confirmation code Google didn’t send out before I received my unit. After 10-15 minutes marrying my Chromecast to my phone and my controller to my wireless network, I was setup. I just had to get some games and go.
While game purchasing at the time of launch was restricted to the mobile app, it was a relatively quick, painless process. I added Destiny 2 and Samurai Shodown to my library as part of the Stadia Pro account, a monthly service that provides a couple games, like Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus, and access to 4K and surround sound. I also used my Google Pay account to buy Gylt, the platform exclusive stealth action game from Tequila Works.
Jumping into Destiny 2 was a breeze. I tied my accounts together through Bungie, then just clicked “Launch” on the game from my app (yep, you still have to kick everything off from the app if you’re playing on your Chromecast), and it was up and running, ready for me to select my character and drop in.
While the initial launch was quick with no install required as promised, the Stadia still has notable concerns at this point. Getting into the game still requires loading screens that take as long as my Xbox One X or PC. On top of that, Bungie admitted their Stadia version is graphically inferior to other platforms, so there’s a noticeable graphic difference, even at a smooth 60 FPS.
Ultimately, for Stadia, the proof is in the pudding. As long as your network is up and running well, you’re probably going to have a good experience playing the Stadia. On launch, Destiny 2 had a painful half second of aim delay for me. In the weeks since that period however, I’ve played half of a dozen games across a range of genres that all held up great with one concern: every half of an hour or so, the controller takes about thirty seconds to re-sync itself, which can seriously hamper any gameplay experience.
I really like the platform. I think the controller feels great. I’ve beaten Gylt, and I’ve put another dozen hours into Grid, Destiny 2, and Darksiders Genesis. You can also switch playing from Chromecast to Chrome browser to your phone at the drop of a hat, which is impressive.
Speaking of games, let’s discuss Stadia’s library. They launched with 22 games and recently added Grid, Borderlands 3, Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2, and Ghost Recon Breakpoint. They have a decent offering right now including shooters, racing games, stealth action, and fighters, but they need to continue growing their library, possibly with some slower-paced games. I’d love to see some turn-based games, like the phenomenal Trails of Cold Steel RPG series, make an appearance here.
I can’t help but feel like Google should’ve waited another six to nine months to get their ducks in a row. As of the time of this review, they have instituted an Achievements system that can’t be seen from the mobile app, and you can capture screenshots in game but they’re only viewable from the mobile app. Weird idiosyncrasies like this make the platform feel like it was rushed to market with no real reason for the rush. With Google’s history of abandoning ill-performing sectors of business, it’s a legitimate cause for concern.
I really like the Stadia, but it has an overwhelming set of issues that still need to be panned out. They need to continue growing their library and work on stability and infrastructure. Google also needs to make it known that they plan to support this platform for the foreseeable future so customers aren’t skittish about platform adoption. As it stands, I can’t recommend anyone pay $120 to pick up the platform before they bring it out for mass public consumption via browser, and that makes me sad. It has, however, proven to me that a future of streamed cloud games could be viable, and it has me excited to see what Microsoft’s xCloud could do.
The Bottom Line
The Stadia is an imperfect proof of concept with a rough launch that proves a cloud-based future in gaming could be viable.