Game streaming is set to be the next big thing in the video game industry, with Microsoft and Sony both investing significant resources into developing cloud gaming platforms for the PlayStation 5 and Project Scarlett. However, Google has gotten the jump on its competitors, entering the triple-A video game market with its Stadia game streaming service.
Stadia launched its Founder's Edition on November 19, complete with 22 launch games, the Stadia controller, and a Chromecast Ultra that's currently required to play Stadia on a TV. We have played Destiny 2, Gylt, and Samurai Shodown to test Stadia to determine if the game streaming service is worth checking out in its current state, or if its ambitious technology has come a little too soon.
At this point, video game companies have more or less perfected the controller. Both the Xbox One controller and the PS4's DualShock 4 are great, and since the Google Stadia controller borrows heavily from them, it makes sense that it's great as well.
The Google Stadia controller's analog sticks are positioned like a DualShock 4. The face buttons mirror the Xbox One controller, whereas the triggers fall somewhere in-between the Xbox One controller and the DualShock 4. The same can be said for the Stadia's size in that it feels a little bigger than a DualShock 4 when playing, but not quite as big as an Xbox One controller. We haven't done exact measurements, but the shape of the controller may play into that a bit more than its literal size. Overall, we have no complaints about the controller design itself. Its familiar design should mean that there is zero learning curve for anyone that has played PS4 or Xbox One.
But while the controller itself is well-designed and feels good to use, the initial setup can be a bit of a pain. We had to restart our Chromecast Ultra a couple of times to get it to interact with the controller. And every once in awhile, the short four-button code that players have to press to pair the controller with the Chromecast doesn't work. Getting the controller working on other devices is painless, though, as players simply have to plug it in using the provided USB cable.
When Microsoft joined the console gaming market with the original Xbox, it did so with a library of exclusive games, including the killer app Halo: Combat Evolved. Comparably, the Google Stadia launch lineup is disappointing, consisting of 21 games that have already been available for other systems for quite some time, and a single exclusive. Granted, some of the Stadia games include heavy hitters like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Destiny 2, but it seems unlikely that anyone who wants to play those games hasn't already done so.
The single Stadia exclusive available at launch is a stealth horror game from Tequila Works called Gylt. Gylt is a fairly short game with basic gameplay, though its art style is impressive and it has a fantastic musical score. But it's not the kind of game that will sell anyone on Stadia. It's pretty middle of the road and it does nothing that can't be done in other games on other systems.
Google Stadia's weak launch lineup may be more acceptable if more Stadia exclusive games were announced for the future, but there are only two more that have been confirmed at the time of this writing. These include the Overcooked-like Get Packed and Orcs Must Die! 3. While Get Packed looks like it can provide some hilarious couch co-op fun and Orcs Must Die! 3 should do a good job of scratching that tower defense itch, neither game seems like it has what it takes to convince people to try out Stadia.
Not only is Google Stadia missing a strong lineup of exclusive games at launch, but the service is also missing a number of important features. This includes its achievement system, Google Assistant integration, family account sharing, and more. This means that some of the buttons on the Stadia controller dedicated to these things literally have no function. Google Stadia fans can expect these features to be added throughout 2020, and achievement hunters out there can rest assured that Stadia is still tracking their achievements, even though the UI for them hasn't been set up yet.
Wired vs. Wireless
We tested Google Stadia both wirelessly using Chromecast Ultra, using a mobile phone running the Stadia app, and with a wired Internet connection on PC. At Internet speeds averaging 100mbps, we encountered serious issues when playing over wi-fi. This included stuttering, frequent resolution dips, atrocious input lag, and crashes. Anyone that plans on using Stadia because of its "play anywhere" factor may want to think twice, as the experience is really only tolerable when playing on a wired connection.
When playing Stadia with a wired connection, we encountered zero issues. Stadia's negative latency gimmick appears to work, as we didn't have a problem with input lag or anything else that one might fear from a game streaming service. One of the selling points of Stadia is being able to play triple-A games wherever using wi-fi, but Stadia users shouldn't expect to do that without sacrificing performance in big ways.
The ability to instantly play a big game like Destiny 2 with all its expansions regardless of hardware and without having to download anything is admittedly pretty cool. However, Stadia's performance over wi-fi makes trying to play a game like Destiny 2 competitively virtually impossible, and so only those who plan on mainly playing with a wired connection should even consider checking out Stadia.
When using a wired connection, Stadia performs perfectly, and it's easy to see why some people really believe that game streaming is the future of the industry. Unfortunately, it will be some time before Internet in the United States catches up with Stadia. Internet data caps make Stadia a non-option for millions of people in the US, and while Google is optimistic that cable and Internet companies will adjust data caps to appease Stadia users, that seems highly unlikely. Internet speeds in the United States are also lacking what many people would need to run Stadia properly, and so anyone that is interested in it should make sure that they have fast Internet and no data cap before jumping in.
But even if someone has the Internet necessary to run Google Stadia, there really is no compelling reason to jump into the service at launch. With the exception of Gylt, every single Stadia game can be played elsewhere. Stadia may become more enticing as missing features are added and its library expands to include more exclusives, but in its current state, it's far from the cloud gaming revolution that Google hoped it would be.