Google Stadia’s cloud-streaming service shows a lot of promise, and could be a great option for those who want to game without spending a fortune on a console. But with lots of missing features at launch, Stadia has a long way to go to become a serious challenger to PlayStation and Xbox.
- Affordable 4K gaming
- Can play on TV, laptop and smartphone
- Supports third-party controllers
- Many features missing on day one
- Can’t play in 4K through web browser
- No offline mode
- Video compression affects picture quality
What is Google Stadia?
More and more expensive to become a gamer, with console prices rising so high that the PS5 and Xbox 2 are estimated to cost more than £ 400 to be launched in 2020. Google Stadia is a more cost-effective alternative, currently only £ 8, 99 per month – with the optional £ 119 Stadia Premiere Edition bundle that gives you a controller and Chromecast Ultra is needed for TV playback.
Google can keep prices low because it doesn’t need high-specification hardware with Stadia. With a broadband connection that is fast enough, you will be able to stream games on your smartphone, laptop or TV, regardless of hardware specifications.
Google is the first to officially launch cloud-streaming services – the upcoming Project xCloud and Nvidia GeForce Now, both are still in beta – but with many key features missing and a disappointing launch lineup, Stadia is far, far from being ‘ the future of gaming ‘that Google promises.
Google Stadia – Many ways to play
There are three ways to play Stadia: on TV via Chromecast Ultra, on a computer / laptop / tablet via the Google Chrome browser and on your smartphone via the special Stadia application.
No game platform that precedes Stadia has ever offered such versatility, and being able to exchange between each method of play is very liberating and seamless. Stadia allows a 5 minute replacement time so you can pick up exactly where you left off without needing to save progress.
Unfortunately, there are problems with each game method at launch. For TV playback, only Ultrecast Chromecast bundled with Stadia Founder’s Edition or Premiere Edition will be compatible when launched. That means without the help of a computer, it is impossible to play Stadia on your TV without investing in one of the bundles. Google has clarified that the Chromecast Ultra device sold separately will eventually be patched to support Stadia, but this is a real head scratcher that we have to wait for that feature.
The second problem with playing TV is that only the official Stadia controller will work. Google has long boasted that you will be able to use any popular game controller with Stadia, be it PS4, Xbox One or Switch Pro pad, but that is not the case when playing through the Chromecast Ultra.
Then we come to the Google Chrome browser. This is my personal favorite, because it lets you play Stadia at home, in the office or at the hotel or at a friend’s house – all you need is a decent internet connection and a laptop. However, for unreasonable reasons, 4K resolution was not supported via PC when it was launched.
Finally, you can play Stadia on your smartphone through a special application. You would think the smartphone screen would be too small to play games, but I had fun blowing up aliens on Destiny 2 through Pixel 3a. In addition, some smartphones have screens of more than 6 inches which are not too far from the screen size of the Nintendo Switch.
The disadvantage here is that only Google Pixels 2, 3, 3a and 4 (including the XL edition) are so far compatible. Google has confirmed that more phones will be compatible in the future, but that does not make it less disappointing for many Stadia customers when launched.
Google Stadia UI – All about the application
The Stadia smartphone application – available on Android and iOS – is the main heart of the interface for cloud streaming services. It’s here where you set up your account, configure your settings, save screenshots in games and even buy games. This application is very easy to navigate with touch screen controls, while the large box of games in your library is pleasing to the eye and easy to digest.
Storefront Stadia has similar benefits, although it doesn’t seem to have a search function yet. That’s not a problem at the moment with so few games available to buy, but it will become a mandatory addition after more titles are available.
Click on a game in the store, and lots of useful information will appear below it, including the age rating, whether it supports keyboard / mouse input and, for people like Destiny 2, even links to loot drop box levels. This is a subtle feature, but I can see it is very useful for parents when deciding whether the game is suitable for their child.
There are also negative points, especially that you can only buy games through Google’s own digital store, which means prices are not competitive. Stadia Store is currently priced at Mortal Kombat 11 at £ 49.99 (not final), although it is available for less than £ 30 on PS4 and Xbox One via Amazon. Steam shared this problem with Stadia, but was the first to fix this by cutting the price of the game in seasonal sales. It remains to be seen whether Google will adopt the same solution.
It’s also a little annoying. You can only access the store via the mobile app, and not through your laptop or TV. That said, taking your smartphone out of your pocket and opening an application requires almost no time. Plus because you don’t have to wait for downloads or updates with Stadia, you can start playing new games much faster than you can with PS4 and Xbox One.
Google Stadia Performance – Play games through the cloud
The biggest concern with cloud streaming is latency, which will prove a big problem for shooters and action games where time is the key. During my time with Stadia, latency has never really proven a problem, even in the Destiny 2 online shooter.
I did see strange blips or performance lags when playing via Wi-Fi in my room, but because my internet connection saw download speeds below 10Mbps (the minimum internet speed recommended by Google), it was a miracle the game was running at all.
Rather than latency, I find the biggest problem with Stadia is achieving a fairly secure connection for high resolution. When I transfer via Ethernet, seeing the download speed of 20Mbps, my flow still often becomes blurry with a resolution that seems to go down to 720p.
I say ‘apparently’ because Stadia refuses to give you information about your connection or game resolution other than ‘solid’, ‘good’ and ‘good’ performance status, which is not very helpful. Stadia does provide a little 4K logo on the menu when the connection is fast enough to play Ultra HD games, but I don’t understand why Google doesn’t do something similar for Full HD or Quad HD visuals.
When my internet connection was good enough to achieve Full HD images, people like Shadow of the Tomb Raider still didn’t look as good as they did on my standard PS4. This is likely because compression, which cannot be avoided by cloud streaming, reduces video recording details.
Even so, 4K game visuals still looked really good when I started playing in the Trusted Reviews office where we saw download speeds well above the 35Mbps requirement. Provided you have Broadband that is fast enough, Stadia seems to be the cheapest choice for 4K games.
One of the biggest weaknesses of Stadia is the absence of offline mode. Because competitors such as GeForce Now and xCloud are tied to existing ecosystems (Steam and Xbox respectively), you will be able to play any game in your library offline or through streaming cloud with a single purchase. Stadia doesn’t have this flexibility, so you really need to make sure you have a fast internet connection before subscribing.
Google Stadia Controller – Choose your weapon
The official Google Stadia controller is a decent board, obviously inspired by the thick Xbox controller because it shares the same button layout. The Stadia controller is not sharp enough, and the D-Pad feels a bit too chewy to my liking.
The great thing about Stadia is that you can choose whatever controller you want. PS4 pads, Xbox One and Switch Pro are all supported here. Better yet, when you connect it to Stadia, the button in the game asks immediately to switch to your new controller format, avoiding a lot of confusion in the tutorial.
Although disappointing, the third-party controller will not function when playing Stadia on TV. As mentioned above, only official Stadia controllers can be used with this method because it is connected directly to Wi-Fi instead of using Bluetooth.
Strangely, Google has not patched in the ability to connect two controllers to Stadia simultaneously, which means local multiplayer is not ready when launched. This is a big disappointment, especially since Mortal Kombat 11 which focuses on multi-players is part of the launch lineup.
Google Stadia Games – Lean results
Google has confirmed that many games will come to Stadia, including future AAA releases such as Cyberpunk 2077, Marvel Avengers and Watch Dogs Legion.
Unfortunately, Stadia only has 22 games available at launch, all of which you can see below:
- Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
- Attack on Titan: Final Battle 2
- Destiny 2: The Collection
- Farming Simulator 2019
- Final Fantasy XV
- Football Manager 2020
- Grid 2019
- Just Dance 2020
- Metro Exodus
- Mortal Kombat 11
- NBA 2K20
- Rage 2
- Red Dead Redemption 2
- Rise of the Tomb Raider
- Samurai Shodown
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
- Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
- Trials Rising
- Wolfenstein: Youngblood
This is a decent range, but it is much smaller compared to Microsoft xCloud, which has more than 50 titles available although it is still in beta. Xbox has a big advantage here, with exclusive decades and licensing agreements to take advantage of. Google effectively starts from scratch.
I’m not sure why games that have been released on other platforms – including Borderlands 3, Doom, The Division 2 and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint – fail to reach the launch lineup deadline, but it makes the Stadia launch feel a little underwhelming. Something like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, FIFA 2020 or Fortnite at launch will make a big difference.
It’s also worth mentioning that you have to pay for the game you are playing – this is not ‘Netflix Game’ as many people assume. Similar to Xbox Games with Gold and PlayStation Plus, subscribing to Stadia Pro will give you free games every month, with the first being Destiny 2: The Collection and Samurai Shodown.
Another feature that is missing the launch day is achievement. Google has repeated that Stadia will record the achievements obtained by players from the launch, but players will not be able to see this now.
Should you buy Google Stadia?
There are many good things to celebrate about Stadia. Cloud-streaming technology is truly a game changer, not only eliminating the need for expensive high-powered hardware, but also giving more freedom to many people by allowing us to continue playing games wherever there is a strong Wi-Fi connection.
However, a significant number of significant features that were lost when launched – including 4K on PC, local multiplayer, achievements, and support for non-Pixel smartphones – cannot be forgiven.
Google’s plan to gradually launch these features shows a lot of naivete and only emphasizes how far Stadia is behind the PlayStation and Xbox in building a successful ecosystem. I have no doubt Stadia will improve significantly over the next few months (and I will update its reviews and decisions), but a rushed launch does more harm than good.
Google of course convinced me that cloud streaming is the future, but Stadia has a very, very long way to go if it will take the PlayStation and Xbox as a go-to gaming platform.
Google Stadia shows a lot of promise, and can be a good choice for those who want to play without spending a fortune on the console. But with many features missing at launch, there is a long way to become a serious contender for the PlayStation and Xbox.