|System: Stadia (PC)|
|Release: November 19, 2019|
|Players: Single, Multiplayer|
|Screen Resolution: 720p-4K||Content found on console ranges from “Kids” to “Adults-only”|
by Jenni Lada
Google Stadia is a glimpse at the future. It could be one that’s still a ways away from being perfect, but it’s one so close we can almost see it taking form in front of us. This streaming service offers the hope of playing anywhere at any time, so long as you have an internet connection and device capable of running the Stadia app or Google Chrome. There are times when it isn’t exactly there yet, but what’s here provides a sense of hope. Not to mention when it does work well, it is like experiencing a little bit of magic.
First, I’d say I have an above average internet connection at home. While my Xfinity plan offers 200mbps, I tend to get 230mbps or higher most days. Though, sometimes it will dip to about 175mbps. I used the Stadia across multiple platforms. I used my Dell laptop when playing completely wirelessly, played using a Chromecast Ultra and the Stadia controller connected via ethernet cable, and used a Pixel 3a XL phone with the controller connected via a USB-C cable both at home and in public locations. While there were some moments when I’d notice a little skipping or lag when playing games in general on a phone outside the house and I wished it was LTE compatible, my experiences went well whenever I stayed stable at my home base. Going from a Chromecast to a phone to a computer is incredible and freeing.
Most of my game sessions were solid ones. If I played Destiny 2: The Collection or Samurai Shodown online, I had no trouble connecting with other people and going through matches. (However, I did have issues finding ranked matches and had some connection issues in Samurai Shodown on the laptop and Pixel 3a XL.) I didn’t have input lag when racing along Thumper’s tracks. Solo experiences in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Final Fantasy XV were the best of all, as characters looked lifelike and everything was responsive whether I was fighting soldiers or otherworldly monsters. Loading times were minimal, I didn’t experience things like screen tearing, and it seemed like my movements were being properly registered. Of course, playing it on a phone using a public connection isn’t going to be as great or responsive as it would be in a controlled environment, but I was just happy it worked.
It probably helped that the Stadia controller is so strong. The button placement calls to mind Sony’s DualShock 4, with the same sort of button layout and analog stick placement. However, this is paired with the comfort, weight, and texture of a Switch Pro Controller. There’s a balance to it, with the right sort of feedback when you press buttons. I’m not sure if I love or hate the triggers, though. While I loved the R2 and L2 buttons and how they seem to offer a bit more surface space than ones on similar peripherals, they also didn’t feel as sturdy somehow. Still, for the most part I was pleased with it. It has the sort of form that makes it comfortable to hold for long periods of time, without feeling like your hand is going to cramp up from holding too-small handles or pressing buttons that are too close together.
While it is amazing when it works, it is a little concerning how many screens Google Stadia can need to use every element of it. It constantly feels like no matter what piece of technology you are using to stream games, it somehow can’t do it all. The version you access via a browser on a PC seems most capable, as you could add friends, use a controller wirelessly, buy games, redeem codes, and play games. Every other one feels far more limited. Playing Stadia on a phone is super cool, since you can take it anywhere! Except you can’t take captures when on a mobile device, you have to connect the controller to your phone via a cord to play, can’t use Google Assistant, and it only worked with Pixel phones at launch. Combining Stadia with a Chromecast Ultra works well! Except you have to open up the app on a mobile device to purchase games, look at screen captures, or add friends that aren’t people you’ve recently played with. Oh, and forget about checking your achievements. It isn’t happening.
Speaking of captures, Stadia is terrible at sharing. Most platforms have an easy way to capture what you are doing and send it off to others, with the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 even having dedicated sharing buttons on their controllers. The Stadia controller has that too! Except tapping that button to save a screenshot or video clip locks that capture away in the Stadia app. You can’t enlarge it in the app. You can’t share it with other people or on social media. It isn’t even possible to go into a program like Google Photos to grab your captures from there. They remain mostly isolated in one program, where it is impossible to even zoom in on them. That is, unless you go to Google Sheets, where you can actually see the Google Stadia screenshot albums you have collected and get a better look at your pictures.
Additional poor planning has to do with the way Google may have communicated with developers. The idea is that Stadia Pro subscribers should be able to access 5.1 surround sound, enjoy 4K resolutions, and have games run at 60 FPS. However, actually having the games play that way falls to the developers. While a game like Destiny 2: The Collection will look and run fine, it will be upscaled and not running in true 4K, which is disheartening. I feel like accessibility issues are a potential problem too, especially if you play on a Google Pixel 3a XL. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey was my Google Stadia superstar, running well no matter where I played it. Final Fantasy XV was fine on Chromecast Ultra or a laptop, but the font size made it impossible to read on a phone. Having more games available period would be nice too, but one can hope its library will grow in 2020.
These are the sorts of issues that don’t feel too dire. Google will likely patch these things, hopefully sooner than later. But it does bring up something people might think about Stadia in its early days. There are times when this feels more like a beta test, where we are seeing proof of concept are helping to provide feedback and requests as the true product forms. Because even though things work now, there are notable features you’d expect with a full launch. You’d hope for some sort of game library organization, as the game tiles are just… there… now. It would also be great if you could see the battery percentage on a Stadia controller on your screen, something other platforms manage, so you have an idea of when you need a charge.
But then, early adopters always have been the guinea pigs in technological circles. Every platform does a lot of growing up in its first few weeks and months. While there are annoyances with Google Stadia and not every game is delivering true 4K and 60 FPS, there is still so much right here. I am in awe every time I fire up a game on a Pixel 3a XL when I’m not at home, even though it means also having a controller and an apparatus on hand to hold it. (I mean, I’m carrying a purse anyway.) I’m stunned when it somehow manages to work passably over WiFi at Starbucks or a library. I’m amazed when I sit at home in front of a laptop a room away from my router or at a Chromecast Ultra connected to an ethernet cable and HDTV and have it run perfectly. Seeing games work everywhere and play near perfectly at any time is astonishing. It might not be perfect yet, but there is true potential here.