Despite enjoying streaming services for movies and music the idea of streaming video games just didn’t have much personal appeal, which meant that the announcement of Google’s Stadia was met with apathy. This mentality is being shared because it’s a sign of character growth and personal development when a person can publicly admit they are mistaken. After spending some time with the new gaming platform it became apparent that there’s a lot of potential with the Stadia and it was easy to picture it getting a lot of regular use with a library of AAA titles like Borderlands 3 alongside indie titles like Kine. Some of the issues encountered during pre-launch play may have been addressed by the time the Stadia gets its retail release or at least soon after.
Initial set up for the Stadia is a bit more involved than with a traditional console as it doesn’t really have any hardware to speak of outside of a controller and a Chromecast Ultra. It’s advisable to set up a Gmail account and download the Google Home and Google Stadia apps to your smartphone or tablet. Using the Google Home app sync TV and Chromecast and then use the app to connect sync the controller to the TV or monitor. Games can be purchased through the store on the Stadia app or Stadia website and then can be played.
Actually getting into the games, the initial thoughts were this is a rather impressive system with 22 games available at launch. None of the games I had access to during the pre-launch period were games I owned on other platforms so unfortunately there couldn’t be any comparing and contrasting but what was played looked how I imagine it would on the other platforms. What was impressive is taking games with detailed visuals such as Mortal Kombat 11 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider and have them stream without any noticeable lag or framerate issues most of the time. During the pre-launch period only a limited number of people had a Stadia unit so the connectivity strength may falter more often. Most of the time playing at home I was able to explore tombs without issue and flawlessly execute every multiple hit kombo that ended in fatality. Taking the Stadia on the road and using different WiFi connections had varying results. Using free hotel WiFi had the games stuttering quite a bit but after lowering some setting things ran more smoothly. This did hinder gameplay some but the I could still enjoy the games with only some minor hiccups at their performance. Multiplayer worked well too even if all the online multiplayer features weren’t available during the pre-launch period. There were only a couple times when the games slowed to an unplayable pace but this is something that can happen with streaming services. Travel WiFi was less consistent depending on present location but at home it was perfect about 85 percent of the time, playable but stuttering 10 percent and 5 percent of the time it was a crashtastic unplayable mess.
The game library for Stadia is impressive with some major publishers on board but that statement comes with a caveat: with the exception of GYLT, the lone Stadia exclusive title, everything in the library is a previously-released game. There several worthwhile titles available but not too many games are worthy of a second purchase. But even if the library is composed of titles available on other platforms there are quite a few good ones from which to choose. To name a few of the 44 known titles that are either available or coming to Stadia, there is Baldur’s Gate III, Darksiders Genesis, Destiny 2, Doom Eternal, The Elder Scrolls Online, Metro Exodus, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Samurai Showdown.
In addition to being able to stream Stadia to any TV or monitor users can also play it these games in mobile mode. Currently, this mode is only supported on Google Pixel but there are plans to bring it to iOS in 2020. In the Stadia app the user can choose to stream the game to either the Chromecast attached TV or their phone, which currently requires the user to plug in the controller to the Pixel with the USB-C cable. There are some tradeoffs in this configuration. Getting the negatives out of the way first, the Pixel screen is significantly smaller than most monitors or televisions. A problem with this is some games are clearly made for the big screen and some smaller graphical details or smaller text can be rather difficult to see with any sort of clarity when displayed on a phone. The ideal way to play mobile mode will hopefully be available early next year when they allow this mode to be played on a tablet. On the other hand, playing a triple A title on your phone with 60 fps and full HD graphics is nice. Having the option to lie in bed while playing some Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is appealing. Despite the small screen not being ideal for every game, this is a nice feature and something I would argue is one of the main selling points of the Stadia. The fact that it is currently limited to being compatible only with Google Pixel phones is unfortunate but this sounds like it is only a temporary restriction, and sometimes switching between mobile mode and TV isn’t as smooth of a transition as one would hope.
The one piece of hardware that composes Stadia is the controller and this is a surprisingly impressive piece of equipment. The controller is wireless (with the exception of mobile mode) and charges with a USB-C cable. The configuration isn’t too different from what Xbox and PlayStation users have been using the past couple decades. The layout is familiar but the size, weight and shape is comfortable and natural feeling. The buttons and thumbsticks are responsive. A worry with the Stadia prior to playing is the controller would feel like many cheap third-party controllers but that fear was quickly alleviated after a few minutes of game time.
The Stadia is a surprisingly impressive gaming platform. The lack of a console for a streaming based platform seemed ambitious and I had some skepticism about it but after spending some time with it Google pulled it off. The launch library and confirmed future releases is impressive even if the majority are available on other platforms. The few days spent playing it prior to launch have been a great experience most of the time, whether streaming games on the big screen or laying back and playing on my phone. Ultimately the ability of the servers to handle the game streaming and library growth will determine how much staying power the Stadia has but spending a few days playing it before launch turned an apathetic skeptic into a strong supporter of Stadia. The platform isn’t perfect, as some issues were discussed in the proceeding paragraphs, but overall my time with Stadia was enjoyable and there’s excitement to see how this platform grows.