These days it seems almost everything we do is reliant on the cloud. This all-consuming digital pea-soup seems to have slowly seeped into every facet of our lives, and this is most obviously apparent in the world of entertainment. Mountains of cumbersome DVDs have been antiquated by streaming services which offer immediate on-click entertainment and the rise of music streaming technology has reduced vast collections of vinyl or CDs to nothing more than a novelty. Following this pattern, the eventual arrival of cloud streaming to the gaming world was almost an inevitability and whilst various companies like Microsoft and Nvidia have flirted with the technology over the last few years; there hadn’t been a high profile consumer release of cloud gaming technology until late last year.
Google’s Stadia gaming system promised to offer an affordable library of high-profile games ready to be streamed by any of your home’s devices at an excellent quality with zero-latency or input lag. Unfortunately, when Stadia released last November it didn’t quite live up to that promise and many were understandably disappointed by the shaky performance and the almost laughable lack of available games. Now, almost six months later and with numerous changes to their system, is Stadia worth a second look?
What’s in the box?
Whilst you can buy the fancy Stadia “Premiere Edition” over at the Google Store which gears you up with a shiny Chromecast Ultra (capable of streaming content in 4K resolutions) and the colourful Stadia gamepad, there are actually no proprietary hardware requirements for using this service! That’s right, the only thing you need to stream content direct from a Google supercomputer is a basic PC and a solid internet connection – although for laptop users we’d definitely recommend getting your hands in a wired mouse or controller before you try and dive into any games. If you are interested in finding out more regarding the official Stadia controllers, stay tuned as a review will be available on Arcadeberry next month.
This lack hardware requirements is definitely the biggest draw of Stadia. From super-powered gaming PCs to a lowly budget Chromebook, we were able to get Stadia up and running on every configuration we tried in a matter of minutes. All you need to do is head over to stadia.com, log on to your Google account and press play. The lack of any download time is a welcome relief in an era where games’ file sizes seem to become exponentially larger by the day and helps free up otherwise occupied space for other programs. Because all of your games are stored on external server, accidentally deleting your save data is a thing of the past and your progress is automatically carried through to all of your Stadia compatible devices.
Playing on the cloud
As undeniably fantastic as never having to wait for a download again sounds, the time saved is very little consolation if it is not accompanied by acceptable in-game performance. For the most part, Stadia performs surprisingly well. When you have a good internet connection, games look crisp, even at the 1080p resolution of the free streaming tier, and I personally found if any input lag is present it is not at all noticeable. Unfortunately, any slight drop in your internet connection is highly noticeable with the sudden appearance of visual artefacts, controls becoming unresponsive and plenty of frustration. Whilst this may seem an obvious drawback of cloud gaming, it is worth noting that many of Google‘s measures against this inconvenience simply do not work as intended.
The inbuilt Wi-Fi checker which theoretically tell you whether you current Wi-Fi connection is sufficient in our experience didn’t seem to show any readings other than a “Good” connection, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. The feature that ensures you can immediately jump back into your games if your Wi-Fi fails (provided your connection returns within five minutes) failed every time it was required leading to lost progress and wasted time repeating lengthy sections of games we had already finished.
If you have a flawless internet connection, your experience with Stadia will still be hampered by the cripplingly small library of games on offer. We counted thirty-eight total games available on the platform – excluding listings for multiple editions of the same game and DLC packs. Nine of these games are included as part of the ‘pro’ subscription model which also grants access to some solid discounts on a couple popular titles. Although the games available are all solid titles, and Google has promised hundreds of new games (even some timed exclusives) over the coming year to try and rectify the issue, this pitiful quantity is inexcusable considering the service has been already available for months now.
The social side
The Stadia online page is accompanied by a sleek mobile app which theoretically allows you to stream your games to your phone. Inexplicably, game streaming is only accessible on a handful mobile devices (predominantly the Google Pixel line and recent Samsung models) but this is not too disappointing with the high data requirements and tricky control mapping of services like Steam Link having already shown us that streaming PC games to phones is impractical and generally more trouble than it is worth. Luckily, the streaming feature is not the main draw of the app. Instead it provides a fast and visually appealing way to browse the online store and check your social settings which is technically leagues above the generally lag-filled Playstation and Xbox mobile apps.
Unfortunately, the social features you can access are highly lacking. There is no profile customisation with only a handful of pre-selected profile picture options, username changes can only be accomplished by contacting Google directly, your achievements cannot be displayed and seem to lack any real purpose beyond frustrating completionists. Most disappointingly of all, there is still not a basic party feature to let you play an online game with a group of friends. It’s also worth noting that many features when you are in-game on your PC, such as altering your visual quality, are bizarrely (and frustratingly) only accessible through the mobile app.
Whilst almost all of these missing features are tantalisingly labelled as “coming soon”, it’s been almost six months and very few new features have actually materialised.
In spite of its obvious and numerous flaws, Stadia is nevertheless persistently alluring. The ability to jump straight into your games after a purchase is enticing and feels just right. If all the promised features were implemented and the game library was expanded, this novelty would make recommending Stadia a no-brainer. As it stands however, we would only recommend Stadia to users with no other options. If you only own a weak laptop or Chromebook with a reliable internet connection, and your alternative is not playing games at all, you will probably find investing in a couple Stadia games a satisfactory low-cost way to quench your gaming thirst.