Google Stadia is finally here, and in this review we aim to break down whether or not it was/is worth all the hype it's been receiving for months. Yes, Stadia is now at our fingertips and it almost seems a little bit surreal. For a while this was something that I along with many others have been incredibly excited about.
Some were simply excited because of the ability to do away with downloads for games, as well as play the games on different screens with relative ease. For me personally, it was about having the ability to play mostly Destiny 2 on a phone and from various locales around the house.
After spending the last week with it, playing hours of one of my favorite games on my phone, through Chromecast, and via PC, I have a better understanding of the service. Is it going to shake up the gaming industry? Maybe. Some day. Is it worth diving into right away? That all depends on you.
In this Google Stadia review, we'll break down the good and bad of the service and hopefully bring you closer to a decision on whether or not it's worth your time and money.
Despite the disbelief, there is latency and it is noticeable
Take a walk over to the r/Stadia subreddit and pop into any one of the discussions that have a larger number of comments. Chances are you'll quickly stumble on one rife with arguments on both sides about latency.
Some arguing that there won't be any, while others disagree and assure people there will be. I am here to tell you that there is latency and it is very noticeable. Having said that, this warrants some clarification.
Over the past week I had the opportunity to try out Destiny 2's Gambit mode in a live play environment. Gambit is one of Destiny 2's multiplayer modes.
On a few occasions during these play tests, I experienced heavy latency and lag. This resulted in the rendering of the game glitching out almost entirely. Luckily, this issue only lasted for a few seconds, and then I was back in action and everything was fine.
The downside here is that those few seconds could have been during the time our team was being invaded. And in fact that's what happened on further matches during the same and future play tests. This would make for a very unpleasant experience in a multiplayer environment. As it should, because no one likes to lose, and especially when it's caused by issues with the system.
While I did run into a few problems with latency during multiplayer gameplay, this wasn't the case with single player content. I was more than capable of running around the various planets in Destiny 2's solar system at my lonesome with zero problems.
On the phone at least, I was getting a solid 60 fps. The graphics even looked nearly as good as they do on console. For my purposes, this is exactly what I wanted Stadia for. To play Destiny 2 and a few other games from my phone. Perhaps in bed, perhaps on the couch. Most importantly, when I just didn't feel like sitting in my PC chair any longer.
For me Stadia is a comfort thing, and a convenience thing. And for those purposes it's entirely living up to those expectations.
Setup was extremely easy
When it comes to setting up your Stadia profile and getting everything up and running, it was dead simple. It took me no longer than a few minutes to have Stadia loaded onto my screen of choice and start playing games.
What's that boil down to? A wicked quick onboarding process. I can't tell you how pleased I was with the speed and simplicity of getting Stadia going. The last thing I wanted to do was spend fifteen minutes or more plugging everything in and downloading patches and updates.
Granted, I play games heavily on both my PC and my PS4, so I'm used to these kinds of things and they don't really bother me all that much. But, it was still nice to see that with Stadia, as a customer who just opened up the packaging for a bundle, you could be unboxing stuff and playing games in just a few minutes. Which, is one of the most appealing things about the platform for most people.
In short, if you're planning on getting Stadia, you will appreciate the quick setup process.
No crashing means endless hours of play time
Look, there may be some latency here and there. You'd be extremely naive to think it would be possible to get rid of any and all latency with a product like this. Having said that, Google has done a pretty good job at getting rid of most of it.
In all the times I loaded up a game on Stadia, I never once had the service crash on me. Not once did the service kick me out of a game and force close the app on my phone. Or the web page in my browser.
Every play session was stable for the most part and that's a good sign for both early adopters and future potential customers. We haven't done extensive testing on multiplayer environments yet.
So the true test on MP games or game modes will come when thousands of people are online. This will provide a much more accurate picture of what multiplayer might be like. More so than the small amount of people that were playing games during the review period.
All that aside, any games which don't revolve around big, living worlds to explore like Destiny 2 will probably behave much better. Games like Shadow of The Tomb Raider played and looked fantastic on the phone. Without any tearing or jittery frame rates.
This should make sense though. There's less to render at any given time. And the phone screen is smaller. If you are or were worried about Stadia crashing, you can feel safe in that it probably won't happen.
Gameplay via W-Fi doesn't seem to work too well
To be more clear, gameplay via Wi-Fi on anything but the phone doesn't seem to work too well. Situationally, at least. The Stadia Founders Bundle comes with a Chromecast Ultra. And it's power adapter has an ethernet plugin so you can wire the device.
In all my testing, playing on Chromecast using Wi-Fi did not yield the best results. For example, I tried connecting the Chromecast to both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks to see which performed better.
Naturally, the 5GHz network came out on top. But only by a very small margin. My Chromecast was plugged in on the opposite side of the home from where the router is. Meaning the 5GHz signal likely isn't reaching my device as best as it could be.
Still, this is a bit disconcerting. Not everyone will be able to hook the Chromecast Ultra up to a wired connection.
This will surely hinder the experience for some users. Stadia did work for me on Wi-Fi with Chromecast as well as through the Chrome browser on my PC. But, not as good as I had expected. For having a very fast internet connection, it was surprisingly underwhelming in terms of visual quality.
Perhaps, the issue lies with the router and modem I'm using. But, it's not necessarily feasible to rush out and buy all new equipment just to get the best wireless experience. One can only assume that Stadia is supposed to work just fine with the equipment you have in your home, provided you have each piece of equipment.
While it did work, it didn't look that great. Graphics were often blurry and visual clarity of some surrounding environments looked like the game was running on bottom of the barrel hardware.
Hopefully that will change in the future. As of launch day though, users may be best off if they can plug the Chromecast into an ethernet connection. This seemed to be the best experience.
Let's talk about the games
Earlier on in writing this review Google had confirmed it was only bringing 12 games to the platform for day one. Launch day is November 19 officially, which was learned about a little over a month in advance, and Stadia was set to have just 12 games available.
That's not exactly a good thing. It's a low number even for a completely new platform. A detail that should be well-justified in being a major pain point.
Luckily, just barely more than a day before launch, Google confirmed that it was extending its day one launch library from 12 to 22 games. This is still not a massive game library for launch, but it's important to remember that this is just day one.
All 22 games that will be available on the very first day of launch. More are expected to come in the weeks following launch as well. All things considered, 22 games isn't half bad.
None of them are entirely new games, with most having launched at least a month or two prior to Stadia. That said, a few are still fairly new, and that's something. When you pair this with the number of additional games that will be launched throughout the rest of the year, Stadia's game lineup does start to look better and better.
This shouldn't discount that there could have been a possibility for Google to bring some bigger, better, newer games to Stadia the first day of launch. That's not what's happening though, and that's kind of ok. For those that are eagerly awaiting the Stadia platform, there's more than enough great titles to pick from for now, and more will land soon enough.
Stadia comes with a damn good controller
I've had many different consoles over my lifetime. The NES, SNES, SEGA Genesis, PS1, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and finally a PS4 and now Stadia (which isn't technically a console). Out of all the controllers of the consoles I've owned, and those I have merely played on, the DualShock 4 is my favorite.
The Stadia controller is pretty close in quality though. It feels very comfortable to play on. All the buttons feel very tactile, responsive, and not at all low-quality.
The best part really is the thumbstick grips. They feel soft enough to the touch that your thumbs shouldn't hurt even after an hours-long play session. And thanks to the textured micro bumps around the edges it adds a little bit to the comfort and grip.
Because the edges aren't entirely smooth, it feels like your thumbs may not slide off as easily, which was nice to see.
The controller has a good weight to it too, and only feels a little bit heavy when playing games with the phone and the Claw attachment. This is due mostly to the weight of the phone though.
As or battery life, it seemed to last just about as long as most other controllers. It was decent enough for the time I spent playing on it, and didn't seem too low at any point.
If there's any complaints to be made about this controller, it's that it doesn't support wireless play with the phone or any other device except the Chromecast at launch. Eventually it will, but for now you'll need to plug it in unless you're playing on Chromecast.
Overall, the controller is really good, and it'll be exciting to see more features added onto it. One thing to note, is that the Claw attachment is something you should absolutely pick up.
A really good start to cloud gaming, but there's room for improvement
After many hours of personal testing, Stadia is pretty cool. This is coming from someone who went from extremely excited to fairly skeptical until more information came out. Then back to really excited again.
Thanks to Google I've had the opportunity to try Stadia for myself before launch. It's been a whole lot of fun. I have enjoyed playing games on a Pixel phone when I just couldn't be bothered to sit in front of my computer any longer.
The nature of this can't be understated, quite simply because of how good Stadia works when using it through the phone. Maybe it's partly the capability to play console titles on a mobile device, but it's a cool feeling, and anyone who's currently excited about Stadia should be even more excited for the platform's future.
That's not to say there's no room for improvement. There certainly is. This isn't to rip on Stadia or the work that Google has done with the platform to bring it where it is today. A LOT of good work has been done.
The whole notion of the tech is exciting. But, it's important that as consumers Google is held to the highest standard for this product in the face of the competition that's out there.
Stadia by far seems to be the most functional cloud gaming service with the least amount of issues. I've yet to try Shadow. I've had time with both GeForce NOW and the xCloud Preview though, and Stadia is noticeably better.
That said, Stadia still has room to grow because there were a few issues. It'll really start getting exciting once more of the advertised features are introduced. Especially alongside the growing list of new and old games.
Overall, Stadia has a lot of promise and it's off to a better start than some would have you believe. It's also not going to kill PC or consoles. It is however a huge step forward in the future of gaming, and it should be a nice addition to all the ways we can play games.