Review: Stadia’s Game Streaming is Great, but it’s Dead on Arrival

Image: Stadia Logo

Game streaming is a term I started to hear about around the time Netflix started dedicating themselves to streaming movies instead of continuing their mail-in disc system. I think the dream for most was to be able to play games—any game—anywhere. That way, as long as you have a device that has a web browser, you could stream your favorite game. OnLive is the first service I can remember that tried to bring the technology to the mainstream. Almost 5 years after its closure, Google is trying to do something with Stadia that many others (including Sony) have tried to popularize, but ultimately failed.

The early hype for Stadia was real. The media who got to get their hands on the early Stadia demos talked about how great the game streaming was. And it’s true: Stadia’s game streaming is the most impressive I’ve seen, ever. Hands down. It’s great. But it’s still game streaming, and it’s not quite ready to replace local hardware.

Source: Google

I tested it out on multiple devices throughout my home, and it worked great on my less-than-perfect Wi-Fi setup. I had about the same Stadia experience on my Ethernet-wired computer as my Wi-Fi-exclusive devices. About a day before Stadia released, I got an e-mail from the Stadia team with recommendations on how to make the streaming the best it can be. Even completely ignoring those, the experience on Stadia, for me, has been great for the most part.

There are a few caveats:

The two games I tested it on were the ones that came with the Pro package. Destiny 2 looked and felt great. With Bungie’s cross-platform saves, I was able to jump into my main character and do a few things with no problem. This is great: I can play Destiny 2 anywhere in my house. Of course, since Stadia ONLY works over Wi-Fi, my dream of streaming games on the go became a little less realistic. Still, it’s great for running around and doing errands.

And then I tried Samurai Showdown, and the reality of the input lag hit me. A fast-paced fighting game that requires precise timing is a perfect example of why game streaming isn’t quite ready enough to have you throwing away your consoles. I don’t have any precise numbers, but the time between hitting a button and the response of my character was quite noticeable.

This prompted me to go back into Destiny 2 and try a test between my local hardware and Stadia, and Stadia, despite looking pretty good, had noticeable input lag.

Stadia won’t be my platform of choice for any competitive games.

While the streaming, despite its input lag, is pretty great, the whole consumer experience has been abysmal. Those who didn’t get media invites are going to be the most vocal about it. Even as I write this outlets are requesting access through my Stadia account just so they can finish their reviews.

Source: Google

To be clear: you can play Stadia straight from your browser. As far as I can tell, you don’t need special hardware. But if you want to play on your phone, or on your TV, you will need to have bought a Stadia package. (Current Chromcasts do not yet support Stadia for some reason.) Setting up my Chromecast and Stadia controller were a pain in the ass.

Between my Pixel 2 having a hard time recognizing my controller, and my Chromecast having a hard time doing anything, it hasn’t been the smoothest of journeys. And my Stadia controller still won’t stay synced.

Among my troubles was the lack of Founder’s codes at launch—I didn’t get my code until 36 hours after getting my Stadia hardware. It was like getting a new console at Christmas, only for it to be bricked on arrival. And of course, if you do get a Founder’s code, I’m pretty sure you NEED an Pixel 2 or Pixel 3 just to redeem it!

If you do manage to get everything working, playing games is simple enough—though most of the experience relies on your phone app. In the app it asks you where you want to play the game, but seamlessly syncing your Wi-Fi controller to move between Chromecast and your phone is too much to hope for: you’ll need a physical cable to attach your controller to your phone. A cable that isn’t even included with the Stadia.

Source: Google

In addition, there just aren’t that many interesting games to play on Stadia yet. Stadia’s Launch line-up doubled overnight before its launch from the initial 12 titles to 22. There are some great games on there, but unless you’re getting Stadia as your first gaming platform for this generation, you probably already have a good number of these titles. The only launch exclusive is Gylt, and I don’t think that will make Stadias fly off the shelf with its middling reviews.

One of Stadia’s biggest strengths is the lack of local hardware, but it’s also one of its greatest weaknesses. Stadia is supposed to be generation-less. But let’s face it: without the continued money from consumers, Google won’t be pumping money into Stadia. With each Google product having an average life of about 4 years, there have been websites counting down the death of Stadia since the very beginning.

If you’re hoping to run Stadia at 4k/60 FPS you may be disappointed. First of all, it just won’t look as good as local hardware. It comes pretty darn close, but you can’t still tell it’s not quite perfect. Also, even an “easy” to run game like Destiny 2 seems to have some of the graphics settings set less than maximum. But 4K doesn’t look native 4K, and it makes Stadia’s lack of local-hardware evident with its flat colors, and occasional streaming artifact.

If you’re playing Stadia with the launch bundle, there are a few things you should know. First of all, you can’t just start Stadia with your controller. At least, I can’t. My controller seems to need to be relinked EVERY TIME, so I NEED my phone just to start it.

Stadia should not have launched like this. They should have called it “Stadia beta” like it is. Stadia Pro doesn’t offer enough games to be worth it, and the discount it offers is laughable. With only one exclusive and a long list of problems, Stadia offers me no incentive to start putting my hard-earned money into their platform. . And it doesn’t look like Stadia will have a “killer app” anytime soon.

Unfortunately, Stadia looks to be dead on arrival.

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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, video game historian, and small streamer.
He is also the editor of the Games and Tech section but does not get paid for his work at 3CR.
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