Stadia is a vision of the future, but it’s not the one everyone expects. Hard-core gamers get caught up in promises of 4K streaming and powerful hardware that can run anything — “Crysis” included — but the biggest advantage that Google’s gaming initiative has is convenience and ubiquity.
Sure, playing a game with the best graphical fidelity and features is important, but being able to play a game anywhere and not having to worry about storage or downloadable updates is a sea-change. It untethers gaming from the living room or the desk so that players can enjoy releases wherever they are.
Stadia removes a barrier and that could mark the beginning of the end for traditional consoles and the inane tribalism that has divided the gaming community. With the rise of streaming, it’s no longer about the power of the platform but the content of the game. It could mark a new phase for the industry.
This vision could become a reality if Stadia works, and after using it for a month, the product delivers on the core experience though the rollout has been barebones. Many games haven’t delivered on the promised 4K at 60 frames per second specs and Stadia doesn’t have basic features such as sharing screenshots or video on social media. Just recently, the service added achievements.
I’ve played plenty of “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey” on the service and it works flawlessly. It feels like a local game most of the time. I do encounter hiccups here and there, but that’s dependent on the available internet speed. Playing at home with a 1GB fiber connection, I could stream at 4K with HDR. When I was visiting in-laws in Southern California, the cable internet connection and WiFi wasn’t the most stable. It was playable but I experienced stutters playing on a 1080p laptop screen.
Visually, the games look good but not great. Players will notice visual artifacts in blue skies or places with a lot of solid color. The graphical quirk will remind them that the game is being streamed. Other times, I noticed that titles have a softness to them like old Hollywood movies. Most of the flaws are noticeable on 4K but on lower resolutions the games actually look better, with the flaws less blatant on smaller screens.
The Stadia controller itself feels sturdy and comfortable. It resembles the Sony’s DualShock 4 and Xbox One controller but with deeper and more grippable handlebars. The device has what’s essentially a start and select buttons that often used to bring up menus, but it also has a Google Assistant and capture buttons. Both of those features have limited functions. Google Assistant only works in conjunction with a Chromecast Ultra meanwhile the capture buttons grabs screenshots and video, but players can’t easily share them.
That’s the story with Stadia. The service is promising but players are waiting for it to improve to a higher standard. In many ways, it feels as though the people who invested in the Founder’s and Premiere editions are buying into a service that’s still in its beta phase. The service doesn’t feel complete. In terms of mobile, it’s only available on Pixel 2, Pixel 3, Pixel 3a and Pixel 4 phones.
On top of that, the game selection is limited with few exclusive titles, and many games that players may already have. The next year could be more promising with the highlighting being “Cyberpunk 2077.” These big hundred-hour games are ideal for Stadia. The service lets players jump into these enormous endeavours from any screen.
If the kids are using the living room TV, Stadia players can hop on a laptop and play at the kitchen table. If they’re traveling to the in-laws for the holidays, instead of bringing a console with the game, they can just stuff a controller and a tablet into a backpack and take off. The only thing that’s required is a good internet connection. That can be hit or miss depending on the ISP, but as 5G is introduced next year, that will become less of an issue.
To use Stadia right now, it will cost $9.99 a month for Stadia Pro. It lets users stream at 4K at 60 fps and allows 5.1 surround sound. The subscription includes additional free games released regularly, but players need to continue the service to keep them. Meanwhile, a free version is in the works but it only lets users stream at 1080p at 60 fps. Both services will require players to buy the games separately.
At the moment, Stadia isn’t perfect but the type of convenience it offers is a game-changer. Instant access to a game at any time and anywhere is huge during an age when finding time to play in a busy day can be difficult. Currently, the constraints are Google’s own slow rollout of features, limited game content and users’ internet infrastructure (when 5G and fiber connections are more abundant it will be big for the service). If all of these factors ramp up quickly, then the promise of a streaming future will come sooner rather than later.
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