Google Stadia’s cloud-streaming service shows a lot of promise, and could be a great option for those who want to game without spending a fortune on a console. But with lots of missing features at launch, Stadia has a long way to go to become a serious challenger to PlayStation and Xbox.
- Affordable 4K gaming
- Can play on TV, laptop and smartphone
- Supports third-party controllers
- Many features missing on day one
- Can't play in 4K through web browser
- No offline mode
- Video compression affects picture quality
- Review Price: £119
- 10Mbps min internet connection
- Up to 4K @ 60fps with HDR
- 5.1 surround sound
What is Google Stadia?
It’s getting more expensive to be a gamer, with console prices climbing so high that the PS5 and Xbox Series X are expected to cost over £400 come launch in 2020. Google Stadia is a more cost-effective alternative, currently costing just £8.99 per month – with the optional £119 Stadia Premiere Edition bundle bagging you a controller and a Chromecast Ultra required for TV play.
Google’s been able to keep prices low because there’s no need for high-spec hardware with Stadia. With a fast enough broadband connection, you’ll be able to stream games on your smartphone, laptop or TV, regardless of the specs of the hardware.
Google is the first to officially launch its cloud-streaming service – Xbox’s upcoming Project xCloud and Nvidia GeForce Now are both still in beta – but with an abundance of missing key features and an underwhelming launch lineup, Stadia is a long, long way from being the ‘future of gaming’ that Google promised.
Google Stadia – Multiple ways to play
There are three ways to play Stadia: on a TV via Chromecast Ultra, on a computer/laptop/tablet via a Google Chrome browser and on your smartphone via the dedicated Stadia app.
No gaming platform preceding Stadia has ever offered such versatility, and being able to swap between each method of play is incredibly liberating and seamless. Stadia allows for a 5-minute changeover time so you can pick up exactly where you left off without the need for saving progress.
Unfortunately, there are issues with every method of play at launch. For TV play, only Chromecast Ultras bundled with Stadia Founder’s Edition or Premiere Edition will be compatible at launch. That means without the help of a computer, it’s impossible to play Stadia on your TV without investing in one of the bundles. Google has clarified Chromecast Ultra devices sold separately will eventually be patched to support Stadia, but it’s real head scratcher that we have to wait on that feature.
The second issue with TV play is that only the official Stadia controllers will work. Google has long boasted you’ll be able to use any popular gaming controller with Stadia, be that a PS4, Xbox One or Switch Pro pad, but it turns out that’s not the case when playing via the Chromecast Ultra.
Then we come to the Google Chrome browser. This is my personal favourite, as it allows you to play Stadia whether you’re at home, at the office or at a hotel or friend’s house – all you need is a decent internet connection and a laptop. However, for some absurd reason, 4K resolution isn’t supported via a PC at launch.
Finally, you can play Stadia on your smartphone via the dedicated app. You’d think a smartphone screen would be far too small for gaming, but I had a great time blasting aliens on Destiny 2 via the Pixel 3a. Plus, some smartphones have a display over 6 inches which aren’t too far away from equalling the screen size of the Nintendo Switch.
The downside here is that only Google’s Pixel 2, 3, 3a and 4 (including XL editions) are compatible so far. Google has confirmed more phones will be compatible in the future, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing for many Stadia subscribers at launch.
Google Stadia UI – All about the app
The Stadia smartphone app – available on both Android and iOS – is the beating heart of the interface for the cloud-streaming service. It’s here where you set up your account, configure your settings, store in-game screenshots and even purchase games. The app is very easy to navigate with touchscreen controls, while the large grid of games in your library is pleasant to the eye and easily digestible.
Stadia’s storefront has similar benefits, although there doesn’t seem to be a search function just yet. That’s not currently an issue with so few games available to buy, but it will become a compulsory addition once more titles become available.
Click on a game in the store, and lots of useful information will pop up underneath, including age rating, whether it supports keyboard/mouse input and, for the likes of Destiny 2, even links to loot box drop rates. It’s a subtle feature, but I can see it being very useful for parents when deciding whether a game is appropriate for their child.
There are negative points too, most notably that you can only buy games through Google’s own digital store, which means prices aren’t competitive. The Stadia Store currently prices Mortal Kombat 11 at £49.99 (not final), despite being available for less than £30 on PS4 and Xbox One via Amazon. Steam shares this issue with Stadia, but the former remedies this by slashing game prices in seasonal sales. It remains to be seen whether Google will adopt the same solution.
It’s also slightly annoying you can only access the store via the mobile app, and not through your laptop or TV. That said, pulling your smartphone out of your pocket and opening the app hardly takes much time. Plus since you don’t have to wait for downloads or updates with Stadia, you can start playing a new game far quicker than you can with the PS4 and Xbox One.
Google Stadia Performance – Gaming via the cloud
The biggest concern with cloud streaming is latency, which would prove a massive issue for shooters and action games where timing is key. During my time with Stadia, latency never really proved a problem, even in online shooter Destiny 2.
I did notice the odd performance blip or lag when playing via Wi-Fi in my bedroom, but since my internet connection saw download speeds below 10Mbps (Google’s minimum recommended internet speed), it was a marvel the game was running at all.
Rather than latency, I found the biggest issue with Stadia was achieving a connection secure enough for a high resolution. When I was wired in via Ethernet, seeing download speeds of 20Mbps, my stream still frequently became grainy with the resolution seemingly dropping down to 720p.
I say ‘seemingly’ because Stadia refuses to give you any information regarding your connection or game resolution besides the ‘solid’, ‘good’ and ‘great’ performance statuses, which aren’t very helpful. Stadia does provide little 4K logo in the menu when the connection is fast enough for Ultra HD gaming, but I don’t understand why Google hasn’t done something similar for a Full HD or Quad HD visuals.
When my internet connection was good enough to achieve a Full HD picture, the likes of Shadow of the Tomb Raider still don’t look quite as good as they do on my standard PS4. This is likely due to compression, which is inevitable with cloud streaming, reducing the detail of the video footage.
Despite this, 4K game visuals still looked jaw-droppingly good when I started playing in the Trusted Reviews office where we see download speeds well above the 35Mbps requirement. Provided you have fast enough Broadband, Stadia looks to be the cheapest option for 4K gaming.
One of the biggest downsides of Stadia is the absence of an offline mode. Since competitors such as GeForce Now and xCloud are tied to existing ecosystems (Steam and Xbox respectively), you’ll be able to play any game in your library offline or via cloud streaming with a single purchase. Stadia lacks this versatility, so you really need to make sure you have a fast internet connection before subscribing.
Google Stadia Controller – Choose your weapon
The official Google Stadia Controller is a decent pad, clearly inspired by the chunky Xbox controller since it shares the same button layout. The Stadia controller’s triggers aren’t quite as snappy though, and the D-Pad feels slightly too spongy for my liking.
The great thing about Stadia though, is that you can pick whatever controller you please. The PS4, Xbox One and Switch Pro pads are all supported here. Better still, when you connect them up to Stadia, in-game button prompts immediately switch over to your new controller’s format, avoiding a lot of confusion in tutorials.
Disappointingly though, third-party controllers won’t work when playing Stadia on the TV. As mentioned above, only the official Stadia controller can be used with this method since it connects directly to the Wi-Fi instead of using Bluetooth.
Bizarrely, Google is yet to patch in the capability to link two controllers to Stadia simultaneously, which means local multiplayer is off the table at launch. This is a big disappointment, especially since the multiplayer-focused Mortal Kombat 11 is part of the launch lineup.
Google Stadia Games – Slim pickings
Unfortunately, Stadia only has 22 games available at launch, all of which you can see below:
- Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
- Attack on Titan: Final Battle 2
- Destiny 2: The Collection
- Farming Simulator 2019
- Final Fantasy XV
- Football Manager 2020
- Grid 2019
- Just Dance 2020
- Metro Exodus
- Mortal Kombat 11
- NBA 2K20
- Rage 2
- Red Dead Redemption 2
- Rise of the Tomb Raider
- Samurai Shodown
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
- Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
- Trials Rising
- Wolfenstein: Youngblood
It’s a decent lineup, but is dwarfed in comparison to Microsoft’s xCloud, which has over 50 titles available despite still being in beta. Xbox has a big advantage here, with decades worth of exclusives and licencing deals to take advantage of. Google is effectively starting from scratch.
I’m unsure why games that have already been released on other platforms – including Borderlands 3, Doom, The Division 2 and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint – failed to hit the launch lineup deadline, but it makes Stadia’s launch feel a little underwhelming. Something like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, FIFA 2020 or Fortnite at launch would have made a massive difference.
It’s also worth mentioning you’ll have to pay for the games you play – this is not the ‘Netflix of Gaming’ as many assume. Similar to Xbox Games with Gold and PlayStation Plus though, subscribing to the Stadia Pro subscription will bag you a free game every month, with the very first being Destiny 2: The Collection and Samurai Shodown.
Another feature to miss launch day is achievements. Google has iterated Stadia will be recording what achievements players are earning from launch, but players won’t be able to see this right now.
Should you buy Google Stadia?
No. There’s a lot of good things to celebrate about Stadia. The cloud-streaming technology is genuinely a game-changer, not only removing the need for pricey high-powered hardware, but also providing oodles more freedom by allowing us to carry on gaming wherever there’s a strong Wi-Fi connection.
However, the huge number of significant features missing at launch – including 4K on PC, local multiplayer, achievements and support for non-Pixel smartphones – is simply unforgivable.
Google’s plan to gradually roll out these features shows a lot of naivety and only emphasises how far Stadia is behind PlayStation and Xbox in building a successful ecosystem. I’ve no doubt Stadia will improve significantly over the next few months (and I will update the review and verdict once it does), but the rushed launch has done more harm than good.
Google has certainly convinced me that cloud streaming is the future, but Stadia has a long, long way to go if it’s ever going to usurp PlayStation and Xbox as the go-to gaming platforms.
Google Stadia shows a lot of promise, and could be a great option for those who want to game without spending a fortune on a console assuming Google develops the service – and who knows. But with lots of missing features at launch, it’s got a long way to go to become a serious challenger to PlayStation and Xbox.