Google Stadia Review — All of This Just Works
The technology behind Google Stadia works surprisingly well, even if the cloud-based platform's feature set at launch is meager.
To get the lingering Google Stadia question out of the way first: If you have a solid internet connection, it works! Google Stadia functions surprisingly well, actually, and is definitely the best cloud-based gaming experience in the industry. Even if it is not 100% devoid of any issues, things like input lag are rarely problematic. Everything from a slow, atmospheric horror-adventure game like Gylt to a demanding fighting game like Mortal Kombat 11 works as it should and feels on par with their console counterparts.
The fact that Google Stadia functions as well as it does is impressive, even if the platform’s launch leaves a lot to be desired and probably won’t win you over if you’re not already on board. That being said, if Google sticks with Stadia and can build upon what they’ve started here with more features and games, it definitely has the potential to be a game-changer.
Setting up Google Stadia and connecting a controller was a pretty easy process, and it didn’t take long before several games were immediately at my fingertips. The first thing I did was dance to Old Town Road in Just Dance 2020. Then, I started to take a serious look at what the platform has to offer at launch. Google Stadia is best experienced on Chromecast Ultra. The UI and app are fairly minimalist and lacking in features, but is clear and to the point in its layout.
During this pre-release review period, I was really just able to access games and a small menu that shows my connections, friends and allowed me to exit the game if I wanted to. A lot of cool features are supposed to be coming to Google Stadia, like achievements and state sharing, but many of those functions are not available at launch. Even though the streaming works, that is the biggest thing working against Google Stadia right now. If you aren’t fully on board with the idea of streaming your games, or you like your gaming platforms to have several interesting bells and whistles, nothing like that is here.
As I’ve mentioned again and again though, Google Stadia works incredibly smoothly most of the time on my 50mbps internet, especially on Chromecast. In general, the platform’s technology strives to keep the resolution high, so even when the occasional hitch happens it doesn’t feel any more intrusive than a drop in frame rate on PC, PS4, or Xbox One. While it is unlikely that Google Stadia will ever be completely devoid of any issues, it is leagues better than peers like PlayStation Now over both wi-fi and an ethernet connection. You can check on the status of your internet connection at any time too, so if a game is struggling to run you can always see if the issue is on your end.
The next best way to experience Google Stadia is on mobile. The UI transitions well into an app, making it feel natural to play Stadia on a phone. With the controller attachment included, this may be the best-looking way to play games on a mobile device. Stadia ports played on a phone do not have to take the same visual hit as the typical mobile or Switch version. I doubt we will ever be able to play a Nintendo Switch version of Red Dead Redemption 2 that isn’t visually compromised in some way, but Rockstar’s latest can be played on a phone thanks to Stadia and looks on par with other console versions.
Like the Switch, this feature actually gives a nice handheld quality to games otherwise rooted in consoles. Hopping into a quick Destiny 2 strike on your phone in bed is possible now with Stadia, and that’s really cool. The biggest appeal of Google Stadia may be that you can play console-quality games anywhere, and the platform seems to be off to a good start at achieving that goal at launch. It is worth noting that I experienced more framerate and hitching issues on mobile than Chromecast and that only Pixel phones (one of which was provided to DualShockers by Google for this review) support Stadia at launch. This may limit its appeal on mobile initially, but as the service expands and improves, I could see mobile being the space where Stadia strives the most.
You can also play Google Stadia games on Chrome via stadia.google.com. While it is novel to play visually intense games like Destiny 2, Mortal Kombat 11, and Red Dead Redemption 2 on a browser, Chrome is where I had the most issues. This may be because of my laptop’s wi-fi connection, but Stadia said my connection was fine. Because of this, my experience here will probably be similar to many other Stadia users at launch. The resolution and framerate fluctuate more radically on Chrome than any other Stadia-supported device, and my only hard crash of Google Stadia happened on Chrome when I exited a menu in Mortal Kombat 11’s training mode.
If you are picking up Google Stadia at release, keep in mind that it is best to play on a Chromecast Ultra or Pixel phone. Hopefully, the experience on Google Chrome will improve over time, as it seems to be the main area where the technology behind Google’s platform struggles. Switching platforms is fairly seamless, if a bit impractical, but the functionality is there and I did use it a couple of times.
The Google Stadia controller is compatible with all three methods, and it has quickly caught up to the DualShock 4 as one of my favorite controllers. While I plan on discussing the controller at length in a feature of its own, just know that it is of a high-quality build and ergonomically feels great to use. The lack of Bluetooth connectivity at release is the controller’s biggest caveat, but it felt great to use otherwise.
Playing games on Google Stadia is a solid experience overall, even if the launch lineup only includes one new release. Players don’t have to wait for games to install or update either, which may be one of the best and most underrated aspects of Stadia. Google provided us with review copies of Red Dead Redemption 2, Just Dance 2020, Kine, Mortal Kombat 11, Gylt, Destiny 2 and Shadow of Tomb Raider, all of which were ported over well. As I mentioned, titles that require quick response times like Destiny 2 and Mortal Kombat 11 felt as responsive and fair to play as the versions available for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. That being said, those who aren’t mainly interested in the technology may want to wait a bit before hopping on the Google Stadia train.
While the platform’s launch lineup is bigger than we first thought it would be, it only contains one game you can’t play elsewhere. Several promised features that would set the system apart, like state sharing, aren’t present yet and general audiences don’t really see the features that make it friendly to develop for. Google Stadia also isn’t completely devoid of connection issues, even if it’s way better at streaming games than its contemporaries. If those things are already off-putting to you, the fact that Stadia works just as Google said it would isn’t enough to entice right now. Google clearly decided to launch Stadia in a somewhat barebones state with the goal to improve it over time.
Unfortunately, this works to the cloud platform’s detriment for day-one users. As of right now, the value proposition in switching over to Stadia isn’t really there if you are not already invested in the potential in streaming games from the cloud. Many more games and features that will improve Stadia are in the pipeline, and as long as Google sticks with this, I do genuinely believe that Stadia can have a massive, positive impact on the gaming industry. Google Stadia isn’t a force to be reckoned with at launch though, so don’t fret if you don’t get your hands on it right away.