Google Stadia's Actually Pretty Good

Google Stadia Apr 12, 2021

I've started a new job recently and by thunder is it a far cry from what I'm used to, so I still haven't really been as active as I wanted to be here. However after my rave review of Cyberpunk 2077 which would no doubt piss off a lot of people who were already pissed off about that game (but as much as some people would like to think otherwise I'm allowed to have my own opinions), the latest potentially controversial thing I'm briefly going to go on about is Google Stadia; the cloud gaming service that launched back in November 2019. My opinion is that it's actually OK.

And I'm talking from a technological standpoint more than anything. First and foremost I didn't go out and buy a Chromecast Ultra and a Controller and I haven't bought any games offered on the service, quite frankly I'm not likely to do so any time soon either. What I have done is taken Google up on a free trial of their Stadia Pro subscription service, largely because Lenovo are currently offering a 3 month trial for members of their gaming legion service as well (have a search on Googlywoogly for it if you're interested, as I can't be bothered to find the link).

The Pro subscription requires a credit or debit card or PayPal, or some kind of payment method on file, like a lot of free trials (because they hope you'll forget to cancel it), but it can easily be cancelled with the click of a button and you get to keep your free trial period and the benefits it has. Essentially the benefits are largely just 4k streaming and 5.1 Surround Sound, neither of which really apply to me, but you also gain access to an array of free games which is the only reason I dipped my toe in. Unfortunately, the list of games is a bit shit — OK they're free and they do say you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, but I bet you'd certainly look a gift horse in the mouth if it was missing several teeth, an eye and a two legs.

The free games for Pro subscribers are apparently added to each month which is a staple of most similar services, though it appears Google only keeps some of the better games they offer for free around for only a short period of time, whereas they leave some of the more crap offerings on there for longer. You also only get to play any games you claim while they're available as long as you've got a subscription. In other words once the subscription ends so does your access to those free games, so identical to how PlayStation Plus works in that respect, though unlike PS+ you do not need a subscription to play multiplayer components of any games you buy on the service.

Meanwhile getting Stadia to run was relatively easy for me, as although I don't use Chrome, or rather Chromium which Stadia pretty much requires, because I use Windows 10 I have Microsoft Edge floating around unused in the background, which as most people should know by now was revamped a while back to be based on Chromium. Needless to say it works well enough with Stadia too and I dare so so do most other Chromium-based browsers as well.

As a side note, I do have an Amazon Fire TV Stick 4k and yes, I did try and get the Android Stadia app to run on that by side-loading it. While it installed OK and appeared to launch, in order to actually use it you have to press a 'Get Started' button which cannot be interacted with using the Firestick Remote. However despite suggestions online to use a Bluetooth mouse, a keyboard and a controller (the latter of which I'd likely need to use anyway to play any games) I was still unable to get the app to function since although I was eventually able to click the button using a mouse or by pressing return on a keyboard, it didn't actually do anything. There was more talk I found about installing Google Play Services but after I couldn't get that to work either in the end I gave up with it and went back to using Edge on my PC.

Anyway I've thus far only played Hitman on the service, as I either own the other games already or am simply uninterested in them. I must say I was surprised at how smooth the gameplay was though, if I didn't know it was streaming I probably wouldn't have been able to guess it was. Well, not quite. Graphics wise, I dunno. Hitman probably wasn't the most graphically stunning example for a game anyway especially given its age at this point (2016). As such I did see some banding; streaming artefacts that I often find are commonplace among streaming services.

I do not have a ridiculously fast Interweb connection either (it tops out around the 38 megabit mark for downstream speeds which should be ample enough for the 1080p resolution I run my desktop at and it did seem to be). So that could be why I saw the minor banding usually in darker areas on screen, but it was hardly noticeable when I actually started moving Agent 47 around the game world and given I'm used to playing some games on a Steam Link on a much larger television I'm fairly used to such streaming quality issues anyway.

Beyond that I did notice maybe a very miniscule amount of input lag too, but like the banding it was also barely noticeable (and I probably only noticed it at all because I'm quite sensitive to input lag anyway where as most normal people likely wouldn't notice anything). That may even have been because rather than using Chrome I was using Microsoft Edge. I doubt it, but who knows.

I can safely say in conclusion that if you have a decent enough net connection, but you just don't have the big bucks for a top notch PC or you're more of a console gamer but you feel like you want a mobile solution such as playing great games on a less than capable laptop, then Stadia's a great option for you. The only major drawbacks to it are that once you buy a game there's even less sense of ownership than you get with services like Steam, because you're not even downloading the games — you're streaming them.

As such there's always going to be that thought in the back of my head about what happens when someone, somewhere decides randomly one day that, no, you're not allowed to play that game any more. What then? Because you can't even download a copy of it for safe keeping. Stadia has also had a less than stellar success over the year and a bit that it's been rolled out and Google has this really terrible habit of just killing anything they don't consider to be profitable or worth bothering to continue to develop any more. They already set off a few alarm bells when they binned their own internal development studios for Stadia a few months ago, though then again maybe the global pandemic had a hand in that.

Then there is the biggest caveat of all: You're entirely at the mercy of your Internet connection speed. No Internet? No gaming. Even if you have a connection, if it isn't running fast enough or you've got network problems you may still be unable to play the games as Stadia will complain about the connection being too unstable to maintain a good stream. So yes, it is a good thing in a lot of ways, but maybe it's also a bit dodgy in a lot of others too…