Review: Google Stadia

Stadia recently appeared for all Founders and with that, Google is entering the video game industry with a platform where players can only stream games à la Netflix and Spotify for movies and music. However, it works slightly differently than mentioned all-in subscription services.

With Stadia, Google makes having a powerful PC or a game console completely unnecessary. At least that's the goal. With Stadia, players would be able to play the latest games on TV, tablet, phone and PC or laptop. As players you don't need a Playstation, Xbox or i7 for this. All games are projected to your screen, so you don't run them locally on your own equipment. Just like Netflix.
However, the services are not completely comparable, where with Netflix you get access to all content within the service for a fixed monthly fee, the same does not apply to Google Stadia. Stadia is only the platform to which one has access, the content must be obtained separately. Access to Stadia is currently only possible with a Pro subscription through the Founders Edition. A free version of the service will also be released next year. You cannot receive 4K image quality and no surround sound via the free version. Via the Pro subscription, yes. Pro players also receive an occasional free game and a discount in the Stadia store for digital games. Samurai Shodown and Destiny 2: The Collection are currently free to claim for Pro subscribers.
Not without some commotion, the service finally appeared. Does Google know to keep the promises made during the unveiling? You probably already know the answer, but we have also looked at it with a critical eye.

Hit and miss experience

As I mentioned earlier, it is possible to play on different screens via Stadia. Since Google's Pixel is the only smartphone that is currently supported and there is no tablet support yet, we have not tested it. We did play Stadia on TV via the included Chromecast Ultra and Stadia Controller. In addition, we also tested the service on PC via Ethernet and Surface Pro 4 via WiFi. The results are remarkable.
The experience was not optimal via the Surface Pro 4 on a WiFi connection with 200 mb/s download speed. From delay in the image to input delay, grainy image and losing connection. You can choose via the settings to put image or connection first, but this also hardly changed the experience.
Things got a lot better as soon as we tried to play with the TV in game mode via a Chromecast Ultra and Stadia Controller. This minimizes input delay at the expense of image quality. Since I have this setting on by default for both the PS4 and Nintendo Switch, I have a good idea of what to expect. The image quality of Stadia this way was okay. Not great, but not terribly bad either. In any case, far from what Google has shown before.
The biggest problem was not the picture, but more the sound and the input delay. The sound lagged about half a second. In Destiny you didn't hear the shots until after you started firing and in Tomb Raider it was a bit more annoying as the voices didn't match the moving lips of the characters. The input delay was a lot less remarkable with Tomb Raider than with Destiny. I would like to know how this works with a racing game, for that we come to another problem, which I will come back to in a moment.
The best experience we have had with Stadia was via a PC in the Chrome web browser via an Ethernet connection. Minimal input delay and again okay image quality. I've spent a lot of time in Bungie's shooter over the past few weeks so I had plenty of Destiny 2 comparison material as I play on both PC and PS4 thanks to the cross-save feature.

Local or streaming?

The key question. Many believe streaming is the future. Also in the field of games, Google is already trying to take a big step here, but at the same time shows that it is not there yet. According to Google, it should all be cake and egg, but promised features are missing. No 4k at 60fps and Destiny 2 doesn't even run on high settings, but on medium. That powerful cloud in the sky is still not as powerful as the PC under the desk, or the console under the TV. It does help a bit when loading the titles. Here we see the benefits of games that don't run locally, but somewhere in a server cabinet with powerful machines. We briefly compared the loading times of Destiny 2. From Orbit to the Moon, these are the times you can expect:

  • Playstation 4 Pro (HDD) – 55 seconds
  • PC (Ultra settings – HDD) 41 seconds
  • Google Stadia – 25 seconds

The next issue we run into is the way games are priced in Stadia. Despite Pro subscribers getting a discount, certain prices are astronomically high. GRID, for example, is offered for €69.99. You can easily get this game for two tens less for your Playstation or Xbox and this actually applies to the entire offer on Stadia at the moment. Even after the addition of the launch titles, that offer is still on the very low side.

Verdict

Stadia is a solution to a non-existent problem. Moreover, the solution is incomplete and deficient in many areas. Promised achievements are not delivered , a meager offer , a messy platform to navigate and so on. You could say that the service 'works'. The primary function works. You can stream games, but it is far from an optimal experience and in this way gaming does leave a sour taste. Google chased Stadia out the door and this was way, way too soon. Developers haven't had enough time to serve their content through Stadia, or to adapt it to Stadia . In addition, such simple functions (sharing and saving screenshots?) are missing, so that I big question marks behind the future of Stadia .


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