We’ve seen some fake matches when it comes to cloud games. OnLive was a big victim in 2015, while Nvidia and PlayStation have dramatically changed their respective platforms since launch.
But, the previous disappointment never hid the concept from us. We have always maintained the hope that if a company has successfully dealt with technology constraints, cloud game streaming can become a valid alternative to traditional console games. Including expanding the popularity of video games for people and areas postponed by an awkward box under the TV.
At Stadia , this is what Google has achieved. Or at least it came very, very close.
Stadia is, perhaps surprisingly, very good indeed. It works better than we might assume and is the first example of a cloud gaming platform that can really dispense with the need for a complete gaming console. At least, for non-hardcore players.
He has an equally impressive competitor in Project xCloud , but it is the first to have full availability and, therefore, has a breakthrough before Microsoft takes its preview system out in 2020. And we suspect that this is enough to gather a base decent users in the meantime.
Head in the clouds
For those who don’t know what cloud games are or why Stadia works better than predecessors in the same field, we will explain.
Cloud games are streaming technology where you have access to full games, but you don’t have to buy discs or download copies online. Instead, the games are hosted on remote servers and, like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, your TV, cell phone, computer or tablet is powered with video of the gameplay over the Internet. In return, all the movements of your control and the pressing of a button are sent in the opposite direction; so, for all intents and purposes, it looks like you’re playing a game locally, but you don’t need anything but a decent internet connection, controller and a device with a screen.
The enemy of this type of technology is latency – the time between pressing a button and the action being performed on the screen. And that has always hurt similar services in the past.
Much has to continue after you move the controller, for example. Your movement must be read by the gamepad and sent to your device, which later sends it over the Internet to the remote server. The server reads this movement, makes the character on the screen move in that direction and sends the video of your resulting action back over the Internet to your device. You then see the result.
Each of these steps can add milliseconds of latency. Add them and a game can be slow. While this can be good in some titles – slow paced ones, it usually doesn’t help in a multiplayer shooter or in a game where catching a boss needs to be perfectly timed.
Stadia handles latency and delay in two ways. To start, Google has server centers everywhere, as part of one of the largest network infrastructures on the planet; therefore, you will likely be served by a much closer one than rivals could offer. The shorter the distance to the server, the lower the latency, the more likely.
In addition, Stadia cuts off one of the steps listed above. If you use the dedicated Stadia controller (which comes in Founders or Premiere Edition sets or as a standalone purchase), it will connect directly to the Internet itself, so it will not create extra latency by sending control codes to the connected device first.
There is one caveat at the moment: the controller only supports full wireless playback on a Chromecast Ultra at the moment, but by 2020 it will be a standard feature. You need to connect it via a USB-C cable if you want to play on a Pixel phone right now, as Bluetooth mobile support has not yet been activated.
At least, this also reduces latency.
In addition, Stadia on Pixel phones actually supports the Xbox One and PS4 DualShock controllers, so you can still play on your phone without needing the USB-C cable, although this adds to the Bluetooth latency step we’ve detailed. Still, we played Red Dead Redemption 2 on a Pixel 3a XL using a linked Xbox One controller and didn’t notice much delay. It is certainly not enough to bore the fact that we were playing one of the best games of all time.
If you plan on playing on a big screen at home, you will need the official Stadia controller – although it offers more compatibility and options.
The controller we used in our tests is the Midnight Blue that comes with the Founders Edition – a pre-sale exclusive. However, it works in exactly the same way as the others available, only with an exclusive color scheme.
It is very difficult to configure – via the Stadia app for iOS or Android – and although some of its features are not available at launch, it is capable of more than other controllers you may be used to.
It is charged via USB-C, with about three hours of charge required to bring the battery from the charge level to full, and comes with a 3.5 mm port to connect a headset.
There is a built-in microphone, supported by Google Assistant in the pipeline. A dedicated button can be found on the front of the keyboard, but it appears with the message “coming soon” when pressed. Other unique buttons include a capture button to automatically save screenshots of your progress as you go, as well as a Stadia button that not only turns on the controller to start the service, but can also be used to end games or Stadia completely.
The controller itself is pleasant to use – a little cross between an Xbox One equivalent and DualShock 4. It is well built and heavy.