Arriving in a clean white box, the Stadia arrived on my doorstep just as I was about to give up hope on an evening of streaming goodness. Once opened, Google’s first entry into the videogame space lay in front of me. A new controller that is heavily inspired by the XB1 and Switch Pro Controller, greet you as you move around the obligatory cardboard with manual inserts and yes, my two count them two Stadia stickers. Underneath it all was the brains behind the operation, a shiny black new Chromecast Ultra. A quick plug into my TV and we are off to the races… sort of.
Setup for Stadia was a breeze. Anyone familiar with setting up a Chromecast will feel immediately at home as this step is wholly explained through onscreen prompts and illustrations. Everything is handled using the Home app on your phone. Continuing this shared interaction is the actual Stadia Store interface. Whereas we as gamers have grown accustomed to navigating store menus using our controllers Google has opted to have this handled via your cell phone. I’ve heard the grumblings and to that, I can say this…to each is own. If I have the opportunity to seamlessly swipe my way through a storefront on my phone with access to a keyboard without dealing with a cumbersome menu system, why not? This did not deter from the experience in the least. Firing up a game is handled the same as you open your library on the app and press play.
Literally two seconds later you are in the game. From press play to gameplay I hardly had the time to sip my coffee as I settled in for an overnight session of gaming. Owning a Founders Edition, my Stadia came packed with Destiny 2 and the midnight hour addition of Samurai Shodown. Having not touched Destiny 2 at all this was a golden opportunity to dig into the shared-world shooter with not only a fresh set of eyes, but no prejudice from past experience. Transparency wise I completed the original Destiny many moons ago on a PS4.
Visually Destiny looked crisp. The Stadia for the initial test, was run on a 75in LG ThinQ 4k Ultra HD running in game mode. The lighting effects were fantastic including the dancing shadows as I guided my new Awoken Hunter Guardian down the narrow corridors before emerging into the world. Was this a visual revolution? No, but by today standards not a whole is. What is revolutionary is just how seamless the experience can be when met with the optimal conditions. Playing a AAA shared-world shooter over the internet from the comfort of my couch, car or bed would have been a laughable dream to me as a child as I scrimped and saved my allowance to buy another back AA batteries for my Gameboy back in the early 90s. Yes, Stadia promised up to 4K depending on internet speeds. Did I experience it? Yes. Conversely, when I moved the Stadia test to the bedroom I was able to see the visual fidelity downgrade as I have not made the leap to 4K there. Still, everything remained vibrant and crisp.
Soundwise, everything was here. The game sounds as it should. Guns echo in tight quarters as you begin the adventure. When in open environments, distant firefights can be heard raging as you track them with surround sound.
On to the UI. The Stadia is minimal at best. Hitting the Stadia button brings up a quick menu where you can send and receive friend requests as well as arrange Parties for chat. Nothing special here but considering at the end of the day you are using a streaming dongle to play games any lack of a true UI is welcomed as the real meat and potatoes here is the quick pick up and play aspect of the design. Having the bulk of the heavy lifting being on your phone app while different I found in my experience to be liberating. Having lived abroad for the past 5 years I’ve spent a ton of timing utilizing the Chromcast I had and felt immediately at ease operating it from a gaming perspective.
This brings me to my key points for Stadia, perspective. Google marketed this as the future. No longer would we be held to the constraints inherent inside a box of components. We were supposed to be gaming in the cloud-free of limitations. To an extent, this has been partially realized. The Stadia offers a quick responsive AAA gaming experience that just a generation ago seemed far fetched as Sony and Nintendo struggled to get a decent online service running. But with all new technologies, growing pains and hiccups are expected. As stated previously, I am fortunate enough to have my experience with Stadia under ideal circumstances. I have had 0 lag but more importantly nominal latency to the point of not noticing. Even while playing Samurai Shodown, none of the action felt muddled or bogged down by input latency. Continuing to discuss perspective, Google set an expectation. This is the problem with sizzle reels. The major features touted throughout the process leading to release are absent. Not being able to test state share sucks but I’d rather it work as opposed to being stuffed in to appease people only to not work. The real killer though for me is the removal of the Stream Share. This was a feature that was leaned into hard by the devs. Without sounding like a broken record, I’d much rather it work as opposed to being wedged in to just to say they did it.
Long term, can Stadia make it? Yes. There is enough invested in it from Google’s side to give it an honest shot. I do not see it overtaking the traditional consoles in this upcoming generation with the PS5 and Xbox Scarlett just a year away. Change is hard at first, and most certainly it’s messy in the middle but by the end, it’s not only beautiful it’s like it should have always been. Fears over ownership are nothing new. The digital distribution model was not to long ago thought to be a deal-breaker for the masses. Here we sit a generation later and the majority of the title are seeing their most sales through digital distribution. I have little to no fears over losing anything in my library when it comes to AAA titles, but I do have some reservations about making any investments into an indie title right now on the platform as not even having a downloaded backup does not fill me with confidence I need to take that risk yet.
Time will tell if Google is willing to listen to the community and make the changes need on their new ever-changing platform. When the promised launch features do make their way into the Stadia we will certainly update our thoughts. Stadia, as it stands now, is a decent alternative to traditional gaming. While data caps and internet speeds will certainly handicap many, under optimal conditions the Stadia was everything it was said to be minus the removed features. Having a pretty nomadic lifestyle I see the benefit in being able to just carry a controller and included USB-C cable to jump into a gaming session when the feeling hits. Stadia was never positioned to become the be all end all gaming destination but with some tweaks and at the rate of technological advancement they certainly can be a player in the cloud wars to come.