At the end of last month I received my “Premier Edition” pack from Google Stadia with everything you need to start rooting this new video game service in the cloud. The truth is that the criticism that the Google platform is receiving are being quite contradictory: some experts classify it as the greatest failure that is remembered in the gaming world, while others adore it and fall at their feet. Who do we listen to?
Google Stadia in analysis, is this the future of gaming?
In situations like this it is best to try it for yourself, and that is precisely what we have done. In this sense, I must admit that my expectations have gone through several phases: at first I was euphoric, then I was disappointed enough in the first days of use, and little by little I have been taking it easy to cement the opinion that I have today of the system: a revolutionary (and demanding) platform called to change the world of gaming forever, but which still has several edges to polish.
And when I speak of “edges”, I am not only referring to those aspects to be improved by Google: there are factors that affect the Stadia experience that are completely unrelated to the service and that unfortunately have much more to do with the times in the that we live and the elements that the user provides (Internet connection, hardware) than with the platform itself.
This makes the Stadia experience completely subjective. For some it can be both a true wonder and a crazy and useless disaster, both opinions being equally valid (as long as they are correctly reasoned and justified, of course). But let’s go by parts and see what this great little invention consists of.
The magic of Google Stadia is precisely this: the hardware. Or rather, its absence. The great differential mark of Stadia with respect to the rest of “physical” consoles is that it is not necessary to buy any video game console, since all the hardware necessary to run the games is found on Google’s remote servers. Thus, in theory, the only essential requirement is to have an Internet connection.
Now, as we all know, consoles also need a controller or gamepad, as well as a screen where you can see “what is happening” in the game. Here Stadia offers several playable alternatives:
- Chromecast Ultra + Stadia Controller
- Mobile phone (currently only Pixel 2, 3 and 4 smartphones) + Stadia Controller (also compatible with Xbox One and PS4 controllers)
- PC (via Chrome browser) + Stadia Controller (also compatible with other controllers via USB, as well as keyboard and mouse)
Note: in order to play you also need to install the Stadia app.
Google has announced that in the future other smartphones may also be used in addition to the Pixels, although for now these are all the screens and controls compatible with the system.
To do this analysis, we have purchased the Premier Edition package (129 euros in the Google store), which includes a Chromecast Ultra and a stadia knob white color as well as an access code to be able to use the platform, and a 3 month subscription to Stadia Pro to be able to play (which in the end is what it is about).
Notice: currently the only way to access Stadia is with one of these access codes that come along with the Chromecast + Remote combo, so, unless a friend gives us a Buddypass to test the service, we will have to go through box irretrievably. Starting next year we will be able to access Stadia for free, but for now the mantra that there is no money to be spent on the console is still half true.
The official Stadia gamepad is the most recommended controller for playing platform games. Its finish is undoubtedly of quality and it can be seen that the manufacture is very careful. To the touch it seems to be made of a material that is more similar to ceramic than the typical plastic that we see in most controllers today.
The buttons have a nice push, and both the front “mushrooms” and the rear triggers make a satisfying ride. What is not so satisfying is the spider, which offers a “button” feel instead of the typical directional guide. This makes those who are used to using the crosshead to make combos in fighting games find it difficult to chain movements, since the transition between “down-right” or “down-left”, etc. It is not done smoothly and it seems that we are pressing two buttons separately. I don’t know if I’m explaining myself very well, but the feeling is quite strange, especially in Street Fighter fighting games.
To finish, it must also be said that the Stadia controller includes charging via USB type C, a button to invoke the Google Assistant (which is currently not operational) and another native button to take screenshots at any time. Also worth noting is the vibration function of the gamepad, several levels above the classic Dual Shock of the PS4.
The second recommended device to play Stadia is Chromecast Ultra. This revision of the conventional Chromecast has the peculiarity that it includes an Ethernet input to connect to the Internet in the best possible conditions (of course, it also works via wifi).
The good thing about this second accessory included in the Stadia package is that it is still a multimedia device, which means that we can also give it a second use and use it to watch Netflix, YouTube videos and more on TV. If Stadia doesn’t convince you in the end you can always console yourself with this.
Streaming / Gameplay
Although we are facing a full-blown streaming service, the truth is that Stadia has nothing to do with other platforms such as Netflix, HBO or Prime Video. In the case of the latter, the nature of their services allows them to buffering, in such a way that if there is a cut in the connection or the download speed suffers, this does not affect the quality of the content.
At Stadia, however, none of that is possible. The information must travel from the player’s command to the Google servers, and from there to the screen where the game is playing, all of this “almost” in real time and over a long period so that there is no type of input lag.
This inevitably requires a powerful connection, but it also forces us to have a network where there are no signal cuts or drops. During the last 2 weeks I have tested the system using the standard configuration of my home network (contracted power of 100Mb), without retouching any settings in the router or in the Stadia app, and these have been the results:
- TV + Chromecast + Stadia remote control via wifi (router in another room): Here the gaming experience has been very bad, full of pixelated every 2 by 3, with blurred and choppy content. If you play Stadia in this way, you will surely lose the desire to touch the system again. Even changing the data consumption from the Stadia app, the result is simply disastrous (on this same TV, Netflix and other streaming apps work perfectly, which shows that the level of demand in this case is much higher).
- Pixel phone + Stadia remote control via wifi (router in another room): In this gameset we have used a Pixel 3A mobile by connecting the Stadia controller via USB, and playing through the Stadia app. It seems that this time the fluency improves a little, but there are still many pixelated, and fighting games like the aforementioned Samurai Shodown leave a lot to be desired. Without a doubt, the fact that we are connected via wifi and that the router is in another room is greatly hampering the gaming experience.
- TV + Chromecast + Stadia remote control via wifi (router in the same room): This is already something else. Once we have moved to the same room where the router is located, the quality of the system has turned 180 degrees. We have connected the Chromecast Ultra to a monitor, we have synchronized the controller, and the gameplay is simply excellent. Not only is there no lag (I at least don’t notice it), but everything flows like silk even with the level of image quality turned to maximum. The games load very fast with hardly any waiting times, and best of all, since there are no physical disk installations in between, we can start playing as soon as we purchase the game in the Stadia store. I understand that connecting an Ethernet socket to the Chromecast the connection will be better, but at the moment connecting to us via Wi-Fi is more than enough.
- PC (Google Chrome) + Stadia Controller (connected via Ethernet cable): Surprisingly, although I am now playing through a wired Internet connection, the PC experience suffers greatly showing cuts, lag and blurred images when we play through the browser. This shows us that the connection is not everything, and if our Chrome browser is not clean and light as a feather, we will not be able to enjoy an acceptable experience either. Here the solutions would be to uninstall any extension for the browser, as well as delete temporary files, update everything that is necessary and even format the computer in an extreme case.
With all these tests what we have made clear is that Stadia has 2 essential requirements that we must fulfill if we want to enjoy the service as it has been designed by Google:
- Have a powerful and seamless Internet connection. Google recommends a minimum of 10Mbps, but at least in my case I needed a lot more than that to be able to play with good graphics and without cuts of any kind. If we have an Ethernet cable, we should definitely use it (if not, we will have to move to the same room where the home router is located).
- Have a clean and fluid playback device. If the screen from where we are going to play is that of our PC, we must make sure that the equipment does not slow down or has overload problems. Any inconvenience of this type also affects Stadia, since it is still a web application that is running from the browser. Without a doubt the experience works best when we are using products from Google itself, such as Chromecast Ultra or the official Stadia mobile app.
In short, if we talk about the gameplay as such, it is really good. But yes, we have to make sure that we meet the necessary requirements. That which they wanted to sell us that we can play anywhere and at any time is only true if we move in controlled environments where conditions are minimally optimal. Now, when everything is in place, the service is a true wonder of technology.
I would almost say that this is the least important point, considering that we are talking about a game system that arrives to revolutionize the gaming world as such. But what is a console without video games? Well, probably something similar to what Stadia is right now.
The platform currently has 26 titles under its belt, and although they are games of unquestionable quality, it is missing that they would have included any new or exclusive feature, apart from the interesting GYLT, developed by the Madrid studio Tequila Works. With the subscription to Stadia Pro we can currently play Samurai Showdown, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, Destiny 2 and Farming Simulator 19 (the latter I do not know if they have been uploaded as a “joke”, but it is worth it…).
Personally, I do not have any problem with the games, since the 4 that are included for free I had not tried them and therefore I have several hours of play until they release new things, but the fact that the rest of the games that are the sale has the same price as when they came onto the market, taking into account that some are titles that have been around for a while, it is at least frustrating. You could buy me the GRID, which just came out recently, but it is 70 eurazos (when on PS4 you can already find it for € 40).
In that sense, it would be interesting for Stadia to encourage the use of its platform by adding new games at more reasonable prices, if it does not run the risk of people focusing only on the monthly subscription model (and this is not too attractive an idea for the rest of companies are encouraged to develop a catalog for the platform, really).
Google Stadia is the first step towards the desertification of physical games in the gaming market. The pieces necessary to assemble the puzzle are there, and everything indicates that it could be the germ of a new way of understanding the entertainment industry.
However, Google does not have it as simple as Netflix, and this is where Stadia’s true Achilles heel resides: it has a very powerful machine (10.7 teraflops GPU) and has managed to dodge input lag prodigiously, yes. But there is something that is completely out of Google’s control: the quality of the connection and the current infrastructures, agents that play a key role in the proper functioning of your console.
So is Stadia a bad system? Absolutely. Is it worth buying the remote and a Chromecast Ultra? If you have a good connection to pull from, go ahead. Now, at least for now we would not recommend it as the main console, since the catalog is quite small and a little expensive, in which case it would be much cheaper in the short term to buy us a PS4 or Xbox One.
In short, a device with its lights and shadows, which starts from an interesting but somewhat hasty idea. Success will undoubtedly depend on what they do with the platform from now on. What do you think about Google Stadia?