Google Stadia Review

by Trevor Starkey

Okay, Google.

First things first, I have no idea how to tell the difference between something running at 1080p and 4K. Nor can I give you a true sense of what the impact of input lag on the Stadia’s wireless controller might be. If you want that level of technical specificity, there are certainly reviews more suited to the task. But I have spent some time exploring Stadia through a few different options and wanted to write up a review of that experience so here we are.

The Technical Stuff I’m Working With

Internet Service Plan: Cox Internet Ultimate. Up to 300 Mbps download, up to 30 Mbps upload, 1,024 GB data plan

Modem/Router: NETGEAR – Nighthawk X4S Dual-Band AC3200 Router with 32 x 8 DOCSIS 3.1 Cable Modem

PC: CyberPowerPC AMD FX08350 Eight-Core Processor @ 4.00GHz w/ 8GB RAM (connected via Ethernet)

Laptop: ASUSTek Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU @ 2.60GHz w/ 12GB RAM (connected via 5G Wi-Fi)

Google Chromecast Ultra included with Stadia Founder’s Edition Bundle (connected via Ethernet)

(As I am not a well-versed PC player by nature, I have virtually no idea what any of those things mean.)

The Platform

The good news is that the central idea of Google Stadia works pretty well. Streaming on all three of my different options was almost indistinguishable from playing directly from a console. Even my first attempt while on hotel Wi-Fi in San Francisco when I received my Founder’s code had me wandering around the Tower in Destiny 2 on my laptop with no noticeable problems other than my complete ineptitude for the mouse and keyboard controls.

Switching among platforms works pretty smoothly as well. To test, I have been loading up a game on my PC, then switching over to my TV and/or laptop or any other combination of the three and it works. The game disconnects from one screen and pretty seamlessly switches to the next. It’s a mostly intuitive process but because the launch capabilities still require the controller to be connected via a USB when playing on a web browser, I have occasionally mixed up the order of operations as to how I need to connect or disconnect from one thing to another to sync the controller and switch the game over correctly. It’s not a significant problem, but it does highlight the confusing status of what features do and don’t work at launch.

From a technical perspective, that’s pretty much Google Stadia’s biggest shortcoming. So many of the features they promoted in their early presentations are nowhere to be seen at launch or released in a seemingly unfinished state. Both my PC and Laptop recognize the Stadia controller as a Bluetooth device so why isn’t the Google Stadia browser able to recognize it as such? The Google Chromecast that arrived with my Founder’s pack is able to connect to the Stadia app on my phone, but why aren’t other Chromecasts able to? If I forget to turn on the Wi-Fi on my phone, even if my Chromecast is hard-wired with an ethernet cable to my modem, why can’t Stadia connect to Google’s servers? I have no doubt there are entirely justifiable technical reasons for these things but as a layman, this just adds to the feeling that Stadia launched in an unfinished beta state.

Other features originally celebrated but that have been pushed to 2020 include 4K streaming on web browsers, mobile party and voice chat, state share (the ability to save and share the state of your game with other players as a hyperlink), crowd play (the ability to support streamers playing with viewers), and Google Assistant integration anywhere other than the Stadia Chromecast Ultra. This last one is perhaps the most mind-boggling as there is an entire button on the Stadia controller dedicated to this that just doesn’t do anything if you’re playing on a browser. And even on the Chromecast Ultra, it’s functionality is largely limited to booting up a game from the main menu as it does nothing when you’re already in a game.

Even the game capture images I’m using for this post are inexplicably only accessible from the app on my phone and doesn’t actually seem to be a share function so I had to screenshot them on the phone and transfer them to the PC.

The Library

The other major shortcoming of Google Stadia here nearly a month after launch is the line-up of supported titles. The platform launched with 22 games, many of which have been available elsewhere for months, if not years. The Stadia Pro $9.99 monthly subscription (3 months of which were included in the Founder’s bundle) original included two free titles: Destiny 2: The Collection and fighting game Samurai Showdown. A somewhat vocal reaction at launch led to Google quickly adding two more titles to the offering in December: 2013’s Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition and Farming Simulator 19.

Since launch, only one more title has been added to that Stadia’s offerings: Darksiders Genesis, a three-month timed-exclusive for Stadia and Microsoft Windows that will arrive on consoles in February. For the sake of testing the platform, I put some time into each of the four Stadia Pro titles, as well as a purchased copy of Darksiders Genesis.

Destiny 2

Thanks to Bungie’s cross-save functionality, I was able to carry over my characters from my PS4 Destiny 2 save. I put so much time into the game when it launched and through the first couple of expansions that I had a character of each class at max light level at the time. But then when Forsaken came out, I was a couple weeks late getting to it and felt like I had been passed by. I was pretty much content not to come back to the game anymore since it felt barely recognizable to the game I had put 300+ hours into.

Sure enough, coming back to it on Stadia did me no favors. Attempting the first mission on the Moon from the recent Shadowkeep expansion had me die probably a couple dozen times. The game just has seemingly no interest in introducing people who haven’t been following every blog post into the current state of the game. Yeah, I can get the basic idea of follow the waypoints and shoot the bad guys, but I have no idea what any of the currencies are these days or how to upgrade anything and I don’t have the interest in going out of my way to find out.

The game runs fine though. There was a bit of stuttering when playing through a mission on the Wi-Fi but things ran smoothly when connected via ethernet. The fact that the game and all of its expansions are included with Stadia Pro makes this an optimal place to play as I would have to spend extra to get whatever expansions I don’t already own on my PlayStation and the $9.99 Pro subscription would just be comparable to a monthly PlayStation Plus subscription.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition

Tomb Raider originally came out in 2013 and it’s still pretty much that same game. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of streaming lag or my reflexes are just slowing this much but I found myself failing a lot of the early quick time events to escape things like wolves attacking. Poor Lara died so many times in the hour or two I spent with this old game. Given that I’ve already played it and both sequels elsewhere, I’m not the target market for any of those three titles here on Stadia.

Darksiders Genesis

I’ve spent nearly two hours playing this hack-and-slash Darksiders spinoff and have no idea what I’m really doing. I guess I can switch between playing as two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, I can shoot and melee enemies, and I can do some light platforming. I have no idea what the various orbs I collect mean because there isn’t much in the way of a tutorial, yet the controls are seemingly always present on the screen if you forget what button does what.

Farming Simulator 19

Playing through the tutorial of Farming Simulator reinforced my thoughts that this series is effectively a more realistically-driven Stardew Valley game, but perhaps without the dating-sim and dungeon crawling charm. It probably makes for a bit of a zen-like experience but not anything I’m really interested in diving back into.

Samurai Showdown

Going back to the idea I touched on with Tomb Raider, there’s either a stark enough input lag or my reflexes are just not suited to a fighting game (or some combination of the two). I wasn’t even able to get through the Tutorial of Samurai Showdown. After trying to get the timing right on some of the basic combos for about 5 minutes to no avail, I just gave up and went to something else.

Closing Thoughts

I echo many colleagues in just not having a great understanding of who this product is for or why it launched in the state that it did. As someone too intimidated to try and build a high-powered PC, I guess there’s a bit of appeal for me. And theoretically, when the functionality and number of supported devices are expanded, this also fulfills the “take it with you virtually anywhere” idea that people have really latched onto with the Nintendo Switch. But as with any gaming platform, you need the cornerstone of the games themselves and Google Stadia just doesn’t have anything I’m really interested in spending time with that I can’t play or haven’t already played elsewhere.

Final Score

6.0 / 10

That Decent Platform

  • Easily taking a game from device to device
  • Being able to hop right into a game without downloading/installing and minimal loading
  • Almost nothing to play
  • Bare bones features
  • Should have launched as an Early Access project or in a formalized Beta state

Google Stadia was reviewed using a retail version of the Stadia Founder’s Edition Bundle. That Nerdy Site’s Review Scoring rubric can be found here.

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