So, The time has come and I’m finally reviewing Google Stadia along with the Stadia Controller. We a TLR, and I assume many of you were, and may still be skeptical about Google Stadia. Please allow me to give you our thought all the way from the Assassin Creed Beta last year all the way until today. So, let’s go! (If you don’t like reading the TL;DR is at the bottom 😉
Free, Free, Free
Let’s start here. The good news is at this time Google Stadia free tier is available and Google is also throwing in 2 months of the Pro tier free. The bad news is because so many people are at home and using the service even if you have the Pro tier you are limited to 1080p resolution. I still suggest if you have considered playing any games on Stadia that you at least signup and try to get your gamer tag if it’s not already taken. At the cost of free, there shouldn’t be much stopping you from jumping in and trying Google Stadia out for yourself.
The first thing you should do once you have signed up is go into the free Stadia games section and claim all the games that you might like to play. I believe its like Microsoft Xbox games with gold. Once you claim them, they are yours if you choose to stay pro or not. The next pro tip I have is to check the games that have Pro discounts. We picked up Division 2 for $9.99 which is the same price as Origin. A week later the price on both Stadia and Origin went back up to $29… so we got a fantastic deal on it with the pro discount. So scour that section during the 2-month free trial and shop the deals, Again what you buy stays with you even if you decide not to pay the $9.99 a month Pro level membership.
Ok, so what is the pro level. Well, originally it was a way to play earlier and get your gamer tag before everyone else. If you’re like me its likely no one has stolen the name you wanted but it was probably the largest upside for getting in early.
Since that time has passed what Pro gives you is up to 4k streaming if you’re display can display that resolution. The free tier is limited to 1080p resolution. The next thing is the previously mention free and discounted games. Pro members like Xbox will have access to a few free games. As of this review Destiny 2 is the largest of the free games. Grid and Pub G are also among the 10 or so games that are free to play if you are a Pro member. Honestly, that about sums up what the pro members get. If you don’t care about free games or 4k then the free tier will likely suit you fine.
Back To The Future
Let me go back in time for a few minutes, all the way back to about a year and a half ago. Google release a close beta that allowed you to play Assassin Creed Odyssey. Overall that experience was fantastic. I could play a triple-A game on my Chromebook and it stayed cool and ran perfectly. (I’ve had android games that caused my Chromebook to run warmer…) it was amazing. I gave the beta rave reviews and then waited for about a year as Google finally decided to name the service and give a release date. (Remember this for later)
I guess the best place to start and the part that seems to bothers most people is the cost. As I said before there is a free tier, so if you are worried about the cost don’t be. However, some people will argue about $9.99. The reality is for years Xbox gold as well as PS plus cost the same price. You paid that mainly to play online with friends and get a few older games (most of the time) free. Stadia Pro is no different, but unlike Xbox or Playstation, you can still play online with friends… FREE. You also get a few mostly older games for free, same as Microsoft. You get some discounts when you buy games similar to Microsoft. So I don’t get some of the negativity that Google Stadia receives.
Stadia Controller = Winning
Next up is the Stadia controller. It is straight-up fantastic. It, for the most part, takes the best of all the other mainstream controllers boils them down into one great controller. I’d argue that its almost worth purchasing as a USB controller but it is expensive. It really is that good.
The feel of the grips is most similar to the Nintendo Switch Pro controller. The main difference is the Stadia controller grips are slightly more rounded similar to the PlayStation but longer than the Pro controller. The result is a controller that is balanced and easy to grip and places my fingers perfectly to press the triggers or bumper buttons.
The Analogue stick placement is straight across from each other like the Playstation 4’s controller but the spacing is just a little better feeling to me.
The “D” pad (direction pad) has a sharp tactile click when it’s pressed. Also, worth noting it’s easy to roll across the pad, Think special moves in fighting games. I think this D-pad is the one to beat.
The other buttons all have a tactile non-mushy feel. If you have used one of the Nintendo Switch Lite then you’ll know about how the button presses feel. You probably notice that there are a few face buttons that you might not have seen before. The top 2 buttons in the center work similarly to the start and back buttons that most people will be used too. The buttons below that again kind of takes ideas from the Switch Pro controller. The capture button when pressed captures a screenshot. Holding the capture button for a second or so will save the last 30 seconds as a video clip.
Now the button you have never seen is the assistant button. The idea was pressing it will give you a few options based on the game that you are playing. I haven’t found a game that it works in yet, so I’ll reserve judgment on it for now. The last button has the Google Stadia logo and works as you probably suspect… As a home/menu button.
I Love Analog
Something that I need to talk about is the triggers. They are analog, unlike the Nintendo Switch Pro controller. I’ll explain if you don’t know why that is a big deal. Analog gives you a variety of levels of control. In games like Grid when you are racing and that corner is coming up a slight pull of the trigger can gently apply the brakes while a gentle pull of the right analog trigger applies the accelerator to get you out the corner without drifting you into the wall, hopefully. This is not something that all controllers have. The Nintendo Switch Pro controller, for example, would completely slam on the brakes or the accelerator as the triggers are either all the way on or off.
A really cool feature of the controller is that is has a built-in microphone. I’m not sure why everyone else hasn’t included this feature already. Using all the learning that Google has with mobile phones, Chromebooks, and smart home devices have resulted in a microphone that works better than most gaming headset. You can grab a cheap or decent pair of headphones and plug them into the remote and not need to have a build-in or on-cable microphone to chat if you so choose.
Overall if you can’t tell I really, really like the Stadia controller. I don’t expect Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo to repay the favor and borrow some ideas from the Google Stadia Controller but they should.
Two important last things about the Stadia controller.
First, if you want to play stadia on TV you have to use a Chrome Cast Ultra ( As of right now) and you need the Stadia controller to play. It is the only way as you will see in the second thing. (You can use most USB/ Bluetooth remotes on PC)
Move Over Bluetooth
Second thing. The Google Stadia controller connects with wifi. You heard that right, wifi. Google says by connecting to wifi it removes the middle man (PC, Phone, Tablet, Chrome Cast) and allows the most lag-free control. Well… It’s completely true. At no time when using the Stadia Controller did I notice a hint of lag. My gaming experience as far as the control goes were rather flawless. The other great thing is by connecting wifi I can go from device to device nearly instantaneously by launching stadia on the other device and the remote just works. It stays connected to the server with wifi, so it never misses a beat. This is something that wouldn’t be possible if it used Bluetooth as you would have to unpair and re-pair the Bluetooth with the devices as you move.
Basically, Google Stadia Controller to me is a 9 or maybe even a 10/10 in my opinion.
Moving onto Stadia itself. Remember what I asked you to remember from above. The largely positive Assassin Creed experience.
An Elephant In The Room
First, let me cover the elephant in the room. The lack of games. Stadia needs to add more and they can’t do it fast enough in my opinion. Xbox and Playstation have a vast library to pull from and Google needs to buy, beg or borrow some of those games. In reality, they have but they have already started this with a Stadia direct live stream only a week or so ago, but nothing in it was exciting if I’m honest. The largest drop was that Pub G was available and free… ( Again if you have free tier this a win) Xbox nor Playstation is allowing you to play online for free.
The next thing is the pricing. Have you ever looked at game prices in a big box store like Walmart? They used to always have games priced wrong. The game could be a year old and have dropped in price 3 or 4 times and Walmart would still have it listed at the full retail a year later. A drive to an actual game store would often find the same game $30 cheaper. I find Google Stadia to be a little like Walmart. The prices aren’t always the value in the market but this does seem to be getting better. As games go on sale in other store Google seems to be making an effort to be price competitive. All that said I’d shop around just to be sure.
So gameplay. I told you twice already that my experience with the beta before it was even called Stadia was fantastic. The graphics were, in my opinion, better than Xbox One and PS4. However, that was then and well… Now is now.
The first thing you need to know is the graphic of different games will obviously look different, just like you’d expect of PC or console. Different studios, the time the game was made all affect the overall visual experience. So Destiny 2 will always look better than Pub G for example. So remember that as you look at the screenshots.
Grid was originally launched in 2008 with updates coming every so often. The latest update came out in October of 2019, so not quite a year ago. The visual style has been more of slow progress than a complete overhaul. So you shouldn’t expect Forza 5 or Forza Horizon 4 levels of visuals to begin with. Add the compression that Google has with Stadia and I felt like I might have been playing on the original launch Xbox one back in 2013…
Yeah, unfortunately, it really is that bad. Grid on a widescreen LG 1080p monitor is cropped ( which isn’t a huge deal) but the visual compression when the car is moving at speed can be a disaster. One instance that I had was racing across a bridge that has a barrier in opposite lanes to make a chicane which again isn’t a problem if you can see it. The blur and compression making look down the track nearly impossible to see the barrier until you were nearly hitting it. In fact the first lap I did hit it and had to use the game rewind feature in Grid to save the lap and not get passed.
2013 Called They Want Their Graphics Back
Another example is Pub G. The graphic style of Pub G isn’t great to start with, then add compression. Some of the maps blend the ground and building color even when playing on my gaming PC or laptop. So you really need the clarity to even function in that game. Stadia won’t be doing you any favors. I played a few rounds using the sound of nearby gunfire to locate other players. Once I had found them at a distance due largely to them moving they looked like 12 pixels ..lol like something from an 80’s arcade. Again this is far from what I experienced in the beta playing Assassin Creed.
There Is Hope
There is hope and light at the end of this tunnel though. The first is the graphics are dynamic, which means as the network traffic slows down the games do begin to look better. So playing in off-peak times results in way better visuals. Playing late at night and early morning has resulted in much better visuals than what I stated above… But who wants to wait for people to go to sleep and play.
Google has the infrastructure to make the experience better but I’m not sure they will just yet. Money talks and I’m not sure enough people have invested cash into the service. The next thing is Google has stated the service would be impacted by everyone at home, so once people start getting back outside the load on the service will come down and the visual quality will go back up. So why spend additional resources on servers and GPU that might not be needed in a month or 2.
I know a few people are going to think that my connection speed was the problem but at the time I took the screenshots I was 390Mbps. Google recommends 35Mbps for 4k gaming, I had more than 10 times the recommended speed for 4k and 390 times the recommended minimum 10Mbps speed. So, your speed doesn’t matter too much over the recommended as you are still at the mercy of the Google Stadia servers.
You might have noticed that I’ve said visual performance. The actual gameplay is pretty much spot on. Obviously, Stadia, even if you install the app is still just streaming video so nothing that I had would read the frame rates. I can tell you though, despite the crap at times visuals the frame rates were great. I’d even go out on a limb and say the frame rate was higher than what you’d get on consoles. I think part of the reason the frame rate and controls were so good though might be at the expense of the resolution. Google is almost certainly using some kind of resolution or rendering scaling to keeps the frames rate high and controls crisp.
What Good Looks Like
The thing is I know what Google Stadia can do from playing the beta. I’ve seen great visuals on Destiny 2 playing in the off-peak hours. Further proof is the screenshot below. I took this in the same session as the other Grid photos. Those were screenshots while this one was taken using the Stadia button. As you can see when Stadia is firing on all cylinders the picture quality is defiantly on par or better than current-generation game consoles.
So my final thoughts.
Who is Stadia for? This is tricky. Google Stadia could certainly replace a console or gaming PC IF you have a solid internet connection and unlimited data. When everything is clicking and Stadia is firing on all cylinders it can use lots of data and if you don’t have a huge date cap or unlimited data you could find those limits with a few hours of play. Keep in mind if you are like me and live with a wife and kids that data will go even faster with streaming services, youtube, social media, etc. So I’d sign up for the free service play maybe 30 minutes and get a feel for it. It might be for you.
Stadia has the potential to be a game-changer but so does the Xbox project X cloud that should bring similar performance and many more games. Xbox also promises the ability to use your own console as a streaming server when you’re not at home. This though brings up the last point again. Internet speed and data caps.
For me, personally, Stadia is worth it but so is project X cloud. We pay for the 1 Gb speeds and unlimited data but we also only watch video or tv through streaming services, we use the internet for work, so there isn’t really any additional cost for me other than the $9.99 for being a Pro member.
So in short, the Google Stadia controller is one of the best in my opinion. The Stadia service can be very hit or miss graphically depending on the load on the Google servers. The frame rate seems to be as advertised and matches consoles at worst though I suspect it’s faster than console frame rates most of the time. You should try it especially because its free, and limit your time if you have a small data cap with your internet provider. It could replace a console if more games are added as most console games won’t even launch if you don’t have an internet connection. Maybe Stadia and X cloud are the future if so as of 2020 Stadia feels like a really early look and less like the finished product.