A Weekend with Google Stadia

Published on 2019-11-26 on Joshua Vega's Blog - Permalink

This weekend, like many people across the country, I received access to Google’s new Stadia gaming platform. If you don’t already know, Stadia differentiates itself from the competition (Epic Games Store, Steam, EA Origin, etc.) by using streaming technology to allow players to play games without needing to install anything. Players don’t even necessarily need a computer. As of writing, Stadia is supported by the Google Chrome web browser1, Google Pixel-line of smartphones, and the Google Chromecast Ultra when paired with the Google Stadia controller.

Leading up to Stadia’s launch it experienced quite a bit of bad press and negative feedback from many reviewers, much of which was warranted. As the launch date approached, and we learned more about Stadia, it was clear that Google initially over-promised and now had to rollback a lot of features as “coming soon” or “in 2020” rather than at launch as was expected. However, I wasn’t deterred by all this negativity and kept my pre-order. I knew keeping it would be a risk but even if Stadia was an utter failure I’d still at least have a Chromecast Ultra and new USB controller (two things I was eyeing anyway) so it wouldn’t be a total loss.

There are two games in particular that drove me to branch out from PC gaming and into Stadia: Red Dead Redemption 2 and Cyberpunk 2077. While my PC specs out just above Red Dead’s recommended specifications, I don’t really have 150 GB of free space on my hard drives just lying around that I’d be willing to allocate to it. As I’m writing this, I have 111 GB free on my “Games” hard drive which means I’d need to find a way to fit another hard drive into my already relatively full PC. And with the predicted PC requirements for Cyberpunk 2077 being slightly higher than Red Dead, I wasn’t confident my computer would be able to handle either game all that well (not to mention Cyberpunk’s hard drive requirements).

But before I dropped another $60 into Red Dead Redemption 2 in addition to the $130 that I spent on the Stadia, I needed to see if it was even worth spending the money. Thankfully, Stadia graciously offered a free copy of Destiny 2 to those who had Stadia Pro (of which 3 free months were bundled with the Stadia Founder’s Edition). Given that Destiny 2 is a reasonably demanding game visually I felt this would be a decent measurement of Stadia’s performance. After about 15 minutes via Google Chrome on my PC2, I felt comfortable that my money wouldn’t entirely go to waste and so I was ready to jump into Red Dead Redemption 2.

The first start of Red Dead was rocky: the game crashed while I was poking around the settings menus. A quick restart and a few minutes later I was Arthur Morgan riding a horse through knee-deep snow in God Knows Where, USA. The graphical quality was okay. The character faces looked like they were covered in wax but didn’t really seem to exhibit any sub-surface scattering. The game clearly wasn’t running on a particularly high graphical setting. Or at least, if it was, all the details were being smoothed out by the streaming compression. Speaking of streaming, I was reminded that this game was being streamed over the internet by the small but noticeable streaming artifacts every couple minutes. In the few hours I played I also experienced stream freezes that would last several seconds and I would find myself “teleported” several feet ahead of where I previously was in-game meaning that the freeze was likely with the stream and not with the game itself.

When the Stadia Controller and Chromecast Ultra finally arrived, I set them up on my 4K TV and played some more Red Dead. Putting aside the fact that playing on my living room TV just wasn’t as comfortable for my as sitting at my PC, the game itself looked as good as I expected, but not much better. However I did experience a noticeable amount of input lag3 that wasn’t present on my PC. I definitely felt more comfortable sitting at my desk, but it was nice to know that I could move to the couch and still get a decent gaming experience.

If I had a Google Pixel phone, I’d probably talk about my experiences with Stadia on mobile right about here. Sadly, I’ve been living under the umbrella of Samsung and I don’t know if there are any plans to support non-Pixel devices in the future.

To summarize my experience with Stadia, I think my decision to retain my pre-order was the right call. I definitely wasn’t blown away by the experience but I also don’t regret any of my Stadia-related purchases. I plan on continuing to play Red Dead Redemption 2 via Stadia for the foreseeable future and I’ll likely be playing Cyberpunk 2077 on it as well. I don’t expect that someone would be able to competitively play fast action games like Counter-Strike or Call of Duty successfully on Stadia but other games that are turn-based or slower paced, like Red Dead, will work perfectly within the limitations of the platform. And finally, I’m looking forward to what Stadia has in store come 2020. Hopefully Google can finally deliver on many of the features that initially promised for the platform.

  1. I was also able to play via Brave Browser which is based on Chrome. ↩︎

  2. At this point, the Stadia package was still yet to be delivered so I was only able to test on PC. ↩︎

  3. I discussed this experience with a friend later and he recommended I check and see if my TV has a “gaming” mode, something I’ll have to test out in the near future. ↩︎