Google Stadia releases on November 19th, but it feels like the service would benefit from months of development time.
Google Stadia releases in the United States on November 19, 2019, but the entire project could stand to be postponed until all of the features it supposedly will offer have been implemented. For the uninitiated, Google Stadia is less of a new video game console and more of a games service, requiring the use of apps and subscriptions in order to stream video games live to multiple devices with varying results of success.
At launch, Stadia can be used on Google Pixel phones, computers with access to the internet, and television sets which are connected to Google's Chromecast Ultra service. Out of all of these options the television seems to offer the best gameplay experience, with appropriately scaled graphics and little-to-no stutter provided the player has a decent internet connection. Surprisingly, Stadia's PC experience seems to be the worst out of all of them at launch, with none of the display/graphical options such users are accustomed to available and often displaying blurry, muddy textures. A 4K experience for Stadia web users is one of many features planned for 2020 but not yet available at launch, however, since the Stadia controller's bluetooth functionality for Pixel phones is another feature not currently available, the PC offers the only way to play local multiplayer on Stadia through titles like Mortal Kombat 11 with whatever controllers are handy, as opposed to purchasing a second Stadia controller.
Speaking of the Stadia controller, it contains other promised functions not available upon launch as well. On top of the left analog stick is a Google Assistant button, one players will likely press by accident numerous times when reaching for the menu button above, prompting a message assuring users the Google Assistant functionality is coming soon. Parallel to it is the Capture button, which does not currently work on mobile devices. Captured images and video are stored in the Stadia app, but currently Google offers no way of retrieving those captures. A planned sharing function is promised at a later date.
It almost goes without saying, but players looking to have an enjoyable experience with Google Stadia need to have a stable internet connection with preferably unlimited bandwidth, as streaming games is going to take a lot out of the modem. Games will not even start on in Stadia's PC mode if the program believes the bandwidth allocation isn't high enough, so computer players accustomed to playing a game in one window and watching a YouTube video in the other may be disappointed for reasons more than blurry graphics.
With a Chromecast Ultra television hookup and a fully-loaded WiFi (or ethernet) connection to stable internet, Stadia works surprisingly well. Switching between owned titles takes only seconds, and the lack of pre-load or install necessity makes the time from game purchase to game play nearly instant. Even with always-online titles like Destiny 2 or Red Dead Online the framerate remained stable, although occasional drops in graphical fidelity seemed to compensate for this. Unfortunately, televisions with normal versions of Chromecast do not currently offer Stadia support, and there seems to be much debate over whether they will be able to in the future.
Stadia games are at their most impressive when played on mobile devices, tested here on the Google Pixel 3A XL. The ability to transfer between AAA titles like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Assassin's Creed: Odyssey on a cell phone is incredibly impressive, and although pretty much any phone or tablet's data plan will force players to make sure they are connected to WiFi before starting to stream a game, thus implying they probably are not too far away from an available larger screen, one can assume such a function would prove invaluable during long airport or hotel room stays where WiFi is strong, abundant, and free. However, players of online games like Destiny 2 should note voice chat on mobile devices is yet another feature not currently functioning, with a promised application date of 2020.
There are 22 games available on the Stadia at launch, and of those 22 only one is exclusive to Google's video game service. Many of the other available titles, such as Rise of the Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy XV, have already been out for a while, and Gylt, Stadia's one exclusive game, isn't impressive enough to be a console seller in the way Halo was for Xbox or Death Stranding has been for the PS4. Although the company promises more titles, including the delayed DOOM Eternal, are coming to the service soon, such a statement provides little reason for anyone to be an early adopter of the Stadia platform.
With so many promised-but-not-yet-available features attached to the Google Stadia at launch, one cannot be helped but to wonder why the company is releasing Stadia at all in its current state. Although some have posited the upcoming Black Friday holiday shopping spree, a tradition in the United States, influenced the Stadia's release date and caused the company to rush the product onto the market before it was completed, others wonder if this is just another multi-million dollar corporate test by Google to see whether it would be worth it in the long run for the company to enter the gaming industry proper.
In the past, multiple developers have cited Google's inability to follow through with under-performing projects as a reason why they are hesitant to develop games for the Stadia. Although the Founder's Edition of Stadia sold out well before the program's release, it will be interesting to see how many gamers will be leery of Google's new game streaming platform. Players remember all too well the promises and subsequent disappointments which accompanied past company products like Google Glass, after all, and no one wants to be burned by dumping too much money into a product just to have it discontinued six months from now.
Google Stadia works just fine under perfect testing conditions, but that doesn't mean it's worth a purchase right out of the gate. There are a number of integral features still missing from the program at launch, and no one should pay full price for a product under the assumption the rest of the promised benefits will be added in later. Although Google is offering multiple deals on games for Stadia Pro adopters, the fact remains all but one of these games have already been available on other consoles, and the one game which is exclusive to Google Stadia isn't anything to write home about.
How Much Does Google Stadia Cost?
A Stadia Pro subscription will cost players $9.99 a month, and although Google has promised Pro members will get access to free games "regularly" there has not been a concrete indication of when or how often such bonuses will appear. This is an additional price on top of the $129 package needed (which includes Chromecast Ultra, a Stadia controller, and three months of Stadia Pro) to enjoy the full benefits of the program.
Google is a company known for taking risks, throwing money at problems, and trying to think outside the box. Such an approach is evident with the Stadia, a theoretical "games console" which does not even have a box. When it works, with the proper equipment and the proper internet and the proper understanding that a number of accessible buttons on the controller don't yet do anything, Stadia works surprisingly well. However, without quality exclusives, access to the newest and most popular titles, or a completed list of features at launch, it's hard to imagine why anyone would want to pay money to be the metaphorical canary in Google's latest coal mine expedition of new entertainment mediums. While there is often some fun in being an early adopter of new technologies, players who want to ensure their money goes to a complete experience would be best to look elsewhere, at least for now.
Google Stadia is available to buy now. A Stadia Founder's Edition Package was provided to Screen Rant for the purposes of this review.