Google Stadia: The console experience without the console
Googleg Stadia stakes its claim as one of the best in cloud gaming.g g
In recent years, the cloud gaming market has gained a number of new names, and none has been more hyped than Google Stadia. Launched in late 2019, it ran into a few stumbling blocks along the way, but its pivot to focusing on third-party game hosting has seen it flourish. Now a mainstay in the cloud streaming industry, Stadia has a lot to offer. We tested both the free and Pro versions of the service. Let’s see how it all stands up.
Google Stadia comes in two forms: free and Pro. With the free access, you’re able to play a select few free games, such as Destiny 2, or games that you bought for Stadia at up to 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second, including any online multiplayer games. That’s it; you can fully play games that you buy without the need to purchase any expensive hardware—as long as your internet connection is up to handling it, which requires a minimum of 10Mbps.
Stadia Pro supports streaming games at up to 4K resolution, 60fps, with HDR and 5.1 surround support with connections of 35Mbps or greater. Additionally, Stadia Pro will provide a handful of free games that you can claim to your library to play as long as your Pro subscription is active. Most games, however, are neither free nor included in Stadia Pro, but instead have to be bought. Some games do have discounts for Pro members, though.
In essence, you can imagine Google Stadia as its own console or popular PC game store. It has a fairly wide selection of games you can buy and play on the service, and those games aren’t playable on any other service. It’s much like how purchasing a game for Playstation 5 doesn’t allow you to play that game through the Epic Games Store or on Nintendo Switch.
At the time of writing, there are just over 270 games available on Stadia. That said, the Stadia game library is a bit all over the place in terms of the kinds of games and their release timeframes. It feels like Stadia is always trying to catch up to the mainstream market, but that means games both new and old are always
becoming available for purchase on the platform.
During our tests with Stadia Pro, the games that could be claimed with the subscription aren’t exactly the most popular ones out there, but there have been plenty of good ones, including Life Is Strange Remastered, Terraria, and Control Ultimate Edition. If you’re looking for the higher performance that Stadia Pro offers over its free service, then the Pro games are a nice slow drip of bonuses.
The first thing we feel the need to call out is that Google makes it fairly difficult to find and understand what Stadia actually has to offer in its own website and media. It took an uncomfortable amount of time to even see that the Stadia service can be played on for free, as almost all of its promotional material and site information tries to push users to Stadia Pro.
Once signed up, however, the Stadia experience is very simple and straightforward. You access your Stadia account and the Stadia interface through a browser, or through the Stadia app on other devices. Google Chrome is going to be your obvious preference on PC. Inside the service, you’ll be presented with a home screen of offers and games you can purchase, claim, or play depending on the nature of your account. To do any of that, you just click the big visual boxes for these games to purchase and/or launch them straight from the browser.
Managing your account, including unsubscribing from Stadia Pro if you need to, is also fairly simple. The options appear under your account icon in the upper-right corner of the Stadia browser view, and most of those options sit under the Stadia Settings selection, from subscription to
controller options to game sharing in Google Family accounts.
Speaking of controllers: You do not need the Stadia controller to play games with Stadia. We were able to play with an Xbox One controller connected to the PC with no issues. For the games that support it, you can also play Stadia games with a mouse (fave.co/3cn3m5b) and keyboard (fave.co/3cptszo).
We did see a couple of quirks, though. When you launch a game, it will launch in a full-screen view that locks in your cursor to that monitor if you have multiple displays. However, not all games have an Exit or Quit to Desktop option in their menus. This is what happened with Terraria, and there was no indication on how to actually leave the full screen to get back to the Stadia interface or anything. For these instances, all you need to do is press F11 on your keyboard for the standard browser full-screen toggling or hold down the Escape key, and you’ll get a Stadia menu to either go back to the game or exit it, but there was nowhere in the Stadia startup process that explained that to us.
There were a couple of times where a game experience just froze up and crashed outright, and there was no message or information indicating what happened. It’s just as frustrating as those times a game just crashes to the desktop on a PC without any kind of error message.
To note for our tests, our internet connection speed test (fave.co/3zaypfq) results were
about 447Mbps down and 22.6Mbps up, which definitely meets the recommended requirements for Stadia services. With that in mind, the in-game experience for the Stadia games we tried out was superb. In testing games like Bloodstained Ritual of the Night, Control Ultimate Edition and Cities: Skylines, everything both felt and looked great, especially with Stadia Pro. Performance is almost always exceptional, barring any game crashes for our playtimes and testing.
We weren’t really able to dig into any graphics options on the games, as they seem to have preset restrictions to fit whatever systems are running things on Google’s end. Regardless, it was all smooth, responsive, and had no notable performance drops, lag spikes, or stream artifacts—even on a 4K display.
Google Stadia can provide the console gaming experience without requiring that get any expensive hardware, and it can look even better with its Pro subscription. You still have to buy most of your games, but if you’re coming at it as your primary gaming service, that’s not a bad way to go about it.