We finally got our hands on our Google Stadia Founder’s Edition. We played a few games a few different ways. And this is our conclusion. Playing Stadia isn’t fun.
Let’s start with looking at the Stadia Controller. We like the design of this controller. It’s comfortable to hold and feels good in the hands. It has a nice weight and good feeling textured grip. It has a decent D-pad but it’s a bit clicky. We’re undecided if that’s a good thing or not. But it’s definitely playable. The main design flaw that we noticed is the location of the Stadia button. The button is located at the bottom between two, kind of slippery, thumb sticks. While playing we accidentally hit the Stadia button, bringing up the Stadia menu and interrupting the game. The layout of the PS4 DualShock 4 is similar but better. You’re far less likely to hit the PS button accidentally because it’s sunken below the thumb sticks. The main problems we had with Stadia weren’t because of the form factor of the controller. But the controller didn’t help.
The primary way to experience Google Stadia at launch is on a TV using the Chromecast Ultra and the Stadia Controller. For us, this was the worst experience we had while still being playable. The power adapter for the Chromecast has an ethernet jack in it so our experience was using a direct wired connection, for the Chromecast. The controller uses wifi to communicate with Stadia in the cloud. There were noticeable delays, frame drops and sound issues. And using the Stadia Controller wasn’t as fluid as we would have liked. The wireless cloud controller didn’t prove itself in our play testing. Playing Samurai Shodown requires pinpoint precision with inputs and we just weren’t getting that. And we can’t imagine playing a rhythm game like Thumper, which is also available on Stadia, with these controls.
Playing Destiny 2 with the Chromecast was also awful. The game was so delayed and framey it would be considered unplayable. It was so unforgivingly slow that accurately aiming was a nightmare.
But there are more ways to play Stadia rather than just with a Chromecast on a TV. Are they any better? Well in terms of PC and laptops, not really. We didn’t have a Pixel phone to test this service with so that won’t be part of this review. But when it comes to computers the quality of the experience depends largely on the internet.
Using a powerful gaming PC with gigabit internet directly connected through ethernet was a decent experience. The games were responsive and playable, in part thanks to having to use a wired USB controller on PC. It seemed to be running at 60 fps. We switched between a gamepad and mouse and keyboard and it was a very responsive experience. But the visual quality was muddy with very little detail coming through. The resolution didn’t look any higher than 720p. The entire time it feels like you’re watching a compressed video file. It looked like the visual settings were set to medium. And it never got better than that no matter where we played.
The second test was on another gaming PC with high specs also with direct wired internet but speeds around 50 mbps down. Same muddy looking visuals only now with stuttering and crashes. Lots of slow down, lots of jumping around. At times it was almost unplayable.
We also tested Stadia on a gaming laptop through wifi and it wasn’t a very fun experience. The game was significantly slower than when played on a PC with a wired connection.
Stadia has problems
No matter what the visual quality never even came close to matching that of current generation home consoles. Which begs the question why come out with a new platform that can’t compete on a gameplay level. Google Stadia marketed themselves as a bigger, better experience without the box. But the box gives you a stable experience. Where the cloud, so far, gives you stutters and slow down. Doesn’t seem like a smart trade off.
Hot Take is a live-streamed show where two of our hosts jump in-front of a camera to discuss the latest gaming news and trends. These videos are personal opinions and not intended to be news reports.