Stadia preview: hands-on with Google’s new gaming platform

Is Google Stadia the future of gaming? We went hands-on with the new platform to try and find out...

This article comes from Den Of Geek US, who tried out Google Stadia at the Game Developers Conference 2019.

Google’s newly announced Stadia platform promises to bring Triple-A games onto any device that can run Google Chrome, as long as you have a good enough internet speed to make a connection with Google’s Data Centres (which will stream the content over the web and remove the need for a console).

It’s a very enticing pitch, but much of its success hinges on how well the games perform in practice. At GDC, we had the chance to get hands-on with Stadia, playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey straight from the cloud. The experience created some optimism for the upcoming service, though there are still plenty of questions left unanswered that could make or break the platform’s prospects.

Visually, AC Odyssey seemed to be running fine, shaping up nicely at 1080p and 30 FPS, though a Google employee did state that the signal from the Google Data Centre was streaming at 60 FPS. The game was running on a Google Pixelbook laptop at each of the stations we tested on the show floor, and for the most part, the visuals looked console-quality, though some of the stations seemed to show a bit more artifacting, distorting the graphics at points.

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This could have been due to the fact that the screens at the display stations weren’t super high-quality gaming monitors, or that the internet connections varied in strength at the two Stadia booths, which were in separate buildings across the street from each other (both were running on Ethernet connections). It was hard to tell exactly what caused these noticeable graphical inconsistencies, but at the end of the day, the game felt very smooth at all of the stations and certainly didn’t appear to be downgraded in any massively major way.

That being said, Google’s Data Centre is 50 miles away from the convention centre in San Francisco, and the Bay Area is an incredibly well-connected region, so if graphical inconsistencies were due to the internet connection, one has to wonder how well Stadia will do in other regions. Google has recommended a 25 Mbps connection for Stadia, and we’d wager that performance will almost certainly vary depending on where you live and how close you are to one of Google’s Data Centres.

There wasn’t much of a perceptible latency issue during my time playing AC Odyssey, but latency isn’t as critical for a game in which reaction time isn’t as key to gameplay. A Google employee told me that the latency should be imperceptible to human eyes, and with Assassin’s Creed, it certainly felt responsive enough.

At the convention, we were also able to go hands-on with Stadia’s Doom Eternal PC demo. The game was running at a lightning-fast 60 fps at 1080p, though there were some caveats. Doom was running on a version of Stadia that’s meant for developers.

The visuals looked fantastic when spectating, but latency was definitely noticeable once you started playing using the station’s mouse and keyboard. The cursor lagged behind my movements ever so slightly, which is of course less than desirable for a twitch shooter like Doom. The nearby Google representatives insisted that latency would not be an issue at launch.

Stadia is being advertised as “for everyone,” in the sense that it will make major games quickly and readily available to all players, and it looks to deliver on that promise. Accessibility and ease of use is the focus here, and the ability to jump into a game you’re watching someone play on YouTube by simply clicking a button is an interesting prospect, though this functionality was only showcased in a video on the show floor, and we weren’t able to try it out.

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In person, Stadia provides what appears to be an adequate gaming experience, though there were too many variables in play on the show floor to make a concrete assessment of the platform.

Google’s new controller wasn’t available to try on the show floor (Logitech controllers acted as stand-ins) and were instead on display in glass cases, and there were no Stadia menus or HUDs to be seen either, so the platform’s UI is still a big question mark as well. And of course, Stadia’s as-yet-unannounced price will be one of the biggest defining factors in its success.

Based on what we saw on the GDC floor, it seems possible that gamers who already have a console or a decent PC won’t necessarily choose to play a game like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on Stadia over their existing set-ups. But if you’re travelling or fancy playing in bed on a Chrome-running device, Google’s new platform seems like a suitable option for the masses. For competitive gamers and fans of games requiring ultra-low latency, however, Stadia still has yet to prove it can provide an ideal gaming experience.

Stadia will launch in 2019 and we’re expecting more info from Google in the summer…