Kinda giving the whole post away with that title, but you can keep reading if you want to spend a few more minutes of your life reading my eloquent prose.
Since my ego won’t allow me to conceive that anyone actually stopped, let’s keep going.
A few days ago, I mentioned that Google had sent me a Nest Mini for subscribing to their Youtube Music service, and they recently followed that up with their Stadia “Premiere Edition” kit.
It’s a very attractive box. Opening it up you get the controller,
Sort of a nice medium ground between Playstation and Xbox layouts. You get the ABXY buttons, laid out as God intended with A on the bottom, you get symmetrical thumbsticks and a pleasantly-clicky D-Pad, there’s a dedicated screenshot button and a button that can be pressed to activate the Google Assistant. Because apparently this thing has a microphone in it, somewhere?
It feels a little off-balance when you’re holding it, but that goes away after a few minutes.
Below that, you get some cables, a couple of AC adapters, and the Chromecast Ultra provided for your TV connection:
In a truly bizarre mix, note that the Stadia controller port is USB-C but the Chromecast still uses a micro USB connector.
The Chromecast’s AC adapter DOES have a neat feature, though – an Ethernet port.
This lets you use it on a wired network, and I strongly recommend this.
The actual setup process is, to my mind, overly complicated. You need to download the Google Home app to set up the Chromecast Ultra and the Stadia app to set up the controller. Once you have them both configured, you enter a code with the D-pad and face buttons to link the controller to the Chromecast and then you’re good to go.
The Chromecast is a very weird streaming box, as an aside. Or, more to the point, I expected it to be a little smarter than it really is. It doesn’t have any built-in apps or any ability to download apps; it is purely a box that receives streams and puts them on your TV screen.
My TV is also a Chromecast, I think? I tried seeing if I could figure out how to link the Stadia controller to the TV directly so I wouldn’t need the dongle hanging off one of the HDMI ports, but I was unsuccessful.
To get this gadget for “free”, I had to sign up for a month of Google’s “Stadia Pro” service, which is a sort of Gamepass-like affair that lets you play a fairly decent selection of games on a rotating basis. I downloaded the remake of Panzer Dragoon and spent a few minutes with it, but it really wasn’t what I was in the mood for and wasn’t much of a showcase. The point of Stadia, after all, is to let you play console-quality games without having an expensive and bulky console taking up space under your TV.
With the intention of finding a nice flagship game to try, I looked through all the offerings on Stadia Pro and just couldn’t get enthused for any of them. On the other hand, there’s currently a Black Friday sale on the Stadia store, Far Cry: New Dawn was only 11.99… and I also had a $10 off coupon. So, for $1.99 I figured it was worth trying out. I really liked Far Cry 5, after all, and this is the direct sequel.
It was not, initially, a good experience. It was choppy and VERY low-res at times, and I felt like all of my apprehensions about game streaming were being justified.
Setting the game to Easy meant that I was able to survive firefights even with the terrible performance, but that seemed a poor showing. The obvious culprit was my internet connection, which meant that I knew how to fix it but actually had to do some work.
I groused a bit, then managed to find an ethernet cable long enough to hook it up to our wired network, and that turned it into…
…well, honestly, I was a little blown away. When I had the thing wired, it felt like I was playing a game from a local console most of the time. Running through areas with lots of waving foliage got a little fuzzy at times, but I have to give them serious props for whatever magic they are using to adjust for the latency that MUST be present in the connection.
After that, I figured I would try running Stadia without the Chromecast. The second point of “Cloud Gaming”, after all, is that you can get to your library from anything.
Well, there’s no Android TV Stadia app. And it’s only officially supported on a few Android tablets and phones, though there is a “look, just see if it will work” option that you can turn on in the Stadia app. And it certainly won’t work on any iDevices. And trying to use Stadia in Chrome on my 5-year-old Surface 3 resulted in some dire performance.
I could have tried it on a Windows laptop – I have a Dell G3, and that’s a fairly good entry-level gaming laptop – but I didn’t see the point of testing that. If you already have a gaming laptop, why wouldn’t you just buy the game for Windows and have it locally?
Finally, I turned to my 2018 Macbook, and finally I had some decent results and could get back to the enjoyable task of massacring bandits in fictional post-apocalyptic Montana. Far Cry even detected the PS4 controller I had plugged in and adapted its button prompts to match, which was an attention to detail I hadn’t expected.
It’s not as high resolution as the Chromecast was, and there were considerably more dips into fuzziness when running through foliage, but it was playing a recent AAA game on a device with an Apple logo and that’s a rarity indeed.
In fact, I dare say that a Mac owner who had a Stadia subscription and an Apple Arcade subscription would probably have enough choice of Stuff To Play at any given time, especially with WoW and FFXIV there to scratch the MMO itch as needed. It fills the niche of “I don’t want to own a gaming PC or an Xbox, but I really want to play the new Assassin’s Creed” pretty nicely.
Now, I’m not sure exactly how many actual people that represents. It’s probably not zero? If I suddenly found myself forced to live in a dorm room situation, I’d probably opt for something like this? Maybe?
I’m stretching a little bit here, I know. I’m impressed enough with how well it works that I find myself kind of rooting for it to get traction. It’s a dancing bear that’s applied itself and actually dances well, and I appreciate that.