By Harold Goldberg
Google’s dream of streaming without a console is outwardly brilliant, but I’m sad to report the dream isn’t quite reality on this launch day in November. I had two feelings about the Stadia service, which was sent with a controller and Chromecast Ultra. You also need to download the Stadia app on your phone. That’s all the hardware and software you need to use the service.
It took about an hour for me to setup, but 15 minutes of that was finding a place to plug in Chromecast at the cluttered back of my home entertainment center. (The front is spartan and pristine, but the back with wires, not so much.) I wanted to play something new first, and I chose Gylt, a small game exclusive to Stadia from Tequila Works with an undertone of bullying. It’s has its horror elements as a girl who loses her cousin Emily tries to find her in a creepy school.
Gylt is a single player game, a worthy story-and-stealth-oriented game for teens, one that I didn’t think would stretch my Verizon WiFi to the breaking point. (Nothing should stretch that in theory. It’s the one gigabit kind.) So Gylt is not a graphically intense game with lots of fireworks. At the beginning, it worked well and I was thrilled for a while about this new console-less world. And it takes a lot these days to get me that excited. I felt for minutes that I had seen the future, and my heart beat harder.
But the graphics stuttered a bit as big-toothed monsters chased me. And they continued to stutter for an hour into the game. The distraction wasn’t enough for me to stop playing the full game, but it was palpable.
Next, I went to the more graphically intense game, Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, one that was kind of savaged in the press. From the first sparks-filled cut scene on a plane which is about to crash, the graphics stuttered more. Even from the get-go, the game has more detail and more information to parse. Lara would move naturally, then slow as if something were halting her progress, then move quickly. It didn’t feel natural. It was disappointing.
I had Destiny The Collection set up, but I didn’t feel comfortable using it with WiFi. If I hardwire an ethernet cable, I’m sure the issues I had would be lessened. But I don’t want another cable strung across from my home office to the living room. Still, I’m going to try it, and I’ll report back when I do.
The initial feeling on Google Stadia: It’s, on its face, a great idea, but it doesn’t fully work. Not yet, anyway. I hope it gets better. While I love my consoles, I’d love to have more space on the floor that would come with a console-less living room. Will that will happen this year, or five to 10 years from now? My guess it’s the latter not the former. But I hope services like Stadia surprise me and the console-less future is sooner rather than later.
Journalist/author Harold Goldberg is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle and the New York Game Awards.