Google Stadia Review: Amazing, for now

  • Stadia speed is extraordinary on most hardware
  • Playable on multiple platforms right out the gate
  • Controller feels decent, professional-grade
  • Claw ideal for mobile, aside from button overlap
  • Launch game selection is small, but growing very fast
  • Early barriers include older laptops - but even then, not bad
  • Controller XYAB buttons a little clunky at first
  • Trust issues with Google services (see wrap-up)

When this Google Stadia Review was first posted, the service hadn't yet formally launched. Google sent the Founders Package to a set of sources that got an early look and were invited to review the game streaming system before the official Google Stadia release date of November 19, 2019. As such, we gave the service an early once-over review with what we'd experienced thus far. As the service evolves, we'll be updating this review accordingly – so stay tuned!

Launch Games

The first collection of games we've gotten to test include Red Dead Redemption 2, GYLT, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat 11, Just Dance 2020, Destiny 2, and Kine. There's really not a bad game in the bunch, depending on your intended use.

If you're looking for a game for kids, Just Dance 2020 is surprisingly fun and entertaining. The only barrier there was the setup process that requires a Ubisoft account. It doesn't cost anything extra, but adding an account is another loophole through which I'd rather not jump, especially when I'm potentially setting up a game for my child to play on Christmas (if that's where you're going with this, that is to say). You'll also need a smartphone to control said game, instead of the Stadia controller. BUT – all that nonsense aside, Just Dance 2020 is still a unique and interesting piece of entertainment that's addicting in a very healthy way – you've gotta get up and dance to play!*

*Parents note: This game includes the song Baby Shark. If you're the parent of a child under the age of 8, you probably know and loathe this song. You'll never, ever stop hearing this song if you get this game. That's just a fair warning.

At the point at which this review is first posted, we've had access to Red Dead Redemption for just a couple of days... And it's been very, very difficult to stop playing. If you've seen Season 22, Episode 7 of South Park, "Nobody Got Cereal?", you'll know how serious this game can get. I personally started playing pretty late at night, starting over in the snow, and worked my way up to the new gang leader. I have thousands of dollars of my own, I built a house... and suddenly it was morning, and I'd completely forgot that I'd been playing the game in the cloud, using Stadia. I'd been playing using the Stadia controller attached to the Pixel 3a with The Claw!

The "Claw"

Google released a phone clip that attaches to the official Stadia game controller and a wide variety of smartphones. On one side it clips to the Stadia controller, with gaps for both the Stadia "home" button and the controller's USB-C port. On the other side, the claw has a rubbery-padded expanding claw grip for a smartphone.

Where most phone game controller grips place the phone to the North of the controller, this Claw places the phone above the controller. This allows the user to hold the entire amalgamation of elements comfortably, while the standard setup ends up putting too much weight to the North.

The unfortunate feature of the claw-grip is the usual placement of the volume rocker on most phones – like for example the Google Pixel 3a. Here the phone needs to be held slightly to one side, rather than perfectly center, lest the volume button be constantly pressed. Nothing a little cut with an exacto-knife couldn't maybe fix, but it still feels like an odd choice.

The Controller

The official Google Stadia Controller is pretty decent. It feels like a cross between the Xbox One controller and a DualShock 4. The shape of the palm-rests feel a lot like the PlayStation 4 controller, while the rest pretty much feels like an Xbox One wireless controller – save the XYAB buttons. The XYAB buttons feel a little clunky at first – but they're very easy to get used to, and the most hardcore of players will quite likely find a way to open the thing up and give them a tweak. Not that we'd recommend doing anything like that – but we shall see!

The control scheme is a bit convoluted at first, what with the various buttons for menu, options, capture, and Google Assistant – since we're not generally looking for a voice assistant whilst playing video games, and the difference between Menu and Options isn't always immediately clear – but again, easy to get used to after a tick.

It's the wi-fi connection to the Stadia system that's most important here, and it's that connection that works well, to a most mind-blowing degree. Obviously the best place to see this work is in the Google-made hardware setup – through a Pixel phone or with a Chromecast Ultra. There, with home wi-fi connectivity, it truly feels as though there's no lag whatsoever.

Older Hardware

I tried a variety of laptops with Stadia using Google's Chrome web browser. According to Google's FAQ, all you'll need is "A computer with a recent version of Chrome browser" to make Stadia work. Every computer I and we tested worked great, provided it had the latest version of Chrome and it was released within the last half-decade, give or take a year. Once I started testing machines like a MacBook Pro from Mid 2012, with a then-new 2.3 GHz Intel Core i7 processor, NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M graphics, and etcetera – then we start going a little bit slower in games that require extreme speed, like Mortal Kombat 11. But still, EVEN THEN, the games on Stadia are generally enjoyable and playable.

As it is with each of the other sections in this early review, we'll be updating this section as we test more odd hardware and devices with specs that fit Google's listed requirements. We have yet to find a device released after 2014 (that fits Google's requirements) that does not work extremely well with Google Stadia.

Wrap-up: Should I subscribe?

There are doubts about Google's steadfast devotion to services. We've spoken to many prospective users of Stadia that do not trust Google to support services that aren't an immediate success. For some, even before the service is launched, Stadia is a hard pass.

When I've played games on Stadia here before official launch, I find it very easy to get lost in the ease with which I can switch between platforms, and the speed at which games are launched. But much like any other gaming service, it's difficult for me to recommend anyone jump onboard, especially right out the gate.

If you absolutely must find a new way to access higher-quality games outside of your own home, away from the consoles/PCs you've already got set up, then Stadia might be the right place for you to start.

As of now, our review rating is based entirely on our experience here before launch – PLEASE keep that in mind when you're deciding whether to sign on for the experience described above. As mentioned a couple times above, we'll be updating this review as the general service is launched to the public and we can test in the actual live environment that'll only be available when the general masses are also signed on.