It feels like Google may not be putting quite as much weight behind the launch of Stadia as you’d really expect. It comes out on the 19th November – that’s next week, if you’ve not been keeping track – and the pitfalls and caveats just keep on coming. The latest is that the launch line-up is going to be made up of 12 titles, with half of them games from before 2019 and just one exclusive amongst them. We’ve heard the argument that it’s not supposed to be for your traditional console or PC gamers, but right at this moment, I’m left to wonder who it is for?
Stadia is all about streaming, and you’ll be able to play from your TV, PC, laptop or phone. Or at least you will if you’ve got the required tech to do it. The starter kit includes the Stadia controller and a Chromecast Ultra dongle for your TV, and for the majority of people there’s not going to be any other option beyond sitting down on your sofa to digest games in the way you probably already do. The ability to play on your mobile is currently locked to Google’s Pixel phones, which if we’re being generous, makes up about 2.5% of the mobile phone market in the US and even less in the UK. Right away, those limitations are narrowing in.
Then there’s the PC. In theory you’ll just be able to download the Stadia launcher and stream games to your desktop or laptop, but this isn’t going to be available at launch. In fact, there’s no date on when it will become available. The official website states that you can play across “all supported devices in early access”, and that’s it. Maybe that includes Pixel phones and Chromebooks, maybe not. Why would we possibly want that information a week before its official launch? Oh, and nowhere else is the Stadia launch listed as being early access.
Besides those minor quibbles/horrendous failures we’ve also learnt that Stadia won’t have many of the features we were expecting at launch, from achievements – which are apparently due within a fortnight – to family sharing, and the Buddy Pass that comes with the founder edition and lets a friend jump into Stadia too won’t actually activate until about the same time those achievements do. You can also forget about using any Chromecast other than the one in the Stadia box too, as older versions won’t be updating straight away. Is it sounding good yet?
So what of the twelve games in that launch line-up? Destiny 2 has been spoken about a lot as the first free title in Stadia Pro, and it’s arguably still a great game, but you’re only going to be able to play with other Stadia owners rather than anyone else in the eco-system, including PC. Cross-save means you can take your profile to those platforms, and you’ll probably want to unless you’ve got friends also diving into Stadia.
Alongside that there’s the latest three Tomb Raider games, the earliest of which came out six years ago… on the Xbox 360 and PS3. I love the Crystal Dynamics rebooted trilogy – and most of the earlier Tomb Raider games too – but as a lynch pin; one whole quarter of Stadia’s launch line-up? Things look pretty bleak.
Amongst the rest of the launch there’s Red Dead Redemption 2 which gets away with being timely thanks to only just arriving on PC, and Just Dance 2020 is brand new too. But then it’s also a title that’s coming out on the Wii so they probably can’t be too smug about that one.
Fight fans at least will be well served with Samurai Shodown and Mortal Kombat 11, but in a genre that’s utterly contingent on latency these two titles in particular will be the ones to truly test the system on day one. They’re both fantastic and pretty contemporary, but their performance will be a fascinating showcase, or utter killer, for Stadia itself.
Google have one exclusive up their sleeve, the sneaky and surreal GYLT. Coming from Tequila Works – the developer behind Rime and The Sexy Brutale – it looks very good indeed, with terrifying creatures lurking amongst the shadows who seem intent on chasing down the tiny central character. It’s not likely to be a system seller, and its period of exclusivity is an interesting question, but if you’re a gamer checking into Stadia for the first time it should definitely be on your wishlist.
Maybe this would all feel a little better if your Stadia Pro sub gave you access to some of these older games, but it doesn’t. There’s the promise of one free game a month, starting with Destiny 2, and that’s it for the time being. Beyond that, as a de facto subscriber to the full-fat version of the service, you’re getting 4K visuals and then some level of discount off the titles in the Stadia store. Again, we don’t know how much that is going to be. With a week to go.
I’m still in ownership of a Stadia pre-order, though my finger has hovered over the cancel button in the past few days. I’m intrigued by these services; I had Onlive, and even played some games on it, but it was a system far ahead of its time. The idea hasn’t really changed for Stadia, it’s just got access to newer technology and the power of Google behind it, but it’s disappointing that the launch is set to be so limited.
Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. There are more games coming before 2019 is out, including relatively new titles like Borderlands 3 and GRiD, and the day one launch of the dungeon-crawling Darksiders Genesis. There’ll be 26 games to play by the new year, with one exclusive, and if you compare that to pretty much any console launch, that’s not a terrible number. It always takes a while for a new console to find its footing.
I imagine this is just the beginning for them, and a slow start is unlikely to phase a company the size of Google. The ability to play the latest games in 4K with little more than a £100 controller and connector is fundamentally a decent business model, and even that requirement will eventually fade away. And as we start to see the roll out of the next generation of consoles, Stadia will already be there. If every cross platform game includes Stadia at launch, things begin to look a lot more rosy.
Besides that, we’re already seeing just what difference Stadia could bring to the gaming space, with the streaming service’s version of GRiD set to feature a 40 player mode that simply couldn’t be done on the other platforms. If you want to extrapolate that to other genre’s that are less intensive than a sim-racer you could be talking multiplayer games with huge head counts, and ones that couldn’t be done anywhere else.
I started writing this in a fit of mild annoyance. I set out to proclaim that Stadia isn’t for anybody, and to be honest, this time next week it probably won’t be. The catalogue of limitations and the lacklustre library on day one won’t be doing much to tempt people into picking one up, even as a stocking filler for St Nick to drop down their chimney.
But it’s worth watching just where Stadia is in six or twelve months’ time. If the tech works the way they claim, they could neatly sidestep the next generation with a platform capable of playing the latest PC releases at 4K and 60fps, but with a fraction of the initial cost. Sure, there’s a subscription to get the best out of it, but there is for most things worth having these days.
If they can roll that into more Stadia exclusives as well, they could actually be a serious option for people looking at where they’re going to spend their money next winter. Assuming you’ve got the bandwidth.
So the next generation probably starts next week. With twelve whole games. Most of which I’ve already played.
For some reason, I’m still waiting for my pre-order, which makes just about as much sense as the Stadia launch does.