LOS ANGELES—Since Google’s Project Stream beta test in October and the company’s March announcement of the full Stadia platform, one question has loomed large over the service: will it actually work well enough for fast-paced, reflex-intensive games? After playing a demo of for about half an hour Wednesday, I’m ready to say that the answer to that question seems to be yes—at least in Google’s controlled testing conditions.
Google invited me out to its downtown LA YouTube Gaming creator’s space—away from the Internet-congested E3 show floor—to try out the latest build of Stadia. My demo was running locally on a Pixelbook with the Chrome browser, connected to a TV via HDMI, and remotely to data centers more than 300 miles away in San Francisco. The Pixelbook had a wired Internet connection that I was told was running at “about 25 Mbps” (Google wouldn’t let me run a speed test to confirm the connection quality). I controlled the demo with a Stadia controller connected to the Pixelbook via USB, but keyboard and trackpad controls also worked.
Over thirty minutes of play, I’d have been hard pressed to point out any differences between the Stadia version and one running on a local PC. The 60fps animation didn’t noticeably stutter for the entire demo, and the apparent resolution didn’t dip below 1080p either (though a Google representative said Stadia will sometimes lower that resolution briefly to maintain a smooth frame rate if and when bandwidth dips). There were no signs of video compression artifacts or the color gradients you might see in a low-res YouTube video.
Encroaching data caps
In response to concerns that Stadia streaming might quickly eat up some users’ Internet data caps, a Google representative told Ars that gameplay streams won’t always require the “recommended” Mbps rates Google quotes for that level of video quality. A 4K, 60fps stream, for instance, would not use 35Mbps of data at all times, he said.
The representative also noted that Google is constantly working to lower bandwidth minimums, which were at 15Mbps for the Project Stream beta but will sit at 10 Mbps when Stadia launches in November. Google also says it will introduce tools for Stadia users to monitor their streaming bandwidth usage and to lower their maximum rate as they approach their ISP’s data caps.
While I couldn’t swear the control latency was to a game running locally, I will say that aiming, shooting, jumping, and dodging the game’s various demons identical to playing the 2016 version of . Perhaps a pro-level player might feel the difference in the precisely timed muscle memory needed for precision maneuvers, but Stadia certainly felt up to the game’s twitch-heavy design from my point of view. On this score, served as a much better example than earlier Stadia tests of , a game that has extremely loose, latency-heavy controls even under local play conditions.
I wasn’t able to run any sort of slow-mo video tests on Stadia to estimate total control latency, as I had earlier in the week with Microsoft’s Project Xcloud demo. Real-world play conditions, with Wi-Fi routers and local network congestion, also might not be as performant as Google’s idealized demo setup. And I’d need a double-blind comparison with a locally run version of the game to determine whether the Stadia version was indistinguishable from a local version.
All that said, this extended demo convinced me that Stadia at least has the potential to deliver the solid, responsive, as-good-as-local gaming experience that Google promises, even for an extremely reflex-heavy game. I could easily see myself playing through the entirety of on this version of Stadia without complaint and without the need for a high-end console or gaming rig, either.