Google Stadia Review

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Google Stadia Review

Google Stadia is a baffling, awkward, frustrating product. It is equal parts impressive and underwhelming, purposeful, and arbitrary. It is strikingly convenient in some ways and pointlessly obtuse in others. It makes me question whether there were complications in the Delivery Room, or whether Google deliberately, cynically introduced barriers to incentivize buying their products.

Either way, by folly or conspiracy, Google Stadia forces you through various hoops in its setup, is prone to crashes (depending on your internet connection, of course), and chokes up on controls and resolution in fits and starts. 

However, it also offers the undeniable cool-factor of adding a game to your library and immediately allowing you to jump right in. Moreover, playtime is usually remarkably smooth, and the pro subscription of Stadia offers a solid lineup of free games (my favorites of the bunch have been Tomb Raider and Destiny 2). Given time and the right sort of attention by Google, Stadia could become much easier to recommend. As it stands… well, why don’t we start by discussing the features?

The Features

As mentioned above, the Pro Subscription includes several free games up for grabs. These currently include:

  • Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
  • Destiny 2: The Collection
  • Farming Simulator 19
  • Samurai Showdown

Additionally, Pro subscribers get exclusive deals for the other games offered on the storefront. That does, however, bring the spotlight to the other games on the storefront. There are 26 in all, which is a heavy blow to that recommendation I dangled earlier. Given that a subscription is currently required to access Stadia, it’s a fairly narrow field of people who would get much value out of this particular product. 

HGG Google Stadia 03
Aaron Scoble / High Ground Gaming

To be fair, I happen to stand in that field. Tomb Raider is a highly enjoyable action/adventure romp that I missed out on in 2013. Compelling exploration and bombastic setpieces highlight a varied, well-paced experience, and skill progression and weapon modifications offer surprisingly interesting long-term decisions and optimizations. 

Meanwhile, Destiny 2 crafts an addictive looter-shooter MMO feedback loop. You’re presented with worlds to explore, missions to embark upon, and PVP duels that occasionally turn into glorious streaks of mayhem and murder (if you’re like me, anyway). And while Farming Sim and Samurai Showdown didn’t hold my attention, the fact of the matter is that I’ll probably still be using Stadia after this review is finished, which is in itself a mark of honor. 

Of course, the main thrust of Stadia is in the excision of downloads and updates, and in its ability to stream on TVs, tablets, phones, and laptops. Especially with an MMO like Destiny, being able to claim the game and then instantly start playing is a thrilling novelty. As far as devices are concerned, however, televisions will require the purchase of the Chromecast Ultra and a controller to boot. Not only that, but the catalog of tablets, phones, and laptops actually capable of streaming Stadia is rather slim. Speaking of phones, it’s a good time to discuss some hoops. Hope you like jumping. 

The Performance

HGG Google Stadia 04
Aaron Scoble / High Ground Gaming

If Google were putting on a play, the first act would feature Stadia stumbling onto the stage and immediately breaking wind.

Once you acquire an access code, you need to plug it into the Stadia app on a compatible phone. Now, you can play Stadia on your PC, but you most certainly cannot activate it there. And guess who has an old phone that isn’t compatible with the Stadia app? In my case, and the case of anyone else with an incompatible smartphone, Stadia requires you to go download the app on someone else’s phone, or to get an upgrade.

A generous reading of the situation would identify this as a blunder. Less generous is the implication that Google is trying to force people to buy fancy new phones (preferably ones where the company gets a cut) as a barrier to entry. Neither one is a particularly great look, especially since this is supposed to be “the future of gaming” or whatever. If the future of gaming is as stupid, arbitrary, and money-grubbing as its past was, then I’m struggling to see progress here. 

HGG Google Stadia 05
Aaron Scoble / High Ground Gaming

To give the Devil his due, the above statement, while perhaps not overly harsh, is reductive. There are certainly glimpses of an exciting future for video games in Stadia. While the technology isn’t quite there, and frequent problems include dips in resolution, controls lagging out periodically, and occasional crashes, Stadia holds its ground admirably. 

The majority of the experience is smooth, playable, and nigh-seamless. It’s easy to get lost in a game like Tomb Raider, absorbed by the atmosphere and audiovisuals, forgetting that this is a game you’re streaming, taking up no space on your machine whatsoever. Then the screen becomes a bunch of pixels, and you remember that this still isn’t the future. More impressive is Destiny 2, which is not only more recent, but simultaneously supporting its large player base and sprawling game world. As someone who’s sat through more than a few epic MMO downloads and update times, Destiny is the kind of game that Stadia was made to stream. 

The Games

What other games can you find on Google Stadia? Here’s a full list of playable games two months following the system’s launch.

Stadia Games
  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
  • Attack on Titan 2: Final Battle
  • Baldur’s Gate 3
  • Borderlands 3
  • Cyberpunk 2077
  • Darksiders Genesis
  • Destiny 2: The Collection
  • Destroy All Humans!
  • DOOM
  • DOOM Eternal
  • Farming Simulator 19
  • Football Manager 2020
  • Get Packed
  • Ghost Recon Breakpoint
  • Gods & Monsters
  • GRID
  • GYLT
  • Just Dance 2020
  • Kine
  • Marvel’s Avengers
  • Metro Exodus
  • Mortal Kombat 11
  • NBA 2K20
  • Orcs Must Die! 3
  • Rage 2
  • Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
  • Supercross 3
  • The Crew 2
  • The Elder Scrolls Online
  • Thumper
  • Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
  • Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
  • Trials Rising
  • Watch Dogs Legion
  • Windjammers 2
  • Wolfenstein: Youngblood

This list is current as of January 2020. For a full look at upcoming games, please visit the official game announcement page here.

Zoom Out
  • Ease of Use - 4/10
  • Features - 5/10
  • Performance - 6/10


Google has made some… puzzling decisions in rolling out Stadia. Arbitrary barriers to entry and a slim library will turn off a lot of potential customers, and the technology for streaming games is nowhere near the seamlessness of comparable services like Netflix or Hulu. As it stands, most people won’t have a reason to check out Google Stadia in its current state.

However, for the kind of people that really want to see Lara Croft get grievously injured (the game has a fixation) or blow my head off in the Crucible without worrying about download times or updates, Stadia is genuinely cool. If nothing else, Stadia has shown that while we don’t quite have a Netflix for games yet, something resembling it is approaching on the horizon. Time will tell if it’s a mirage.


  • Mostly smooth gameplay
  • The death of updates & downloads
  • Solid lineup of free games with the pro subscription


  • Anemic library at launch
  • Forced use of the Stadia app
  • Resolution dips, freezing controls, crashes

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