This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Google Stadia.
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So the PS5 is going to be a souped up PS4 that looks like someone sat on a giant licorice allsort and the Xbox is just gonna keep adding Exes to its name like a serial divorcee, but who fucking cares? Why are we still tethering huge plastic bricks to televisions like millstones around the neck of the future? It’s 2020 for fuck’s sake. We should be downloading multicolour techdreams from cyberspace to our holographic skateboards.
That’s why, now we’re between big release periods, I felt it was time to give Google Stadia a go. A console without a console where all you need is a net connection and a login and games are streamed to you with no installation required. Which you’d think people would be more excited about. Having to own a console is kind of a pain in the arse when they’re expensive and ugly and you could be using the shelf space for your child’s yearbook or a charcuterie board. And as for high end gaming PCs, it’s like they took the Monolith from 2001 and decorated it for Christmas and now I have to figure out how to arrange my office around it. But then again, it’s not like there’s no console at all, you’re just not allowed to touch it. It’s in a basement at Google somewhere and they use the heat coming off it to dry their socks.
So maybe Stadia isn’t catching on so well because people find it hard to get invested without being able to choose their console’s colour or cover it in unicorn stickers. At any rate, I signed up for the Stadia Pro first month free trial, for what is modern life if not one first month free trial after another, remembering to put a reminder on my calendar because 90% of the income these subscription services generate comes from people forgetting to unsubscribe before the month is up, in Stadia’s case it certainly can’t come from selling games, ‘cos there’s only, like, nine on there.
Incidentally, having to pay sixty bucks on top of the subscription to play Doom Eternal does feel like a taking of the piss, jaded consumer drone though I am. Not sure why. Maybe it’s ‘cos we never get to be so much as in the same postcode as the data and if our internet goes down we essentially paid sixty bucks to sit imagining how much fun it would be to play Doom Eternal. Fuck, don’t give them ideas. You ever take a look around and think about what your entertainment options would be reduced to if your internet was down and your hard drives were wiped? I’d just have to watch my Columbo box set over and over again. Or read a book. Like a fucking caveman.
Whatever, there’s still a bunch of free games thrown in with the pro subscription, so I tried some of those and hey, no installation, straight into the game, it’s like a corporation didn’t lie to me for once. No significant controller delay that I noticed. I tried it on my main PC with a cable connection and on my laptop with Wifi, and while the latter was very choppy at times I was still pretty jazzed to be playing Serious Sam on my laptop without it melting straight through my legs.
There was a fair bit of artefacting, almost as if all we’re essentially doing is streaming web video, so this won’t be your system of choice if you’re the kind of person who won’t give a game the time of day if it can’t manage 120FPS and more pixels than there are atoms in the universe, but for everyone else, the games are playable at least. You might be at a disadvantage if you’re playing PUBG and are trying to keep track of a distant sniper through a haze of image compression, but for the most part, even if you get knocked down to 320p you can still have some fun as long as you can tell which blob is you and which blob is everything other than you.
So while the general quality could be a problem, I fear the main one, my little velvet fucksocks, is games. I know, it’s such a bore, isn’t it, having to sucker people into a subscription service AND provide them content. It’s like, running a dairy farm would be so much easier if you didn’t have to keep feeding the cows and making sure they don’t die and shit. Right now there’s just a limited selection of triple-A titles that everyone stopped talking about around the same time they stopped talking about Russia annexing the Ukraine, and as for the all-important exclusives, there’s little more than what meagre scraping of indie titles could be snuck out of the Epic Store’s shopping basket.
Gylt is about the only one worth dwelling on, it’s a stealth horror adventure where you’re a little girl in a red coat – in the world of arty indie games, a character wearing a red or hooded coat goes right next to the free space on the bingo card because ooh red riding hood lost in the scary woods I got your clever allusion Mr. Writer let’s rub our massive brains together in mutual recognition – who goes looking for their missing cousin who was being bullied and ends up in a dark spooky version of their high school full of monsters unsubtly themed around bullying and it’ll probably turn out that the bullies was you the whole time.
Hardly a spoiler, the game’s named Gylt for fuck’s sake, not Gynerally Feeling Prytty Okay About Thyngs. So in brief it’s Silent Hill 2 meets the Magic School Bus. It’s certainly got the Silent Hill level structure – you explore a cluster of rooms looking for the bird statue or tin of baked beans that opens the very obtusely locked door that prevents you from moving to the next cluster of rooms. Also, monsters. But the game’s major flaw is that it’s just way too easy and therefore not scary. Hide from the monster, it’ll kill yer. Oh shit! Wait, here’s a flashlight, it kills the monster if you aim it at their weak spot.
Well I guess that’s still pretty skillful. Is it? Sorry, here’s an instant kill stealth attack as well. No, I wasn’t criticizing, I meant – AND here’s an instant stun attack. And a freeze attack. Oh god there aren’t enough chest high walls around, are there, here’s ten billion more. Jesus, I know this has a kiddie vibe but for most of the time I was using health items for idle mid afternoon snacking I had so fucking many. So, not much else to say about Gylt, it’s hardly a hot app. I do wonder why the main character was looking for a younger cousin when it could easily have been a younger sister.
That makes me think the story writer was working through some unresolved issues they had with their own cousin growing up, but didn’t want to air the dirty laundry in too public a forum, and so signed up to be a Google Stadia exclusive, thus ensuring it would never be heard from again.
The only other exclusive worth mentioning is Crayta, a game creation tool kinda like Dreams, but if you thought Dreams’ problem was that there was just a little bit too much incentive to do unpaid work to prop up someone else’s IP on a delivery system you have no stake in that might not exist in two years, then here’s all that with less features. Crayta’s fundamental issue is that you cannot possibly expect amateur developers to care when Google themselves do not.
And that’s the impression that fully surrounds Stadia like family pets around a wobbly dining table – Google could put up more games and advertise more and post more updates when how they’re gonna make it less choppy, but they don’t seem to care, presumably because they’re Google and don’t have to. If this were Nintendo the senior staff would be lucky to have any fingers left to hack off in shame but Google? They probably made their losses back in the time it takes to search for “Larry Page burnt in effigy”.