Video game systems live and die by their games, and if you’ve read any of the backlash against the Google Stadia launch games lineup, you would be forgiven for thinking it’s dead already.
Of the 42 games confirmed to be coming to Google’s ambitious game streaming service, 22 are available to stream for Stadia Founder’s Edition and Stadia Premiere Edition owners.
Here’s why I don’t think the lineup is all that bad. In fact, I think it’s exactly what Stadia needs.
Respect your elders
One of the prevailing criticisms of the launch games list and the upcoming Stadia library as a whole is that these are all “old” games.
Out of the 22, only 12 are technically games from 2019. The rest originally launched in 2018 on PC and consoles, though the oldest game of the bunch — Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider reboot — first hit shelves a whole six years ago in 2013.
I’ll state the obvious: the age of a game has no bearing on its quality, especially when the title is less than 12 months old.
Of the 21 games launching on Stadia that have already been released on other platforms, 13 of the games scored 80 or above on review aggregate site OpenCritic. Likewise, games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Destiny 2, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Rise of the Tomb Raider were all showered with well-deserved game of the year awards from all corners of the gaming world.
The age of a game has no bearing on its quality.
What we’re really dealing with isn’t a question of quality, but a sense of familiarity.
With the exception of the Stadia-exclusive GYLT, anyone with at least a passing interest in games will already recognize the vast majority of titles on Stadia’s launch games list.
It’s certainly fair to want a more original lineup packed full of fresh experiences, but I’d take quality over quantity and/or timeliness every single time, especially because system launch games are often… well… terrible.
Reminder: Console launch games are historically pretty bad
There are so many examples of awful launch games that I could pick on basically any console generation, but let’s go with the most recent one for the fairest comparison to Stadia.
Here’s the Stadia launch games list compared to the PS4, Xbox One, and Switch launch offerings:
|Google Stadia||PS4||Xbox One||Nintendo Switch|
|Attack on Titan 2: Final Battle (Omega Force)||Angry Birds Star Wars (Rovio)||Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (Ubisoft)||1-2 Switch (Nintendo)|
|Assassin's Creed Odyssey (Ubisoft)||Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (Ubisoft)||Battlefield 4 (DICE)||Fast RMX (Shin'en)|
|Destiny 2 (Bungie||Battlefield 4 (DICE)||Call of Duty: Ghosts (Infinity Ward)||Just Dance 2017 (Ubisoft)|
|Farming Simulator 19 (Giants Software)||Call of Duty: Ghosts (Infinity Ward)||Crimson Dragon (Grounding Inc.)||Human Resource Machine (Tomorrow Corporation)|
|Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix)||Contrast (Compulsion Games)||Dead Rising 3 (Capcom)||I Am Setsuna (Tokyo RPG Factory)|
|Football Manager 2020 (Sports Interactive)||DC Universe Online (SOE)||Fifa 14 (EA Sports)||The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo)|
|Grid 2019 (Codemasters)||Fifa 14 (EA Sports)||Fighter Within (AMA)||Little Inferno (Tomorrow Corporation)|
|GYLT (Tequila Works)||Flower (thatgamecompany)||Forza Motorsport 5 (Turn 10)||Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment (Yatch Club Games)|
|Just Dance 2020 (Ubisoft)||Injustice: Gods Among Us (NetherRealm Studios)||Just Dance 2014 (Ubisoft)||Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (Yacht Club Games)|
|Kine (Chump Squad)||Just Dance 2014 (Ubisoft)||Killer Instinct (Double Helix)||Skylanders: Imaginators (Toys for Bob)|
|Metro Exodus (4A Games)||Killzone Shadow Fall (Guerilla Games)||Lego Marvel Super Heroes (TT Games)||Snipperclips (Nintendo)|
|Mortal Kombat 11 (NetherRealm Studios)||Knack (SCE Japan)||LocoCycle (Twisted Pixel)||Super Bomberman R (Konami)|
|NBA 2K20 (Visual Concepts)||Lego Marvel Super Heroes (TT Games)||Madden NFL 25 (EA Sports)||World of Goo (2D Boy)|
|Rage 2 (Id Software)||Madden NFL 25 (EA Sports)||NBA 2K14 (Visual Concepts)|
|Red Dead Redemption 2 (Rockstar)||NBA 2K14 (Visual Concepts)||NBA Live 14 (EA Sports)|
|Rise of the Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics)||NBA Live 14 (EA Sports)||Need for Speed: Rivals (Ghost Games)|
|Samurai Shodown (SNK)||Need for Speed: Rivals (Ghost Games)||Powerstar Golf (Zoe Mode)|
|Shadow Of The Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (Eidos Montréal)||PlayRoom (Sony)||Ryse: Son of Rome (Crytek)|
|Thumper (Drool)||Resogun (Housemarque)||Skylanders: Swap Force (Vicarious Visions)|
|Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (Crystal Dynamics)||Skylanders: Swap Force (Vicarious Visions)||Zoo Tycoon (Frontier Developments)|
|Trials Rising (RedLynx)||Sound Shapes (Queasy Games)||Zumba Fitness: World Party (Zoe Mode)|
|Wolfenstein: Youngblood (Machine Games)||Super Motherload (XGen Games)|
|Trine 2: The Complete Story (Frozenbyte)|
|Warframe (Digital Extremes)|
With the exception of the stellar Resogun, the PS4 launched with a bunch of under-optimized cross-gen games, PS3 ports, and underwhelming exclusives like Killzone Shadow Fall and Knack.
The Xbox One launch wasn’t much better with the excellent Forza Motorsport 5, a fun Killer Instinct reboot, and the forgettable, but technically proficient Ryse: Son of Rome the only real standouts among a sea of sports games and Kinect titles (remember Kinect?).
The Switch suffered from a severe lack of variety, though honestly if you bought Nintendo’s home-handheld console with anything but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild it should be confiscated from your possession.
Stadia won’t have a brand new, all-time classic among its ranks at launch unless GYLT turns out to be a world-beater, but honestly, it doesn’t really need one.
A showcase for Stadia
Stadia is essentially an ambitious proof of concept that game streaming services can actually be viable in 2019.
The grisly specter of OnLive looms large over all the current cloud gaming propositions, be it from Google, Microsoft’s xCloud, Sony’s PlayStation Now, and Nvidia’s GeForce Now. We’ve seen spectacular failure before, but we haven’t seen anything come even close to pulling off cloud gaming on a grand scale.
Dive deeper: What is cloud gaming?
One of the biggest concerns for the latest wave of cloud gaming propositions is how they will tackle inevitable latency issues. Google’s technical wizards say they’ve apparently developed a predictive model that can anticipate player inputs, but the proof will be in the playing and Stadia’s launch games lineup is a brutal testing ground.
As we noted in our Stadia review, there are definitely some input lag issues on lower data speed connections at launch, as well as occasional latency spikes when streaming in 4K. This is expected to improve over time as Google’s machine learning algorithms evolve, though even with these minor niggles, Stadia still represents an impressive feat of engineering.
By proving that Stadia can handle Rockstar’s ultra-demanding western opus Red Dead Redemption 2 and Destiny 2’s epic, iconic six-player co-op raids (for free and with no online fee to boot) all from day one, the launch roster has done exactly what it needed to do.
An uncertain future
I still have some serious reservations about Stadia moving forward. Google is notorious for its embarrassingly huge number of failed projects and Stadia may just become another name in the Google Graveyard.
One early potential nail in the coffin could be the bungled messaging in the run up to launch. There’s still a lot of confusion about Stadia’s actual content strategy even now. I’ve seen plenty of chatter on social media still positioning Stadia Pro as the long-coveted “Netflix of games” where a monthly subscription gives you access to an ever-growing, vast library. But that’s just not the case.
I’m also apprehensive that Stadia’s audience won’t stretch beyond a niche audience that doesn’t own a modern console or a capable gaming PC and doesn’t care about exclusive games (at least until those Stadia studios start delivering).
Unfortunately, that’s not me, which is why, after much deliberation, I cancelled my Founder’s Edition pre-order before the bundles began shipping. With a PS4 and Switch on hand, the harsh reality is I just don’t need Stadia right now for my gaming needs at home or on the go, and until there’s enough of a reason for players with existing systems to jump on board, I can’t imagine I’m alone in that feeling.
That could all change when the next-generation rolls around as both the PS5 and Xbox “Project Scarlett” are expected to be hella pricey when they launch in 2020. At that point, Stadia’s hardware-free pitch may sound a lot more attractive than shelling out upwards of $500 for another big black box.
I cancelled my Stadia pre-order, but not because of the launch game selection.
xCloud and whatever streaming service Sony brings to the table will both be serious rivals to Stadia, especially the former as Microsoft could easily use the popular Xbox Game Pass as a springboard with a ready-made library of games. However, if Google’s tech is as great as it says it is, it could still win the streaming wars through sheer attrition. After all, we’re already hearing about gameplay features that are only made possible through Stadia’s unique architecture.
When viewed through this lens, Stadia’s safe, star-studded launch games lineup makes far more sense. By showcasing that Stadia can run critically-acclaimed, highly demanding games on the same level as its hardware-based rivals at launch, Google has made a strong early statement of intent.
Stadia may be missing a whole bunch of promised features out of the gate, but it isn’t lacking for great games to play.