Xbox Cloud Gaming Review – Gaming News
In 1998, if you wanted to watch Netflix, you had to rent a DVD and then wait for the company to physically send it to you. The service probably didn’t have exactly what you wanted and you had to wait days to receive it. Still, it was still a bit more convenient than going to the local “movie theater” (we seriously called them that.) A few years later, the billion dollar Blockbuster monolith was chasing the crumbs of Netflix.
But unlike Netflix, Xbox Cloud Gaming falls into a category already filled with heavyweight contenders. How does it stand up to services like GeForce Now, Rainway, Stadia, Shadow, PlayStation Now, and Amazon Luna?
Anyone who remembers this seismic shift understands how important Xbox Game Pass service can be. The all-you-can-eat game buffet has many of the same qualities that helped Netflix on its meteoric rise. This represents a seismic shift in the industry, it’s great value, and it still looks incredibly futuristic. And in the still technically beta xCloud project, now officially called Xbox Cloud Gaming, Microsoft’s subscription service also already has the streaming feature that it took Netflix years to develop – and it’s included for free with one. Game Pass Ultimate subscription.
Xbox Cloud Gaming – Catalog and Interface
Xbox Cloud Gaming is currently available through a dedicated app on Android devices, as well as Windows 10 PCs and Apple devices through Microsoft Edge, Chrome, or Safari. While it started out as a relatively limited service with minimal platform support, it quickly spread to a decent variety of platforms. Still, services like Stadia have always beaten it with their support for TVs through Chromecast, while Rainway is available on virtually everything. That said, Microsoft has planned for the service to be available on TVs (without Xbox) via a future streaming stick, as well as direct integration into smart TVs.
I’ve seen the design of Xbox Cloud Gaming – which lives in the Xbox Game Pass app – thousands of times, in everything from the Apple App Store to the Amazon home page. It’s a simple, well-designed page – there’s a rotating featured content carousel at the top and lockers below. These lockers refer to popular games recently played, recently added, and games optimized for the touchscreen. There is nothing fancy, and that is a good thing. Within seconds, I was able to find what I was looking for and start a game.
Native Xbox Cloud Gaming mobile support is limited to Android due to business disputes between Apple and Microsoft, but we have extensively tested the service on Apple devices using browser support. While it still sounds pretty tough – with audio and controller latency issues abounding – it’s also amazing to see Master Chief on your iPhone. And while it wasn’t advertised on their website, using Edge, Chrome, and even Safari on the Mac also worked, at least in our testing. It’s a pretty amazing feature to put their marketing aside, and I can easily see that this is one of the best use cases out there for GamePass.
The offers themselves change often, but so far there is a lot to choose from. Near its original release, I counted 182 games. Now, 267 are available to stream on Cloud Gaming, out of a total of 385 available on Game Pass as a whole. There are renowned games available like Doom Eternal, The Master Chief Collection, Halo 5, and Gears 5, and this list is growing at an impressive rate. Games like MLB The Show 21, Control, and Outriders were added in the months after launch. Still, much of the catalog is made up of older hits and indies, many of which are relatively unknown. Xbox has promised a slew of first-party blockbusters that will all arrive on Game Pass on the same day they are released on console, but it’s not entirely clear if all of these games will be playable through Cloud Gaming as well. In other words, the Game Pass suffers (already) from segmentation.
This is because the Game Pass catalog is split between PC, console, and cloud. Currently, PC-exclusive games aren’t available to stream (although that’s something Microsoft is working on), and until recently the console catalog was identical to the Cloud catalog. Months ago, I assumed that libraries would eventually stray and the Cloud Catalog would have the worst selection of the three. Unfortunately, I was right about the money. Already games like FIFA 21, Dragon Quest Builders 2 and even The Medium, an Xbox exclusive, are missing from the cloud catalog. Still, cloud offerings aren’t to be sneezed at, with a full roster of games ranging from racing to horror.
Tap a game in your recently played locker to instantly launch it, while tap a new game to bring up the product page, complete with screenshots, ESRB rating, and the option to install it on your console or device. PC. On Android, once you’re in the game, settings and options are discreetly hidden. As you tap the screen, a small overlay appears in the upper left corner of the screen, with microscopic ellipses and an Xbox button. The Xbox button brings up the familiar Guide menu, allowing you to see friends, start a party, accept invites, or view your achievements. Tap the ellipsis to bring up a Cloud Gaming specific menu, allowing you to mute or unmute your microphone, provide feedback to Xbox, or exit the game. (Swipe up or down twice from the top or bottom of the game. The screen also lets you exit the game.) However, on Windows 10 browsers and Apple devices, the Xbox icons and ellipses are still on the screen. Any modern iOS or iPadOS device makes the experience even worse by also including the onscreen swipe bar at all times.
On mobile, Xbox Cloud Gaming handles voice chat in a pretty smart way, letting you chat with friends using the microphone already on your phone. Unfortunately, without a headset, your friends and teammates will hear everything you hear, including their own voices. I couldn’t find any way to mute in-game audio while still keeping my group chat on, meaning the only convenient way to play multiplayer games was to use headphones. There are tons of games that are optimized for touchscreens. Many of these games are already on phones, but they are far from “games for the phone”. There are games like Dead Cells, Slay the Spire, Streets of Rage 4, Hellblade, Minecraft Dungeons, and Tell Me Why. These games use onscreen touchpads that you can move, configure, and customize to suit the size of your phone. It’s not very intuitive, and the first time I loaded it, several of the buttons were so far from the screen that I didn’t know they existed. But once I got the hang of it, I was able to play a few games without a lot of issues other than the obvious ones: no tactile feedback, my fingers covering half the screen, and the general slippage of touchscreen games. Even so, it’s a viable way to log in for daily rewards or whatever.
Xbox Cloud Gaming – Performance and Latency
Every streaming service review deserves a disclaimer: When you use Cloud Gaming (and any other game streaming service), your internet connection is the unique and ruthlessly demanding determinant of how your experience will play out. Suppose you are in the middle of rural America with a bad internet connection. In that case, there’s really nothing you can do to get even less of a cloud gaming experience unless you buy a satellite and point it in your living room. But as 5G rolls out across the country, the required speeds will become available to more and more Americans.
Xbox Cloud Gaming requires download speeds of at least 10 Mbps and recommends a 5 GHz WiFi connection. At 940 Mbps, my Internet connection in San Francisco was almost 100 times faster than needed. This kind of bandwidth isn’t typical even for San Francisco though, so I also tried it using a slower (but still adequate) WiFi connection, as well as a connection much further away from the router. The good news is that the connections were all pretty stable. Once a game started, I never gave up on it. But checking a text message, turning up the brightness, or anything that required me to quit the game often sent me back to the loading screen.
And unfortunately, loading takes a long time, although it has improved dramatically as the service has matured. For example, several months ago, I measured that Halo 5 took 37 seconds to load. Today it took just under 17 seconds. Graphics fidelity and game size don’t seem to be taken into account, with smaller (perhaps less in demand) games sometimes taking longer to load. Celeste took 20 seconds to load, while Slay the Spire took 25 seconds to load. Which is, again, a marked improvement over where it started. Celeste had taken 47 seconds when launching Cloud Gaming on Android phones, and Slay the Spire had timed in 52 seconds.
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