In case you skipped it at GDC 2019, Google is launching Google Stadia, a new game-streaming service that will enable gamers to view, engage in, enjoy, and stream their games to the rest of the world.
The Stadia Controller, a Wi-Fi-enabled gamepad developed entirely by Google’s hardware team, is a key component of Stadia and will help you get the best out of the streaming service as it releases later this year.
To use the streaming service, you don’t need the controller: If you’re playing on a desktop or PC, you can use every controller you already have, including the keyboard and mouse. This first-party controller, on the other hand, activates the next-level features Google is adding into its streaming service, such as in-game support from Google Assistant and a Share button that begins livestreaming your session on YouTube Gaming for anyone to view – or jump in on.
We got our hands on the controller for the first time at Google IO 2019, and although it wasn’t quite as usable as it would be when the app releases, it was a decent glimpse to what’s to come for Google’s innovative – and yet somewhat obscure – game-streaming service.
The Google Stadia Controller’s most impressive feature isn’t anything on the controller itself; it’s Google’s decision to create the controller in-house. Google’s internal Made with Google squad, which also created the Pixel phones, Google Home Hub, and Chromecast, was tasked with creating the controller.
In terms of controller style, though, Google has clearly taken inspiration from Sony and Microsoft – the Stadia Controller looks just like what you’d get if you combined the Xbox One gamepad with Sony’s DualShock 4 controller.
The outcome is a flatter gamepad that lacks the DualShock 4’s sharp contours and the Xbox One’s indents. Instead, it has a futuristic look that some would admire for its simplicity whilst others will dismiss as unsettling, awkward, and cheap.
However, in our brief period with the controller, we found it to be anything but awkward. The weight of the gamepad, as well as how it can work in the palm, has been given a lot of consideration by Google, and the end result is a controller that feels fantastic in the hand.
The Xbox-style face buttons (A, B, X, Y) and in-line control sticks that mimic both the orientation and concavity of the DualShock 4 sticks would be familiar to gamers. A D-pad in the top-left corner feels reasonably sensitive, and a pair of triggers and bumpers on the back sound… unremarkable, particularly as contrasted to the expertly-crafted triggers and bumpers on the Xbox One and Xbox 360.
Four additional buttons (in addition to the home button found in between the joysticks, which we’ll discuss in the next section) are positioned on the front of the controller where you’d expect to see the Start and Select buttons.
Last but not least, while Google has mainly shown photos and video of a white controller, we were able to find a black variant on a shelf near the Google Stadia demo station, as well as a pastel green controller (which Google informs me is officially named ‘Wasabi’).
We were able to play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey with the Stadia Controller during our hands-on demo – the same game we played on Stadia at GDC – except this time with the right controller. Certain functions, though, were disabled.
One aspect that wasn’t quite functioning was the controller’s Wi-Fi access – we had to try it by plugging it into a desktop, but Google claims that when it starts, it can link to your home network through the Google Home app. Connecting directly to your router, if introduced, could save you lives in platformers and annoyance in the real world by eliminating critical milliseconds of pause.
The Stadia Controller was attached to a laptop via its USB-C connector, which can also be used to charge the controller in between sessions, for our demonstration, and it worked just fine. There was no evidence of delay in the stream.
The Google Assistant icon was another promising function that wasn’t operational.
When it’s up and running, Assistant can have a wealth of in-game features such as walkthroughs, maps, and other features created by the developer. However, a Google representative couldn’t say if we’d be able to use it for mundane activities like shutting off lights or setting reminders, but he expected more information eventually.
The Controller’s most impressive aspect – and the one that appeared least ready to be flaunted – was the opportunity to share the game through social media and YouTube. According to Google’s keynote at GDC, pressing the button would allow the service to build a second equivalent stream that will be broadcast live in 4K on YouTube Gaming. However, it was not something we could see for ourselves during our hands-on.
When we questioned how long the controller would run on a single charge, the Google representative couldn’t tell for sure, but said more information would be available later this year.
We’ll learn more about the controller and the streaming service at a summer gathering,’ according to Google, which will take place in the coming months. According to a Google official, we’ll get final info on both devices at that case, including battery life, availability, and game collection, as well as be able to use all of the controller’s features.
We’re also suspicious of the service and the controller before we have some data. Regardless, the Stadia Controller is a good stand-in for the Xbox One or PS4 so far, despite forging a complex, polarizing package without any outside support. It isn’t quite as polished as either, but its handy built-in functionality, such as Google Assistant and Stream, might make it the ideal companion for Google’s ambitious latest streaming service.