I spent a month playing Project xCloud and it kicked ass
I’m wary of a lot of the new gaming fads, but xCloud has won me over.
It takes a lot to get me to adopt new gaming technologies. Things like Microsoft’s Kinect, Wii’s motion controls, light guns and even sillier stuff like PlayStation’s AR camera have all come and gone in my time. I’m a VR skeptic and I don’t see that changing any time soon. So, when Sony, Microsoft, and Google started toting their game streaming services, I rolled my eyes.
Who wants to play games on their phones or tablets? Who carries a game controller with them wherever they go? Who is going to deal with latency that is inevitable when you stream? Well, I got to get in on that beta of Project xCloud and I can tell you that answer: Me.
Even a jaded cynic can be surprised
I got into the beta for xCloud right around the time some of my friends received their Google Stadia controllers. I was absolutely amazed that while they struggled to play games like Destiny 2 on their personal hotspot access, I was easily enjoying Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, World of Final Fantasy Maxima, and even Gears 5 with little to no issue. Was it perfect? No, not at all. Did it work way better than expected? Hell yeah it did!
If you don’t know much about it, Project xCloud is Microsoft’s game streaming service. It allows you to access a library of games from their servers that you can play without downloading anything. Saves go to your cloud, so you can pick them up from other sources and currently the service works on most Android devices. I used my Note9 and Samsung Tab A 10.1 tablet with no issue.
This is the part where I try to call xCloud a “game-changer” without dry-heaving
The full xCloud library currently is full of games. It isn’t the entire Games Pass catalog, but the amount of good, free games is amazing. I love that I can play Devil May Cry 5 from my tablet on my patio, while my kids watch something stupid on Hulu. Jake heavily recommended Children of Morta, I can play it in my kitchen while cooking dinner. I could play WWE 2K20 while taking a shit, not that I want to, but I could. There are currently 66 games available, across every genre imaginable. It’s only going to grow from here.
I used xCloud on my wireless home network, from public wireless networks, my 4G LTE phone and from my phone’s wireless hotspot. In almost every situation, xCloud remained playable. Some of the multiplayer and online games suffered a little on the go while I was using my hotspot, for example.
A few times, especially with the hotspot, the games would become unplayable. More often than not, my phone’s direct connection was serviceable at worst and my home internet never had an issue. When using public wireless networks, results tended to vary. While visiting a Starbucks over Xmas weekend, I played some Soul Calibur VI in stunning HD with no input lag. While at my YMCA gym, Ori and the Blind Forest was a blurry laggy mess.
We should probably point out that Sony is working on their own version of this type of service, Google’s whole Stadia gimmick is this but with a much smaller library of games you need to pay full price for and Steam is apparently working on making your library streamable as well. xCloud’s beta seems to allude that Microsoft knows they need to hit this with as much dominance as they can. The Game Streaming app also allows me to stream games on my Xbox to my wireless devices as well.
xCloud is not perfect but it is a preview
As I spent time (and currently spend) playing xCloud, I have noticed a few oddities that show the tech is still rough around the edges. When I initially got into the program, my first few games of Soul Calibur VI included all the DLC that was out at the time. I played as 2B against Tira, for example. Upon reloading the game just recently, that DLC had vanished. As I don’t actually own the game, I have no interest in purchasing DLC for it. This is concerning if this becomes the norm though, as it will lower interest on games that have a DLC library out of the gate.
Something else I noticed was some hiccups in games that required me to manually save. While playing Bloodstained, I saved and closed the app a few times, only to reopen it later and find that my save never registered. It seems that you need to currently give the system a little bit to process things like saves and also carefully back out of software when you exit. It can be a little frustrating if you don’t know better.
The future is here, old man
So this is the part where I feel like I should tell you how big xCloud actually feels. We’ve all heard the term “Netflix for video games” before. If you are especially unlucky, you probably remember the short-lived OnLive service and console, it sucked pretty hard. Microsoft has shown that their network framework can support a service like xCloud and if they can seamlessly blend their Games Pass Ultimate library with xCloud, this next gaming generation will turn out quite differently for Microsoft.
While we don’t know exactly what the PS5 or the Xbox Series X will actually bring to the table, we do know that game streaming will be where much of this next gen’s battles will be fought. Microsoft has shown their hand here and it’s pretty much a royal flush. The tech is real and it works. The preview version of xCloud already functions more efficiently than Stadia and Sony has basically just shown off a logo.
As I said before, I’m not one to jump on the new tech bandwagon, but I certainly believe in xCloud now.
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