If there's one gaming trend that 2020 will be remembered for, it's going to be the rise of game streaming. Google, Amazon, and Microsoft all made big bets on the future of cloud gaming this year, and while some attempts have been met with better success than others, the point remains that game streaming isn't going anywhere any time soon.
For Android users, one of the biggest benefits of all this has been Xbox Game Pass. Anyone with a Game Pass Ultimate membership now also gets access to cloud gaming on their Android device, meaning you can play console-quality games like DOOM Eternal, Destiny 2, Gears 5, and more directly on your smartphone. It's something that seemed impossible just a few short years ago, but that's now the world we're living in.
This past week saw Game Pass get yet another feather in its cap. Control is now available for both Xbox consoles and Android through streaming, and while it's just one of many games offered on the service, Control was widely regarded as one of the best games of 2019. With such a heavy-hitter now readily available to play on virtually any Android phone, does this make Game Pass a must-have service for anyone that doesn't already have it?
Yes, no? It's complicated.
I'm not here to review Control itself. I've personally never completed the game, but during my time running through the first couple of levels on my Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, I was really impressed with the concept of the whole thing. Like many many other streaming services I've used, though, playing a game over the cloud — whether it be Control or something else — still has its quirks.
Streaming still lives or dies by your internet connection.
Let's start first with streaming quality. Microsoft recommends a minimum download speed of 10Mbps for streaming Game Pass games to Android, and with my home internet pulling down 120Mbps+, I should be more than well-equipped. In my testing, though, that hasn't been entirely true.
Streaming Control with nothing else happening on my Wi-Fi network is a mostly good experience. The connection has a tendency to randomly drop out for half a second every now and then, but overall, gameplay feels pretty good. It's not quite as responsive as playing something on my Series X and the overall image quality has a compressed look to it, but everything looks and feels good enough when you factor in the added convenience of gaming on your phone.
Where issues pop up is when you start doing basically anything else with your Wi-Fi while streaming. My wife is currently home doing her cosmetology classes through Zoom, and any time she's online, Game Pass streaming becomes virtually impossible — even when I'm sitting right next to my Wi-Fi router.
The simple solution is to just play when nothing else is happening on my network, but that's not something that happens very often in 2020. Whether it be Zoom calls, streaming a YouTube video, or a myriad of other things, our home Wi-Fi is used for so much. When Game Pass streaming still requires as much babying as it does now, it takes away from the main reason you'd want to use it in the first place.
Then there's the feeling of playing a console game on your phone, which is something that's been especially apparent with Control. This is a big, AAA game with gorgeous graphics, an enthralling story, and plenty to discover. When you cram all of that down into a 6-inch display, the weight and impact the game would otherwise have on me feels like it's lost. Having the option to play Control on my phone is really cool, but there's something about that whole experience that's missing as opposed to playing on an actual console.
I think about it the same way Chris Stuckman recently described the experience of watching a movie at a theater compared to at home on streaming. When I watch a movie at a theater, it's always a memorable thing. Even during a snoozer like Rise of Skywalker (yes, I said it), I still vividly remember going to my local movie theater, watching it with my wife in IMAX, and then talking about it for a couple of hours afterward. I've seen much better movies on streaming services throughout the year, but I don't remember them nearly as well. It's hard to describe in a few hundred words, but it's a stark difference that's very much there.
The same thing applies to playing a game on my TV vs. on my phone. Playing Control on my Series X and 65-inch 4K television, I feel like I'm completely engrossed in the world that Remedy created and feel compelled to explore the entirety of it. When I switch to playing on my phone, it comes off as a very watered-down experience — despite being the exact same game.
The experience of gaming on a phone just isn't the same.
I fully acknowledge that I'm probably more sensitive to this kind of thing than other people, and that I'm very privileged to have a next-gen console and a quality TV. That said, it's something I haven't been able to shake no matter how many times I give it a chance.
But in that same breath, that's also the beauty of what streaming has the potential to allow. For weirdos like me that will always choose a dedicated console for the best possible graphics and performance, I'll (hopefully) always have that option. Console gaming is how I best enjoy my video games, and for me, I can keep on keeping on like I've been doing for years.
For everyone else, though, streaming takes down some of the barriers that might have prevented you from getting into gaming in the first place. Whether you don't want to be glued to the couch or can't afford a $500 console every few years, streaming is letting people play the same games the way they want to experience them. There's still the issue of reliable internet infrastructure that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, but it's a step in the right direction.
At the end of the day, it's pretty damn exciting that we're already at a place where you can play a game like Control right on your phone. Open the Game Pass app, tap the game, and you're running through the Federal Bureau of Control and shooting up goons in no time at all. I don't care you who you are, that's just plain awesome.
Game streaming is far from perfect and the release of Control didn't really solve anything about it, but the story of Android streaming is still far, far from over.
Game whenever, wherever
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
Play your Xbox library — and much more — wherever your internet is stable.
Whether you're playing on a Series X or just blowing some time on your phone, Xbox Game Pass lets you enjoy your game on whichever device you have handy, as well as giving you access it a growing number of games in the Game Pass library. With Xbox Live Gold, EA Play, and access to the entire Xbox Game Pass catalog, it's easily one of the best-valued packages in game streaming.
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