Why xCloud for web browsers is not for me, but a great tool for the future
Recently, Microsoft has sent out invites to the closed beta of Xbox Cloud Gaming (xCloud) for iOS and Windows PCs. They have been fighting for a while to roll out xCloud to iOS specifically. So, they looked at their release of xCloud on Android and tailored the feature for broader availability. Now, players are testing the web browser game streaming. Since I never tried phone gaming at the Xbox level, I decided to review the feature.
To start, I have the Samsung Galaxy S20, and I only have experience with games like Marvel’s Strike Force, Pokemon Go, and smaller titles. I didn’t know what to expect going in. Once my browser finished loading up the app, the dashboard opened to provide a video game list. There are many options like “Jump back in,” a feature that lets you stream video games directly from your library. Besides that, a section provides recently added games and a list of what titles are leaving.
xCloud provides two types of video games to play. We’re used to the first option, being the standard controller play. Pair the controller of your choice to your phone, and you’re ready to play. The second option is to play touch-only games that require you to, well, touch the screen to interact with the game world. I booted up Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice for a trial run, and touch controls don’t come close to a controller.
The ‘button layout’ was odd. Our D-Pad, Y, B, and A buttons are positioned on the right of Senua’s title screen. Of course, hand symbols indicate these are touch-activated buttons. In-game, there is a circle on the left for movement and one on the right to control the camera. There’s also a single button to use in the area I loaded into. I added an example of this screen in the next section.
Web browser streaming isn’t without its issues
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a single player game, and it lagged at every point. Due to the performance, I didn’t bother connecting to a multiplayer session with Outriders. It’s an always-online game. I knew creating a lobby or showing up in one would be a cruel punishment for other players. So, for the time being, web browser-based multiplayer gaming seems impossible. Then again, xCloud is not about performing at a professional level. It’s about convenience.
To be clear, Outriders suffered the same performance woes as Hellblade. The above screenshot shows that I am ready to take on an Expedition. In truth, I wouldn’t even attempt a solo outing. I tested the controls, but the limitations would provide a negative gameplay experience. Why set myself up for a negative review?
The graphics were as breathtaking as ever, but the subtitles were too small for my liking. I won’t say much about phone audio because a compatible headset negates any complaints I could have. Connecting our phones to a Bluetooth home theater system would work too. Would it be overkill? If that’s the best option for your experience, I say go for it. Yet, I don’t see gamers abandoning their consoles if their nearby their personal home theater systems.
xCloud through a mobile web browser is not for me, but it certainly is part of gaming’s future. I’m interested to see where Microsoft takes game streaming in the years to come.