Google Stadia’s best games: 11 great places to start

Google Stadia’s best games: 11 great places to start

Google’s cloud gaming service, Stadia, suffered from a rough launch. Things haven’t improved much since then.

Beyond the basic features still missing from the service, and how few of the games on Stadia offer full cross-play across multiple platforms, the game library itself is incredibly limited, at least for now. It still barely feels like a real platform, much less one on which you’d want to spend a lot of time (or money).

Stadia’s biggest problem is the one that’s going to be the hardest to solve: Both Microsoft and Sony are offering cloud gaming solutions that are an added value to already successful and thriving communities. Microsoft is aggressively moving to a hardware-agnostic, subscription-based service for its Xbox platform, one in which playing on mobile devices and streaming your games from the cloud will be but one way to play. Sony’s PlayStation Now service is in the same boat, offering players another option in how they might want to play PlayStation-exclusive games.

Google Stadia’s official controller
Photo: Chris Plante/Polygon

Stadia doesn’t have that history or existing player base, nor is it offering many exclusives, and you can only play the games purchased on Stadia over the internet. There is no way to locally play the games you own, meaning that each and every purchase may go away if Google discontinues the service. As a bet, it’s the most dangerous of the cloud-gaming services, if you’re worried about potentially losing access to your games.

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To put it simply, every console manufacturer has the skills and technology necessary to add Stadia-like functionality to their platform, but Google can’t easily create dedicated hardware or offer more games without a huge investment. That puts Google, for once, in the underdog position when it comes to cloud-based games.

That all being said, you can still sign up for a free month to try the service, and see if it’s a good fit for you and your internet connection. Just be sure to cancel before the 30 days are up if you’re unhappy with the experience.

You get a selection of free games with a Stadia Pro subscription, although the rest of the titles on Stadia need to be purchased at full price, just as if you’d bought a game console. The main difference is that Stadia doesn’t need a console, nor much hardware power outside of a fast internet connection. Whether that’s enough reason to tolerate the limitations of the service is up to you.

If you do decide to jump into the world of Stadia, here are the games we suggest.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Ubisoft Quebec/Ubisoft via Polygon

This is a game worth sharing. Its geography is a beautiful montage of sunbaked islands, war-ravaged towns and towering ancient cities. From the brand-spanking-new Parthenon to the tiniest butterfly, Odyssey provides a place of intense visual pleasure.

Respect has been paid to the historical Greece at this time, to its politics, culture, mythology, sexual norms, architecture, religion, humor, philosophy, art, and morality.

Most of all, the people in this game are engaging and amusing. I loved hanging out at a symposium, debating philosophy with Socrates and flirting with Alcibiades. I loved making friends with my absurdly religious ship’s captain, with a no-nonsense pirate, with a devoted child.

This is why, for all its faults, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is one of the best explorable game worlds yet made. It’s ambitious enough to recreate ancient Greece as a detailed panorama, and to populate it with lovable, faulty, funny human beings. Like great historical fiction, it feels like a journey into a thrilling, alien and dangerous adventure. —Colin Campbell

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Super Bomberman R Online

https://youtube.com/watch?v=CglZtgOmvqg%3Frel%3D0

There’s very little risk here, since the game is currently free for Stadia Pro subscribers, but the good news is that the simple pleasures of bombing your friends and family hasn’t been lost.

The game is modeled more after battle royale titles in which you have to survive your board, and then move onto new boards, with new enemies to fight against, as older battlegrounds are dropped in an approximation of the ever-tightening “storm” of other battle royale games. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, making Super Bomberman R Online a Stadia exclusive that’s worth signing up for the free month to at least try. —Ben Kuchera

West of Loathing

Asymmetric

West of Loathing is a great Western game, and it isn’t even in color. It’s evocative of all the ambitions and moments that make a cowboy story worthwhile and engaging, while at the same time gently mocking the entire affair from start to finish.

But for me, the most significant success was at the end. Once you help build the railroad into Frisco, you can go watch “The Final Cutscene” playing at a movie theater. The epilogue wasn’t even finished yet in the review build of the game (unless that was a joke, too), but I got to see the threads of plot I’d been tugging on — even some truly obscure and flippant ones — get all tied up neatly. I saw my work upon this weird West, and I felt sincerely bittersweet to mosey on from a world I hadn’t quite realized I had been becoming more and more affectionate for. —Noah Caldwell-Gervais

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Doom (2016)

https://youtube.com/watch?v=RO90omga8D4%3Frel%3D0

Doom, id Software’s 2016 reboot of the shooter series, is a modern update to the classic Doom formula that doesn’t lose sight of the speed and tone of the originals while still adding new ideas. And it looks great doing it.

Doom is a leaner and more focused experience than Doom Eternal, which is over-stuffed with too many new systems and lore that seems unnecessary, which is why we think Doom remains one of the best first-person shooters to pick up on Stadia. —Ben Kuchera

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Rage 2

Avalanche Software, id Software/Bethesda Softworks

Rage 2 is one of the video gamiest video games I’ve ever played.

The game’s designers didn’t just borrow ideas from a couple iconic first-person shooters; They cribbed from the genre’s entire history. Good games, bad games, nearly forgotten ones. Remember that weapon from Dark Sector? Or that monster from Gears of War? Or that setting from Borderlands? Or that color palette from Sunset Overdrive?

And yet Rage 2 is so satisfying in action, so totally shameless, that I find it hard to put down. I could list the game’s inadequacies and describe its bizarre menus or upgrade structure all day long, but the more I talk about the game the more I find myself preferring to play it instead.

Rage 2 exists as a collection of unoriginal, but well-executed, ideas held together by a structure that can just barely be described as an open world. —Ben Kuchera

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Red Dead Redemption 2

Image: Rockstar Games

Red Dead Redemption 2 has a central storyline, plotted on a map of the game’s world in yellow dots. But the world is brimming with additional paths Arthur can choose to take along the way, themselves branching in various directions. Most are unmarked, and their events unfold in medias res. Similar moments appeared in the original Red Dead Redemption, but they’re dwarfed by the depth, variety and interactivity happening here. While searching for a former member of Calloway’s gang, I come across a man who is being attacked by wolves. I scare the animals away with a shot in the air and offer the man medicine — medicine that, I realize as I offer it, can hardly treat his mangled leg. He bleeds out, cursing me.

Around the 20-hour mark — roughly one-third into the game — the story sets a stride, and I begin to establish my own rhythm alongside it. Days pass slowly in the game’s universe, and I spend most of them doing a mix of hunting for pelts and meat that will help me upgrade my clothes and feed the camp; running a couple of side missions to get to know the crew; and maybe completing a story mission to move everything else along, or perhaps taking a trip to town to gamble, collect a bounty poster or just see what will happen on the main drag. I have my guns and a lasso, items to sell, money to buy whatever I need, and — new to the series — the option to chat with anyone.

Rockstar has the hubris to create not just another open world paired with a laundry list of activities, but also a simulation that binds it together. When it works, it’s astonishing, affecting and unintentionally funny in the way real life can be. As I try to defuse a robbery, I notice my horse taking a massive and seemingly endless dump just behind me. A bunch of code is directing the hundreds of animals and people around this world, but where most video game characters and creatures feel as if they’re repeating the same path into oblivion, this world does just enough to feel like a live space — at least until you push against the edges. —Chris Plante

Read our full review.

Spiritfarer

https://youtube.com/watch?v=Xu4JHmcfrtw%3Frel%3D0

Spiritfarer is based on classical Greek mythology: the story of the river Styx, a waterway that’s said to be a pathway between Earth and the afterlife. In the myth, spirits are transported by Charon, the ferryman, through the river and into the underworld, paying passage with a token. Spiritfarer follows this story closely, as Stella and her cat Daffodil take over from Charon. Stella is the spiritfarer, and she captains a large boat to ease the dead into whatever comes next. The act of dying, which we often see in video games, is less important than what happens after death in this story.

The game begins as Charon retires, with Stella just beginning in the role. She travels between islands in the Spiritfarer world, meeting spirits that are stuck and need help in moving on. Most of the characters on the ship, picked up throughout the game’s watercolor world, are Stella’s friends and family. Some are not, but each has something they need — something Stella must provide. Her large, but initially simple, vessel is her way of doing so.

The ship gets larger and more complex with each passenger that comes aboard, whether a garden to grow vegetables for a vegetarian spirit has been added, or the kitchen is upgraded to create elaborate meals for picky passengers. These additions, which include orchards and a massive crusher for grinding things to dust, stack precariously on top of one another, a slow game of Tetris, as shapes get more complex and harder to fit in the constrained space of the ship. —Nicole Carpenter

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The Division 2

Image: Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft

Just hanging out in the world of The Division 2 is great fun, even if the setting can be grisly. My friends and I decide to tackle a story mission, but find out that civilians are being executed nearby, so we dive in to help. There are always control points to take over or side missions to attempt, and I never know when we’ll run into random enemies to fight. I don’t really need a plan about how to play The Division 2 before I start a session with other people, because we always sort of just find stuff to do. And there is a lot of stuff to do, complementing the main story and its impressive set-pieces and pitched battles.

The downside to all this is that The Division 2 is a very hard game to play solo. The intelligence of the enemies, combined with the numbers of them that the game throws at me, makes playing with someone else all but mandatory. The community seems to understand this, and is made up of overwhelmingly helpful, positive folks, at least in my experience. Everyone wants to help, because they know that they will soon also need help.

It’s a nice counterpoint to the idea of everyone turning on each other when things go bad, as portrayed in the game. In real life, when things get hairy in The Division 2, the players come together. And the game’s difficulty system manages differences between players well, buffing underpowered players while they’re playing with friends or strangers who are at a much higher level. —Owen Good

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Little Nightmares

https://youtube.com/watch?v=xToitWJgqjA%3Frel%3D0

Little Nightmares is the creation of the Swedish Tarsier Studios, which previously worked on the far cuter and cuddlier LittleBigPlanet series. For all that Little Nightmares is unquestionably a horror game, there is something a bit precious about it; like Limbo and Inside, it’s a game about someone small and helpless working their way through a dangerous and frightening world.

But Little Nightmares is a few shades brighter, with hints of dark humor weaving through genuinely disturbing moments. While I found myself inevitably frustrated as a tiny thing in a world of dangers who died a lot, that irritation was balanced out by how the gameplay kept shifting so I never quite died the same way twice. Little Nightmares is a balancing act: between light and darkness, sound and silence, annoyance and satisfaction.

And, most importantly, it’s creepy. It’s very creepy. —Whitney Reynolds

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Marvel’s Avengers

Image: Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix

Marvel’s Avengers works well as a flashy single-player action-adventure if that’s all you’re looking for, particularly if you’re already a fan of Ms. Marvel, and I can see value in picking it up for that alone. I’m a bit skeptical of the live service aspect’s ability to keep me grinding for loot once I hit the level cap, or finish the story-themed post-game missions, but now I’m over that initial hurdle, it is kind of fun to bash waves of enemies with friends.

On a good day, Marvel’s Avengers is a multiplayer Marvel-themed Dynasty Warriors game, and if you’re in the right mood, that’s a decent way to spend some hours, and we don’t know where the team will take it from here. On a great day, it’s a strong single-player outing for one of my favorite underappreciated superheroes.

Whichever of the two you’re hoping for, there’s fun to be found here, if you set your expectations right. While the multiplayer may not have come out the gate swinging, there’s room for it to level grind a little over the coming weeks, and hopefully become more impressive at some point down the line. —Laura Dale

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Superhot: Mind Control Delete

Image: Superhot Team

Superhot: Mind Control Delete is an uncomfortable release in some ways, having been born out of what was supposed to be DLC for the first game, given away to anyone who already owned the original game on PC, and currently being offered as a standalone game or as a bundle with one or both of the other Superhot games at a deep discount. If I were put in charge of the game’s pricing, I would likely quit and try to find an easier job.

Still, being able to stop time by standing still remains fun, and now there are so many more changing conditions that force me to adapt my strategy from one moment to the next, allowing the game to keep my attention even when the levels begin to feel familiar. Getting a lucky choice of upgrades near the end of a run is always a thrill.

I’m not sure what comes next, or if the Superhot team has squeezed the last drop of blood from the franchise, but Mind Control Delete is a fascinating remix of the concepts that made the first two games so influential. —Ben Kuchera

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