Thanks to Australia being really, really big and connected to the internet by only the skin of its teeth, we’ve been shafted for a long time when it comes to game streaming. I remember back in 2016 how exciting services like OnLive were: any game? Ready for you to access remotely and play on whatever device you have convenient? Sounds good to me! OnLive was US only at the time… and then it shut down. Over the years, we’ve been constantly hearing how laggy and unusable game streaming is, whether that’s Google Stadia or OnLive necromancer PlayStation Now. We’ve never actually had the opportunity to try it for ourselves — but finally, Australians, this year’s our year! After an extended beta period, Microsoft launched Xbox Cloud Gaming (nee xCloud) in Australia on October 1, 2021. All you need is an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, which is $16.95 a month or $1 if you’re “new” (that is to say, not subscribed for at least a few months).
Quite honestly, if you’re in the latter camp, go give it a spin. You’ve got nothing to lose (well, a dollar, I guess). The only question that one hundred percent matters here is “does it work?”, and the answer is “probably”. I’m based in Perth, which often gets the short end of the already short stick Australia’s dealt, but miraculously I’ve had very little issues. This likely means that Microsoft has established a local server in Perth, given that the speed of service and more importantly the latency you experience with any cloud service is determined by your distance to the actual physical location in which the data is stored. If you’re in a metropolitan area, it looks like Xbox Cloud Gaming is likely to run with a very tolerable latency: your inputs will be matched on screen very quickly. I’ve been playing a lot of Psychonauts 2 using my iPhone with an Xbox controller connected over Bluetooth, and it feels almost real-time. I know it isn’t, however — Forza Horizon 4 felt nearly great, but at high speeds where hundredths of a second can make the difference between a great turn and rolling into a ditch, I wasn’t able to play consistently. It might not be the best for incredibly fast paced games, but for the most part I barely noticed a difference.
A couple more asterisks, though: I definitely noticed a difference once I blew up the size a bit. You can run Xbox Cloud Gaming on specific web browsers, so I gave it a spin on my PC. It’s pretty forgiving to get going — it’ll run in Safari on iOS or MacOS and Edge or Chrome on Windows, and it’ll work with either an Xbox or PlayStation controller, although notably not keyboard and mouse. The trouble was, much like watching a movie on YouTube vs 4K Blu-Ray, there were some noticeable visual artefacts, and the resolution was limited to 1080p. It’s likely that this happens on a phone as well, but the small screen makes it much easier to gloss over. Sometimes having a full size screen is worth it, but I definitely had more fun kicking back on the couch. Razer and Backbone both have dedicated mobile Switch-style controllers available for about a hundred bucks, or I bought a $20 8bitdo clip to go on my Xbox controller like so:
Technical talk aside for a second, though, there’s so much to have fun with! Xbox Game Pass is fantastically built out at this point and there’s a big selection of extremely high quality games to sink your teeth into. My list includes Yakuza: Like A Dragon, Skatebird and, when it releases, Halo Infinite — yep, I’ll be playing Halo on a MacBook and I might even borrow a PlayStation controller just to spite Microsoft because hey: it works. I’ve been very impressed with the performance so far and it truly feels like some sort of forbidden arcane magic to run full-fat, new release Xbox games on a smartphone. Just remember that your mileage may vary, and your experience will be determined by your location (and your internet connection); if this one doesn’t work the best for you, maybe hold off a couple of months and see how GeForce Now goes. Allegedly, it’ll be launching later this year, and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for that.
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