Grappling With Game Pass
This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #159. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.
When the idea of being able to stream games like we do movies and TV shows first went mainstream, I was all-in. You mean I can play a game for a platform I don’t own, and all I need is an internet connection? Sign me up! Unfortunately, this was during the OnLive era, which objectively sucked, and my experiences with game streaming never got much better over the years. But here’s the thing: Through happenstance I stumbled into a free month of Xbox Game Pass, and in the span of a few weeks it’s managed to rekindle my excitement for game streaming.
It all comes down to performance. In the past (even not-so-recently, when I tried the demo for the cloud version of Control on my Switch), this has rarely gone well. The image would degrade within only a few minutes of playing, my inputs would lag and sometimes I’d get disconnected from whatever I was attempting to play. So as much as I desperately wanted to enjoy the experience of playing a digital game over the internet – without the need to download anything or worry about system specs – it just wasn’t happening.
This is where Game Pass has quickly chipped away at my skepticism. It’s still got some of the telltale game streaming issues, to be sure, but they’re overall less pronounced (and a lot less common) here. Which, as you might expect, makes a world of difference. I can put up with the visuals getting janky for a few seconds every so often, but surprisingly I’ve only run into noticeable lag maybe two or three times in the many hours I’ve sunk into the service so far. And even then, it was only for a minute or two, at most.
But beyond the performance being much better than other games I’ve streamed, what’s given me that extra push into legitimately considering plonking down that $15 a month is the library. You see, I don’t own a PC or Xbox console, so I’m limited to whatever comes out on the Switch, Mac, or PlayStation 4. Which isn’t to say I’m lacking in things to play! There’s a lot of great stuff for all of those platforms and I very much appreciate just how often game developers account for the Mac these days. But there have been more than a few specific titles I really wanted to play that I never could.
And now I can. Just like that. All I have to do is open a tab in Chrome on my MacBook, plug in my PS4 controller and go. I’ve finally been able to play games like PowerWash Simulator, Hardspace Shipbreaker and Scorn – in addition to a lot of other games that are available for systems I do own, but I wanted to try them out first. It took me all of five minutes playing Prodeus on Game Pass before I pulled out my Switch and bought it on the eShop. Side note: You all should play Prodeus.
What’s more, due to Game Pass running in a browser (with all the actual processing power needed to run the games being used on the other side of the internet), it barely affects my MacBook’s battery so I can play for a very long time without needing to recharge. And on top of that, Game Pass works on my iPhone (though it does require a controller attachment) so I can play any of these games on something significantly smaller and more portable than even my Switch. Sure, it’s not great if it’s a text-heavy game that doesn’t take smaller screens into consideration but I can play Hollow Knight, Morrowind, Dead Space, or even freaking No Man’s Sky on my phone.
The perfect combination of working fairly well, having a ton of games I want to play and having it all work on just about anything that can support a web browser and a controller, has turned me around on this whole game streaming thing. It’s still not perfect or a replacement for physical (or even digital) games by any means, but I can definitely see its value now. And I suppose $15 per month isn’t too bad, considering…
Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved nerdy stuff since the 80s, from videogames to anime to Godzilla to Power Rangers toys to Transformers, and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them all. He’s also editor for the Games section of Exploits! You can still find him on Twitter, Instagram and Mastodon.