Project xCloud is currently in closed beta for Xbox Insider Preview members, and we had the chance to check out its slate of available titles. Based on our time with it, it's fair to say that Stadia has a long way to go before matching this experience.
For the purposes of this hands on preview, we decided to put Project xCloud through the toughest possible test of its capabilities. Taking a more rigorous approach seemed fair, considering it's not yet a commercially available product and therefore it's impossible to compare it with Google Stadia from a pure "value for money" perspective. We chose Halo 5: Guardians, a visually stunning, 60fps Xbox exclusive as the basis for our experiment. Oh, and we chose multiplayer, just to make things extra spicy.
Despite the required speed of just 10Mbps download, a 5Ghz WIFI connection is required in order to guarantee a baseline level of smoothness. We tried connecting via a standard 2.4Ghz connection, on both a Samsung Galaxy tablet and Google Pixel 3 phone, and it was choppy to say the least. But, when we switched things back up to the 5Ghz minimum, it was a transformative result. The big takeaway here is that despite needing relatively modern hardware with fairly up to date innards, Project xCloud as a proof of concept is a resounding success.
Navigating menus, and interacting with everything in the Halo 5 pre game lobby, felt smooth as butter and incredibly responsive. There was no noticeable latency. For additional context, I was playing the game with an Xbox One Bluetooth capable controller. Once in game, you could definitely see the strain of syncing a multiplayer environment just start to take its toll. As a seasoned H5: Guardians player, it was apparent that a slight delay to your input transforming into on screen action could be perceived. But it's very important to note that it was slight, and after some adjustment of habit, it was absolutely playable and by no means ruined the experience.
If anything, it was pretty remarkable to be playing Halo 5 multiplayer on a phone, and after the aforementioned period of brief acclimation, we were shooting folks with the ever trusty needler as expected. One subtle change that really helped was adjusting the right stick look sensitivity. By kicking it up a few notches, it felt closer to the home console response time, and had a tangible, positive impact on our enjoyment. And without any on screen prompt identifying us as playing via Project xCloud (as opposed to an Xbox One), it did feel pretty good to place quite high on the final leaderboards.
It's worth noting that our Halo 5: Guardians profile, achievement progress, and customisation were seamlessly loaded into the game when we connected via Project xCloud, and interestingly, when we returned to the home console version, our adjustments to look sensitivity were retained as well. This is a lovely touch, and makes the notion of "picking up where you left off" very much a reality. This has been a thoroughly convincing, and eye opening, first step into Microsoft's approach to game streaming.
The big question now going forward is what form the consumer version of Project xCloud will take. A lot of the criticism and apathy for Google Stadia seems to be centred on their business model over the concept of the product itself. Given Microsoft's rampant success with Xbox Game Pass, a rolling, expandable library of xCloud supported titles, tied to a subscription service, seems like the way to go. With the next generation of hardware right around the corner, we won't have long to find out.
Project xCloud is currently in closed beta testing for members of the Xbox Insider Preview programme.