Score
90
The future is here! Or is it?

Project xCloud Beta Review: Could Microsoft conquer the cloud?

Plenty of contenders have tried to make cloud-based gaming happen over the years: OnLive, PSNow and Google Stadia were three of the biggest attempts, but it looks like Microsoft may have a potential winner on its hands with xCloud.

xCloud is Microsoft’s streaming service, allowing anyone with an Xbox account to play a game on a device that is compatible with the xCloud app. Since last year there has been a trial on Android devices, allowing users to try out Halo: Master Chief Collection on a phone or a tablet linked up to an Xbox controller and an internet connection.

Microsoft has now opened up the xCloud beta to iOS users, and Stealth Optional tested it extensively on iPad to bring you this review…

001
Power
Score
95

First of all, you need a controller in order to use this. There’s no way of using an external keyboard, and most controllers will not work. Touch-screen controls are non-existent here, and rightfully so. 

You will need an Xbox controller or a PS4 DualShock 4, with the latter being used for this review. The controls were mapped to the DualShock right away, and as soon as I fired up Halo, it was a surreal experience.

There’s really no negative here.

Halo. On an iPad. Being controlled with a DualShock. We are indeed in a Bizarro universe. 

But everything worked, and worked well: you could easily use the triggers to throw a plasma grenade, or use the ‘Share’ button to switch between classic or remade graphics.

There’s really no negative here; everything works as expected. The only minor downside, which is down to Apple and their API’s, is allowing rumble support. Having that enabled in this would make it the complete immersive experience.

002
Latency
Score
90

It’s almost like magic. I fired up ‘multiplayer’ for this, as the real test is not only streaming the image to me, but of how it handles a match with other players. As this service can play with others on Xbox, or Games Pass PC, or Steam, it depended on whether there would be any delay.

After a fair few matches, I can confirm that there wasn’t. When there was a dip, there would be a visual effect; almost like a TV tuning into a new Freeview channel, where the lag-filled-image would be overwritten almost, by a better one. The latency between the controller and the image was instant too; it never felt as if I needed to stop what I was doing mid-firefight for it all to catch up.

003
Multiplayer
Score
90

Online works, and it works well. The full package of Halo is here, including the multiplayer. It’s a big part of Halo, and I remember having so much fun with co-op back in the day, so I wanted to go into it with a fresh pair of eyes.

Online works, and it works well.

Slayer, Capture the Flag, Co-op, it all worked. I did try to hook up the iPad Pro to a TV through HDMI to see if split-screen worked, but for whatever reason it refused. I will put it down to the iPad not being able to pair with two controllers at once, and iPadOS 13.

004
On The Go
Score
85

This was my main concern. It’s all well and good connecting the iPad to ultra-fast fibre broadband and having a good time, but if it doesn’t work on the public WiFi at my local coffee house, it’s a waste of time bringing my DualShock with me.

I tried it with three different settings, and three different modes.

Cellular

My iPad comes with a cellular plan, and across Lincoln, it’s covered in 4G on my network, so finding full bars wasn’t an issue.

This is what surprised me most about xCloud. Not the fact I could control Halo with a DualShock. Not the fact I’m playing all this on my iPad Pro. But the fact that I had the full experience on a cellular network with next to no lag.

I tried to find a place with 3G, and after finding a coffee house that featured this, whether the roof was filled with lead to achieve this, I don’t know. There was a noticeable delay, but it wasn’t constant.

It struggled in multiplayer, as you’d expect, because the throughput for all that bandwidth just bottlenecks it, so for a quick game in singleplayer, it’s ideal.

Public WiFi

This can vary, because if you’re in a busy place, such as a Wetherspoons, then the amount of bandwidth available will be shared across to users in a spotty way, resulting in a slow connection.

So it worked, up to a point. I thought this would have been secondary to my home wifi, but it came out being the worse option, and I even switched to 4G/Cellular.

Public Wifi is a slight misconstruction, as it’s expected that, if it’s public, then it’s going to be superfast, or there’s many connections with many different routers for everyone. But usually, it’s just one router, a finite amount of bandwidth, and software to help manage the connections.

Add Halo 4 into this, and you’ll be seeing a slideshow similar to Powerpoint more often than not.

Private WiFi

As you’d expect; superfast, if there was an option to view the game in 4K, it would look glorious.

Our Score

001
Power
Score
95
002
Latency
Score
90
003
Multiplayer
Score
90
004
On The Go
Score
85
Project xCloud Beta
Overall
Score
90

Pros

Fantastic bandwidth, especially on cellular

Playing Halo on an iPad

Using a DualShock controller

Cons

Controller support is limited by Apple

Rumble, 2-player local would be great

Another game to truly test it would be welcome

For a preview, is incredibly impressive how far we’ve come since the OnLive days. Using a DualShock to play Halo is strange at first, but after 5 minutes, it works.

It really depends now on vendors. Having the app on AppleTV and Amazon FireTV would be the next leap for xCloud. Alongside having Apple bring out better compatibility for controllers, such as local multiplayer and rumble support would be great for iPadOS 14.

Once it’s multiplayer on your home WiFi, it’s a fantastic experience. We’ve mastered the training wheels Microsoft, now it’s time to see what it’s like without them.

End

Daryl Baxter