Earlier this week, Xbox announced it would start inviting Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers to take part in its Xbox Cloud Gaming beta (aka xCloud) on PC and iOS. Like the three other major cloud gaming platforms, Nvidia’s GeForce Now, Google Stadia, and Amazon Luna, xCloud also now works in the Chrome, Edge, and Safari browsers, plus on Android and iOS devices. As a beta, there are some limitations, but the important part about Xbox Cloud Gaming is that Xbox is one step closer to competing on the same level as those other platforms in terms of compatible devices and features.
xCloud for PC doesn’t support keyboards and mice (Xbox is still working on that), so it’s not “true” PC gaming yet, but a lot of the available games are easier to play with a controller anyway. There’s also no option to change the resolution or take screenshots with the controller, but again, that’s all stuff that can be added later. xCloud is also not optimised for macOS. You could theoretically run it in the Safari browser since it works in the Safari browser for iOS…but I tried and I couldn’t get any games to load. Not a big deal though, since I don’t play games on a Mac, not even in the cloud, and the beta runs great on PC and the iPhone.
So let’s get to the good stuff. I appreciate the simple, straightforward layout of the Xbox Cloud Gaming Beta on my browser. It’s similar to the Game Pass app on Android, but extremely pared down. Just the cloud-based games show, which makes sense because — duh — you’re playing in the cloud. Of course, promoted games show up first, but under that are the games you played recently, and then further down you can see all the games available for Xbox Cloud Gaming in alphabetical order, or you can search by game genre. There’s a little search bar in the top right if you don’t want to scroll through the games.
Overall, the performance of every game I tried was smooth and stable. I was playing on a wired connection with a 400Mbps download speed, so of course that’s going to give the best performance possible, but even over a 5.0Ghz wifi connection, performance was solid. There were some visual and audio hiccups like pixelation and stuttering (more so with wifi), but nothing that made any game unplayable or frustrating, and latency seems low, too, though I didn’t take any formal measurements. I was able to aim and shoot the Covenant in Halo without any lag or rubber-banding, so that was a major plus.
Of the games I tried, Banjo-Tooie, Clustertruck, and even The Sims 4 and Forza Horizon 4, all ran without a hitch. I completely forgot I was playing over the cloud. What Remains of Edith Finch, Blair Witch, Halo, and Fallout New Vegas ran great too, but those were the games where I experienced the most noticeable visual and auditory glitches. Sometimes the finer details of my surroundings, like ferns in the Blair Witch forest or purple bell-shaped flowers lining the path to Edith Finch’s house, only sharpened or fully loaded once I got close enough — but again, nothing worth complaining about and nothing some network tweaks on Xbox’s end couldn’t fix. This is a beta, after all, and remarkably polished one.
I did run into a weird thing with Banjo-Kazooie and Fable 2, though not any of the other Xbox 360 games on xCloud — I couldn’t sign into Xbox Live when prompted. The same problem persisted on iOS, and even on Android through the Xbox Game Pass app. I was previously able to sign into my profile on an Xbox One a few weeks ago and play both of those games, so maybe that has something to do with it. In any case, the verdict is still out on why this is happening, but to be clear it has nothing to do with the performance of Xbox Cloud Gaming on PC and iOS as a whole. This seems like a strange glitch of sorts, and most likely confined to me.
I wasn’t able to fully try out xCloud on iOS, unfortunately, since I have an older Xbox controller without Bluetooth, and my Razer Kishi isn’t compatible with my iPhone 12, but a good chunk of the games on xCloud are enabled with touch controls, like Celeste and Tell Me Why. I don’t normally like touch controls, but they made those games feel fluid and responsive. They’re also games that don’t require super-super precision, so that’s helpful, too. A game like Tell Me Why is still better played on PC (or a much larger screen in general) though, because the menu text and captions are a tad too small on the iPhone.
I should note that others haven’t had the same experience as me in terms of maintaining a stable connection. With cloud gaming, a lot of factors come into play that you can control to some extent: your download and upload speed, your router settings, using a wired connection versus wireless, for example. But you can’t control how far away you are from one of Microsoft’s cloud servers, or if your ISP can even handle the amount of data flowing back and forth between your PC and those servers.
xCloud for Android, PC, and iOS is included with your subscription, plus all the other perks you already get for $15.95 a month, so it costs current subscribers nothing to play games over the cloud. If you haven’t gotten an invite yet, hopefully you will soon. If you are not already an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscriber, you should consider signing up. I don’t even own an Xbox and I have a subscription because I can play the same games on my PC or phone, and lemme tell ya, this whole playing Xbox games practically anywhere I want without a console sure is nice.
Editor’s Note: Xbox Cloud Gaming is in the process of being rolled out in Australia.