Microsoft is joining Google in the quest to help you stream games to your phone or tablet. Its Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription—which already gives players access to hundreds of Xbox and PC games for a flat monthly fee—has added cloud-enabled gaming to its list of offerings.
Previously known as Project xCloud when it was in development, the new addition to Game Pass lets you play more than 150 games on your Android phone or tablet—provided you're running Android 6.0 or newer (how to check your version) and your device supports Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless Xbox One controller connectivity. You can read more about it here.
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How It Works
Like Google's Stadia, cloud gaming via Game Pass Ultimate doesn't actually run the game on your Android device. Your shiny new Pixel 4A is a wonderful phone, but it doesn't have the horsepower to run a game like Gears 5 without melting into a puddle of steaming slag. That's where Microsoft's streaming technology comes in. The game actually runs on a server farm somewhere far away, and the video feed is streamed to your mobile device. It's like playing a game by remote control, but the console or PC that powers it is outside your house.
To play, just download the Game Pass app from the Google Play Store.
High-speed internet has finally progressed to the point where this kind of technology is feasible, but there are still some drawbacks. Streaming games to your mobile device has problems, as Google Stadia has proved in the past year.
Much like with Stadia, there was noticeable input lag (a delay) in our first Xbox cloud gaming sessions. It's most noticeable when you're playing a high-speed action game. Even a few milliseconds of lag can have huge consequences for multiplayer games, especially competitive titles. For single-player games, it's not as bad. It kind of feels like playing with a slow mouse or controller. You have to learn to play on delay, but you do get used to it quickly.
Is It Worth Trying?
Microsoft has lowered expectations by bundling the service with Game Pass Ultimate, so if you're already a subscriber you have nothing to lose by checking it out. If you're not a subscriber yet, but you have an Xbox One or gaming PC, picking up a subscription will net you the entire library of Game Pass games, plus the ability to play most of them on your Android device. It's not cheap, though. The first month of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is $1, but after that the Ultimate Plan costs $15 per month.
Right now, Game Pass cloud gaming supports about 168 titles from its 392-game library (as of publish time)—a sizable chunk, and all those games are included in the monthly subscription. With Google Stadia, you sometimes have to purchase individual games (sometimes at full price). The first month of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is only $1 right now, so it's definitely worth trying out to see if the streaming game experience is right for you.
Keep in mind that these games weren't designed to be played remotely or on such small screens (or with touch controls). Learning the controls on a touch screen can be awkward. Not all games support touch right now, but you can pair an Xbox One wireless controller and use that instead, which is a much better experience for most games anyway.
You can see the full list of compatible games by clicking "Cloud-enabled" on the Game Pass library page. Spiritfarer, Untitled Goose Game, Children of Morta, and Dead Cells are a few fun games to try.