Along with the release of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Google added one of the most important and intriguing features unveiled earlier this year — Stadia Stream Connect.

The added gameplay feature looks set to revolutionize the traditional split screen that we’ve seen on local multiplayer games for decades now — although it is now in severe decline. It could be the start of a new type of gameplay that not only relies on teamwork but also provides multiple input streams for a level of precision that we’ve actually never seen before in modern gaming titles.

Before I dive in, the closest thing that you’ve probably had extensive experience with — that I would say most closely mimics the Stream Connect experience (so far) — is kill-cams in online shooters like Call of Duty. It’s that little snippet you see of someone putting your online character out of their misery — often in high-resolution visceral detail — but in real-time and with teammates, not online foes.

While split-screen gameplay is in decline, there are some titles that still offer local split-screen co-op and versus modes. However, this has declined simply due to the compute and graphical overheads of running essentials two (or more) view panes side-by-side on a console running usually the most hardware-demanding titles. Stadia Stream Connect works with no penalties on performance, as it’s a stream tacked on to a further cloud-based stream.

While it would have been nice to have the feature available directly at launch, this relies heavily on the titles you’ll be playing. Single-player games really don’t need the feature, and older games from the launch title selection would have to have it shoehorned in with little thought to the experience. It’s kind of lucky in some ways that Google Stadia is slowly evolving into the service that we hoped it would be on launch day. These little added features will certainly make each new title release more enticing.

If I had to pick a game that I expected to be the first to support Stadia Stream Connect, it would likely have been one with the Tom Clancy name emblazoned all over it. However, it probably wouldn’t have been Breakpoint. It’s not that is poorly implemented, it just doesn’t add to the open world nature of the gameplay. Rainbow Six – another Tom Clancy title would likely have been a better option for Stream Connect.

For those wondering, Stream Connect works by giving you a live game feed of your fellow co-op players. It’s very similar to local split-screen co-op in that you retain your main game view but can have up to three extra on-screen views of your friends and random online players visible at all times. This is enabled in Ghost Recon: Wildlands from the get-go. That means the first time you jump into a cooperative game, you’ll instantly have a feed of the other players on your screen.

The first time you see it, it’s really hard not to get distracted. When the game gets chaotic, it makes focusing on your own task that little bit more disorienting until you learn to use it correctly. My biggest disappointment is that you can’t yet change the size of these mini-feeds. They do remain large enough so that you can distinguish where your fellow players are located, but small enough that you don’t obscure any important on-screen or in-game information.

You can see basically everything they are doing. It even shows your fellow players navigating around in-game menus, although any that show sensitive information like friends’ lists and account information are not visible. That is something that hadn’t even crossed my mind, but will no doubt be a useful addition for when live streaming to YouTube gets integrated into the cloud gaming platform.

I’m lucky as I have a reasonably solid internet connection, but each feed from up to three other players was crystal clear and with zero lag. Despite the initial confusion, it’s amazing to see in full flow, and as one of the killer features that Google has touted for Stadia, seeing it in action really is impressive.

It feels like an added incentive in an already co-op focused game to check up on your teammates and ensure they are never overrun by enemies. It was with our own Kyle Bradshaw that I had the most fun, being able to work out when he came under fire and stepping in as the resident 9to5Google pro-gamer to lend a helping hand — it’s an admittedly minor inclusion by most standards, but really does improve the gameplay immensely.

Initial thoughts

We’re expecting to see more games implement Stream Connect features and functions as Stadia develops. While the first in-game implementation is pretty rudimentary, it really does whet the appetite for more cooperative gaming experiences that not many other games can achieve without taking massive performance hits. It’s also far easier to see the resurgence of couch co-op games, as each player is not bound by hardware. They all run their own instance of the game without the associated overheads.

Of course, the titles that intend on adding Stream Connect functionality on Stadia will determine just how much your gameplay experience is affected. I’ve always wanted the ability to play another Tom Clancy classic — Rainbox Six —  in this manner. Giving me the ability to monitor my teammate’s location and see exactly what they see in real time with no delays, allowing us to coordinate our gameplan perfectly — that’s where this can be a game changer for even what we would consider “standard” shooters.

We’ve yet to see anything like that yet, but much like Stadia itself, the first implementation is a taster of what is yet to come. I can’t help but be excited for what Stadia Stream Connect can do for the future of co-op games and really bring back the days of couch co-op without needing to be in the same room. Imagine a popular title like Octodad where each player controls a separate limb or part of a character. Each individual player feed would be needed to actually complete anything of note.

If we get even close to what was promised, and developers are willing to build co-op games with Stream Connect baked-in from the start, then the possibilities are almost endless. As it stands, Stream Connect feels a lot like Google Stadia on the whole: It’s not quite there, but it works pretty dang well.

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