Microsoft has been acting rather bullish lately. After years of what felt like miss after miss in terms of first-party output, the company has forcefully course-corrected, setting out to change its reputation as a system with no games to one with too many, and they've done this with Xbox Game Pass.
The revolutionary service serves as a platform that delivers hundreds of games to your Xbox console, as well as your PC. Microsoft could've stopped right there and called it a victory, but it decided to venture into the unknowns of cloud gaming. By doing so, it has managed to bring Xbox to Android and iOS devices. Yes, that means you can finally play Xbox games on the best iPad and iPhone, but would you want to?
Xbox Cloud Gaming, formerly known as xCloud, has arrived for iOS after being available for some time on Android, but was it worth the wait? How does it run on the iPhone and iPad? And is it worth getting Xbox Game Pass for it? We take a closer look.
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Xbox Game Pass on iOS: Availability and price
Before you get too excited about Xbox Cloud Gaming (xCloud), you'll need to check a few boxes before you can get started. You'll need a subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate as well as a compatible device. Take a look at our article on how to set up Xbox Cloud Gaming for more information. You'll also have to be living in one of these 22 countries: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, South Korea, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The service itself is a great value considering the content it delivers: A library of high-quality games, including Microsoft first-party releases on day one. First time users can sign up for just $1 on Microsoft's website. From there, it's $15 per month to continue accessing games across the Xbox, PC, and the cloud.
In case you haven't already guessed, you'll need a stable internet connection. Microsoft suggests that you should have a connection of at least 5Ghz Wi-Fi or a mobile data connection of 10Mbps down. A quick speedtest told me I had 233 down and 12 up, well within the range for a good time on my iPhone 11 and my 11-inch iPad Pro (2nd Gen).
When talking about cloud gaming, Xbox Cloud Gaming contemporaries must be mentioned. However, when compared to Google Stadia or Amazon Luna, the other two cloud streaming competitors, there's almost no competition. While Stadia does offer a decent library of games, including big-name titles like Cyberpunk 2077, its pricing structure is just too expensive, not to mention the service itself has been without a paddle after Google shut down Stadia Games and Entertainment and key figures in the company left for other opportunities. Amazon hasn't let go of its streaming service just yet. However, Amazon Luna is still in closed beta right now. But again, as far as pure value goes, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is unmatched.
Xbox Game Pass on iOS: It just works
Once you've got the logistics out of the way, you'll quickly learn that Xbox Cloud Gaming (xCloud) just works and works pretty well most of the time. For example, loading up my Xbox Gamertag was just a matter of signing in, and I instantly accessed Game Pass games. No downloads, just a few seconds of waiting as my information was synced with the cloud.
Now, I immediately thought to put the service through its paces and loaded up various games across genres. For testing purposes, I loaded up Gears 5, Doom Eternal, Streets of Rage 4, Yakuza 6: Song of Life, and Banjo-Tooie, to get a feel for the service. I also made use of the Gamesir X2 Bluetooth Mobile Controller while playing on my iPhone, and an Xbox Series X Controller on the iPad (for a more authentic experience).
I was impressed by the graphical fidelity maintained during my testing. Xbox Cloud Gaming is powered by custom Xbox Series X hardware, so that means you're getting as close to the console experience as your internet connection can provide. Doom Eternal and Gears 5 looked great, and I didn't notice much artifacting, though latency issues were abound, which was especially annoying during Gears 5's intense multiplayer matches.
Loading up Yakuza 6 next, I started to run into some extreme lag, which carried over into Streets of Rage 4, almost to the brink of being unplayable. However, a restart was all it took to get the service back on track, and both games worked fine afterward. I noticed audio issues occur when tabbing back and forth between the service, which was again fixed by a restart. I chalk these issues up to signal degradation rather than an issue with the service itself, so your experience might be a little different than mine.
Banjo-Tooie, the sole Xbox 360 game in my testing queue, ran just fine, and it was even somewhat bizarre to pull up a decade-old save tucked away in the cloud. But, of course, that was the case for every game I played, as well. So accessing save files was no problem, so long as they were backed up on the cloud.
And that's the beauty of Xbox Cloud Gaming, being able to pick up right where you left. This is especially great for certain game genres, like JRPGs, that require lots of attention from the player. I wrote about how much I like playing RPGs on my Switch because of its portability, and I feel the same way about loading up a Game Pass and taking it to bed with me. When compared to my Switch, the performance boost of the cloud is icing on my portable cake.
Xbox Game Pass on iOS: Your mileage may vary
While the novelty of Xbox Cloud Gaming (xCloud) was brilliant, you're going to want to get some additional hardware to truly appreciate the service. While some games offer touch screen controls, you'll need a game controller or an Xbox Controller to get into the game. Unfortunately, clamp controllers, like the GameSir, aren't nearly as comfortable as an Xbox Controller, and peripherals like the Razor Kishi aren't compatible with every iPhone.
While Microsoft is making games on the service as "cloud-ready" as possible, there's still work to be done. For example, fonts are sometimes hard to read, UI elements are often not scaled appropriately, and certain camera angles look too small on my iPhone screen. Of course, this is less of a problem on tablets, but you'll need to have a controller handy. It's also worth noting that the touch screen controls simulate an Xbox controller, which requires the UI to cramp the screen more than I would like it to. I wish that certain games would allow me to pinch, pull, and tap like other touch screen enabled games.
As I mentioned before, back to the games, some don't suffer too much from the latency that occurs during gameplay, but faster-paced games, like Doom Eternal, do struggle, even under the best circumstances. This is by no means a replacement for a standard console or PC experience. Even with the best controller on the best iPhone, I felt myself preferring the traditional gaming experience.
And that might vary from player to player. Younger gamers have been indoctrinated by mobile gaming, and they might feel right to you and even preferred. For me, Xbox Game Pass on iOS is a nice addition, but it's not the full package. Nevertheless, for some, the cloud is more than worth the price of admission alone.
Xbox Game Pass on iOS: The future looks bright
The implications of Xbox Cloud Gaming (xCloud) are far-reaching, and not just for the Xbox brand and the technology. Even if the app is still in its infancy, it's putting games into the hands of more people than ever before, and as the service begins to improve, we'll see results improve even further. Just in a few months since the service hit Android, data centers have been updated to provide faster load times and improved frame rates. Once the streaming service comes to PC, players who may not have up-to-date machines will still be able to access the latest and greatest titles from Microsoft.
But looking at the service now on iOS — is it worth it? If you have an Xbox, PC, or both, then absolutely. The streaming service is the cherry on top of an excellent Xbox sundae. Starting a game on the Xbox or PC and moving to mobile is seamless, and for the most part, it works really well. But if it's your only option, I still think Xbox Cloud Gaming is a great choice and a superior option compared to its cloud streaming contemporaries.
While it's not my first choice to play a game of Halo with the boys, taking it easy with old-school titles and RPGs had a certain charm to it. The same appeal of the Nintendo Switch is felt with Xbox Cloud Gaming. But be warned, without proper hardware and internet speeds, you won't be able to enjoy the service at all, and while there are some touch screen compatible games, you'll want to grab a game controller for your iPhone, and maybe an Xbox Controller for your iPad.
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With Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, access the cloud on your iPad or iPhone.
Zackery Cuevas is a writer for Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. He likes playing video games, talking about video games, writing about video games, and most importantly, complaining about video games. If you're cool, you can follow me on Twitter @Zackzackzackery.