Gaming has been one of the most notable Achilles’ heels for as long as Chrome OS has existed. Most Chromebooks have lower-powered hardware, and the operating system is based on web technology, so playing AAA titles found on Windows just wasn’t an option. The rise of cloud-based gaming services like Google’s own Stadia has helped the situation, but perhaps the biggest advance in Chromebook gaming came in late March, when Google announced that Valve’s Steam platform on Chrome OS was in an early alpha stage. Just like on Windows, Mac, and Linux, you can use it to download and install games from Steam’s huge catalog. As a Chromebook fan who also loves a good game, I had to try it.

So Google provided me with one of the seven Chromebooks that can run Steam, an ASUS Chromebook CX9 with Intel’s 11th Gen Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. These are hefty specs for a Chromebook, but Google has stated that Steam requires a device with at least a Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM. While Steam might work with lower-powered devices, it’s clear that many Chromebooks just won’t be able to cut it. But if you have the right hardware, the Steam experience is pretty good as long as you keep your expectations in check.

I had no problems Get Steam installed, but it’s a lot more complicated than setting it up on a Windows computer. You’ll need to switch your Chromebook to the Dev channel, so don’t do this on a computer you rely on for everyday use. After that, you need to enable a specific flag in Chrome and type some commands into Chrome OS’s Crosh terminal. Once this is done, Steam will start downloading on your computer. At this point you can log in and start downloading games.

Out of the box, any game supported by Steam for Linux can be installed without any compatibility issues. Being a huge Half-Life fan, the first two games I tried were Valve’s own games half-life 2 and portal 2 – two old games that do not require powerful hardware. Both, unsurprisingly, played like a charm. There were rare framerate drops, but the experience felt exactly the same as playing it on Windows or on a Mac.

On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, I decided to go crazy and install 2018 God of War, originally released for the PS4 and ported to Windows in January of this year. It was a completely unplayable slideshow. This is not a surprise, however God of War requires either NVIDIA’s GTX 960 or AMD’s R9 290X graphics cards with 4 GB of memory. The Chromebook’s integrated Intel Iris X graphics aren’t in the same league. This isn’t really a knock on the Chromebook though, as it wouldn’t be able to run a Windows computer with the same specs God of War, either. I was most surprised that I was able to install it at all.

To install games like God of War or other titles that don’t have a native Linux version, you need to enable the experimental Steam Play compatibility tools. However, once I did that, I was able to install almost every game I came across. Obviously demanding games like God of War won’t work, but there are still plenty of titles in the Steam library worth checking out. Both Hades and Cuphead ran perfectly, u failure 4 also worked quite well. It wasn’t as smooth as the other games I tried, but the first few hours were definitely playable.

The main catch is that the first time you run games with compatibility tools, they load extremely slowly. Steam needs to “process volcano shaders” for many titles, and this can take five to ten minutes or more for some games (like e.g failure 4). Luckily, this only happens the first time you launch a particular title.

Most of the games I tried were from Google’s own list of recommended titles tested on Chrome OS, and almost all of those experiences were solid. The only game my Chromebook couldn’t quite keep up with was The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Google recommended playing this one with low graphics, saying only Chromebooks with an i7 processor would work. Even then, the frame rates and responsiveness of the controls were so poor that after a few minutes I didn’t want to play anymore.

While Google and Valve will certainly improve the Steam experience from this early Alpha, it’s fair to say that Chrome OS will never be the place to play cutting-edge games. Chromebooks just don’t come with this kind of hardware.

But Steam’s library is huge and there are thousands of titles from every genre you can think of. Bringing this catalog to Chrome OS is a huge step forward for those who love games but don’t necessarily need to play them Cyberpunk 2077 with settings on high. Whether to replay older classics such portal 2 or try newer versions like Hades, Steam for Chrome OS greatly expands the gaming possibilities you can do on a Chromebook. And if you really want to play The witcher 3 or God of War, a streaming service like NVIDIA’s GeForce Now can fill the gap. So far, Steam’s alpha build for Chrome OS is promising, and I hope Google and Valve can get it working on more Chromebooks soon.

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