I played the best PC games on Steam Link for the first time — why did I wait so long!?

Steam Link on iPad Pro (2021)
(Image credit: Future)

Confession time: I’m a buffoon. When it comes to Steam Link, I’ve had my cranium shoved up an area of my anatomy normally only proctologists venture. Despite having a Steam account since Valve’s platform launch back in ye olden days of 2003, it’s only recently that I’ve dabbled in the delights of its streaming service.

To quote a certain Hobbit-lecturing wizard, I truly am a “fool of a Took.” Turns out, Steam Link is the absolute business.

First released as a physical gaming set-top box in 2015, Valve decided to shelf Steam Link as a hardware device three short years later. Thankfully, that’s obviously not where the story ends with my new second favorite Link — I’m a diehard Nintendo fan, so nothing tops a certain pointy eared chap last seen in Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom in my book. 

GeForce Now Ultimate has already sold me on the quality top-tier game streaming can offer up this year, and I’ve found my brief time with Steam Link to be suitably impressive. 

I've been having an absolute blast with Steam Link"

Granted, I’m fortunate enough to own the sort of high-end gaming rig to make Valve’s streaming tech sing the sweetest of tunes. That I’ve been having such a blast with Steam Link owes a lot to the quality of my broadband connection and the power of one of the best gaming PCs.

I’ve been using Steam Link through my iPad Pro (2021), and the entire setup process has been an intuitive breeze at every turn. After downloading the Steam Link app through the iOS App Store, Valve’s software quickly discovered my desktop gaming rig and its heaving Steam Library.

See no Evil

Steam Link on iPad Pro (2021)

(Image credit: Future)

Mere moments later, and I’m stomping some serious undead ass in Resident Evil 4’s riveting Mercenaries mode.

After watching Leon S. Kennedy get his face chewed off by perturbed Spanish zombies too many times, I hop into the marvelous Portal with RTX — Valve’s lavish, path traced redux of its fiendishly clever puzzle classic.

While I use my Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 Core Edition to cause chaos in Resi 4, thanks to my iPad Pro Magic Keyboard and the excellent Logitech MX Master 3S, I opt to play Portal with a keyboard and mouse. Thanks to minimal input lag (I  credit my 1TB fiber optic connection), blasting holes through the fabric of space and time in Chell’s reality-ripping puzzler is a joy. 

I round up my time with Steam Link by shredding alien beasties in Returnal, which is impressive, seeing as it’s not even officially in my Steam Library. Mercifully, adding non-Steam games to Steam then playing said titles is a simple process. 

I must admit Housemarque’s sci-fi roguelike doesn’t provide the smoothest experience on Steam Link. Then again, it’s not a terribly good PC port in the first place. I find it still regularly stutters on my Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 even months after the moody shooter launched.  

What are my main takeaways from playing some of the best Steam games on Valve’s streaming platform? One: the experience of navigating its menus on my iPad has clearly been tailor-made with maximum accessibility in mind. Not only can you use on-screen buttons to scroll through your games collection, but mouse and gamepad options are also available via Bluetooth. 

Steam Link on iPad Pro (2021)

(Image credit: Future)

Takeaway the second? My iPad Pro’s screen is a really good match for playing some of the best PC games available today. That 1620 x 2160 Liquid Retina display makes my favorite Steam titles look pin-sharp. 

The only slight downside is the Apple tablet’s 4:3 aspect ratio, which means playing games at 1080p in a 16:9 format leads to slightly distracting letterboxing — or horizontal on-screen black bars, if you’re not quite up to scratch on your A/V lingo.

My last valuable learning experience with Steam Link? As someone who doesn't own a Steam Deck, I’ve finally found a way to transport my constantly ballooning Steam Library into my living room. Sure, I get to review and play some of the best gaming laptops for my job from the comfort of my couch, but I never get to actually keep them. 

I’ve finally found a way to transport my constantly ballooning Steam Library into my living room"

And considering my desktop PC weighs roughly the size of a newborn African elephant, moving my rig into my front room isn’t really an option.

Whether you want to experience Steam Link through your home network or at that one friend’s house who has amazing bandwidth, Valve’s platform lets you enjoy some of your favorite PC games without actually having to touch your rig.

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Dave Meikleham
UK Computing Editor

Dave is a computing editor at Tom’s Guide and covers everything from cutting edge laptops to ultrawide monitors. When he’s not worrying about dead pixels, Dave enjoys regularly rebuilding his PC for absolutely no reason at all. In a previous life, he worked as a video game journalist for 15 years, with bylines across GamesRadar+, PC Gamer and TechRadar. Despite owning a graphics card that costs roughly the same as your average used car, he still enjoys gaming on the go and is regularly glued to his Switch. Away from tech, most of Dave’s time is taken up by walking his husky, buying new TVs at an embarrassing rate and obsessing over his beloved Arsenal.