Review: Video game ‘Stray’ argues that sci-fi dystopia is better with cats

“Stray” was announced in the summer of 2020 and soon after it became colloquially known as “the cat game”.

After spending nine hours with and completing “Stray” (sorry, the cat game), I can confirm the following:

  • You can, like a cat, make cookies.
  • A cat traveling through an underground city in a bucket attached to a rope is as adorable as it sounds.
  • There is a puzzle that involves meowing, and a button on the controller is dedicated solely to meowing. Meow often.
  • It’s a joy to knock things down like a cat. This also solves a puzzle.
  • Sometimes you can listen to music and sleep.
  • Other times you can snuggle up in a robot’s belly, and its computerized face shows a digital heart.

“Stray” is a cat lover’s dream. Cats, those household pets that still double as the king of online memes, have gotten the video game treatment before: the narrative adventure “Night in the Woods” or the mobile platformer “Super Phantom Cat” among them. And yet I can’t remember a game that treats cats, in this case an orange feline, with as much reverence as “Stray.” Although set in a dystopian sci-fi setting, “Stray,” from French firm BlueTwelve Studio, works hard to capture cats’ movements, behavior, and idiosyncrasies, even down to its themes: a mix of loyalty, independence, and rebellion. staff

A cat cleans on a pool table while a robot watches.

“Stray” is relatively accurate in depicting cat behavior.

(BlueTwelve Studio / Annapurna Interactive)

The game, available for PlayStation consoles and PC, hints at bigger ideas. There are hints of a plague that wiped out humanity (so it’s 2022 topical). The largely benevolent robots, apparently once designed to be subservient to humans, are torn between following the status quo or participating in an insurrection. The glory of nature and its preservation – or lack thereof – is a central fixation, as a destroyed environment has led to the creation of mutated, one-eyed vermin who eat almost everything in sight, including robotic metal and cats hairy

These ideas are looked at rather than hammered into the player’s mindset. Many robots are afraid of the outdoors, believing that humanity made it uninhabitable before the species died out. But the game starts with the cutest tutorial I’ve ever played. We are just an orange cat frolicking in a field with friends, even at one point rubbing and licking our black cat friend. Whatever the effects of climate change, cats eventually survived. Although there are no glimpses of other familiar animals, we take it for granted that cats, small invasive species with occasional tendencies, are one of the mammals that have endured an apocalypse.

That’s good for us, as playing as a cat in “Stray” is a joy. The game is mostly exploration and puzzle-solving as we traverse an underground city loosely inspired by the walled city of Kowloon, a Hong Kong stronghold, where the stars are digitized and near-shattered monitors play static-infused images of the outside world. The puzzles are mostly about helping the robot inhabitants of the “Stray” world: finding sheet music for a busker or trading electrical wires for a poncho. “Stray” encourages us to stay and enjoy the life of cats. Whenever our robot musician played a song, I would tell the cat in the game to curl up on a pillow and put the controller down.

There are moments of tension. Those come from avoiding the so-called Zurks, those one-eyed sewer-dwelling rodents that can tear us apart. We do this by running and jumping rather than pure fighting (at one point we get a simple light-based weapon), and later our feline friend will have to stealthily avoid the surveillance state. I’ve found these action game openings to be challenging enough, and thankfully they’re largely true to cat behavior, meaning we run, sneak, and crawl into cardboard boxes and small cracks. We also scratch couches and pull apart computer wires, the last part of destroying a security system.

I think it’s important to note that when it comes to playing “Stray”, I’m biased. I am a cat owner and relatively obsessed with my 12 year old feral black cat. And “Stray” does an excellent job of forging a connection between the player and the digital cat.

At first, we are among cat friends and live what appears to be a leisurely nomadic life. That is until a jump goes wrong and our cat falls into an underground city with seemingly no way out. The look on the face of the cat in our video game will tug at the heart of any cat owner, as we all know that cats, no matter how much they value their independence, are pretty loyal companions. Twice while writing this review, my own cat pounced on the keyboard, which is an action we performed at the end of “Stray.”

A cat runs away from rodents with one eye.

There are tense moments with sewer vermin in “Stray.”

(BlueTwelve Studio / Annapurna Interactive)

But once we’re down, we have the game’s mission, which is to go up, treating the Asian-inspired city (good luck, calling maneki-neko cat figurines are a staple in almost every robot household) as a kind of giant cat. tree The goal is to climb through middle and lower class worlds and finally achieve the triumph of the natural world again.

But don’t be surprised if you want to hang out in the dystopian city of “Stray.” Jumping over neon signs and air conditioning units can lead us to rooftops, where we can discover hidden robot hideouts. We want to hang out and talk to all the robots, whether they’re the drunks squatting at the bar or the frustrated laundromat owner who’s tired of cleaning up paint outside his shop (our cat may be partially responsible for such a mess).

For much of the game, the robots are geniuses. We even have a little one as a companion: a small drone-like chopper called the B-12. The latter stares at our backs – at first causing our cat to moan and crouch and not want to walk – but B-12 is a helper robot, able to translate the robot’s speech and represent all kinds of objects as a mysterious collection of molecules that allow our cat to transport them around town. There is an underlying mystery with B-12, and “Stray” has the patience to reveal its secrets, as with B-12 the mission changes. We no longer just need to escape; we need to open the roof of the city. We found out about this mission largely through talking to robots in various underground locations – a hippie town in a giant treehouse of sorts was my favorite.

The final act focuses heavily on stealth missions, rescuing some robot friends and even a prison break. My favorite moments are split between two: the aforementioned puzzle solved by meowing, or our cat taking control of a subway train. It all leads to a thoughtful ending, which answers some questions, leaves some open, and celebrates acts of resistance. What I remember most, though, is something B-12 says to our cat at one point: “You’re a good friend.” Such a feeling is what I feel about “Stray” and his orange virtual feline that I hope we see in more adventures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *