Stray review – press paws for an adorable life as a post-apocalypse-pussycat |  Game

Stray review – press paws for an adorable life as a post-apocalypse-pussycat | Game

I have walked around rotting cyberpunk cities like these many times before, with their ubiquitous neon signs and dirty streets, their smoky verticality. Usually I’m expected to shoot someone. But this time I sneak around in the fluorescent slum of the future like a skinny ginger cat, throwing on rusty pipes, squeezing through barely open windows and clapping over corrugated iron roofs. The robots that have lived here on their own for countless decades have never seen anything like me before, but still they feel compelled to pat me when I rub against their slender metal legs. I’m a wild, mysterious, perfect thing in a broken world.

Stray is an excellent example of how a change of perspective can bring to life a fictional setting to which we have become accustomed. Post-apocalyptic stories have been made to die lately, but this one feels interesting because we experience it from such an unusual point of view. Accompanied by a drone, which acts as a translator between the robots, the cat and the player, we make our way through a city that is cordoned off from the world, trying to get to the outside, where we belong. Stray sounds like a shallow meme – it’s the cyberpunk cat game! – but the setting and the story have substance, and in the end I found it honestly quite touching. Perhaps the least credible aspect of the whole setup is that a cat would actually be so helpful.

I had little trouble with any of Strays’ puzzles or challenges, but that may be because I grew up on a combination of 3D platformers and point-and-click adventures in the 1990s, and Stray is a mix of these two genres. You find routes up buildings, jump over holes and sneak carefully past danger, and you also pick up keys, chat (through the drone) with robots and find out the use of ornaments you come across. You can linger and take the time to explore, and I wish I had done more of that – there are not too many secret things to find in each area, but what’s worth it unlocks exciting information about what happened in this long- abandoned place.

Stray has obviously been made by cat people. Of course it has. The cat is brilliantly realistic, with the small smoking ears, mrrrows and purrs (which vibrate charmingly through the controller), the way she goes from soft stalk to casual lope to trotting. Near the start of the game, she puts on a harness and spends the first few minutes flopping around in a state of indignant confusion that will be familiar to anyone who has ever tried to put a kitty in a Halloween costume. My eternal subquest while playing Stray was finding cozy little places to curl up for a nap; such stains are present everywhere, on pillows, in hooks, in bookshelves, on the stomach of an exposed robot. There is no point in this, since the game does not reward you specifically for it. It does not reward you for digging your claws into every tempting substance you see, either, or for deliberately knocking things off the shelves with a small probing paw, but I did too. I just enjoyed being a cat.

The robots are also unexpectedly full of character with their emoji screen faces and impressive animation. This is a great looking game, whether it’s a witness from the ground or the rooftops – I don ‘t want to ruin the cat’s journey, but the developer twists out plenty of novelty and some impressively scary moments from this secluded city during the seven hours it takes to play through. It is certainly far from twee, with the possible exception of the bucket lifts that you can ride down from rooftops, paws and ears that all protrude over the top – and they are so cute that they can be immediately forgiven.

We can literally control the cat in Stray, but figuratively speaking, there is always some distance between us and the creature. As players, we eagerly gather information from non-humans we meet and the places we go, and try to figure out what to do next – but the cat just does its thing, is curious, tries to survive. By placing this magnetic but unknown natural creature in a tightly controlled, man-made science-fiction dystopia, Stray highlights something that every cat person already knows: you can never really tame a cat. There’s always something wild about them, and they bring that wildness with them wherever they go.

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