If Disney’s 1970 classic The Aristocats taught us anything, it’s that everybody wants to be a cat. And so it proved this week with the release of Stray on PlayStation and PC. Cats! Cats everywhere! We’ve had pictures, videos, wild praise, hot-takes, and an entire sub-genre of social media has popped up overnight showing cats (and a few dogs) reacting to people play.
Stray’s cat is the talk of the town – its own meme almost – but is there more to BlueTwelve Studio’s debut game than the promise of letting you walk in the pawsteps of mankind’s favourite frenemy?
I like animals, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not the kind to melt into a puddle of aawws when a pair of dilated pupils look up at me. I do think cats are cool though; they’re independent, mysterious, and you can never quite be sure whether it’s love in those eyes or murderous intent. For me personally, it was the art style and world of Stray that grabbed me. And the fact that Annapurna Interactive (arguably the most consistent publisher in gaming) chose to slap their name on it.
Annapurna rarely miss. The games they put out are usually risky, unique, visually striking and of very high quality. And so it proves with Stray, a game in which our feline hero falls into a post-apocalyptic world filled with bored robots, cute Half-Life headcrabs and rain-soaked neon. Indeed, this probably isn’t the whimsical game that some cat lovers were expecting (those Half-Life headcrabs really aren’t as cute as they first appear), and it can go to some pretty dark places at times.
This adorable protagonist has crept into homes everywhere before revealing itself as something far more interesting than the cat simulator some have labelled it as. The cat may have put this game firmly in the spotlight, but it’s the environments, the atmosphere, the characters, and the unexpected moments of levity that will stay with you.
Stray has attracted players who may otherwise never look twice at a game like this. Some will bounce right off it, some will enjoy running along gutters and pawing at carpets for half an hour and walk away happy. But some will discover a world filled with character and dripping in atmosphere. A world the likes of which they’ve simply never experienced before.
Whatever your view on cats, for that, Stray deserves celebrating.
This article is an extract from The Week in Games newsletter.
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