With the rise of technology, the video game industry has found itself with an abundance of tools at its disposal to create increasingly difficult challenges for gamers everywhere in order to whet their appetite for adventure. The scale of hardcore gaming has gone beyond its own pinnacle time and time again as records are broken, new time limits are set, and seemingly unbeatable bosses are taken down on a daily basis by players globally, in what can best be described as a constant struggle to improve their abilities. It's hard to deny that the industry has become highly competitive.
Which is exactly what makes Stray such a standout experience.
This is a game about taking it easy. There's nothing here for you to "take on", no big boss to beat, no great challenge to overcome...just a kitty, roaming around the streets, looking for a way home. That is the premise of the game.
Stray features a cat who's name we never learn (but who was inspired from a real-life cat named Murtaugh, according to the official PlayStation social media accounts) that loses its way as it's hanging around a bunch of its feline furrends (here come the puns!) and falls into a cyberpunk city that is inhabited entirely by robots. Your job, as the player, is to guide the adorable fluffball back to the top of, well, wherever this place is.
Or you can just be a cat! The game never lets you forget that you're controlling an animal, one that has its own unique and curious habits. Sometimes you might want to rub up against something. Sometimes you might want to knock a tea cup off a ledge. Sometimes you might want to just take a nap. And sometimes you might just want to jump on a table when two people (or robots in this case) are playing mahjong.
It's all about taking your time and, above all else, remembering to have fun! So many games today are focused on being exuberant and overwhelming players with complexity and visuals that they sometimes forget their main purpose is to entertain and simply be fun. Stray has that pinned down as its number one priority, which is why so many people have taken a liking to it.
A kitty-cat purrr-otagonist (we warned you) can only get you so far. If there wasn't any substance to the product itself, players wouldn't have connected with it. But, with a metacritic score of 84 (and a user score of 8.8), it seems to be clicking. There's even a dedicated Twitter account of people having their animals react to the game.
This is a byte-sized game. If played seriously, it can be completed within three hours (two if you're really hardcore - there's even a trophy for it.) But it's not meant to be an epic scale adventure. It's sort of like a game version of a cupcake: short and sweet. It's not supposed to be consumed in large portions.
Taking on the Zurks and solving the blurbs
With all that said however, it's not all sugar and rainbows for the tiny adventurer. Within this small timeframe, the developers have managed to fit in portions of puzzle and action-adventure games, to their credit, which effectively fold into the game world.
You'll be called to show your quick reflexes and clever wits as you help your new fur-end make his way out of this city, all while trying to escape the fur-midable Zurks (last one), tiny creatures that gather together and attack you in certain areas (in sequences that reminded me of The Last Of Us) and solve the riddles alongside your robot friend B-12 (as in BlueTwelve, get it?)
But, if you fail, the game won't punish you. If anything, there's even a reward for getting kitty in trouble too many times. That's just the kind of game this is.
And with all those different aspects in play, it sort of creates a safe environment around you, like a comfortable blanket that says: "there's nothing to worry about here. Play however you like, at your own pace. It's all good."
In the words of another cat from a popular game franchise: "Take your time!"
Along with our excitement to play a fancy new mainstream triple-A title, comes a small sense of anxiety. Because someone on social media might spoil it for us. Because we want to brag about seeing the ending first. Because we just can't wait to see what happens. Especially when it comes to one of our favourite franchises.
But there's none of that here. The ending is predictable. There's not so much going on here that's going to take your breath away or that someone could spoil for you.
Yet it's within that simplicity that this game manages to shine and differentiate itself from everything else that's out there. It won't do you any good to race through it or if you outwit all your friends to the finish line. There's not much there to brag about really.
Instead, you should take your time, absorb all those tiny moments that the developers worked so hard to create over the last few years and really appreciate what's going on here. You can see the world through the eyes of a cat.
That's nothing to scoff at.
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