Why Stray Continues to Impress Us

Among the several heavy hitters at Sony’s State of Play, including Resident Evil 4, Street Fighter 6, and Final Fantasy XVI, it’s surprising that Stray continues to be PlayStation’s standout game for me. I know it sounds crazy that a cat game with no prior history grabbed my attention more than our first look at Final Fantasy XVI gameplay. Mock me all you want in the comments, but Stray was one of my favorite things at the June 6, 2022 State of Play.

It’s the so-called E3 season where the biggest games will overshadow the excellent but smaller announcements. Stray, by Blue Twelve Studios, continues to claw itself past the aforementioned trend and stand alongside the big Triple-A games in terms of anticipation. Sony’s State of Play showcased 11 excellent games with varying degrees of appeal. The Resident Evil 4 remake was long-awaited, and fans were grasping for any Final Fantasy XVI information, both of which, the State of Play delivered to unanimous applause. Amidst those heavy hitters, Stray stood its ground.

Maybe I’m so attracted to Stray because I live with six cats. Maybe Stray only appeals to cat people. That may be the case, however, it also entices me with its mysterious world and atmosphere.

Let’s take a look at Stray’s latest trailer to see what’s so special about the footage we’ve seen so far. The trailer starts with the playable cat (named Ha) strutting down a dimly lit alleyway as a robot casually sweeps rubble on the ground. As the cat approaches, the robot is startled and jolts into an adjacent alleyway. The cat is cute, but I’m more interested in the world and the lore behind it.

We haven’t seen any humans in Stray so far, only robots acting like humans. Human existence is questioned in this concept, which has an eerie undercurrent. Additionally, the robots casually walk the streets as if they are humans themselves. In one scene, we see a robot get startled as the cat enters what looks to be his home office. Is Stray set in a distant future where the human race died out, and only robots remain? Is the cat the only symbol of life left in the world? Later in the trailer, we see some nasty fungus growing on the walls, which may imply a The Last of Us style apocalypse. Questions like these are what get me the most interested in Stray.

Though some scenes show robots scuttering to a hiding spot as the cat approaches, others are more friendly and even willing to talk. The cat has a small drone following him, which, somehow, helps him communicate with these robots. While exploring the city (the only environment we’ve seen so far) you can interact with robotic pedestrians to gain new knowledge or start side quests as evidenced in one scene where the cat approaches a robot and asks, “You look lost, what do you need?” That sure sounds like a side quest setup to me, which brings us to the gameplay of Stray.

Everything we’ve seen of gameplay is basic but it’s heightened by the simple notion of being a cat. The platforming sections in Stray function by simply clicking on an area you want to jump, then letting the game do the rest. There doesn’t seem to be any midair maneuvering. The decision may seem odd, but I think it purposefully amplifies the central conceit. Stray, from what I can tell, isn’t about complex parkour, but exploration. Also, it’s simply more cat-like to gracefully glide to a platform, which would be ruined by player input. I’ve seen my cat jump from the ground to the top of a bookshelf, and it amazes me every time. Stray captures the movement perfectly. The cat knocks over an array of bottles in one instance, which reflects the typical behavior of cats who walks over and knocks down objects without a care in the world.

The trailer also showed some stealth in the flavor of avoiding spotlights. Once again, it’s a basic gameplay design, but the cat’s ability to slip into small spaces heightens it. The cat hides inside an enclosed box to avoid a spotlight, a classic video game tactic, and a favorite pastime for cats. Lastly, we see the cat running away from drones and fungus adjacent bugs in what seems to be Stray’s take on combat encounters. I always love a good chase scene in a video game, and it’s so fitting for Stray. Cats love to avoid danger by bolting across the room and reaching a safe place. It’s obvious that the developers of Stray spend a lot of time around cats. Every aspect of Stray’s gameplay I’ve seen so far epitomizes the behavior of a real-life cat.

After seeing the trailer, I figured out why Stray constantly stands its ground amid heavy hitters in the game industry. It boils down to two simple things: the world and solid cat representation. The former is the enticement of a melancholy world filled with robots and the mystery it holds. The latter is capitalized by gameplay design that hones in on the unique aspect of Stray – playing as a cat. It’s never been a better time to be a cat person because Stray releases on July 19 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.

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