We played “Stray”, everyone’s favorite new cat-centric video game. It’s perfection

We had to know: Was it really the cat’s meow? So we tried it out for ourselves, paying $30 to download it on a PlayStation 5. It quickly became apparent why “Stray” appeals to gamers (who love cats), people who just love cats, and people who love cats. real cats. It’s beautifully animated and provides respite from the often loud and action-packed video games. Also, playing as a cat is unusual and fun. You could even call it a-meow-zing.

Although the game’s dystopia – which is mostly set in a collapsing city – can have a gloomy and lonely feel, the adventure (and choice of main character) served as a welcome distraction from some of the dystopian titles. we have in our own world: while we were playing, wildfires and heat waves raged across multiple continents, but for a while we were just a ginger cat wandering around a strange city.

The game begins in a beautiful, peaceful, green space that resembles the remnants of an urban infrastructure. You control the main character, who is quickly separated from his feline family, falling into a seemingly deserted town far below.

From there, “Stray” gets a bit confusing. It’s clear that some sort of major disruptive event has taken place in this town, and the game focuses on solving the mystery of what happened and getting home. As you soon realize, the town isn’t totally deserted: there are no humans, but there is a small drone robot called B-12 that helps you read the signs and piece together what what is happening in your new environment; humanoid robots with heads shaped like old-fashioned desktop computers; and tick-like creatures called “Zurks” that will occasionally attack and try to kill you.

Other than a periodic frenzy of excitement, most of your time is spent exploring much like a cat would: figuring out what surfaces you can jump on, what objects you can pick up or knock over, and what kinds of cat behaviors you can adopt. There is of course a dedicated “meow” button.

What struck us about the game was the balance between having specific tasks or goals and allowing users to explore freely. One of us doesn’t play video games at all, while the other is a little more familiar, but “Stray” catered to both our interests and skill levels. All in all, it was fun to figure out even though it took some time to, uh, perfect our gameplay.

“It was an intention to keep it to a minimum, but to make sure everything necessary was there to ensure the game was still accessible,” BlueTwelve producer Swann-Martin Raget said in an interview with CNN Business. “We naturally understand without thinking too much and without necessarily being part of a… quest or a list of challenges.”

Laine Nooney, an assistant professor at New York University who studies media and video games, attributed the sudden popularity of “Stray” to several qualities: it has an engaging story, is well-crafted, enjoyable to play, and includes the “unofficial mascot”.

“Playing like an animal allows us to put our human brains ‘to rest’ in a sense,” Nooney said. “Even as we try to get this cat across to a scary world, the stakes are small and manageable – a welcome relief from an increasingly chaotic news cycle.”

Luckily, we actually felt a bit more relaxed while playing. This is partly due to its pace, which only goes at the speed of a cat meandering through a desolate cityscape, occasionally stopping to lap up some water or take a nap. It was also the result of small, thoughtful in-game details: repeatedly pressing the “meow” button on the handheld controller, scratching the bark of trees, or snuggling up to other kittens felt soothing.

The real cat behind “Stray”

Why make the main protagonist of the game a cat, in particular? According to Raget, the decision was driven by several factors.

The first was the nature of the universe in which the game takes place. The dystopian city of “Stray” is inspired by the walled city of Kowloon, a colony in Hong Kong considered the most densely populated place on the planet before being demolished in two years. decades ago.

Yet, when Kowloon Walled City was inhabited by people, the two co-founders of BlueTwelve, both artists, “began to realize that this really was the perfect playground for cats – the amount of small passageways, the new perspective it gave on the world they were building,” Raget said.

"Lost"  caught the eye of real life cats

Perhaps most importantly, the BlueTwelve team is obsessed with cats. The studio’s office in the south of France has two full-time feline executives (“Sometimes they turn off our computers when we’re about to save our work,” Raget said) and most studio employees own and love cats. .

In fact, the protagonist of “Stray” is largely based on Murtaugh, a stray cat that the co-founders of BlueTwelve found and adopted several years ago.

Murtaugh, the inspiration behind the "stray"  protagonist, seen here (we think) ordering his humans around.

Humans aren’t the only fans

BlueTwelve’s passion for felines is echoed by consumers, who have embraced “Stray” as catnip. It is among the the most popular games on Steamone of two platforms where it’s available — nearly 50,000 people played it on Thursday, just two days after launch, and more than 21,000 of those who purchased the game on Steam have left.”very positive” Comments.

“If you want to be a cat, playing Stray is the best thing to do,” read one review.

Sony’s PlayStation, the other platform “Stray” is available on (and the one we bought and played it on), did not respond to a question about how many copies of the game have sold so far. now, and BlueTwelve declined to share sales data. . (Asked about sales through its platform, Steam asked CNN Business to contact the game’s publisher, Annapurna Interactive; Annapurna Interactive declined to comment.)

Although the game has a mission, there is always time to stop and say hello to the robots.

BlueTwelve, which was formed just over five years ago with the express purpose of making this game, has yet to ponder what its next project might be.

Right now, Raget says, they’re just “overwhelmed” with the response to “Stray.”

Humans aren’t the only fans of the game. Since the launch of “Stray” earlier this week, social media has been teeming with pet cats fascinated by their on-screen orange counterpart. (It’s not yet known if any of them pressed the paw button.)

BlueTwelve realized early on that “Stray” could have this effect, thanks to their in-house cats, Miko and Jun.

“When the office cats started reacting to what was happening on our screens, I think we kind of felt we were headed in the right direction,” Raget said.

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