Stray: a simple game focused on a world of games that go astray

street.jpgOkay, this may not technically be a “furry game”. If the late Fred Patten started this review, he might have asked something along the lines of if you as a player move through the world like a cat with a robot companion that augments your ability to interpret the society around you, is that play? actually anthropomorphic? Perhaps it is more along the lines of transhumanism, but in this case more of transfelinism, where your feline character is enhanced by its technological companion.

And like Adam Jensen from Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the cat you play certainly didn’t ask for this.

The opening of the game reminded me of Milo and Otis, an old movie about a dog and a cat who end up getting lost in the woods and need to get back home. It was basically the predecessor to Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. In this case, the unnamed feline protagonist you play as is just playing with other cats when you run into trouble and become separated from your companions and fall into a strange lost society of automatons.

You begin your own hero’s journey through this strange world that has been set up under what appears to be a gigantic blast protection facility. To return to the surface, you must help your new robot friends, while avoiding the dangers of an invasive species that has taken root in the darkness of this underworld.

While the game has been noted to be shorter, it is very much a well-rounded and contained experience. It has tense moments and balances it well with a cathartic sense of discovery and exploration. While playing the game, I noticed that the designer was definitely inspired by the works of Valve, and this includes their understanding of “battle fatigue”.

Things can get a bit heated when it comes to creatures like headcrab that want to chew on your cat’s fur, but your fight and flight moments are spaced out where it doesn’t get fatiguing.

The world is fun and immersive and the robotic characters are interesting. There are certain decorations that were fun, like a fully functioning pool table in the bars where you can hit the ball with your paws. Desks are full of items to knock over, though sadly it doesn’t cause frustration if the owner of said desk watches you knock things over like the true feline you are.

I would recommend this game if you are a curious guy, you know, like a cat. You like to explore places and enjoy the history of an exotic society. If you’re one of those who likes a more visceral or reaction-based game of skill, you might not enjoy it as much. Take your time and enjoy the environment around you and you will get the most out of it. Talk to as many people as you can and do the tasks they ask you to get the most out of them. Heck, you can even take a nap and enjoy the world while the camera pans. Because cats like naps.

Not much to say, it’s a short game and it’s mostly the story that I can’t get into without messing things up. It’s a nice, contained experience that if you enjoy its premise enough, you’ll re-experience it like a movie or book. Sometimes it’s refreshing to experience a game that is a contained experience rather than one that hopes to be a service that sells you for the next decade.

For me, I’d rather pay $30 for a full and enjoyable experience, even if it’s short, than get it for free and go through a bunch of immersion-breaking microtransactions. If that’s too expensive for you for a seven-hour experience, you can wait for the price to come down.

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