That’s right, one of the most famous figures in gaming history has been eclipsed by a furry feline. Allow us to elaborate. Until recently, God of War, the game that features the now iconic Kratos as the protagonist, was the highest user-rated PC game of 2022 on Steam, the world’s leading PC game distribution platform. That’s not terribly surprising considering the game’s rich heritage and the hype surrounding it. God of War is one of the greatest game series in video game history and its hero, Kratos, one of video game legendary figures. What IS surprising is that God of War was overthrown a few days ago by Stray, a game that’s as totally different from a video game as it gets.
Gaming cat-aclysm: Cat beats Kratos
Stray’s protagonist wasn’t some sinister figure out to destroy villains, living and undead (hey, it’s a game), or a brave adventurer traveling the world solving puzzles, or even a maniacal racer driving vehicles on complex tracks.
The star of the game is a cat. Not a magic cat. Not a witch cat. Not a shapeshifter. Not a familiar Harry Potter character. Just the normal fluffy, furry creature you see around houses (usually sleeping).
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You don’t even know his name. All you know is that you can control it and you have to make it move, interact with other beings and solve puzzles in what seems like a dystopian world without human beings as we know them.
It’s Stray in a nutshell. And its totally different approach took the usually adrenaline-hungry gaming world by a very mild storm, generating user ratings that topped even the mighty God of War. For now, anyway.
No humans, just a cat that wants to come home
What makes Stray special isn’t just the basic premise of having a cat rather than a human (or something resembling a human) as the main character, but how the whole game was designed. and presented. The game is played in third-person and is set in a futuristic world inhabited by machines, with no human beings in sight (we find out what happened to them in the middle of the game—sorry, no spoilers). You play as a stray cat, roaming around what at first glance appears to be some sort of abandoned factory, along with other cats. He gets separated from his companions by a misstep (yes, even cats can trip), lands on his feet, but finds himself in an underground city, inhabited by drones and robots with face shields.
Of course, all our cat wants to do is find his friends, but that’s easier said than done. Stray is all about how this cat fights its way through town, befriends a drone called B12, dodges hostile drones, interacts with robots, and even takes down nasty mutated creatures called Zurks. Seems pretty routine for a game, some might say. Well, the challenge is that you have to tackle all that robotic stuff in chat mode. Literally. This is where Stray really shines.
A fabulously feline experience in a beautifully designed world
The game is a mixture of puzzle solving, adventure and stealth, and also has platform jumping and racing features. But it’s really about the cat. BlueTwelve Studio, the developers of the game, literally puts you in the place of the main character – make them the “legs” –. It’s not just about the graphics, which are actually gorgeous and make the cat appear almost real life. More importantly, they have cat mannerisms up to a T. That typical cat way of walking, those tilting heads, crouching then jumping, that hesitant paw wave at unknown creatures, that paw licking and rubbing-against-head grooming, that rubbing against other people’s ankles, that tendency to scratch trees and furniture… it’s all there.
Stray’s cat can also curl up and take a nap once in a while and there’s even a dedicated button to make him meow. Needless to say, it’s the only button on our keyboard that’s nearly worn out. The temptation to make our protagonist meow is overwhelming. So much so that we gave in to it once at a time when our cat actually needed to dodge dangerous drones, with disastrous consequences.
The game’s locations are also beautifully designed, with neon-lit streets and lots of textures and details. It’s such a detailed world that you’re sometimes tempted to wander around instead of working to track down your furry comrades. Seeing the city from ground level gives a whole new perspective. Even the robots in town will strike a chord in your heart – many will pet you kindly, and one of them will even play music whenever you get a sheet music (there are some scattered around the game). The music itself is usually subtle and understated. We recommend playing the game with headphones on to pick up ambient sounds, which can sometimes be the difference between living and using one of your hero’s famous nine lives. We’re not going to reveal the game’s story here, but it’s rather captivating, albeit short, with a few twists, and even a touch of pathos at times.
Not perfect, but purring
Essentially, Stray is a lost cat’s life. And in the best feline tradition, he is often casual and elegant. It has its moments of urgency, but you will rarely feel extreme excitement or drama in it. Instead, you’ll always feel curious for more.
You might want to see if you can jump on an abandoned air conditioner and enter a house through a window, check a trash can, or just rub against the ankles of some bots. There’s quite a bit of walking and jumping involved in the game, and yes, there will be times when that most cattish tendency to jump into a box will get you out of a tight spot. The important thing, however, is that the pace of the game never feels too rushed. You don’t look over your shoulder all the time or race against a team of rivals.
It would be naïve to say that Stray is a perfect game. He has his problems. Those used to roaming open worlds might not appreciate that the game is largely linear – there’s only one way to do things and sometimes even the area to walk around is a bit limited. The control system can also be a bit confusing to get used to, especially if you’re playing the game on a keyboard and don’t have a gamepad handy.
There are also a number of occasions where the graphics get a bit tangled up with our feline appearing to walk through objects. The puzzles are a little basic, and at around eight hours it’s definitely a short game (so we’re hoping they add an expansion pack or two to it).
But those are very minor details in what we think is a title that brings to the gaming world what a classic like Myst did nearly three decades ago – proof that gaming doesn’t need to be uniquely high-paced, non-stop action, crazy strategy and adrenaline rush. It can also have a soothing side. One where you can often take your time, even while returning home and maybe even saving the world. Stray reminds us that no matter how tough life gets, there’s always time to get up and watch, scratch the weird tree, groom, pat down stray hair, and take a nap.
Go ahead, stray into a whole new category of gaming
All of these features make Stray a staple in our book. Even if you’re an adrenaline junkie. In fact, especially if you’re an adrenaline junkie, just to realize that gaming life (or even life in general) isn’t always about running, shooting, or building empires. Sometimes all you have to do is find a place that you call home. And have a reason to purr.
God of War might reclaim the top spot on the Steam charts in the next few days, but as of now, a stray cat has been keeping the gaming world purring peacefully. And that’s something we’re not complaining about.
Stray is available on Steam for PC players. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. If you have an active PS Plus Extra or PS Plus Deluxe subscription, you can play Stray for free.
We played it on a Mi Notebook (Horizon Edition) with a Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM (which handled it without issue). The PC edition of the game is priced at Rs 749. We’d advise keeping some cash aside to replace that dedicated “meow” button – we bet it will wear out before you reach the end of the game.