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

We had to know: Was it really a cat’s meow? So we tried it out for ourselves and paid $30 to download it for the PlayStation 5. It quickly became clear why “Stray” appeals to gamers (who love cats), people who just love cats, and actual cats. It’s beautifully animated and offers a break from video games, which are often noisy and action-packed. Playing as a cat is also unusual and fun. You could even call it meowing.

While the game’s dystopia — which mostly takes place in a crumbling city — can have a dreary, lonely feel to it, the adventure (and choice of protagonist) served as a welcome distraction from some of the dystopian titles we have in our own world: When We Played , forest fires and heat waves raged across several continents, but for a while we were just a red cat wandering around a strange city.

The game begins in a beautiful, peaceful, green space that looks like the remains of the city’s infrastructure. You control the main character who quickly becomes separated from his cat family and falls into a seemingly abandoned city far below.

From there, “Stray” gets a little confusing. It’s clear that some kind of major watershed event has happened in this town, and the game is focused on solving the mystery of what happened and getting back home. As you soon find out, the city isn’t completely deserted: there are no people, but there is a small robot drone called B-12 that helps you read the signs and piece together what’s going on in your new surroundings; humanoid robots with heads shaped like old-school desktop computers; and tick-like creatures called “Zurks” that will occasionally attack and try to kill you.

Aside from the occasional frenzied thrill, 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 behavior you can engage in. Of course, there’s a dedicated “meow” button.

What surprised us about the game was the balance between 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 bit more of a homebody, but “Stray” catered to our interests and skill levels. Overall, it was fun to figure out, although it took some time to perfect our gameplay.

“The intention was to be minimal, but to make sure everything was there to make the game still accessible,” said BlueTwelve producer Swann-Martin Raget in an interview with CNN Business. “You understand naturally without thinking too much and without necessarily being part of a … quest or challenge list.”

Laine Nooney, an assistant professor at New York University who studies media and video games, attributed the sudden popularity of “Stray” to several features: it has a cute story, it’s well-designed, it’s fun to play and it includes the Internet’s “unofficial mascot.”

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

Fortunately, we actually felt a bit more relaxed while playing the game. In part, this is due to its pace, which is as fast as a cat can be, winding its way through the devastated cityscape, stopping occasionally to drink water or sleep. It was also due to the small, thoughtful details in the game: just repeatedly pressing the “meow” button on the controller, scratching the bark of a tree, or the purring of other cats was soothing.

The right cat for “Stray”

Why would the main protagonist of the game be a cat? According to Raget, several factors contributed to the decision.

The first was the nature of the universe in which the game takes place. The dystopian city in “Stray” was inspired by the Kowloon Walled City, a settlement in Hong Kong that was considered the most densely populated city on Earth before it was demolished more than two years ago. decades ago.

While the walled city of Kowloon was populated by people, the two co-founders of BlueTwelve, both artists, “began to realize that it really was a perfect playground for cats – the number of small passageways, the fresh perspective it gave to the world. They were building,” Raget said.

The 'stray' caught the attention of real cats

Perhaps more importantly, the BlueTwelve team is obsessed with cats. The studio’s southern France office has two dedicated cat executives (“They sometimes turn off our computers when we want to get our work done,” Raget said), and most of the studio’s employees own and love cats.

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

Murtaugh, the inspiration for the 'Stray' protagonist, seen here (we think) commanding his men.

Humans aren’t the only fans

BlueTwelve’s passion for cats is echoed by consumers who have embraced “Stray” as catnip. It’s honey the most popular games on Steamone of the two platforms it’s available on — nearly 50,000 people played it on Thursday, just two days after its launch, and more than 21,000 of those who bought the game on Steam have abandoned it.Very positive” ratings.

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

Sony’s PlayStation, the other platform where “Stray” is available (and the one where we bought and played it), did not respond when asked how many copies of the game it has sold so far, and BlueTwelve declined to share sales figures. . (When asked about sales through its platform, Steam told 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.

Founded just over five years ago with the express purpose of creating this game, BlueTwelve has yet to think about what its next project might be.

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

Humans aren’t the only fans of the game. Since “Stray” debuted earlier this week, social media has been abuzz with pet cats raving about their orange on-screen counterpart. (No word yet on whether any of them hit the paw button.)

BlueTwelve realized early on that “Stray” could have that effect, thanks to his pet cats, Miko and Jun.

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

Elvira Parkinson

"Alcohol scholar. Hardcore tv junkie. Wannabe bacon enthusiast. Twitter fanatic. Subtly charming travel guru. Pop culture specialist."

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