Stray - Zero punctuation

Stray – Zero punctuation

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What is this? I cry when I come out and blink from the wank basement. A game? A really new game with some buzz around it and graphics and absolutely no damn deckbuilding? Rise from your graves, industry correspondents! The drought is over! The sun has risen on a new age of—oh, I finished in four hours. It was hardly worth turning off the air conditioning in the wank cellar. Yes, it’s Stray, a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk adventure ballcap thingummy with the central selling point that you play as a cute ickle wickle kitty and there’s a special dedicated meow button. I think a game where you play as a cat is second to none – non-anthropomorphic cat I hasten to add, before you Blinx the Time Sweeper loyalists come messing with my slobs – dog people have had Okami and that level from Call of Duty Ghosts but until now there has never been an equivalent for the Garfield readers of the world. Probably because video games are inherently task oriented and even if a dog follows commands as long as you feed them or praise them or stay in the same room as them, your average cat wouldn’t lift a paw to stop its own. life support machine back if it thought you ordered it to do so.

Yet. When Stray opens our cute wutey ickle wickle protago wotagonist wakes up in some kind of overgrown abandoned industrial facility with three of their siblings and immediately we move and control very convincingly like a cat because the only thing we can do is walk up to one of the other cats and then press the “spaz out for no reason” contextual button. After dutifully nabbing them all one by one, the game itself begins and we travel through the facility largely by pressing forward and looking for the contextual “jump here” button. Soon we lose our footing and plunge into a large dark pit as our siblings watch and trick everything into helping because they are cats. “See if I ever haunt those ungrateful bastards again,” you seem to say as you wake up in a sewer and begin an adventure through a walled cyberpunk city to find a way back outside. Initially by pressing forward and looking for the contextual “jump here” button. And the whole time I’m doing it, I’m silently begging “Please don’t be a fucking walking sim. Damn it. I’ve been waiting all summer. Introduce a core mechanic where we have to avoid rolling when an enemy robot tries to spray us with the water bottle.”

As the chain of contextual speed chases continued, things didn’t look good. It’s pretty inconsistent with what we can and can’t jump on. Being a nimble little cat to boot, we should be able to navigate any terrain more hospitable than the side of an opened baked bean can, and sometimes we can but sometimes we just can’t because they forgot to put a contextual jump prompt in there. Over time things get better, but our hero befriends a cute wutey ickle wickle droney wone so now we can interact with the robots that populate the city as well as collect inventory items and solve puzzles, and some parts of the game take place in open hub cities full of side quests and scavengers. And yet we never quite settle for a strong core game mechanic to focus on. Sometimes we’re doing classic adventure game style inventory puzzles, sometimes we’re running away from monsters, sometimes we’re fighting the monsters with a deadly flashlight, and then we lose all that and some stealth elements creep in as we go up against an evil oppressive regime, which I guess was closer to what I was hoping for from a game where you play as a cat. A stealthy stealth traversal game where we piss off a big scary guard by jumping onto a shelf out of their reach and pressing his dead mother’s ashes on their head.

But whatever the gameplay, Stray remains a slave to the contextual button prompt. And sometimes it plays a naughty joke because it has trained you to always press the button prompts, but every now and then you find one that just makes the cat curl up and fall asleep. Which is as annoying as it is completely on point. I guess it’s for people who want to do the self-imposed narcolepsy challenge. Come to think of it, the lack of a strong core to the game means there are a lot of things you just do for the sake of it, like the side quests in the open bits. There’s one where you have to find hidden song pages for a street musician, but there’s nothing the game can reward us with for doing that. There’s no RPG system where we can put experience points into our sasness or adorableness stats so all you really get is the chance to hear a few bits of crappy chiptune music that I could have gotten at home by sticking my head in a box of cell phones from the early 2000s. Yahtz, what are you doing? Why would a cat game have RPG elements? Can you imagine holding the hilt of the buster sword between your adorable toes? Thanks for clumsily tossing in the general direction of my next point, viewer.

See, as the game opens up to claim the quest town and fight the oppressive regime on the sea, I get the feeling that our cat status is becoming more and more incompatible with where the story is trying to take us. I don’t know what these friendly robots are seeing when they flag me down and ask me to collect three cans of Red Bull, but apparently it’s not a damn cat with thumbs crossed and a blank look on its face. Reminds me of the time I came home from wisdom tooth surgery and was found crying in the garden because the squirrels wouldn’t bump me a cigarette. So it gets even dumber when we actually give him the red bull cans. There’s this whole thread in the second half of the game where we join the brave resistance against the oppressive regime and when we show up at our rebel contact’s house they’re all like “Aha, you must be our new recruit, get ready to show your devotion to the cause!” instead of “Why has this stray cat wandered into my house? Get the hell away from the curtains.” Makes me feel like the main character at this point could be anything. A squirrel. A roomba. A bottle of HP sauce being carried on the back of a very ambitious ant.

I don’t even know if this is a point against the match. I guess it’s kind of funny. And it might be playing up the whole theme of the robots imitating human behavior without fully understanding it, but towards the end the plot tries to have powerful emotional moments that don’t really work with a cat. Like, a character pushes you through a door and says “I’m holding them off! All hope of the resistance is with you now!” and then we cut to the cat’s reaction shot and it just looks overjoyed because it’s a freaking cat and it probably would have given away the whole reason for a belly.This also affects the emotional payoff of the ending – WOO WOO SPOILERS BEYOND THAT POINT STOP WATCHING NOW OR SAFEGUARD YOUR RIGHT TO CALL ME A COCK – when your drone sacrifices itself dead so you alone can escape. I mean, the drone was the sentient one and the cat was just what it was riding around on, it’s like sacrificing itself for its damn wheelchair. I guess that also freed the robots but the drone still delivers a heartfelt deathbed speech that bounces right off your stupid gormless cat face like a badly aimed frisbee. And then in the last shot before the credits the cat looks back over his shoulder as if to say “What what the hell was that about? Why was my squeaky toy trying to have a moment?”

#Stray #punctuation

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