Cat naps are Stray’s real selling point

Stray wastes no time putting on the charm. This is where your four-legged friend first lets out a squeaky mew, daring you not to immediately put your life on the line for him. It pops out of the controller as our feline hero kneads carpets, like Paul Hollywood’s tabby cousin. And who among us can’t say he melted inside when the robot made a little heart-shaped head as you snuggled up to him?

As many pet owners know, there are times when just sitting next to your best friend and doing nothing is restorative.

However, these examples of startling cuteness are not the reason why I love this irresistible indie so much. No, Stray’s best moments – which you can play for free on PS4 and PS5 – are its most contemplative. At the start of the game, I walk through the rooftops of slums, an area where the only light comes from buzzing neon signs. Spotting a robot staring up at the sky, legs dangling, clearly lost in thought, I head to the stage and find I can curl up close to them.

Stray's Cat protagonist takes a break from the action.

(Image credit: BlueTwelve)

As the cat begins to doze off – a comforting purr coming from my DualSense PS5 controller – the camera slowly zooms out to give me a diorama of the city, leaving me to meditatively drift away as if floating away from the game itself. . At the time, all I can think of is the time I was spending with my own cat, and that’s the magic that Stray captures when you snuggle up for a nap. The real joy of owning a pet is captured in these fleeting little naps.

A moment of paw

As many pet owners know, there are times when just sitting next to your best friend and doing nothing is restorative. Throughout the Covid lockdown, I would sometimes see my cat, Mitzi, just relaxing on the bed – and so I would lay down next to her and enjoy the company. Maybe it would be to listen to music while she lay on my legs. Sometimes it was to talk to him, which I’m sure annoyed him a lot. At others, it was just to look at something infinitely cuter than the walls I’d stared at all day. I don’t know how I would have done without these little breaks in my day.

Stray's Cat protagonist takes a break from the action.

(Image credit: BlueTwelve)

These are the moments that came back to me the first time I walked into a place to sleep in Stray. Approaching a bot for a nap reminded me of my time with Mitzi and hit me in a way that no meow button mashing ever could.

Slowing down the action in this way isn’t unique to Stray. Other games have used breaks in the action to great effect, like Life is Strange – in which you can sit on a bench and listen to one of the show’s stars reflect on the events happening to them. Likewise, The Last of Us – which is getting a full remake for PS5 and PC – takes time out of its harrowing journey for Ellie and Joel to pet a group of traveling giraffes. These gaps give you a greater connection to the stories, and in that sense, Stray uses some neat gaming vocabulary to ground you in your surroundings – so you get more of the world your cat needs to navigate.

The tail of a hero

Stray's Cat protagonist takes a break from the action.

(Image credit: BlueTwelve)

But that’s not what makes these moments in Stray so special, especially compared to the games above. Because while I can never relate to gazing at Arcadia Bay or petting a giraffe in an abandoned town, I remember the moment Mitzi landed on my lap and started dozing off after she finished watch Trainspotting at 2 a.m. If these games want you to take part in their worlds, Stray feels like it wants you to bring in your own experiences.

There’s a reason so many people put their own cats in the game – it’s hard not to see your own pet on this adventure. OK, yes, the illusion is trickier to maintain when you’re a little clumsy in stealth sections, but I also don’t imagine most cats have Solid Snake’s abilities. It’s a testament to BlueTwelve’s mastery of cat manners as Stray sails over the strange valley and lands on her feet, instantly making us think of our own furry friends.

Stray's Cat protagonist takes a break from the action.

(Image credit: BlueTwelve)

It’s also why I think Stray’s real beauty comes from cat naps. Because this is the first time since Mitzi passed away that something reminds me of what it’s like to have a cat. As good as meows, claws, or cookie-making are, they’re just sweet little frills. The real joy of a four-legged friend is in the respite – where you can just lay side by side and let the world drift away, if only for a second.

About Patrick K. Moon

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