Cyberpunk Cat Game Stray Loses Kittens Halfway, Becomes Shooter

Our kitten sleeps in the grass, while a butterfly flutters around his head.

Screenshot: BlueTwelve Studio / Kotaku

There are many buzz about strayed right now, due to its release during a pretty dry patch for new releases, and more importantly, how to play as an incredibly cute kitty. Unfortunately, what I think a lot of people are going to discover this week is that it forgets that very quickly and gets incredibly…gamey. I didn’t expect to play as a robot, for example with mutated blobs.

The following contains spoilers for: strayed‘s game elements (how you play, rather than why you do it), without getting all the way into the story itself.

strayed‘s opening is just amazing. With no fussy nonsense, no tiring cutscenes, the camera gently skims over four kittens living in the overgrown remains of a dam, before settling behind the ginger beast of the collection, giving you control. The first thing you do is interact with your siblings, each a wonderful moment of beautifully observed cat behavior. The animations are perfect and anyone of any decency will look at the screen.

Three kittens walk along large pipes, in an overgrown concrete structure.

Screenshot: BlueTwelve Studio / Kotaku

After a little sleep, the four cats set off on a journey, crossing the ruins of what was once a massive structure, jumping from concrete block to massive pipe, trotting over railings and sniffing around in a very feline way. It’s not until you follow your three siblings on one big pipe that a cutscene starts, and Ginger (as I call him) scrambles, slips, and then falls far, far below. It’s really traumatic!

Ginger wakes up in what looks like a sewer pipe and is wounded with yet another beautifully observed limp, before falling down and resting some more. Right now your kitten feels so vulnerable, so vulnerable, and as a player it is imperative to do everything you can to keep the little guy safe.

This is clearly set in some sort of future, seemingly post-human, with the rusting remains of robots found in your path. Then, at first, you see some rather obnoxious pink-blob creatures who feel like they’d be more at home in Inside. However, they rush away so you can continue your feline manner, jumping and running, seeking safety, and as a player desperately wondering how to reunite the little guy with his family.

Then you will find the flying robot. Now this is not quite as crazy as it sounds, considering that as a cat in a world seemingly only inhabited by AI life forms, you would otherwise struggle to communicate. B-12, your robot companion, seems to be able to talk to cats as well as robots, and also has the amazing ability to “digitize” physical objects and then re-materialize them when needed. So yes, he is a talking inventory.

strayed, at this point becomes a game about a cat in an underground robot city, who helps the locals with their menial tasks. And even here I’m cool. You are still – although now wearing a huge robo saddle – a cat, and while I have yet to meet the cat who would willingly help anyone to do anything, it is still fun to play. Your role is really never more than finding third party platforming routes to a destination, and jumping through the vast city areas gives you a lot of freedom. Even the ability to role-play as a cat, that is, ignore your tasks and just find cool places to sleep.

It starts to push gullibility here around the hour of its five or six, as you optionally collect sheet music for a robot to play a guitar, and search for “memories” for your amnesia robo-chum by watching floating pixel patterns and trying to find enough cans of energy drink to buy items from a store… Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s already turned into game-game nonsense, but like I said, you’re doing all this by walking around like a kitten to chat.

It’s after that long section, a little over half way, that I’d say strayed release almost all notions of a cat sim and just descend into any other third-person action game.

Our kitten rides in a bucket on a zipline, between two rows of apartment buildings.

Screenshot: BlueTwelve Studio / Kotaku

You help a robot find the equipment it needs to complete a weapon that can take on the Zurks. These are the ridiculously named alien-like blobs that apparently mutated into existence at some point since the death of humanity. The further you progress, the more of the fleshy tissue you see stretched through tunnels and on the sides of buildings, this cute cat-me-do takes you into a realm of visceral horror motifs that feel so strangely incongruous. These grow eggs, the eggs spawn Zurks, and you have to kill them with a purple light.

It is L1 to fire the beam of light emitted by B-12 hovering over your cat’s body, at which point there’s really no pretense that you’re controlling anything but the machine. And you zap what might as well be aliens. In gray hallways. Do you see the problem?

Later still, this turns to enemy drones running away, which cast a net of blue light in front of them. Cross it and it will turn green, if you stay too long it will turn red and they will start firing bullets at you. Bullets fired from floating drones into gray ruins…

I am amazed by this. How did a game so wonderfully good at giving a kitty to play, with such accurate and delightful observations of kitten behavior, end up in this place? It’s certainly not because it was missing something.

Mutant eyes grown out of a fleshy wall, with our kitten faced the horror.

Screenshot: BlueTwelve Studio / Kotaku

I would have been very happy if it just went on as it started for its five or six hours. Just being a cat, exploring an abandoned city, finding routes through the remains. Maybe I should find a drink here and there, and maybe – as a player – I could piece together some of the history of the place, down to the obvious indifference of the cat. Heck, if it had to be sci-fi urgently, I might stumble upon surviving computers and traps, something to dodge in a feline way. Frankly, I would have ditched the robots altogether, as their real role is to present fetch commands. But even if he kept them, he wouldn’t have to slide that far down the slippery slope to Gametown.

I won’t even go into how much I hated the end. That could be for another day. Let’s say my son is still furious at how awful it was two days later. It really summed up how much the game had left the sweet spot it started in, and once you’ve finished the game you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

strayed could have been just magical from start to finish. Instead, it’s magical at first and then slowly sinks into the gray robotic mud of Most Other Games. In the beginning, I role-played! I meowed at closed doors, deliberately going the wrong way exploring nooks and crannies, haughtily ignoring an urgent task of finding a place to sleep. By the end I had almost completely forgotten that I was a cat, and it might as well have been a spaceship, for all the difference it made. And that sucks.

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