Video game.  “Stray”, to explore a city at the height of a cat

Video game. “Stray”, to explore a city at the height of a cat

Video game.  “Stray”, to explore a city at the height of a cat

The first time I died Stray, I felt the shock in my gut. My wounded body was covered with a swarm of vile creatures. The screen went red, asking me to do this “try again”, but the message was clear: you are dead.

I clung to the idea that my little alter ego on the legs [mon avatar félin] he had simply passed out. I couldn’t believe such a great game could really let me down. Eventually, my illusions shattered and I learned that the creatures in question, the Zurks, were originally experimental bacteria and would eat anything, even metal.

protective instinct

I glanced at Oni, my ginger feline in real life, who had been meowing at me throughout this sequence, intrigued by the sound effects and furious zurks. Let me tell you what it’s like to play stray with a cat.

stray [un jeu de mots entre “s’égarer” et le terme désignant les chats errants] it is not an adventure game like the others. It’s a psychological experiment meant for cat lovers, especially those who grew up watching The incredible journey [un film Disney de 1993]. If that’s not quite the same starting point, it’s on the other hand the same angst that grips you when you see these adorable furballs brave in adversity.

I realize that the assiduous presence of Oni, my adorable jerk who wouldn’t last five minutes outside, influences the image I have of the character of stray : I suspect that many cat owners will have the same impression. Most people don’t like to see animals harming themselves – they immediately get involved, emotionally and psychologically, and this joins our innate protective instincts for children.

Go home or die

The game opens with a family of cats living in lush sun-kissed ruins. I am a little red cat and life is beautiful, full of games, naps and mop. This sequence is a short tutorial where I practice moving my employee’s body and vocalizing. stray it is above all a linear platform, interspersed here and there with puzzles; it does not revolve around fighting but the ability of cats to sneak up on, flee, dodge.

My peaceful existence ends when I easily miss a jump while trying to get off a pipe. My loved ones watch me disappear helplessly into the darkness. I land on a pile [de détritus], stunned but unharmed, in the garbage-strewn bowels of a forgotten city. There is neither grass nor light. I am alone and upset.

The principle of stray it’s simple: I have to go back to my house or leave my skin here (sometimes in the literal sense; other times I’ll just get a taser). In the Dead City I make friends with a flying drone named B12, which gives me a small backpack to help me recharge the battery and store useful items (thanks to an unknown technology, B12 is able to dematerialize objects such as bottles and documents and rematerialize them on request). It also helps me walk through doors and connect with others.

Not a human being in sight

We meet a community of robots, the Companions, who once served humans (as extinct) and who continue to go about their business as humanoids. Among them are the Exteriorists, a small minority who believe in the myth of the blue sky.

Soon, my personal goal merges with the broader goal of survival in a police state, in a conspiratorial atmosphere where one wonders if there really is a stranger. In addition to the Zurks, there are the Sentinels [la police]dangerous passages for tom, menacing vegetation that stretches all over the city and creepy creatures in the sewers.

The movements will look familiar to you if you’ve ever seen a cat do: acrobatic jumps from perch to perch, crawling while wiggling its hindquarters, and occasionally thick back, with plenty of spitting and growling. There are some cozy little places to sleep in, including a robot’s cozy belly, and I get real pleasure rubbing my legs against strangers. and see their little face shield then light up with a heart.

In “Stray”, humanity no longer exists and only robots remain. The player embodies a feline who can meow, purr and squeeze between his legs. Blue Twelve Studio / Annapurna Interactive

I can knock things off shelves, scratch doors to open them, take things in my mouth, and climb unsuspecting robots. This “chatter” gives me a constantly renewed pleasure that prompts me to double my vigilance for the safety of my furry little alter ego, like a Wandering Eye of Sauron watching danger in the tiniest corner.

There are several events where I find myself having to escape Zurk’s swarms, which worries the human I am but makes Oni happy, who meows nonstop in front of the image of his little double pixel and the zoning creatures that surround him. I play on PC with the Nintendo Switch Pro controller, which deprives me of the vibration function of the PlayStation and therefore purrs and meows, but on the other hand it probably saves me from always having to remove Oni from my arms.

Inspired in Hong Kong

The character of Stray, like cats in the real world, he spends his time climbing. The city is designed as a vertical dystopia, a popular concept in science fiction. The world below is poor and neglected, while those above live in a consumerist and flashy universe. Whoever commands necessarily lives upstairs.

Later, I come across a subway map that delimits the lower city and the upper city (the Center) and, at the top, the exit. The cyberpunk influence is evident here, with lots of neon lights, narrow alleys and ultra-dense architecture of junk, Kowloon citadel style [un bloc urbain enclavé de Hong Kong, détruit dans les années 1990 et réputé pour son extrême densité et ses ruelles exiguës]. Buildings that evoke the thong lau [des bâtiments typiques du sud de la Chine, de Hong Kong et de Taïwan] to the ubiquitous wild messages, with their eight-digit phone numbers, the reference to Hong Kong is obvious, which is not surprising when you consider that the working title of stray was Hong Kong project [“Projet HK”].

I navigate the game telling myself both that it really is Hong Kong and that the authors come from there, guessing in the slightest text of flavor a sign of daily resistance against an oppressive state and the importance of art in desperate situations – which is not unique. for Hong Kong too, since the art of resistance has been an integral part of political expression for centuries.

Hong Kong’s struggle to preserve its autonomy as a “special administrative region” from the Chinese regime has inspired activists around the world with its protests based on the “Be water” tactic. [“Soyez comme l’eau”] to avoid tear gas and move together. For years, police brutality in the city made headlines internationally until, more recently, student protesters and resistance figures were publicly persecuted, vilified and thrown behind bars.

Reaching the city center in Stray, all this information resurfaces in my mind in front of the civilian robots attacked by the Sentinels in charge of peacekeeping. I instinctively expect a tragic duel with law enforcement, but that’s not the kind of stray – the principle here is to shave the walls, be forgotten and stay alive.

A small studio in Montpellier

Until the credits, I thought so stray it was the work of a Hong Kong developer (I prefer to know as little as possible when starting a game). So I was surprised to learn that the BlueTwelve studio was French, led by an enigmatic duo from Montpellier. Apparently, this typical Hong Kong vibe intrigued the audience enough for the studio to publish [sur son blog] a post in the form of frequently asked questions in which you return to the genesis of the project and its sources of inspiration.

The developers explain there that they wanted to create a dystopia of its own, but that it’s a challenge at a time when Western cyberpunk relies on a very specific corpus of images evoking East Asia. stray manages to create a world that is both evocative and familiar – BlueTwelve’s tribute to Hong Kong is well done and rich in detail – but I wonder when the video game industry will pay the same attention as Annapurna [l’éditeur américain du studio BlueTwelve] to the projects started by the Hong Kongers themselves, which would evoke the identity of Hong Kong in a more profound and personal way (as in Name of the Will, developing).

Contemplating a certain spirituality

Fortunately, it’s not its cyberpunk vibe that it creates stray a unique game. I’ve talked about it for a long time in the past, but cyberpunk has largely exhausted its critical potential and, in many cases, only serves to instantly evoke a modern dystopia. Because, let’s be honest, BlueTwelve would have set the story in a Victorian-era steampunk slum that would have produced the same effect, which is constant vigilance for our kitty.

The game’s most surprising settings are hidden behind the gray walls of the city: dilapidated but charming interiors with their CRT screens, portable radios and the typical orange and green palette of the 70s for this game that takes place in the indefinite future. My favorite furniture is a bunch of old TVs, Nam June Paik style [une grande star sud-coréenne de l’art vidéo (1932-2006)]whose screen shows a starry sky, a messy altar erected to the goddess of technology, wrapped in a curious form of spirituality.

Finally, we come to the question of finiteness and mortality, the fatal outcome that all pet owners fear. The finale offers a bittersweet reversal of this concept, with an inevitable farewell (no, that’s not what you think) that prompts me to take Oni back in my arms – who starts writhing all over to escape this grotesque display of human sentimentality. stray it ends with a slightly veiled note of hope that seems unacceptable to a simple mind like me who hates any form of ambiguity about our little acolytes.

It will take me a second to take a step back, after the credits, get back on my feet and strip myself of the role of “protector”. I realize then that I have plunged body and soul into the world of cats and that I would gladly do it again.

The dialogue speaks for itself

stray it offers nothing new. But, through a skilful manipulation of our love for Raminagrobis, the game made me discover the extent of my feelings for Oni, my first cat, for whom, I admit, I have a real obsession. From the very beginning of the game I started projecting him onto the character, and the constant presence of him by my side during the game gave a particular resonance to the emotional design of stray. We are quite far from the mechanisms through which affection for a classic role-playing character is intertwined, whose small quirks and qualities are learned gradually, through dialogue, narrative framework and game.

The smallest detail of stray it reminded me that I only had limited time with my little companions, be they real or virtual. When the game was over, I turned to Oni, overflowing with selflessness. Not surprisingly, he meowed at me and walked away. BlueTwelve knew exactly what they were doing by putting so much care and time into developing realistic movements and poses, but having a real mistigri on hand brings me back to reality. stray it is clearly the work of skilled cat lovers. And, if only for this reason, it is a clear success.

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