If there’s a cat in your home, how does it usually stroll round? With its tail pointed straight up, in all probability—y’know, like every regular cat. However the feline protagonist of Stray is a little more modest: He primarily retains his tail down, no less than based mostly on gameplay footage considered throughout a hands-off streamed preview occasion attended by Kotaku.
In different phrases, no, you very possible received’t see a lot of the cat’s butthole in Stray.
Stray, an journey recreation to be printed by Annapurna Interactive for PlayStation and PC this July, is the debut of French developer Blue Twelve Studio. It largely takes place in a futuristic metropolis devoid of people, mysteriously occupied as an alternative by iPod-looking robots. Whereas most video games with such a setting would put you within the rugged boots of a battle armor-clad soldier, Stray places you within the softer, infinitely cuter, arguably deadlier (hey if you already know, you already know) boots of an orange tabby cat. The sport caught a ton of buzz throughout its reveal at a 2020 Sony showcase, and was initially deliberate for a 2021 launch earlier than getting delayed to this yr.
All through the preview session, I couldn’t shake one feeling: Stray isn’t an journey recreation wherein you play as a cat. Stray is an journey recreation wherein you are a cat, proper right down to the stuff you do in-game.
Swann Matin-Raget, a producer at Blue Twelve, performed by means of roughly 20 minutes of Stray, narrating a number of segments from a number of ranges all through the sport. (Although Stray is partially open-world, it’ll additionally characteristic extra conventional, seemingly linear levels.) A lot of the quote-unquote gameplay facilities round some extraordinarily typical feline conduct. You may push bottles and jars off counters. You may disrupt a board recreation performed by two robots, sending picket items scattering in a flurry.
There’s additionally a legit mechanic wherein you scratch all of the issues cats wish to scratch: the carpet, the couch, anything that frays simply and likewise simply so occurs to be held expensive to your coronary heart. By alternating the suitable and left triggers in your controller, you may sharpen your claws on a litany of in-game objects. (On the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller, you’ll really feel some Returnal-style drive suggestions.) This isn’t simply beauty, both. At one level, Matin-Raget clawed at a nondescript door in a neon-lit alley. Just a few seconds handed. A robotic opened the door. That’s the way you progress into sure inaccessible areas.
“I’m doing one thing very unrealistic right here [in] that I’m getting into right away,” Matin-Raget mentioned. “You already know any cat would in all probability wait 10 to twenty minutes earlier than doing so.”
It is smart that the parents at Blue Twelve are so well-positioned to adeptly seize what it means to be a cat, seeing as lots of the members of the studio have cats of their very own. Purely for crowd-pleasing purrposes, listed here are some:
In actual fact, even the cat you play as is partially based mostly on a kind of cats: The orange tabby (pictured) is called Murtaugh and lives with the studio’s co-owners. Matin-Raget famous, nevertheless, that Stray’s participant character doesn’t have a reputation.
Earlier than you ask, Murtaugh didn’t function a motion-capture actor for Stray’s stray protagonist. No cat did. That is going to be onerous to consider, I do know, however apparently it’s not really easy getting a cat to put on a motion-capture go well with and comply with stage instructions. As an alternative, Stray’s protagonist was totally animated by hand, which introduced its personal set of challenges.
“It’s fairly tougher to animate a quadruped on the whole versus a biped. The middle of gravity is basically completely different and the fluidity of the general animations must be actually excessive to be convincing,” Matin-Raget mentioned. “Additionally, while you attempt to animate a human, you may simply movie your self doing something to make use of as a reference. However while you wish to have one thing very particular with a cat, it’s worthwhile to extrapolate the fabric that you just would possibly be capable of discover or create.”
Extra than simply “cat stuff,” the core gameplay in Stray facilities round platforming with mild puzzle parts. You’ll robotically full each bounce within the recreation, all the time touchdown in your ft, and also you received’t take any injury whereas simply exploring and shifting round. Development appears primarily blocked by environmental puzzles. At one level within the preview, Matin-Raget got here throughout a spinning industrial fan. To cease it, he directed the cat to choose up a close-by pail in its mouth, then rolled it towards the fan. It wedged between the fan and its vestibule, stopping the blades to open up a pathway into the following room.
As with most third-person journey video games, you view your character from behind. Clearly, this, um, poses a possible subject. (Since Stray doesn’t help character customization, you may’t, say, equip a Twinkle Tush.)
“We didn’t particularly take any steps to keep away from having gamers having to see the butt the whole recreation,” Matin-Raget instructed Kotaku in a follow-up e mail. “However we did work so much on the tail animations in a number of completely different conditions, and that helps so much.”
One factor that struck me right here: All through the preview, Stray’s protagonist stored its tail down. I’ve two cats. Lots of my associates have cats, too. (Welcome to journalism!) Most of those cats stroll with their tails in a “flagpole,” or straight-up, place. Based on Matthew McCarthy, DVM, the founding father of Juniper Valley Animal Hospital in Center Village, NY, that’s an invite for social interplay. It’s one indicator of a “cat’s want to make a connection,” McCarthy instructed Kotaku.
“Fearful cats will create a smaller silhouette,” McCarthy mentioned. That may imply crouching, pinning again their ears, or, sure, tucking their tail down. “Out of sight, out of thoughts. Hopefully.”
It’s unhappy, however Stray’s protagonist has so much to concern. When Blue Twelve first revealed the sport, its wealthy, atmospheric setting—and, y’know, the entire taking part in as a cat factor—helped seize a number of of us’ consideration. However there wasn’t an entire lot of information about what it’s you really do. The overall consensus on the time may’ve been summed up as: “I’m a cat? I stroll round a metropolis? I sit on the bar? Nice! Bought. Gimme.”
However a trailer launched final summer time confirmed a very completely different facet of Stray. One scene confirmed the cat sprinting away from a horde of antagonist creatures, making an attempt its finest to flee. He’s accompanied by a floating robotic drone. He hops onto a dashing cart, dodging enemies and careening by means of a chasm as if starring in Uncharted: Cat’s Fortune. This wasn’t the placid exploration recreation proven off the yr earlier than.
The preview clarified a bit extra about what was occurring there. Based on Matin-Raget, the artistic resolution to characteristic intense segments was a pacing selection made near the sport’s inception, which has been in growth in some capability since 2016. The robotic’s title is B12 (an apparent nod to the studio’s namesake). It serves as each a protector and a translator, seeing because it’s able to language and also you, a cat, are usually not. When requested about whether or not or not you’re restricted to 9 lives, Matin-Raget demurred and didn’t make clear precisely how well being, injury, respawns, and the like work.
Fingers-off previews not often provide perception into whether or not a recreation will probably be any good. As a rule, they’re advertising and marketing charades—and much more curated by PR than hands-on previews, since you may’t even get a way of what the sport seems like. It’s why we usually veer away from them at Kotaku.
That mentioned, I got here away from Stray buzzing with pleasure to a level I often don’t. And that is from somebody who’s usually at hype-meter-level-1,000 for recreation bulletins, somebody who’s (one way or the other) not but spoiled by the cynicism that infects so many individuals who flip a pastime right into a job! Possibly it’s simply feline-adjacent intuition, however I’ve bought feeling about this one. It would, if nothing else, be a welcome departure from the standard snarky motion fare that tends to muddle the summer time launch calendar.
Simply don’t count on any butts.