Cool for cats! PETER HOSKIN reviews Stray and As Dusk Falls
Cool for cats… and cat people! PETER HOSKIN reviews Stray and As Dusk Falls
Stray (PlayStation, PC, £24.99 or included with PlayStation Plus)
Verdict: Feline fantastic
I am a cat person. But I’ve rarely had the opportunity to go one step further (or one word fewer) and actually become a cat.
So I’m grateful, this week, to Stray for giving me that chance.
The character you control in this game is, well, a cat. And not some cartoon version, either. But a cat. It looks like a cat. Moves like a cat. You can even press buttons so that it meows and claws at things like a cat. As an act of feline recreation, it’s sublime.
But Stray doesn’t stop there. It drops its ginger moggie into a dilapidated future-city where the humans are no more and only a bunch of pretty morose robots remain. Your task is get back to the surface and help out some of those robots along the way.
The gameplay itself is simple in a calming way. You jump from surface to surface until you come across a puzzle that needs solving. It’s less about action than it is about the joy of exploring this beautiful, broken world from a cat’s perspective.
Except when you’re fleeing from the zurks, that is. These are the aggressive, overgrown dust mites that plague this netherworld, and which lend Stray some frenzied passages that I’m not sure it needs.
Still, those parts are, like the rest of the game, relatively short — so they don’t really take away from the thrill of being a cat for a few hours. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go and tear up some rugs.
As Dusk Falls (Xbox, PC, £24.99 or included with Xbox Game Pass)
Verdict: A better class of criminal
There is, nowadays, quite a thriving genre of what we might call Choose Your Own Adventure games. Like the children’s books from the 1980s, they involve making simple choices about how to proceed. Do you go left or right? Do you nod hello to that dude or slap him across the face?
I’m thinking of Telltale’s Walking Dead games, the Life Is Strange series, Until Dawn, this year’s The Quarry…
Now another title can be added to the list: As Dusk Falls. And it might be the best of its kind.
To some extent, this is because it’s learnt from all those other games. Or perhaps ‘borrowed’ is the word. As Dusk Falls deploys all the tricks we’ve seen elsewhere, such as percentage tallies to reveal the choices made by players around the world, or multiplayer options, so that you and several friends can vote on the choices together.
And, yes, there are quickfire, button-pressing moments to keep you on your toes. There’s one scene in As Dusk Falls where you’ve got to swipe and mash at the right moments to give your wife a back massage. That feels a little silly.
But As Dusk Falls also innovates in one crucial way: its storytelling. Across six episodes, and a couple of decades, it presents a dusty, American crime drama that, were it filmed instead, wouldn’t be out of place among Netflix’s classier productions. The writing is top of its class; the voice acting is up there, too.
You care about the choices you make because you care about these characters and the awful situation they are in.
Or do you? There’s always the option of going back through As Dusk Falls and making terrible choices to see the worst that can happen. There are dozens of branching paths — and, truly, I want to go down all of them.
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