Stray - title

When some of the trailers for Stray started releasing on the internet a couple months ago, a couple of my co-workers were really enthusiastic about it. I took one look at the trailer, and pretty much had the entire game figured out. But the idea of playing as a literal cat (as opposed to an anthropomorphized cartoon mascot cat) seemed novel enough for me to toss the game on my Steam wishlist. I ended up buying it on PS5 though, since the price was the same and my aging PCs might not be able to render all the pretty, ray-traced neon lights of the game's cyberpunk dystopia setting.

Right off the bat, I was surprised that Stray does not feature any kind of customization for the cat. I had a bit of a Mandela effect going on in which I could have sworn that the trailers I watched earlier in the year showed customization. But no, we're all stuck with the same orange tabby cat. At the very least, I feel like the developers could have given the player the option to play as one of several pre-fab cat models. The game begins with 4 cats in a little colony, and it seems like the developers could easily have given players the option of which of the 4 cats we want to play with. Ah well. Not a big deal.

I wish there were options to customize the cat or play as different pre-made cat skins.

After being separated from the other 3 cat buddies, the one playable cat must navigate a walled-in dystopian cyberpunk city to find its way back out to its colony. This is done by progressing through a linear route through the environments and completing collections of 3 various types of activities:

  • Run away from hostile critters,
  • Explore small sections of the city populated with humanoid robots for keys, collectibles, and lore,
  • Do some light stealth.

Cyberpunk cat tower

The best parts of the game are easily the exploratory sections, as they are the most free-form and best utilize the novelty of the feline protagonist. The levels all have a significant vertical element to them, and the low-angle camera gives an impressive sense of scale. All the spaces are very small horizontally, never representing more than a single city block, but they are easily doubled or tripled in terms of traversable size when the vertical spaces are factored in. A simple, 3-story tenement building might as well be the Empire State Building from the perspective of your foot-tall feline avatar.

If the player isn't routinely looking up, climbing where you can, and squeezing into tight spaces, you'll likely miss a lot of the game's secrets and collectibles. Though if you are testing the verticality of all the spaces, you should find most (if not all) collectibles without much extra effort or thought.

A stray cat must navigate a cyberpunk city inhabited by robots.

This gameplay would probably be a lot more impressive if not for the fact that it isn't doing anything that every other open world adventure game since Assassin's Creed has been doing: climbing and rooftop parkour. Even though the levels are 3-dimensional, paths to the heights are usually clearly signposted and railoaded, and the cat can only jump or climb onto places that specifically have "jump to" prompts. There are no leaps of faith for this cat. All the challenge is simply observational: is there a clearly-visible path to the place I want to go?

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At the end of April, our family's beloved cat, Gynx passed away. My father found him lying dead next to the curb outside the house. There were no apparent signs of injury or trauma, so we don't think he was hit by a car. Perhaps he had a heart attack or a stroke? Because nobody was there to witness it, we'll never know for sure.

My sister took it particularly hard. She had just fed him his breakfast 20 or 30 minutes before my dad found him outside. All seemed well. Just another routine morning. My how suddenly things can change...

She was hit hard with grief, and felt responsible. "If only I hadn't let him outside", she said. But it wasn't her fault. She had no way of knowing. He could just as easily have passed inside the house.

Our cat Gynx died this month after 20 happy and loving years.

Yes, I do wish that we could have had some warning. One of my friends once lost an old cat who had become ill. She got to hold her cat and pet him and make him comfortable as he slowly passed and breathed his last breath. If I were a cat, that's how I'd want to go: comfortably resting in the lap of my beloved human. I wish that Gynx could have had that as well.

But as I said, none of us can feel responsible or guilty. We can't have known that his time was coming. He was healthy and active right up till the end. We all worried that someday he'd go outside and we'd never see him again, and over the years, it became harder and harder to let him go. But he loved to be outside, so keeping him locked inside would have just made him miserable and stressed, and probably only accelerated his demise.

A life worth celebrating; not grieving

I've written about the loss of pets before on this blog. Back in 2014, Nipper, a tortoise that I had since I was about 7 or 8 years old died after apparently becoming trapped in her burrow. The following year, I also lost my baby tortoise Koopa to some kind of tragic accident. Like with Gynx, I have little-to-no idea what actually happened, since I wasn't there to witness the event itself. The sudden and tragic loss of those tortoises was gut-wrenching and depressing, and I grieved very hard, and for a very long time.

I was much more prepared for Gynx's death than I was for the deaths of my tortoises Nipper and Koopa.

Though Gynx's death was also sudden, it was not altogether unexpected. Gynx was 20 years old, which is very old for a cat. I had thought cats only lived for 15-ish years, so I had spent the past 5 or 6 years thinking that Gynx's time could come any day now. I didn't expect for him to hit 20! So when his time finally came, I think I was emotionally prepared for it -- had been for a long time, in fact. I knew that phone call from my mom, dad, or sister would be coming eventually, and when it came, I knew what it would be.

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I'm late to this party. With Avengers: Endgame due out in the next couple weeks, I finally got around to seeing Captain Marvel. I had planned to see it with a friend the week after release, but illness and work got in the way, so we never made it out. Also, I just haven't been out to movies much since being blown away by Into the Spider-Verse -- seriously, it's out on home video and streaming, go watch it! There's a few other movies that I've been wanting to see, and I'm going to try really hard to not miss them in theaters. I'm really looking forward to Jordan Peele's new movie, Us, which I'm hoping to see this week or next. And apparently, DC's Shazam! might actually be good?!

But I finally had a weekend afternoon to myself, and decided to go to Captain Marvel, since my girlfriend didn't want to see it. As is par for the Marvel movies, it's good enough. Marvel has yet to produce a true flop, but I feel like Captain Marvel is a bit of a regression considering the studio's recent track record.

I like when the Marvel movies experiment with genre, but Captain Marvel remains a pretty standard fare origin story.

The big problem is that we're back to origin stories. Spider-Man: Homecoming smartly passed on re-re-telling the story of how Peter Parker became Spider-Man, and was all the better for it. Recent movies like Black Panther, Guardians vol. 2, and [especially] Infinity War, had moved beyond the dull origin stories and un-interesting, cookie-cutter villains to offer truly engaging and transcendent films. Captain Marvel kind of falls in with Doctor Strange as being a passable -- but ultimately skippable -- entry. At least it isn't as contradictory as Doctor Strange.

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Monster Hunter: World - title

I've been playing Monster Hunter: World off-and-on since it was released (which was a few months ago at this point), and I'm still just not sure that I get it yet. The game just hasn't clicked for me. Maybe I haven't invested quite enough time yet. In the past, I've come around to games that initially turned me off with their tedium and/or difficulty. Demon's Souls is perhaps the prime example, as that game took a few days (almost a week) of banging my head against the walls of the Boletarian Palace before things started to click for me. It certainly didn't take months! Once Demon's Souls started to click, the game almost immediately became one of my all-time favorites.

The Demon's Souls comparison is apt. Corners of the internet keep insisting that Monster Hunter: World is a game that should appeal to the same types of players who love Dark Souls (because everybody keeps forgetting that Demon's Souls did it first and better). Well, I'm sorry, but I just don't see how the two connect.

Yeah, there's the difficulty. But Dark Souls isn't good because it's hard. It's good because all the pieces around that central challenge make overcoming that challenge feel worthwhile. It's the world-building, the lore, the way that the obtuse characters and dialogue builds a growing sense of intrigue about the world, the sense of nervously tip-toeing into a dangerous unknown, the sense of leveling your stats into a character build that perfectly suits your desired playstyle, and that ominous sense of entropic dread that permeates every nook and cranny of the game. Those things make Dark Souls good! Those sorts of things are lacking in Monster Hunter: World.

The JRPG nonsense that usually turns me off of JRPGs

Sadly, Monster Hunter: World is bogged down by a lot of the kinds of JRPG nonsense that has frequently turned me off of playing these sorts of games. While I often appreciate that JRPGs tend to be more story and character-driven (something that I often wish western RPGs would focus more on), JRPGs also tend to undercut the seriousness of the stories they're trying to tell with lots of silliness and whimsy. Sometimes it's charming or endearing; other times it's juvenile or obnoxious.

You can track monsters by following their footprints or by studying their snot and turds.

I can tolerate this game's silly little cat side kicks. Monster Hunter's whimsical fantasy setting works well enough. What is less tolerable is that the game is littered with tedious, grindy, time-killer quests: harvest so many mushrooms, investigate a bunch of dinosaur footprints and [literal] crap, kill however many small monsters, capture yet more small monsters. and yadda yadda yadda. I guess, at a certain level, these activities make a certain amount of sense. Your character is, after all, one grunt in a whole army of grunt hunters being sent out to do the dirty work of the captains. But I have better things to do in real life than to wander around a forest picking flowers for 50 minutes.

Monster Hunter is loaded with grind quests.

Some of these sorts of quests are relegated to little ambient side-quests that you can perform while you're doing other major missions. These are the ones that are tolerable. Others (like the Investigations and other tangential story quests) require you to perform dedicated ingredient-gathering grind missions, in which the sole purpose of the mission is to fight monsters you've already fought and collect a bunch of stuff. Since my character doesn't have traditional stats or levels that improve as I complete these quests, the grinding just never really feels worth it.

I was hoping that I could just power through the main quests and skip all the tedious grind stuff. No such luck. I got to a point where I had to hunt the T-Rex-like Anjanath, and got stuck...

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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