Reviews & Blog

KamijaceThinking: Stray Proves We Can Have Any Protagonist We Want. That’s a Good Thing… Right?

If you read my (initial?) Stray review, you know that I am still in the middle of playing it. Yet I found the game compelling enough in it’s first few hours to still review it while I’m still chugging along through it. I really do think it is a great game. I was attracted to the game obviously because you get to play as a very cute cat, as would anyone else in the world, and if you disagree come fight me.

Anyways, I found that as I played the game one idea came to mind constantly: A protagonist can be anything or anyone, if it means the story still comes together. Stray in my mind proves that. This is an original story where you play as a cat, and it works somehow. You can argue that this was already apparent with games like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Donkey Kong, etc. But, I think there’s something to be said about a story where you play a realistic version of an animal over a fantasy creature.

All the same, it is clear to me from playing Stray, that the point of single-player narratives, are not always who is on the center stage, but instead how the narrative plays out in front of them.

So, if we know that games featuring anyone and anything can be good, that means folks on the internet who get upset that there is a Latina protagonist in a game are even sillier than I imagined.

Yet, for as much as I appreciate the reinforced idea that it really doesn’t matter who is at the center of the story (most of the time), I found another point nagging in the back of my mind.

There are moments in Stray where the cat you play as gets really badly hurt. Dropped from amazing heights, flung from objects, chomped on by enemies, and shot at. I found myself almost at the point of tears sometimes watching a cat’s body get thrown around this way during its adventure. It made me realize how desensitized I was to seeing this kind of violence and worst done to human bodies.

Perhaps “it isn’t that deep” or “its just a game”, but I think you have to recognize when some pieces of media trigger something and ask “why?” Furthermore, I think you have to ask, in this case, if I feel this way about a cat, how will I feel about Black and Brown bodies?

Bear with me because I get that it might be kind of a stretch, but I find this happening more and more in media lately. To help make my point, I actually want to move away from Stray.

Instead, I want to look at Ms. Marvel and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, instead. One piece of media, Ms. Marvel, has just recently concluded. The other, Wakanda Forever, has put out a trailer and announced a release date for this November. Yet both feature putting Black and Brown bodies in front of guns. Particularly guns held by officers or some form of authority. Something that, as of the past decade, has been at the front of mind for Black folks.

Every time I see this in our stories, especially lately, I grimace and feel my chest tighten.

Now back to the cat. I hope you’ve kept up with me.

If I can barely stomach to see Black and Brown folks in front of guns, and barely stand to see my poor virtual cat flung around like a Garry’s Mod ragdoll, how can I justify asking developers to use more Black and Brown people in their video games knowing that I’ll get upset seeing them in danger?

Ultimately, the answer I came up with is that seeing them as the hero, seeing them persevere is what we’re really here to see.

Heroism, as foreign and misplaced as that word can feel sometimes, is ultimately what makes this media rather bearable at times. Knowing that in the end, the Black or Brown person, or the cat with a robot on it’s back, goes through these trials and comes out on top seems to make it worth it somehow.

It hurts to see the cat get thrown around, but it gets up and keeps surviving. It keeps working to make their world better.

It hurts to see people who look like me in front of the guns of law enforcement, but in that moment it is clear who the “bad guy” is, and with any hope, those bodies are not harmed. Because the hero comes to save the day, or something. And they go on to work to make the world better.

It isn’t a perfect answer to an already imperfect question, because ultimately more representation, and proper representation, is something we should strive for. And it doesn’t fit every situation.

I cannot see how having a Black protagonist in Resident Evil changes Resident Evil (although I still want it to happen).

But we have seen how having a Black protagonist can effect the narrative of games like Grand Theft Auto, Mafia, and Watch Dogs.

Yet perhaps it is because I feel a reaction to seeing people (and cats) in danger, even fictional danger, that proves that we should in some way continue adding Black and Brown folks to our adventures. Or our horror. Or whatever game genre. Not to feel comfortable with the violence, but to reinforce that it is upsetting to see bodies–any bodies (this is the part where I include White folks now)–go through that kind of trauma.

So. Stray proves that it really doesn’t matter who the protagonist is. And for the most part, yes, it is a good thing.

We can still tell our stories and teach our lessons through the use of protagonists and heroes that do not fit the norms.

KamijacePlaying: Stray – Still Playing Review

It is not as though there is a shortage of games with animal protagonists. Whether it’s something a little more anthropomorphic, like Crash Bandicoot, or something based on myth and legends, like Okami, or perhaps something entirely different like Ocotodad or Untitled Goose Game, playing as an animal is really nothing new to the video game landscape. Yet, something about Stray feels different, or at least refreshing, and it deserves your five-ish hours of attention.

The Gameplay

It’s not revolutionary gameplay. It isn’t anything you’ve not done before. The Cat Parkour is okay at best, when it comes down to it and you’re not really fighting or doing special moves. You are just a cat after all. You do get a fancy robot companion who helps you navigate and “fight” a little here and there. But really, what entices the player, and immerses the player is the movement and physics of the cat. They are incredibly realistic and fluid. The feeling of being a cat is really captured in every aspect of the gameplay. Even the mundane things that we normally side-eye cats for doing, like kneading their claws into a wall, feel incredible to do. And can lead to secrets in the game as well! Again, there’s no real combat. Most enemies require outrunning or outwitting, it seems. Which can feel fun as a cat, but perhaps can get old after a while.

There are puzzles, which make for an interesting experience as a cat. Imagine if your cat had the knowledge to stop a fan using a paint bucket. Or could carry electrical devices to their proper outlets. You know, the things we usually have our bi-pedal or speaking-role characters do. (Also if you tell me your cat can do these things I expect video proof. Actually, just send me unsolicited cat pics.) The Puzzles can often be pretty obvious, but can sometimes be challenging, or require some past knowledge that you’d better have been paying attention to a moment ago. You aren’t without hints, however. The stray’s robot can often give hints on where to go next, and speaking with some robots may reveal a clue or quest.

That said, while it is still fun, overall, it isn’t a whole lot to write home about.

The Visuals

At first, the game is rather drab. It is a dystopian setting, after all. But even in it’s dullness, the visuals of the game can be incredibly beautiful and absolutely unsettling. Without going into too much spoilery detail, there are just somethings that you don’t want to see in a high-resolution quality on your living room TV. And yet, to know that it is so beautifully rendered, along with the rest of the world, is still worth it. There are some cyberpunk-like moments in it too, so the neon bright lights gets to standout a little as well. As I said in the gameplay, the kitty-visuals are also stunning. The realness of the cats movements, fur and expressions come through vividly. So vividly, you don’t need to be a cat owner to guess what’s going through the little one’s mind. Equally as vivid, however, are the cute and squishy, yet somehow unsettling and terrifying monsters that plague the robot citizens–and you.

There’s no UI really, aside from the one that pops up when you interact with robots or objects. The game gives you the freedom to really experience the world without on-screen clutter.

The World

This is arguably the best part of the game, in my eyes, at least for the maybe 2-and-a-half-ish hours I’ve probably played of it. There’s something refreshing about being part of a narrative that you know nothing about and, as far as you can tell from just being a cat, really has nothing to do with you. Yet here you are, trapped in some strange dystopia with robots living as humans and deadly cute monsters.

Again, the world is gritting and dirty and drab, most of the time. But when the splashes of color and “life” happen, it really happens. Things feel exciting, dangerous and tense. The robots are just as funny, witty and alive as you’d hope they’d be. The creatures, despite being described often as “cute” feel daunting, scary and suffocating.

I think to try to describe the world in this review really does a disservice to experiencing it yourself. There’s so much life in a lifeless setting. And putting the player in a cat’s paws really allows the player to think about things from a different perspective. Not to get all philosophical, but there’s something that begs the player to think about their world while experiencing and partaking in all-robotic society as a cat.

The Story

To be honest, I wish I could write more about the Story, but I know really so little, even for as much as I’ve progressed. It feels like there is going to be some massive reveal at the end, but I have no idea what it could be. Which is why I think the Story is as strong as the world, in that regard. Stray feels like it is trying to tell one of those myths or legends that serve as warnings to future generations. It is a little cryptic, and despite knowing (more or less) how we may have gotten to this dystopian future, we don’t know who caused it, or how to get out of it, or if there are any humans left to tell help solve the problem.

The story also serves, in my mind, as a way to celebrate humans, not just warn of their activities. The robots in the game are so impressed with the ingenuity, creativity, and general drive and perseverance of humans, so much so that they mimic them almost in every way. Right down to making stores and factories and having a police force.

It seems to me that the game’s message, if there is one, is that humans are complicated creatures. Unlike cats.

Also, you might be thinking about how a cat communicates with a bunch of robots, who may or may not speak English. I honestly would not think about it that much. It’s likely that this is simply the world’s smartest cat and their companion, the translating robot.

Good Game?

The sign of a cult classic is one that gets talked about in media outlets, and modded to hell. So far, Stray has both of those things going for it, and for good reason. Now, even I am taking the words I’m typing with a grain and a half of salt, since again, I haven’t quite finished the game myself yet. However, I absolutely think that this game is worth sitting down and streaming with friends, or putting up in the living room to play or watch get played with family. It is equal parts wholesome, horrific, cute and strange. You’ll laugh, you might cry, and you might adopt a cat.

Based on what I’ve played so far, I don’t think this game has much replayability. Or re-watchability. Unless maybe for speed running purposes. But otherwise, I don’t see this being a game to revisit. At least not right away. This may be one of those nostalgia games you revisit in a few years when you’re feeling like playing something single-player and puzzle-y.

$30 is a great price for this great piece of work, short as it is. And if you subscribe to Playstation Plus, you can get access to the game as part of your subscription, so no extra costs necessary! Lucky you, PS5 owner!

Overall, with some gameplay elements left wanting, Stray is a very good game to unwind and share with friends and family. With just enough thought-provoking narrative to get over the fact that you’re a freaking-adorable-cat, and enough tension and puzzle-solving to keep the wheels turning.

KamijaceReviewing: Cyberpunk 2077

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat. I wasn’t as excited for Cyberpunk as other people might have been, largely because I wasn’t excited about the company handling it or the headlines it seemed to make. Yet, late in the year as it seemed to rear it’s head, I began to find a little hype within my soul and decided on a day one purchase. I was perhaps only a little disappointed. Cyberpunk 2077’s gameplay, world, story and character creator were touted as selling points, but it is hard to say if any of that lived up to the hype, or if it was still living in a shadow of itself back when it was announced in 2013.

The Gameplay

For this section, I’m going to factor in the character creator. Because let’s face it, some of us probably did spend a good chunk of time flipping through the character creator options. It happens in every game where there are character creation options. Yet, somehow the options to me felt lacking. First off, setting aside the fact that gender in the game is chosen by the voice you choose (just for a moment, we’ll come back to it), it seems perhaps lazy and unoriginal to only have two voice options. I understand that ultimately, it may have been pretty expensive to have two or three voice actors for each “gender”, and have them voice all the dialogue in the game, but I find a personal disconnect in the V I made and the way his voice sounds.

By the way, if you thought you’d get out of this review without me talking about the options for genitals, you are sadly mistaken. While I still do not think it should have been an option, especially for how many times you actual see male below-the-belt genitals in cutscenes (spoiler alert: zero), I found myself upset by the lack of flair or dramatic size differences that seemed to have been promised during the game’s development. The straight male gaze is heavy in this game. There’s an episode of the podcast where I talk about how unnecessary I find a “dong slider” but if you’re going to put it in, then for God’s sake, at least make it a little comical.

All right, enough of that. Let’s talk about the actual gameplay.

Cyberpunk 2077 is nothing you haven’t played before. If you’ve played Deus Ex, or hell even Skyrim, then you’ve played this before. You are building your character’s abilities, playing stealthy or loud, choosing to kill or not. There are side-quests that may or may not help move the story, and characters to love and hate. Ultimately, the gameplay is not revolutionary. The quick-hacking is perhaps where the game gets a little original, replacing what would probably be magic or something in another first-person RPG. It is actually not a bother that the gameplay isn’t totally revolutionary. Sometimes you like things you’re familiar with. Bugs and glitches aside, the game is still fun to play and anyone with a history of video game playing, can pick it up pretty easily.

Some people seem to have some issue with some mechanics of the game, again none of which are truly that different from any other game like Cyberpunk 2077, in my opinion. I have had little issues with driving, sometimes forgetting to slow down a little around corners and fishtailing, but others seem to find the driving in the game to be mediocre and a constant issue.

The Visuals

Night City, and it’s outer limits, do look pretty good. Although, I find a lot of fault with much of the neon lights and somehow-still-in-the-80s effects, I do think they did a fantastic job building something wonderfully dystopian. Even the grimy, graffiti, gang-ridden corners of the world look and feel colorful. I wish I had more to say about it other than that. I recognize the time and effort put into making the city come alive inside and out. Like anyone else, I appreciate good visuals. Characters look based on real people, even the heavily-modded ones. All-in-all nicely done.

The UI and start menu could be better.

The journal section, the shard section, and the text message section are messy and despite being organized in some fashion, feel disorganized and overwhelming. Things largely feel out of place or haphazardly thrown into sections of the menus.

The World

Cyberpunk as a genre has been around for decades, arguably made popular with the BladeRunner movie. The genre has the uncanny ability to share stories of greed, corruption, and show the worst of human society. Cyberpunk is really no different there. From the very top to the bottom, it seems like no character or even NPC, is having any kind of good time in this game. Nothing quite prepares you to enter the world of Cyberpunk. The prologue helps, but it throws the slang of the world at you with little help or effort to help you understand. Likewise, it doesn’t seem as though the game is keen on giving you details about the world outside of Night City, or even many notes on Night City’s previous players. While the genre may not feel new, the world and Night City most certainly is new to anyone who hasn’t played the Tabletop version. A “previously on” or something would have been nice to help me, or other players, better understand V and the story of the world surrounding them.

The world also explores sexual freedoms, and this is where things get tricky for me. This is certainly a personal issue, but I find issue with the idea of a sexual revolution that gives our sexuality to corporations to use the “sex sells” method quite literally. Likewise, I find issue with the idea that we are so sexually free, that we cannot or do not enjoy physical interactions nearly as much and instead put on VR headsets to live out our fun. These are probably not issues of the game itself, but perhaps of the genre.

Ultimately, I think the game could do more to introduce players to Night City and to the Cyberpunk RPG lore. It falls pretty short in that regard.

The Story

I do not fully agree with the reviewer who stated that the side-story quests and side-story personality of “V” seems to not factor into the main story. In fact, there are some side-quests that need to be done in order to get to the best ending of the game. However, I do not fully disagree with that reviewer either. The side-story content seems to lack much consequence, even from the side-story questgivers. There is no reputation for working with certain people and not others. No gear-based, or progression-based decisions to make. While the content seems to help flesh out the world a little and give context to things like “Cyberpsychos”, it does little to actually engage with the player beyond that.

The main story is interesting, but still leaves something to be desired. It is hard to say exactly what that is, but I find that while the story is fairly original, it comes off as being less about your character and their journey, and much more about the Johnny Silverhand character. Any uniqueness given to V, is basically given the backseat for Keanu Reeves. In fact, I am almost of the opinion that this game probably started as a Johnny Silverhand story whose sequel would follow V. Kind of like how we got Raiden instead of Snake for Metal Gear Solid 2. It is tough to see V take a backseat in a game that is supposed to be about them. I continue to think a Carl Johnson, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas-like, story would have worked better for V, than what we were given.

Good Game? Good Media?

As a game, I think Cyberpunk 2077 is worth at least picking up at a sale price. It is a fun video game. It comes with all the violence we know, love and expect. It has a freedom of playstyle, exploration and it generally feels good to pick up and play.

As a piece of media, one which we take the stories, morals, and everything else that comes with it, it perhaps needs work.

To begin with, Cyberpunk and the developers made promises they just could not keep. The one thing we should certainly take away from the past seven years, is that no developers should be rushed into making a game. It is a lesson we’ve attempted to learn for years now, but one that feels absolutely telling in the case of Cyberpunk 2077. Likewise, the media coverage of the game’s development was not always the best. In fact, it is largely because of both negative and positive press that we went into this game with delusions of grandeur and came out on the other side disappointed.

Every attempt that the game makes to appeal to certain audiences (trans-folk, BIPOC, etc) simply comes up short of what it could be. Don’t get me started on the Chromanticor drink ad. Transfolk have already boycotted the game for multiple reasons. Chief among them being the voice-equals-gender decision.

The game just seems stuck in the 80s, as I said before. Perhaps it is time for the Cyberpunk genre to be updated a little. We’re 50 years away from this game’s timeline and nothing in it feels within reach. And I am not wholly talking about the prosthetics, body modifications, hacking, and so on. The aesthetic as a whole is a neon-colored pop-rock fight-the-power drug-induced fever travelling in a 30-plus year old vessel that hasn’t quite grown up to meet the current era. What does Cyberpunk look like with a more modern aesthetic that draws perhaps from the original source material, while combining some new, current era ideas?

The world may never know.

The Final Take

Cyberpunk is still a fun game to play. If story is your thing, you may not find it to be the most interesting or compelling. If you’re just kind of looking for a fun romp through a filthy yet beautiful city, this might be for you. My recommendation would be to wait for a sale. Though CD Projekt Red has been working to address bugs, glitches and performance issues, in it’s current state, I think it isn’t worth a full $60. Even still, in a later state, I do not think it is worth $60. Cyberpunk does nothing different than games you’ve already played. It still comes up short and does nothing to really change or add to the conversation we have around video games. It does not engage the player beyond “here, play this game and have fun”–which, by the way is completely fine. So wait for a 20% off deal, make sure your hardware is up to date, and have a gay (but not gay enough) old time!