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This year is almost done and dusted, and it has been one of the best for video games. Packed with great triple-A games like Elden Ring, Horizon Forbidden West, Xenoblade Chronicles 3, and God of War Ragnarök, there was no shortage of candidates for 2022.

And while the heavy hitters above were expected to be hugely successful, this year also brought an unusually high number of great indie games. And one of those stood out from the rest, to everyone’s surprise.

Stray launched in July and quickly became viral as the internet got flooded with players and their cats reacting to the game. The curious cat game’s success was surely helped by the fact that it was one of the first and very few day-one releases on Sony’s revamped PlayStation Plus subscription service, but this alone doesn’t explain its popularity. The ‘Cyberpunk 2077 but you’re a cat’ indie also overtook long-awaited titles to become the most wish-listed game on Steam in the lead-up to its release.

Stray video game screenshot

Exploring an abandoned cyberpunk city as a curious cat feels fresh and satisfying.

The game didn’t introduce many groundbreaking gameplay elements and is more of a standard linear 3D platformer, with some open areas, puzzle-solving, collectibles, and some spooky encounters with aggressive enemies, where you’re mostly running away rather than fighting. Nevertheless, its gorgeously crafted cyberpunk world and the premise of playing as a cat felt wholesome and new. Creating a believable and cute feline protagonist is a surefire way of making a likable game with the broadest appeal possible. And there’s a dedicated meow button. How cool is that?

While the usual suspects to make a best games of the year list are oftentimes sequels of established game franchises, Stray was the odd one out. Being the debut game of its indie developer BlueTwelve Studio, it looked fresh and unburdened by expectations and preconceived notions of what it should be. You are just a curious cat exploring a dystopian yet mysterious Blade Runner-esque city, and that’s all you need to know to pick it up.

Stray vidoe game, cat and robot talking to grandma

Naturally, the cat doesn't talk, so the story is told by your friendly robot companion.

Opting not to anthropomorphize the unnamed cat protag like most other games with animals do, and relying on your robot companion to push the narrative forward, helped make Stray and its world much more credible. Stray’s portrayal of its main player character is arguably the most accurate depiction of a cat in a game.

Best game lists and game awards should not be popularity contests, but the fascinating allure of Stray and its inquisitive protagonist goes beyond mere crowd-pleasing. Games must be enjoyable and fun to play, and Stray is definitely up there in delivering a great experience.