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Stray Showed Me Games Don’t Need To Consume Your Life To Be Great

Developers bragging that their games are so full of content that it would almost be impossible for a single person to experience all of it appears to be in vogue right now. Dying Light 2 studio Techland revealed it would take someone more than 500 hours to explore everything its sequel had to offer earlier this year. Either not hearing the negative reaction to that, or deciding to ignore it, Bethesda followed up with a similar announcement of its own a few months later when it revealed Starfield will have more than 1000 planets to explore when it launches in 2023.

Even though there was a fair amount of backlash and discourse surrounding these two examples in particular, most of us will have fallen for the bigger is better rhetoric when it comes to video games. Perhaps now more than ever what with a number of triple-A titles costing $70 at launch. In defense of all-consuming video games, sometimes bigger really is better. Take a very recent example in Xenoblade Chronicles 3. If you have played the latest installment, or even just read the reviews, it quickly becomes clear that trying to cut that game down to one that doesn't demand a lot of your time simply wouldn't work.

That isn't always true though, and I think Stray has shown me that more than any game to have come before it. If you have missed out on the Stray hype up until this point, I would strongly recommend you rectify that if you can. It's available on Steam, smashing Annapurna's concurrent player record on its launch day, and can still be downloaded for free if you have PS Plus Extra or Premium. Best of all, even if you do have live service games or something like Xenoblade eating up almost all of your video game time right now, Stray isn't going to distract you from them all that much, if at all.

If you're anything like me, Stray might well be a welcome break from grinding your chosen battle passes or going on a side quest that will add three hours to your virtual journey. Stray took me almost five hours exactly to play from start to finish (five hours and 45 seconds, to be exact) and I'm the kind of person who will often get baffled by something simple that's directly in front of me.

Just because it's short doesn't mean it's less worthy of respect, which is really the point I am trying to make. Not only is the story unique, it's intriguing, had me coming back for more whenever I had some spare time, and even moved me on more than one occasion. If you don't have to fight back tears when the game's leading feline falls into Dead City and starts to walk with a limp, you might want to check your pulse. There's also a moment at the end of the game that I won't spoil here since I'm trying to convince some of you to play it, but to quote the great Michael Scott, it made me feel as if my heart had been dropped into a bucket of boiling tears.

It's worth highlighting here that Stray isn't my first short game. I haven't been constantly playing 100-hour epics for the first 30 years of my life and suddenly a game where I can be a cat made me step back and say, “wait, there's another way?” To this day Sonic 2 might well be my favorite game. Technically even shorter than Stray, although without the ability to save my game it's entirely likely that was a 100-hour game for four-year-old me. I clearly had a lot more patience back then than I do now. I certainly wouldn't have finished Sonic Origins if I needed to start the game over every time I ran out of lives.

The realization that I might well be a short game person now wasn't just born from Stray being really damn good either. That I started playing Breath of the Wild for the very first time right before Stray launched definitely has a lot to do with it. I am well aware of how much of my life it will consume, and that between playing new stuff and the limited hours I find per day to actually play games, it will be a challenge to finish BOTW before its sequel arrives. On the flip side, I don't hate it. Quite the contrary. I love what I've seen so far. It's beautiful and every time I fire it up, I struggle to believe it is on Nintendo Switch at all, let alone a Switch game that has been available since the console launched.

When I find those precious few hours to play games, the first decision I have to make is whether I'm going to play something on Switch or PS5. Outside of games that never end like Fortnite and Rocket League, I try to have one game on the go on each at any given time. Most recently that meant I had to decide between Stray and BOTW. Stray won that battle every single time. Again, not because I'm not enjoying BOTW, but because I enjoyed Stray a lot more. I could play it in short bursts. Its story moved forward a significant amount even if I only played for 30 minutes. That simply isn't the case for a 50-hour game (and let's be honest, probably at least double that if you really want to experience it) like BOTW.

Now Stray is in my rearview mirror, I will naturally return to opting for my Switch and BOTW at least half the time, maybe even more so depending on what PS5 game is next in my never-ending backlog. Games that don't consume my life are likely going to take precedent for me now, especially when they are as novel and unique as Stray. That might mean the likes of BOTW and Starfield when it finally arrives take me even longer since I'll be dipping out should an intriguing game with a well-told story comes along. I don't need to know exactly how much time a game will take to play through, but knowing whether it will be closer to five hours or 50 hours will have a significant bearing on what I prioritize from now on.

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