Itching For More: Stray
Every Wednesday, even after nothing of particular importance happen for the past forever, Itching For More shall burst forth, like an unwanted song during shuffle play on your phone. This week, walking simulator: Stray
Stray, by Pepijn Willekens and Brandon Rijpert, would be an entirely different game without its soundtrack. Without it, Stray would turn from a tense, foreboding game, to one of peace and tranquility. Yet Stray’s soundtrack is integral to the rest of the game — you could change the art style, walking mechanics, anything, but the soundtrack is what makes it.
It is one of a slow build-up, over around ten minutes, slowly adding more and more elements (a piece that is almost minimalist, but transforms almost into a post-rock finale), building an atmosphere that, despite the minimal, Firewatch inspired landscape, makes you feel utterly and completely adrift, stuck on a raft in the middle of the ocean with no islands in sight.
“stray (streɪ) to move without a destination or purpose; to become diverted, as from a subject or train of thought”
Stray begins with you walking away from a crashed car. If we assume that the crashed car is the main protagonist’s, then they have just been through a rather dramatic experience. Yet, this is all we know about them, we don’t know their original destination or intention. They just need to walk.
And so Stray progresses — the main character walking further and further away from their wreckage, deeper and deeper into the snow covered woods. Stray is a stray-nge game, in that its focus is completely and utterly on the buildup. You pass many things in Stray, but they all end up blurring into one object, something to pass by and leave behind you, as your character continues to plough forwards.
Stray ends with you climbing up a hill, reaching the top as the music reaches a crescendo, camera panning out around you as you stop, and observe. The ending of Stray is a realisation, of context and of scale. As you stand on top of the hill, surrounded by stars, you but a spec, music almost screaming at you, the diversion of thought almost seems obvious — no matter what your problem at the time, there are always bigger things to be considered.
Stray is a free game, available here