This is a few lines of murtagonist dialogue (sorry) in To roampuzzle platformer that you may have referred to colloquially in the last few years as cat game. See, To roam it’s not just a cat game. This is the game that throws you as a cat – and as such, very convincingly reproduces feline behavior.
Case in point: you, like a cat, can randomly waltz around on a computer keyboard found in one of the first chapters of the game. The computer monitor will be filled with a jumble of letters, numbers, and symbols. For you or for me it’s incoherent though I’m sure the cat is very proud of his work. Good job, buddy.
This is just one example of finger waving that will be instantly recognizable to anyone with a cat. You might push a beer bottle off a counter or knock over a stack of carefully folded books. You can tear sofas, carpets and closed doors with your claws. In one truly hilarious prank, you can stick your head in a paper bag. Tilt the joystick as you normally would to move, and you’ll head in a random direction instead. Mind you, these aren’t just jokes; they are legitimate tools for getting through To roam.
To roam, published by Annapurna Interactive and releasing tomorrow on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and PC, is the debut game from French development studio BlueTwelve. First announced during 2020 PS5 reveal event, To roam immediately went viral for its main gimmick: you know, the whole “you play as a cat” thing. I can’t deny that I got carried away by the trailer, and I can’t deny that I feel a little apprehensive. Will the joke go from marketing to reality? could To roam keep it up throughout the game?
I had very little to worry about. Turns out, To roamthe secret sauce is how serious he takes himself.
The game starts with the kind of cinematic slow panning you see in prestige titles from top studios like Naughty Dog, except instead of humans, it focuses on a group of wild domestic cats. You can tell right off the bat that all these cats are best friends, spending their days loitering around abandoned concrete structures, apparently free of human owners who didn’t give them enough canned tuna, possibly jerks. However, soon the cat you control will separate from the pack. It’s a heartbreaking moment to see this little creature that doesn’t have a name. but according to the pattern one of the studio head’s own pets is to show despondent shock when he realized he was about to lose his backpack. The essence of the game becomes clear: you will do everything in your power to see him reunited with his friends.
AT To roamIn our case, “doing your best” more or less means “getting lost in a beautifully rendered city” and “solving elementary environmental puzzles”.
After the intro, you wake up in the doldrums of a cyberpunk city. There are no people anywhere. Instead, the city is populated by robots called companions who live in isolated areas to hide from roaming cyclopean-eyed rodents that can and will destroy any sentient life in their path. There are moments To roam which include running away from this threat. In some cases, this means racing through an abandoned tunnel to safety. But sometimes it means thinking smart, like a real cat. For example, you can meow on command. This will summon the Scourge towards you, and if you do this while standing on a ledge (rodents can’t jump that high), you will have a chance to let them get away.
For most To roam, you are accompanied by B12, a sentient drone. The B12 can do a lot of useful things that cats can’t, like opening and closing electronic gates that you can use to trap rodents, allowing you to get through. (Later, B12 gets a headlight that can incinerate any rodents that get caught in its purple glow, though it’s on a cooldown.) This contrasting set of talents forms an unbreakable bond between B12 and the cat. What begins as a partnership of convenience quickly becomes a true friendship. They need each other.
B12’s most invaluable skill is one that a cat obviously doesn’t understand: language. Linear levels, stages in which you flee from carnivorous one-eyed rodents, are punctuated by light-hearted segments where you can explore the outskirts of the city. B12 can talk to companions; conversations fill in the gaps To roamsci-fi canon, but also disguised as instructions.
For example, in one of the game’s (many) bars, I found a sleeping companion. I knew that I needed this robot to wake up. I did not know how to make it happen. Later, while tackling a completely irrelevant task, another Companion mentioned something offhand about how their sleeping friend would only be woken up by a hard blow to the head. Turning on my Clever Cat Powers, I returned to the bar, climbed onto its rafters, and pushed the crate of bottles onto the sleeping Companion’s head. Voila! Awake.
In the smartest puzzle games, you bang your head against the table until you finally find the solution and feel like a genius. To roam never made me feel like a genius. It also never made me bang my head on the table.
What To roam not exactly full of dead ends, however, that didn’t bother me as the game really picks up steam during the exploration segments. These areas aren’t huge, but man, they are dense. Anyone who has lived with a cat can attest to their tendency to climb high places, despite being repeatedly scolded in response to such behavior. To roamopen areas reflect this momentum. Each building is replete with pipes, ledges, fire escapes, protruding air conditioners, and other geometry that allows you to scale all the way to the rooftops, creating a true sense of verticality.
But it’s not only that. So often, the central areas in games feel like empty pit stops, a set of clothes for the ultimate – but ultimately commonplace – goal of increasing your attack stat by 0.05% or something. You can cut them down to a series of menus and not lose much.
Could you make it to To roam, not without overlooking what makes the game so special. Despite the fact that there is not a single person in it, To roamthe city is one of the most human spaces I’ve ever traversed in a video game.
This is almost entirely due to the Companions. Even though it is quite obvious that they are not human, they behave in much the same way as you, me and everyone we know. They play billiards in neon-lit bars and tease each other about their sense of style. They love music. (To roamscore composed Jan van der Kreussen, delightfully jazzy.) I met a man who wanted to be a great guitarist but didn’t have the sheet music to do so. I could go on with the main story, but I decided to look for the sheet music. Every time I found it, Companion played me a song. I got nothing from this quest; I don’t even think it increased my “percent complete” statistic in the game progress tracker. It was just… wonderful what I did for someone else, for someone who really seemed human to me.
I entered To roam waiting for a platformer about a cat. I didn’t expect to think deeply about what it means to be alive. To roam deftly points out how blurred the line between artificial and natural intelligence is, and then pushes this thought experiment to the very horizon. Is man defined by flesh and bones? Thoughts and feelings? The ability to use your thumbs and solve problems? It must be love, right? Can a computer feel love? But wait, what is the human brain if not a sequence of electronic signals and calculations that are constantly being activated?
Unlike their high-budget counterparts, To roam does not deign to answer these questions, at least not directly. But I like to think To roamthe protagonist actually brought me to some understanding a few hours ago, at an early level with a computer and a keyboard: “setwjhdoixdiwvo%pydjgt”.
Oh wait, no. Not this one.
Here, this one: “twvdflllllllllllllllllllll”.