HomePC GAMESForza Horizon 5The best moment of Citizen Sleeper: meeting the stray cat

The best moment of Citizen Sleeper: meeting the stray cat


Citizen Sleeper is a game with lots of brilliant individual stories in it, even the ones that end so catastrophically badly that redemption seems nigh on impossible. But when I look back on this tabletop-infused RPG and think of my favourites, there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. It isn’t one of Citizen Sleeper’s more emotional story beats (I miss ya, Lem and Mina), nor is it its most thrilling (big love to my man Feng). Rather, it’s one of the game’s quietest and arguably least significant plot points, but the fact it’s there at all is probably what cemented Citizen Sleeper as one of my favourite games of last year. It is, of course, befriending The Stray who takes up residence in your Lowend apartment.

I swear this isn’t just because it’s a cute cat, either. I try not to be that much of a walking talking cliché, although the fact it is a cat rather than, say, a dog, certainly is part of it. But this singular moment in Citizen Sleeper simply wouldn’t work if it were any other animal. As everyone surely knows, cats are uniquely standoffish. They say that one doesn’t ever really own a cat, so much as serve one, and The Stray embodies that relationship to a tee. I mean, heck, its character portrait has it sitting facing away from you, its head lightly turned to the side as if to say, ‘Excuse me, who are you exactly and why are you disturbing my big sit like this?’ It’s barely acknowledging your presence as it is, but at the same time, the fact it’s chosen to reveal itself is its own kind of victory.

The repaired apartment unit is highlighted on a ring-shaped space station in Citizen Sleeper
Sure, you might technically still be squatting in this rundown apartment, but it’s still a space you can finally call your own. Sort of. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Fellow Traveller

For many Citizen Sleeper players, saving up enough scrap to renovate this derelict apartment unit in The Eye’s Lowend district represents one of the first major milestones in forging a life for yourself here. Previously, you were probably kipping in the same shoddy shipping container that you escaped on. You might have ventured further afield and found sanctuary up in the Hypha Commune with its shared dorm and sleeping quarters, but that’s still fundamentally a shared space that, to me at least, never quite felt like I belonged there. The apartment, on the other hand, is a space you can finally call your own, a little piece on this big Eye of a space station that’s yours and yours alone – even if functionally, it’s really no different from catching a nap in that rusty old bucket that brought you here.

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Or so you think. Whenever you turn in for another cycle, the option to ‘Feed A Stray’ appears alongside menus to top up your stabilizer and – if you have the requisite perk – chuck some dice into sunbathing to restore your energy levels (as an android, you do have photosynthetic skin, after all). “There’s signs that a stray animal has been nosing around near the unit,” the description reads. “A handful of chits for some crackers should bring it out of hiding.”

The menu screen for the apartment block in Citizen Sleeper
I mean, I’m obviously going to feed the cat. There’s no world in which that kind of menu option goes ignored. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Fellow Traveller

It’s not clear how long it will take to meet this so-called stray, or indeed whether it’s the kind of animal you even want to be encouraging to forage around your bins. It could be a rabid mutated space raccoon for all I know. But hey, this is video games. Even if it is a mutated rabid space raccoon, I kinda want to see that just for the hell of it. So even though money is always tight in Citizen Sleeper, you think, “It’s only four cryo, let’s just see what happens.”

So you chuck some money into some crackers and hope for the best. I seem to recall it taking a number of potential feedings before I brought The Stray out of hiding, but looking at other people’s Let’s Plays in recent weeks, the visit is pretty much instantaneous, so maybe my memory is playing tricks on me. In any case, regardless of how long it takes to actually meet The Stray, the encounter remains powerful and momentous in its own way.

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“It doesn’t acknowledge your presence, it just sits there, beside the tray of crumbled crackers, staring out at the Lowend”, the text reads, and you ask yourself the question: “What is this cat’s story?” And you really do. The sudden appearance of this strange, enigmatic animal, the only one you’ll ever encounter on The Eye in the whole of your time here, poses more questions than it answers, and the text sets your mind alight with possibilities. Before you have the chance to consider those questions further, though, you’re given the option to approach or watch the stray, and knowing how my own cats would react to a stranger encroaching on their territory, I chose the latter.

A black cat sits on top of a fridge unit with city apartments in the background in Citizen Sleeper
Hello friend. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Fellow Traveller

You remain relaxed, and watch as something flickers in its eyes, perhaps the reflection of a passing ship. The stray settles a little and starts eating, picking at the broken crackers.

You don’t remember ever having been this close to an animal. It triggers something in you, a recognition of a life, totally unlike your own, but still somehow connected, parallel, even interwoven.

Somehow, this cat becomes an anchor point to your forgotten past. Did your human self once own a cat of their own, before they signed their life away to become an indentured slave whose mind has been cast off in this metal body of yours? Perhaps they too once encountered a stray just like this in an age gone by, their clear and unerring fascination stirring something deep within your synthetic synapses. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but somehow you finding yourself asking this animal whether it likes its life here, lonely as it is. Obviously, The Stray cannot respond, but as you contemplate this strange new neighbour of yours, you realise that “it is not that the stray is always happy on the Eye, but that the stray is engaged by this place. It is alive here”, and that means you could be too. Not a dead, broken shell of another life somewhere else. But alive, and your own person.

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Moments later “you feel something pass between you and the stray, a kind of acknowledgement of each other. A sense that each of you might share something with each other. A point of connection”.

It feels like the start of something new, but as soon as this bond is forged, off it goes, brushing briefly against your legs as it trots out the door, never to be seen again. It’s a devastating end to such a chance, unforeseen encounter, but its brevity and abrupt resolution is exactly what makes it stick in the mind so long after watching several of Citizen Sleeper’s end credit sequences. Perhaps it’s because you’re still given the option to feed it more crackers whenever you return to your apartment at the end of another cycle. I’ve never seen The Stray again since, but I spend the money and leave out those crackers for it anyway. There’s an understanding between us now, and a mutual dependence that cannot be undone. Together, we sustain each other, ensuring the other stays alive whether it’s physically through food, or mentally through that shared sense of connection. It might be my name on the door frame, but we both know this is ultimately The Stray’s apartment, and I’m merely stopping by for a quick kip and visit.

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