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Stray delivers on its adorable cat adventure premise, but its excellent atmosphere and strong sci-fi storytelling are what elevate it.
My cat, Mirah, got up next to me as I was playing the video game Stray while reclining on my couch. Mirah crawled up onto my legs and lay down with her face aimed towards the screen while I controlled the orange virtual cat in the game.
She was purring, and I could feel a soft rumble, not unlike the haptic feedback from my DualSense controller. It’s possibly the first time I’ve experienced while playing a game where the mechanical and natural elements feel harmoniously synchronized.
After falling into a walled city consisting of sentient robots and being separated from its family, the furry hero must utilize its special abilities to solve riddles and get out of the enigmatic slums. Here, BlueTwelve Studio has a blast finding out how common feline habits may be transformed into useful navigational aids. For instance, if you scratch a door, an irritated robot might swing it open, letting you to scurry inside. I had to leap into boxes to hide from drones that were patrolling during a stealth segment. Even completely optional interactions, like locating a cozy reading spot for a nap, are cleverly enjoyable.
With a sense of cat-like curiosity, Stray investigates that particular juncture. The adventure game, created by BlueTwelve Studio, envisions a not entirely improbable future in which humans have destroyed themselves and have left overgrown plants, animals, and sentient machines to rule the planet. Since the game’s first announcement, much has been made of its endearing feline protagonist, but Stray is more than just a charming marketing ploy; it’s a sci-fi game that explores our delicate relationship with technology.
With its insightful social criticism and innovative (albeit constrained) gameplay ideas, Stray is a unique experience that excels as a futuristic mood piece. And an exceptionally adorable one at that.
Stray review: Press O to meow
The main selling point of Stray may be the simplest in video game history: Play as a typical cat to fulfill your wildest wish. The orange protagonist of the game is not a talking, bipedal anthropomorphic tabby. It is a typical pet that naps and scratches furniture. This notion opens up some interesting gameplay options that are always fun to find.
After falling into a walled city consisting of sentient robots and being separated from its family, the furry hero must utilize its special abilities to solve riddles and get out of the enigmatic slums. Here, BlueTwelve Studio has a blast finding out how common feline habits may be transformed into useful navigational aids. For instance,
if you scratch a door, an irritated robot might swing it open, letting you to scurry inside. I had to leap into boxes to hide from drones that were patrolling during a stealth segment. Even completely optional interactions, like locating a cozy reading spot for a nap, are cleverly enjoyable.
With its feline premise, Stray is only capable of so much. By the time I reached the end of my tour, it seemed like scratching or knocking things over could answer just about any non-platforming puzzle. When that happens, some of the pleasure is lost because I almost forgot I was playing an adventure game while managing a cat.
There are a few classic puzzles that call on deduction, such as using written hints to identify safe combinations, but Stray doesn’t quite discover as many ways to make use of the limited abilities players possess as, say, Untitled Goose Game.
The cat protagonist of Stray has a drone companion that manages the simpler adventure game conventions, including exchanging stuff with NPCs, to expand the range of actions that players can perform. These concepts add some variation to the game, but occasionally they can seem a little forced. For instance, a combat mechanic is briefly introduced in the game and then removed before it has a chance to fully develop.
The game is unique because of the genuine feline moments rather than the video game-like ones. The scene that stuck with me the most wasn’t when I was escaping a horde of parasitic foes. It happened when I got my head stuck in a paper bag and had to turn the controls around to get it out. Those frequently comical touches gave me a brief sight inside my cat’s bewildered mind. I’ve never really experienced that sense in a game with an animal protagonist before, but now I wish more did.
Stray review: The world is your litter box
Only a minor portion of what makes Stray successful is the gameplay’s emphasis on cats. The game’s distinctive atmosphere, which makes it a genuinely transportive experience, is the true star of the show. It’s simple to block out the real world while you explore the virtual one thanks to the game’s stunning electronic soundtrack and its intricate cityscapes covered in rusted neon signs (that is, unless your actual cat gets hungry and starts shouting over your headset).
Stray feels like a direct descendant of Ico. There’s an underlying sense of tragedy present in the isolated robot world, but the game doesn’t have a depressing tone. The feline perspective allows players to see a potentially dystopian space through earnestly curious eyes. Dilapidated apartment buildings become cat towers with lots of ledges to jump on and nooks to explore. There’s a sad backstory behind it all, but it’s a game about a creature finding a way to survive and thrive in any environment it’s placed in.
The navigational aids serve to emphasize that notion. Instead of offering players a jump button and making them go through challenging platforming puzzles, Stray adopts a purrkour-style of mobility similar to that of Assassin’s Creed. By clicking the X button when it shows on screen, players can go from one surface to another. As a result, the cat can move with agility and precision while safely scaling structures.
The goal of the game is to pique your curiosity and prod you to fearlessly investigate around; there is no danger of dying from a careless jump when you are exploring.
It helps that the settings, which were modeled by the actual Kowloon Walled City, are so elaborately made with tons of nooks and vertical room to experiment with. You’ll first come across a small, open city that is perfect for exploring on your own. I first jumped as high as I could while squeezing through flimsy apartment windows.
Later, I leaped to the earth and walked through confined spaces while conversing with the neighborhood robots lined the streets. I was content to stick my head where it didn’t belong even when there was nothing to be found in some obscure corner (the more I write this, the more I’m beginning to understand why my cat is so ready to stick her head in the fridge whenever it’s open).
Where other games turn exploration into a chore with endless tasks to chase, Stray gets that a well-designed world doesn’t need to dangle treats in front of players to get them to move.
Stray review: Anti-cat-pitalism
You might be shocked by how serious of a tale Stray has if you’re the kind of person who views it as a “meme game.” It offers a sci-fi story that is socially sensitive and incorporates several contemporary themes. There is a definite environmentalist bent, as seen in the investigation into how humanity is poisoning itself to extinction. As a result, there is a reflection on class disparity since the robot city is essentially a slum that humans treated as a huge trash bin.
The androids who live in the world give the story its heart, even though the cat hero may receive the most attention. I rapidly became captivated in the enigmatic robot past revealed through collectable memories using my drone friend as a translator. It’s a sad tale of heartfelt machines that wished to interact with their designers and the callous people who abandoned them.
A tale like this could easily take a pessimistic view on technology and blame all of the world’s issues on the annoying screens we all stare at. But Stray is aware that technology is frequently used as a scapegoat to justify those who abuse it. It’s telling that the androids that have mimicked the wrong individuals to build a police state are the closest thing the game has to adversaries.
It’s simple to imagine Stray’s decaying cities as a grim dystopia, yet I really left with the opposite impression. It visualizes a scenario in which human selfishness has been eliminated and nature and technology have achieved a state of natural equilibrium. In science fiction, androids are typically portrayed as evil forces that would destroy humanity, but Stray suggests that perhaps they’d be better stewards of our world than we are.
Stray review: Verdict
The furry gimmick Stray isn’t just there for the memes. Its gameplay, which is centered around cats, gives the adventure genre a new angle and emphasizes exploration spurred by curiosities. Although several of its gameplay concepts seem constrained and underdeveloped, the game’s endearing cat interactions make up for these flaws. Stay for the socially conscious sci-fi tale about how humans are the builders of their own destruction, but come for the cute furball hero.