Stray is the new feline-fueled game from Annapurna and Blue Twelve Studio. As a cat lover and someone who has worked with cats professionally for many years, I couldn’t wait to get my kitten mittens on this new cat-centric adventure! Check out my review of Stray.
WARNING! THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS
Stray’s opening scene will warm the coldest of hearts. A family of felines welcomes us to the game as they hide away in a little cove on a rainy day. We watch them be damn adorable as they play with each other. We get to have some fun too! Controlling our purrtagonist for the first time, we get to be cute kitties with our friends before settling for the night in a big kitty cuddle puddle. It is the cutest thing ever, and my heart couldn’t take it.
But Stray is not all about kitten play, as it’s not long before disaster strikes! While on an adventure with his friends, our kitty falls from a broken pipe which sends him into a deep chasm. He is now separated from his family, far from home, in such a heartbreaking scene!
The story of Stray is wholesome and endearing. As you explore the world, you will discover cyber cities only populated by fearful civilian robots, left behind when the humans vanished. Some of the robots strive to make it to the outside too, so our kitty must help them so they can help him to return to his world.
They may even offer you a head pet or two…
One character, in particular, will play a big part in your adventure. B-12 is a small floating robot that lived in the time before the underworld. By helping him recover his memories, B-12 will give you details about the past and how the dark cities came to be. He becomes your traveling companion, helps you hack computers to open doors, read signs and posters for you (because you’re a cat), evaporates items for you so that you can carry them, somewhere… and provides you with tools such as a flashlight, and later in the game, a bug killing mega lamp!
Stray has an overall bleak atmosphere and is set in a dystopian, post-human era. I got some serious The Last of Us vibes with this game. All the areas outside the cities in the game are abandoned and overgrown with vines. There are also foul creatures that room outside the safety of the walls. The NPCs (non-playable characters) and side characters are often somber and, if spoken to, can offer interesting narratives that uncover the story of the dark world. Some just want to comment on the fact that you’re a cat… The NPCs don’t always have a lot to offer, but their personalities fit the game’s tone. I liked that they did not have overpowering personalities that could overshadow our non-verbal kitty star of the show!
Being a cat is absolutely the selling point of this game, and Stray captures this well! I had a lot of fun clawing furniture, knocking shit off shelves, walking across keyboards, jumping in boxes, getting my head stuck in bags, and running between legs and tripping the robot people. To walk around and cause a little mischief is so cute!
My favorite moment was when the cat received his backpack to carry the B-12. Have you ever tried putting a harness on a cat? Your kitty falls to the ground and won’t stand up. Our Stray does exactly that, and it’s hilarious!
You can seriously live your best cat life in this game!
Aside from all the cuteness, Stray just looks fantastic and is such a fun game to play! The Unreal 4 engine brings those environments to life with vivid lighting and texture. The cities and spaces are just beautiful.
As a player, Stray eases you into the game. Stray is a very linear and guided game with little room for exploitation while you learn how to cat. As the game progresses, Stray stays linear to keep the story on track but feels less restrictive as areas become a little more free roaming.
There is a lot of climbing and jumping on ledges, as you could imagine, with a game featuring a cat. Stray uses vertical space effectively, allowing your cat to explore more than just street level and walk across the rooftops and gutters to get where he needs to be. Using the vertical space of the city is very similar to how a cat would navigate in real life, and I enjoyed scaling the city in this way. It felt creative, crawling in and out of open windows, using buckets on pulleys as little elevators, and just seeing the city from above.
The entire area feels large but compact enough that you don’t get overly lost but can still maintain that little kitty in the big city feel.
One minor issue I had with the game is that despite traversing up high buildings, jumping on thin ledges, and leaping over deep chasms, your cat control is consequence-free throughout the entire game. There’s no way of missing a jump and falling or having any kind of misstep. I tried to see if I could jump into the void, but the kitty will only jump to a safe spot with a prompt (there are a lot of them), and there isn’t a jump action to use freely. I also tried to walk the kitty cat into a spinning fan of death just to see if I had the choice to make a mistake… The little furball wouldn't do what he was told to. Selfish asshole.
Once I learned there was no way the cat could get hurt, or make a mistake, some of the excitement died. It’s not that I want to see the cat get hurt. I just feel that by taking away elements of danger, Stray became more of a guided story that gave me no other option but to succeed and no freedom to make a mistake. The reward of me reaching my final destination was taken away as there was no hardship in getting there. It also made the game feel a little restrictive, as I felt like I didn’t have complete control of my cat’s actions.
I still had a lot of fun.
I feel like the traversing element of Stray could have been more exciting for me with some added danger. I was looking forward to kitty Nathan Drake (from the Uncharted series of games) risking it all to make his way across all the dangers that life can throw at him and me willing him on as he dares to make that big jump!
Some of the puzzles were also a little too easy and didn’t provide much of a challenge to the player. Everything is just so relaxed and easy to get to and solve! Taking a cue from such games as Untitled Goose Game, where you are chased for being mischief, could have brought an extra fun element to the game.
The game does make up for the easy ride, though, with the enemy encounters! They are a stark contrast to the no consequence traversal and can be pretty unforgiving.
There are two kinds of enemies. The Zurks are large tick-like creatures that eat you and Sentinels, hovering security droids that will shoot you. They are the only danger you will face in the game, and as the game progresses, the enemy engagement becomes more intense. If you aren’t careful, you can get taken out pretty easily. You’ll have to think on your paws to get past them. I often found out the hard way that just making a run for it was a bad idea!
Compared to a lot of other games on the market, Stray is pretty short in length. I completed Stray in just over 5 hours, but it was 5 hours of solid gameplay with minimal cut-scenes. With looking for all the objects and doing side missions, the game could have been 7 hours of play.
I loved this game! Stray provided a unique gaming experience through a cat’s perspective, which is something I haven’t seen in recent games. For $25 for a digital version and $39.99 for the coming physical release (due September), I think it is worth the price!
If you want a relaxing and cute game but don’t mind a few fast-paced moments, then Stray would be the perfect game for you. Gamers looking for fast-paced action and challenging puzzles may find Stray a little restrictive but should still have fun.
The game Stray has also been helping to raise money for cats around the world. The Humane Society of Nebraska is giving away copies of the game with a donation. Other cat protection leagues are also holding competitions to win copies of the game in hopes of raising awareness for homeless cats. So pick your copy up today, and save some lives! Stray is available for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC.