I have always had a weakness for stray cats. When indie adventure game Stray was announced atlast year my interest was piqued. I was then fully sold on the concept of a cat navigating a cyberpunk dystopia, and I’m happy to report that the game does not disappoint.
BlueTwelve Studio’s third-person perspective game casts you as an adorable, nameless orange cat who lives with a group of other felines. Your group spends its days like cats do: sleeping, playing and exploring. Life in sunny paradise comes to an abrupt end for you when an accident separates you from your family of cats.
You wake up in a decaying cybercity populated by robots. You will have to help your new friends fight off the parasitic infestation of Zurks in the city and find a way back outside.
Stray was immediately immersive, presenting the exterior as a peaceful, green and atmospheric space akin to a Studio Ghibli film set. The exterior is strikingly different from the hauntingly beautiful city you find yourself in. Living spaces and dilapidated buildings are crammed together, leaving narrow, littered alleyways. The walls of the muted building are lit by string lights and neon signs, haloed in a haze suspended in the air.
The developers have masterfully captured the way cats move – wake up from a nap and do a big stretch, scratch a rug, and yes, knock things off ledges just because you can. Your personality as a player can shine through in those moments. Are you the stealthy cat that goes unnoticed or do you charge straight into the fray? It’s up to you to decide.
Stray is a new take on the traditional adventure game hero. You are small, vulnerable, voiceless (except for the occasional meow), and no opposable thumbs. These limitations don’t stop you, but they do require some ingenuity. Nor are you entirely thrown to the metaphorical wolves. Shortly after arriving in town, you team up with a small robot named B-12. The flying robot equips you with a backpack for all your discoveries.
Even with your digital companion, the challenges of each chapter require anticipation. Be cunning, thoughtful and creative. The game rewards curiosity, which sometimes results in light and humorous moments. The key to knowing what to do next in the sprawling city, whether your mission is high-stakes or you’re just looking for collectibles, is to explore and interact with the environment.
Stray is a one-of-a-kind video game that’s more than just a source for cat puns. The sets are stunning and come alive with easy-to-love characters. The developers deliver heartfelt narrative moments with little to no dialogue.
When I started the game with my two cats nearby, my heart broke during the scene where the cat is separated from its family. The thought of anything bad happening to this helpless creature petrified me. It’s the mark of a good video game when the developers subvert your expectations. It wasn’t long before I was no longer afraid for the cat’s safety. The cat was smart and resourceful. The cat was badass.
Getting emotionally invested in a story and its characters is another sign of good design. While I loved the cat, I was also intrigued by the robots he encountered along the way. They had personalities, fears, memories and families. It was beautiful to see these tired, dilapidated robots meet the cat and feel a renewed sense of hope and courage.
In Stray, the world is your playground and you have the cat-like agility to navigate it. Don’t underestimate what you can do, even as a little cat away from home. And don’t forget to cause a little harm.
You can play Stray today on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC through Steam and PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium members.