Check out our full review of Stray, a purrfect game for cat lovers.
Cats are wonderful creatures. They get a lot of flack for being somewhat “uncaring” compared to dogs, but they’re much more than that. There’s nothing like a cat sitting on your lap, with a gentle purr as it settles on you, and Stray feels like the video game version of that. While there are moments of intensity, Stray’s highlights are when you’re scurrying across narrow beams in search of paint cans to topple over, or rugs to scratch at.
It’s clear that there was a lot of passion from BlueTwelve Studios while developing this game. The marketing has been showing it as a must-have for cat lovers, but those who prefer dogs have something to like about the trailers. And for a debut game, there’s a lot on the line for the fledgling studio. And usually, passion projects don’t work out.
Furst Cat in the City
To no one’s surprise, in Stray, you play as an orange-furred feline in a mysterious and trash-filled cybercity, something straight out of a dystopian film or video game. However, instead of wielding guns or cybernetics, you play as a normal cat, who quite litter-ally falls into the city below, on an adventure to return to their furry friends. Thankfully, you’re not alone, as you have a drone companion simply called B-12 to assist you.
While Stray’s story may not be the best narrative out there, it’s certainly captivating in the eyes of a feline who is thrust into a story they don’t really understand.
While much of Stray’s adventure is set with the Cat and B-12, there are plenty of other companions to meet. However, there are no humans, with robots solely making up the remaining population. It’s clear that humans were living here prior to the events of the game, but all that’s left of humankind is a shadow of their existence, and a mystery to solve. Fortunately, you have B-12 to help you translate the language of the robots, as it is the drone’s goal to locate an exit from the city. But B-12 is also looking for its memories, in an attempt to understand how he was made.
In most of the game, the Cat is simply a passenger in the story. A vessel for the player to watch the mystery unfold, helping with some clues along the way. You’ll meet the Outsiders, a group of robots searching for a way to the outside, who aim to help you get out too. And while Stray’s story may not be the best narrative out there, it’s certainly captivating in the eyes of a feline who is thrust into a story they don’t really understand.
Stray puts the focus on a standard cat, and it works extremely well.
In reality, that’s likely what BlueTwelve was hoping for. They were probably wanting players to have a story they can be investing themselves into, but know that the Cat doesn’t understand too much. And that’s purr-fectly fine, thanks to Strays absolutely solid gameplay mixed in with the storytelling elements.
Climbing with Purrpose
Looking back at the trailers for Stray, I can admit that I was worrying about how they would handle playing as a cat. Rather than playing as an anthropomorphic feline who can talk, hit, use weapons, and more, Stray’s cat is… just a cat. He’s special in the way that he isn’t special, and you usually see the Cat from Stray in games where they can be pets, a simple and small interaction in a story unrelated to these pets. Stray puts the focus on a standard cat, and it works extremely well.
Putting yourself in the shoes, or more so the paws of a feline work wonderfully. You’ll be jumping up on pipes to locate new areas, or flattening yourself under vents. Not only that, but you’ll find bottles and cans on ledges, enticing you to climb and knock them off. At first, Stray teaches you these by simply letting you play around as a cat. But as you get further into the game, they use these elements as mechanics for puzzles. This approach to game design turns gimmicks into interesting ways of solving issues, something that is rarely seen.
These enemies make for some intense, yet interesting moments in the gameplay. And it definitely helps break the experience from simple cat shenanigans.
Unfortunately, things aren’t as simple as walking around and scurrying across rooftops. If you’re not scratching curtains or resting on pillows, you’re hiding from Zurks or Sentinels. The former is an alien-like species, in large groups, that jump on you and bites, with the latter being similar to police drones that will attack you if you’re in classified areas. These enemies make for some intense, yet interesting moments in the gameplay. And it definitely helps break the experience from simple cat shenanigans.
However, these chase or stealth segments are few and far between. But they each have interesting methods to avoiding certain doom. Zurks will chase you but will jump and fling themselves off edges as you hop onto swinging beams. And sentinels will only attack you if they spot you, requiring the Cat to hide in cardboard boxes. They’re fun moments, but not as entertaining as simply being a cat, which is where Stray really excels.
The best part of Stray is that there is a dedicated meow button. I cannot stress this enough, you can meow on demand. And if that doesn’t sell you on Stray, I’m not sure what will.
Stray really makes being a cat work. Standard pipes, that in most games would simply be decor on the side of a building, become climbing frames. Buckets become elevators to quickly traverse the environment, with some being used as a zipline. However, the best part of Stray is that there is a dedicated meow button. I cannot stress this enough, you can meow on demand. And if that doesn’t sell you on Stray, I’m not sure what will.
The City Becomes a Litterbox
Stray’s city is a mostly desolate and dystopian city. But it makes for a great playground for a stray cat to explore. Dimly-lit alleyways become exploration zones as a cat, and decrepit buildings become an almost theme park-like experience for our protagonist. What would seem like a standard-looking city in a normal game becomes something much more when you’re in the perspective of a cat. And while in another game it would have become mediocre, the city is wonderful when you’re a feline.
Graphically, Stray looks superb. Everything from the main character, to the graffitied walls of the city, everything looks stunning. Many of the environments found in Stray focus on darkness, and quiet off-the-track areas that work wonders for the experience. None of Stray features action-packed sequences, preferring to keep the excitement of figuring out how to traverse the world as a cat.
The animations and design of the cat are absolutely perfect too. Half of the immersion is thanks to the fact that the Cat looks, acts, and feels like a real cat. There are some extremely talented designers in BlueTwelve Studios, who have created one of the best animal designs in a video game yet, managing to make a cat that could easily fool plenty of people into thinking it’s real.
Unfortunately, I had some issues with performance on the PC version of the game. While they didn’t occur often, frame drops were happening at checkpoints and during Zurk chases. They don’t affect the overall experience, but they are worth noting in our review. There were also some bugs and glitches, however, they only took away from some immersion, but never broke the game outright.
Conclusion – Stray Review
Stray is definitely at its peak when it focuses on making the player feel like a cat out of their home. The exploration and investigation of new locations feel exciting from the perspective of a feline. And actively acting like a cat by walking over keyboards, resting on chairs you don’t belong to, or knocking over strangers’ drinks is always satisfying. While the narrative does a great job at keeping you on board, Stray is simply purrfect when it’s doing what it does best – putting you in the paws of being a cat. And while some people are unlikely to be hooked, or clawed, into the experience BlueTwelve has brought, many will find a pawsitively wonderful time with Stray.
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A review code was provided by the Annapurna Interactive for the purpose of this review.