Name another game where you play as a cat exploring a futuristic cyberpunk society? Stray is nothing if not unique with captivating (if not complex) gameplay that had me wanting to return to its futuristic world time and time again. Perhaps, that’s the emotional manipulation of having a realistic cat at its center. You can ask my fiancee how many times I ended up awing at the screen. If you’re looking for a unique perspective separate from anything quite else, then Stray, developed by BlueTwelve Studios, is a good time as any.
Stray Review Biggest Take-Aways
- Stray doesn’t revolutionize gaming but it does offer a unique perspective not seen in gaming.
- The game is broken down into various open-world hubs for you to explore as well as linear levels fraught with danger.
- Stray features one of video games’ most realistic and adorable cats.
- There are no game-breaking bugs on our play through but Stray did have a few visual hiccups at launch.
- Final score: 7/10
Stray Is Cyberpunk With a Twist
Let’s take a look at exactly what works and what doesn’t for Stray. The story of Stray begins simple enough with a group of cats nestled together among the colossal industrial wreckage mankind left behind. These early hours make it hard to tell who ultimately won – Mother Nature or humanity, painting a haunting almost soulful image. But’s not long before Stray’s inciting incident kicks place taking our cat hero on a journey with a cast of colorful characters. Things get decidedly weird with robots who go through the motions as if they were human and a group of monsters called Zurks that lurk like an adorable group of piranhas. Make no mistake though, they are downright terrifying at times given you are just a cat despite the sci-fi trappings.
Don’t expect a talking cartoon cat either. BlueTwelve’s greatest achievement is they managed to create a protagonist that behaves, moves and looks generally like a common house cat. Sure, you’re likely playing as the smartest cat who ever lived, given what you accomplish in the game. But there’s nothing quite like behaving in decidedly cat behaviors throughout Stray’s 8 to 10 hours. For instance, see a bucket of paint sitting on a rooftop? Knock it off. Two robots engaging in a board game? You can jump on the board, ruining the game, while you look innocently from your new perch.
In fact, one of my favorite parts of the game was finding new ways to torment some of the game’s NPCs. I almost wished the game played like Untitled Goose Game, in which you can just go around being your worst animal self. But the amount that we did get helps flavor the world and create a sense of realism. For instance, our cat can cuddle up and watch a robot musician serenade the city streets or scratch at the carpet. You can even walk across a computer keyboard mimicking those cat videos from the early 2000s. The game features a dedicated button for meowing, which may seem like a gimmick in the early levels but actually ends up being a vital gameplay function. Meowing initially helps show players where to go and later operates as a way to lure enemies.
Puzzles, Puzzles, Puzzles
Most of the game is split up between exploring puzzles in small open-world hubs and surviving tense encounters with various enemies. The former plays out like a video game version of Where’s Waldo, challenging players to use the environment, notes, and conversations with the robot citizens to figure out their next move. Your character may be a cat, but it does go on a lot of fetch quests, searching the area for the next key object. Unfortunately, the NPC characters don’t offer much movement outside of cut scenes and their assigned quests. For instance, one NPC was cleaning up some spilled paint (sorry!) and was still in the same cleaning animation when I returned hours later. I know you’re surrounded by robots in the game, but as a result, you become aware of the artificialness of your environment. While I wish there was a little more interactivity and variety in these parts, Stray does end up feeling rewarding when all of the puzzles click together. The game reminds me a bit of a more realistic Banjo Kazooie game in the best way.
Stray’s Adorable Survival Horror
The other type of levels are much more linear but end up being among my favorite part of the game. In most games, your hero gets a gun or a weapon to defend themselves. But in Stray, you have to use your smarts and quick movements to avoid ending up in that litter box in the sky. For instance, the Zurks will swarm you from all sides, leading to a game of chase in which you have to use the environment to your advantage. (Fortunately, they can’t climb too well.) Later in the game, you have to avoid the rotating gaze of armed sentinels, hopping behind boxes and walls like a cat-version of Solid Snake. While not particularly difficult, these moments make your blood race and remind you a bit of Uncharted. Stray plays up these moments of lonely terror, making the next open hub you discover a bit of temporary relief.
Overall, I do wish the gameplay was a bit more challenging. The game lacks a free jump mechanic taking away a bit of the difficulty (and perhaps fun) of being a cat. Instead, you simply press X (on the PS5) to hop onto whatever surface the game decides you can jump on. While the game tries to shake up the formula as you play, some mechanics felt more exciting the first time you play than several hours in. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about my adventures with Stray’s colorful citizens.
A Meowing Good Time
If you’re looking for the next giant leap in graphics and interactivity, then Stray may disappoint you. But if you go in looking for a game with a unique perspective and interesting environments, then Stray should be a great time. During my play-through on the PS5, I didn’t run into any major bugs or frame rate drops that hindered my experience. Occasionally, an NPC would clip the environment or wouldn’t render properly. But I have to say this is the best launch of a cyberpunkish game I’ve played performance-wise (Cyberpunk 2077 shade totally intended).
While it doesn’t usher in the next generation of gaming, Stray accomplishes everything it sets out to do, creating an impression that lasts long after you put down the controller. This may be BlueTwelve’s first outing but I’m excited to see what other games they cook up. The gaming industry needs more creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.