Stray was first announced in 2020, and since then, cat lovers around the world — gamers and non-gamers alike — have been waiting for its release. It has had its pushbacks since then, with its original release date slated for 2021 changed until its final date of July 18, 2022. Now that it’s finally here, we can now play through a post-apocalyptic world through the eyes of a cat.
As an owner of two cats, of course, I’ve been waiting to play Stray since it got announced, and I am glad I was able to. For this review, I’m using PS4 as my platform. With all that aside, let’s get to it.
Capturing a cat’s likeness
The most important aspect of this game is, of course, the main cat and how realistic it is. From the get-go, the features of the cat are on point; small movements, like how it smells the air, give the cat more personality and emotion. Even toppling over when the harness gets fit onto the cat for the first time is so relatable. As a person who is constantly around cats, I can definitely say that BlueTwelve Studio, the developers behind Stray, did an excellent job in portraying the movements of a cat. The studio was able to capture how a cat moves thanks to the help of their three feline models: Murtaugh, Oscar, and Jun.
Having other functions available like drinking water, sleeping on a mattress or couch, and even using the couch as a scratching post is enjoyable to watch. They don’t add anything to Stray‘s story in general, but it’s these small details that make the game enjoyable, not to mention that my cats periodically turn to the TV every time the cat meows. I just wish that pressing the button longer also prolongs the meow, but nothing is perfect.
Puzzles fit for a cat
The story starts out with you and a group of stray cats (pun intended) wandering along a building overrun with lush greenery. Here, the game teaches you not only how the game will work but how you need to navigate your surroundings as you progress through the story. Stray encourages you to notice the surroundings more and make use of those things to progress forward, like running along pipelines or climbing up air conditioners.
While it starts off pretty well with the game teaching you how to scratch and meow, you suddenly take a long fall into a sewer-like space that leads into the Dead City. The obvious next step is to try and get out of there and get back to your cat family. Immediately, you’ll find that someone is watching you and wants to help you out. This is the part of Stray where it really starts off as it throws you puzzles that need you to be more creative than just climbing around.
Falling into a robot city
Throughout the game, you’ll find that there are no actual living beings around, save for yourself and the robots you encounter. You don’t even find rats or cockroaches (which supposedly should survive a nuclear bomb) as you move along. The closest thing you’ll find to a creepy crawly is called a Zurk that, due to some mutation, are now infestations that can eat you alive, which you can imagine isn’t a pretty sight. That, and the loading time is too long for comfort.
The rest of Stray takes place within a big structure which you have to climb all the way to the top. In this structure, there’s no natural light coming in. There are times that it also seems too foggy for comfort as well, but that kind of visual plays well into the cyberpunk aspect of the game with the neon signages and dim streetlamps. While the world itself looks bleak with eyeball mutations, sewages, and darkness around, there’s always still a sliver of hope in going back to the outside world in the form of plants that manage to grow in the darkness of the whole environment.
I also appreciate that each section you walk into is very distinct from one another. There isn’t a map to be had while exploring each nook and cranny of the sections you visit in Stray, but as a cat, you can get to areas much quicker simply by climbing up the rooftops. By discovering these little nooks and crannies of the areas, you’ll also find things like a bed to let the cat sleep on for a few minutes or even a memory to recall for your companion robot.
Metal bodies and soft hearts
Speaking of which, you’ll eventually find a small companion robot called B-12 that can hover around you and translate the language of the world. At this point, Stray‘s world is no longer inhabited by humans, or Soft Bodies, as one of the robots would say. The robots seemed to have their own language, which you obviously won’t be able to decipher on your own. But with B-12 by your side, it can help translate between you and the robots.
At face value, the robots you meet have the same design, but each one has its own style — from hairstyle, clothing, and even face — which tells a story of its own: that the robots have adapted to becoming like their human counterparts. You’ll find that some of the robots would meditate, get drunk, or swoon when you brush up against their leg. They also understand disappointment and loss. The only thing that takes me out of Stray‘s fiction is that some robots have the same script. Not to mention that there are times that they suddenly bug out.
Telling a story with robots exhibiting a personality isn’t particularly new in any medium, but it makes them all the more human and unique, that by the time you part with each robot in Stray, it tugs at your heartstrings for just a bit. This journey will ultimately add to the growing friendship between B-12 and the cat.
Finding your way home
Stray is, from the get-go, a charming game that may seem to be just one for relaxing. But with a backdrop of cyberpunk dystopia thrown into the mix, you’ll want to survive as long as you can to get back to the outside. It’s not a game that’s out to break new concepts but rather goes back to simple concepts, like how to go back home from the perspective of a cat.
If you love cats, puzzles, and post-apocalyptic scenarios, then this is the game for you. Stray is available on PS4, PS5, and Steam.
Photo credits: The images used are owned by BlueTwelve Studio and have been provided for press usage.
Source: PlayStation Blog