Stray review

by on July 18, 2022
Details
 
Release Date

July 19, 2022

 

Thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve ever played through an entire video game as a cat. Not a fully realised, life-like one at least. It’s a bold move by BlueTwelve Studio, who, instead of opting for a human protagonist, has gone with a fuzzy feline that has no supernatural or unique abilities. Stray is a stripped back adventure where you find yourself in the wake of the fall of civilisation, where humans no longer populate the earth. Instead, a mysterious cyberpunk-style city remains, with hidden dangers around every corner, and a bunch of remarkable robots going about their daily routines.

One thing I instantly loved about Stray was how it allows you to explore its world and find out things on your own. There aren’t walls of text and tons of cutscenes. There’s no HUD that covers the screen, and all the information of what has happened and why you’re there is drip-fed to you at a steady pace, never overwhelming you, allowing the story to happen as organically as possible. It makes the whole game feel better for it. As eerie as it is, there’s a sense of peace and catharsis about uncovering the mysteries and finding memories of both what has occurred and why.

Stray City

Stray: Become the cat

Although you’re just a cat without a name, traversing the underbelly of a fallen city feels natural and a pleasure to play. The only thing I wasn’t sold on was jumping up and across rooftops or making my way across various obstacles to new heights. You can’t jump at will. Instead, by pressing X when a prompt appears, it allows you to jump onto a new ledge, piece of furniture, or platform. With movement often feeling natural, this can sometimes be jarring to how you travel, however, when trying to make your way across various platforms, holding X automatically jumps from one to the next, helping when you might not know where to go next.

Despite there being a generally dark undertone to what has happened, there’s a sense of humour and playfulness to Stray. The robots you meet have personalities, with some being grumpy or surly, or ignorantly happy and hopelessly optimistic. You can interact with most of these machines and they’ll often have a story or two for you. Some will try and trade items with you, while others might try and play you a song providing you give them the sheet music to do so. Even as the cat, you can be mischievous and playful at times. Button prompts will let you play with toys, get a paper bag stuck on your head, or scratch furniture for fun.

A refreshing take on the genre

There’re no health bars or stamina gauges to speak of. You can drink out of water bowls scattered around the city, sleep on a pile of cushions, and do other various things a cat would normally do, but they’re purely aesthetic. It was nice to play Stray without having to think about restoring health or needing to refill various gauges. Whilst you can die from attacks by creepy swarms of weird creatures known as Zurks, a quick reload drops you right back into the action. It is these encounters that provide the most stress, as if you become overpowered by them, multiple creatures will jump on you, and if you don’t hammer the Circle button to shake them off quick enough, it’s curtains. You do get an item known as a Defluxor to get rid of them, but it can be temperamental.

Stray is filled with various puzzles for you to solve, and some of them are smartly layered to take a bit of time. They aren’t always simple either, rather incorporating multiple ideas into one conundrum. Unlocking B-12 adds to the fun as well. He also has a history and has trouble remembering where he came from, what happened to the world, and often talks about certain memories he shared with his creator. These memories are scattered across the environment, and along with some of the puzzles, you can uncover these fragments of your past that act as collectibles.

Stray: Easy on the eyes

I loved how good Stray looked, especially on PS5. Although the neon lights of the main city light up the dilapidated streets, there’re also some murky and overgrown areas that are examples of how civilisation seemingly fell, such as the dreaded sewers. There’s a ton of detail inside buildings as well, and one particular library fascinated me by just how much attention had been put into it. It’s bright at times, but also darkened alleys and construction sites add to the haunting atmosphere of a city fallen for reasons originally unknown to you. There’re some decent DualSense implementations, too. Some areas can have you scratch away at them, and by pressing L2 and R2 in an alternating pattern, you can feel the tension in the haptic feedback. The cat’s purrs can be felt through the controller as well, softly being heard when they take a break from all the exploring.

Stray offers an interesting story where you’re constantly learning about what happened leading up to you playing. When you’re making your way around the city and its surrounding areas, the gameplay feels smooth and satisfying, although jumping can feel a bit static and heavy at times. What it does very well, though, is make that feeling of being a cat as authentic as possible. Yes, you can move around as a cat would, but it’s in the simple things like meowing, brushing against the legs of robots, purring during a nap, scratching against sofa’s arm rests and carpets, and playing with a ball where the creativeness of it feel most natural. The puzzles are smart, the visuals are superb, and the music is beautiful throughout.

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Positives

Gorgeous visuals
Stripped back experience
Interesting story
Smart puzzles
Wonderful score

Negatives

Jumping can be awkward

Editor Rating
 
Our Score
9.0

SCORE OUT OF TEN
9.0


In Short
 

Stray is a delightful adventure game that strips away all the normal complications of the genre to offer an enjoyable overall experience.