Stray is one of the most anticipated titles for the PlayStation since it was first announced in 2020 and for a non-AAA title, that’s a big expectation to fill.
The third person, uh cat, third “cat” adventure game is developed by BlueTwelve Studio. It is the story of a cat who falls into a mysterious ancient world of robots and machines and sets off on a journey to discover more of the cybercity’s past as well as a way to return to his family.
The game’s opening level captures this beautifully as you take on the mannerisms of a cat, playing and fighting with your colony showing moments of tenderness and adventure. It’s this adventure that leads you to be separated from the group and left alone and injured.
As you continue your journey home you meet wonderous robotic beings that unlock a mystery the more you interact and proceed through the game. You’ll meet friends along the way but you’ll also be plagued by creatures known as “Zurks” who will do you harm. So be careful, after all, “curiosity killed the cat” and this game is all about being curious.
The game has some really inspired level designs with an emphasis on puzzle solving. Having your lead character as a feline opens up the game to be a uniquely fresh take on the genre. In the past, we’ve seen anthropomorphic characters in games but it’s unusual to have an animal be on all fours and be limited to do what a cat in real life can achieve.
The team of mostly cat owners who created the game used their real-life pets not only as inspiration but also for motion capture in order to mimic the movements to perfection. Miko the main cat animator is said to have studied cats intensely and worked with Cat programer Remi to find the balance between realism and enjoyable gameplay.
Now, this is not “Cat Simulator” although there are many aspects of the game where you can achieve this. You can meow on command, scratch posts, lap up water, rub against legs lovingly, and many other mannerisms you’d expect a furry little friend to do. But the game is about putting the cat in a sci-fi world and it’s that story that really drives this game into one that will be remembered for years to come.
For a while, into the game, I was amazed at how I’d had little to no text, or human communication. The game guides you in the right direction with subtlety and it was nice not to be told exactly what I needed to do all of the time. It also made that first communication all the more powerful.
Eventually, you’ll meet up with a companion which literally opens more doors for your character. This comes in the form of a likeable side character named B-12, who lives in a backpack strapped to your cat. It’s a nice little moment when you first put it on and watching the symbiotic relationship grow is a beautiful story arc.
I really don’t want to describe every moment of the game as it’s one you really need to play for yourself to truly understand the gift that a game like Stray is. It needs to be a surprise and it’s everyone who plays this game’s responsibility to keep it that way.
The world that the team has built is not the “Cyberpunk” universe that we thought we were getting. It is in the genre but reminds me more in some ways of the more comedic tones from issues of 2000AD comic and even more recently some looks of the robots seem to come straight out of the pages of “Saga” with designs of characters that feel like they should be happy but are lost in this dystopian future. It’s a wonderful balance that will have you set on discovering more.
Stray is not as RPG as I would have liked, but there are brief elements of the style, however, it’s the use of puzzles that are extremely simple and effective. I can’t think of a time where I was stuck for too long, but I find with a puzzle game it’s more about how it’s incorporated into the story rather than just how hard it is and it’s moulded beautifully in this.
If anything the game runs a little shorter than I would like. Coming in at only 10 hours for a completionist is well below where I’d like to see the game finish. But I do feel like adding in more content might take away from the perfect balance of the story being told. I will welcome any DLC in the future however.
While the game has elements of platforming, it’s more about you directing where to go rather than performing the jumps yourself. The cat lands on the next ledge perfectly every time unless the story calls for you to do otherwise. Given the size of some of those tight platforms, I’m kind of glad it works in that manner.
Music in the game is composed by Taan Van Der Cruyssen who has captured the mood of the city and its inhabitants extremely well. A mission involving finding lost music sheets lets you curl up on your cat mat and enjoy the tunes even more.
Stray might be a slightly different game to what I was imagining in my head when I saw it being announced two years ago. But, it’s also one of the most refreshing titles I’ve played in around 10 years. Its humour and challenges take me back to playing puzzle adventure games like “Day of the Tentacle”, while its modern gameplay, graphics and attention to detail give it life and replay value.
Interestingly the digital release of the game is available now to purchase or via your PlayStation Plus service if you have the right tier (Extra/Deluxe). The physical release of the game is available on pre-order but not shipping until September. However, there are some nice added extras if you are a collector.
Sigmund Freud said “Time spent with cats is never wasted” and I tend to agree.
This beautiful independent title deserves all the praise that is coming its way and given the detail in world-building shown in this title I can’t wait to see what comes next for the creators of Stray.