Stray
Gameplay 8
Graphics 9
Sound 9

Stray is a game that allows players to experience all the mysteries and thrills of a long-forgotten cybercity through the eyes of an adorable cat. In addition to roaming around doing things players would expect from a cat, Stray is also filled with action, puzzle solving, and a great cast of characters. Navigating the seedy underbelly of a dystopian society is nothing new, but doing so from a cat’s perspective is definitely a novelty. The game isn’t perfect, and the adventure is brief, but it immediately draws players in and doesn’t let up until the credits roll.

Gameplay: Along with solving puzzles and outwitting dangerous foes, Stray also allows players to explore and cause mischief in a way only cats can.

Graphics: Stray’s beautiful environments and attention to detail could rival any AAA studio and create a highly immersive experience.

Sound: Along with an excellent synthwave soundtrack, Stray is also filled with great ambient effects and even a dedicated “meow” button

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Stray

Developer: BlueTwelve Studio | Publisher: Annapurna Interactive | Release Date: 2022 | Genre: Action / Adventure / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

If there are two things that cats are exceedingly good at, it is finding a good spot to curl up and sleep and getting up to mischief. Stray features both activities, although thankfully more of the mischief than the sleeping. The game casts players as an orange tabby who ends up alone in a long forgotten city after a little climbing mishap. As players explore their surroundings, it soon becomes clear that Stray is set in a world where humans are no longer around. Instead, their memories are being kept alive by robots, named “companions,” mimicking their behavior.

The arrival of the little stray cat in the decaying cybercity causes a bit of a stir for two reasons. The first is that all the companions live in fear of small, dangerous creatures called Zurks that lurk in the dark and eat anything that moves. The second is that the presence of a cat proves that the outside is, in fact, real and inhabitable, unlike the myths that they have been taught to believe. Unfortunately, not only is the small clusters of robot enclaves surrounded by Zurks, but the entire city is walled in and sealed by a dome. Most companions have resigned themselves to these living conditions, but a few call themselves The Outsiders, dreaming of one day going outside. This dream might finally become a reality thanks to events set in motion by the resourceful stray cat. Other, smaller lights illuminate areas such as the sewers, but players often have to activate the flashlight on B-12 for a clearer look at their surroundings. The game is viewed in the third person, and because cats are much closer to the ground than a human protagonist, each area feels larger than life.

Stray eases players into the life of a cat with a tutorial level that mainly involves frolicking around with other felines and snoozing through a rain storm. Once the weather clears up, the cats go for a prowl, where players learn more about the unique control scheme before encountering the mishap that deposits them in the seedy underbelly of the sealed city. However, Stray is not just the story of a cat but also that of a small flying robot named B-12. Players befriend B-12 early in the game, and it joins the little stray on their quest for freedom. B-12 not only serves as a way for players to interact with the companions but also comes with other useful features, such as hacking, translating, inventory storage, and even a flashlight. Initially, B-12 has no idea what is going on, but by restoring its memories, players also learn more about the world of Stray and how things came to be the way they are.

Stray is a beautiful looking game thanks to the great use of light and shadows. Since the city is sealed under a dome, the only light comes from artificial sources, such as the neon signs strung up in the hub areas.

BlueTwelve Studio also clearly spent a lot of time making sure everything looks good from this point of view. The attention to detail is excellent, from puddles of water reflecting the neon lights to cozy nooks and crannies the cat can curl up in for a snooze. Thanks to the great art direction and amount of effort that has gone into crafting each area, Stray has a cozy, “lived-in” feel to it that many other games lack.

In addition to the beautiful environmental details, BlueTwelve Studio has also nailed the character designs and animations for the game. All the companions you encounter have their own personal style, and pop culture savvy players might even spot a few familiar ones. The little stray moves around with the finesse and grace one would expect from a cat and can cause just as much havoc when jumping on shelves or other surfaces holding items. Fortunately, the robots don’t seem to mind if you make a mess of their homes by knocking over everything in sight. One robot did become a little agitated, though, when we caused an accident involving a large can of paint landing on their doorstep. Even more so when we then proceeded to wade through the paint while they were cleaning the mess. Encounters such as this one are obviously scripted but entertaining nonetheless. We even managed to cause one companion to trip over us and faceplant, which was a laugh-out-loud moment that all cat owners can relate to.

From a gameplay perspective, Stray strikes a fine balance between offering an accessible experience for newcomers and providing more immersion than just a walking simulator. The developers have masterfully captured what it would feel like to be a small feline exploring a dystopian city. There’s a lot of verticality to the levels, especially the hub areas of the Slums, Antvillage, and Midtown, where exploration and puzzle solving take precedence over dodging Zurks. These areas can almost feel maze-like due to their layout and how densely everything is packed together. The puzzles are generally not too taxing and typically involve getting to the right spots for B-12 to hack a computer, unlock a door or scan an object. Some puzzles are a little more complicated, though, with a few even venturing into almost point & click adventure territory. One of our favorites involves pilfering a disguise for a robot and consists of a rather humorous sequence of events. All the puzzles are logical enough that most players shouldn’t have any trouble figuring out what needs to be done.

The pace of Stray is very chill for the most part, as players can explore and cause mischief while completing their objectives. However, some sections outside the hub areas are a little more action-packed. Sometimes players will be chased by the Zurks, requiring them to sprint to safety through tight corridors. There are also a few stealth sections once players encounter the flying Sentinels guarding some areas with their scanners and electrical projectiles. Players can be killed by Zurks or Sentinels if they are not careful. Thankfully, the checkpoints are usually generous enough that players won’t have to repeat too much of what they’ve already done.

True to its desolate and cyberpunk setting, Stray features plenty of great synthwave music for players to enjoy while exploring. Each area has its own tunes, so there’s plenty of variety, and we never tired of hearing the music. The sound effects and ambient noises are also great and further immerse players in the experience. Even the little stray is fully voiced, thanks to a dedicated meow button that players can use to their heart’s content. Not only is it cute, as the meow will be different each time the button is pressed, but it has a practical use too. Stray doesn’t feature any traditional voice acting for the characters, as none are human, but somehow the bleeps and bloops emitted by the companions still sound endearing and effectively convey their emotions. Of course, thanks to B-12 translating all the conversations to text, there’s never any doubt about what they are saying.

Stray recommends that players use a gamepad, and we would have to agree. The game is playable with a keyboard and mouse but feels more intuitive with a decent gamepad. While players can move around freely, the platforming in Stray is handled in a context-sensitive manner. While some players might find this a little limiting, it makes the game a lot more accessible and cuts back on frustration. For example, a button prompt appears whenever players face something that the cat can jump on or to. This means there’s never any risk of missing a jump or ending up somewhere the game didn’t expect players to reach. Context-sensitive prompts also appear when actions such as curling up to sleep, brushing up against robots, knocking over objects, drinking from water bowls, or sharpening your claws are possible. Some have a practical purpose in the game, while others are simply for fun. In fact, it’s even possible to get your cat to stick its head in a paper bag and then stumble about trying to get it off with reversed controls.

Overall, Stray is a lot of fun and a title that cat owners or anyone who loves the furry critters will find very endearing. The game is packed to the brim with little details that add up to a very compelling and enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, it is also a very brief game, and most players will be watching the credits well before the ten-hour mark. There are some optional things to do, such as finding all the memories, scratching something in every chapter, “greeting” every companion in the game, and a few side quests. Unfortunately, most of these don’t add too much to the game, although we would have liked to see more of the side quests as they are quite fun. Players can replay chapters if they missed any achievements, but doing so can be a bit of a chore as the cut-scenes are unskippable, and everything has to be done from the start again.

Despite some complaints, such as the lack of a manual save and an ending that didn’t quite live up to expectations, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with Stray. While initially, it might seem like it’s the story of a little cat on a journey home, there’s a lot more to it. The robots, in particular, surprised us with how heartfelt some of their stories are. Even B-12 is as much of a protagonist as the cat is, and we ended up quite fond of it as the adventure progressed. BlueTwelve Studio knocked it out of the park for a debut title, and Stray is a game that not only lives up to the hype but also brings a fresh perspective to a well-worn setting.

System Requirements

  • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
  • OS: Windows 10
  • Processor: Intel Core i5-2300 | AMD FX-6350
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti, 2 GB | AMD Radeon R7 360, 2 GB
  • DirectX: Version 12
  • Storage: 10 GB available space
  • Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
  • OS: Windows 10
  • Processor: Intel Core i5-8400 | AMD Ryzen 5 2600
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780, 3 GB | AMD Radeon R9 290X, 4 GB
  • DirectX: Version 12
  • Storage: 10 GB available space

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