Games like Stray don’t come along all that often. Something that’s so unique it immediately catches your interests, such as bulk snacks on the paddlers. In Stray, you play as an adorable cat exploring a dystopian future where humans are no more and the only inhabitants are robots and these bloodthirsty parasites call Zerks. Yes, the cat is cute. Yes, I spend plenty of time sleeping, scratching and causing all sorts of havoc. But can the rest of the game live up to its cute and unique exterior? Well, that’s what I’m here to answer in GamingRaja review of Stray.
Stray is centered around this cute little cat who I named James after a stray cat I found in my backyard, along with his robot companion, B12. And let’s cut to the chase. Stray made me feel more emotion in its short six hour run time than most games have done.
I don’t like cats before I came across James and her kittens messy, Neymar and Suarez, and Stray sunk its claws into me instantly. The game drip feeds bits of information of B12 and the world’s past perfectly, and I was hanging on every word. Just as you’d expect, James is completely indifferent towards B12 in the beginning. In fact, he initially hates to harness that B12 puts in him and has no problem showing it.
Over time, he grows attached to B12, and somehow they convey the emotions of a robot and capture all the money, trials and tribulations of the story, which really drove home just how depressing but somehow uplifting this tale was. James’s B12 journey is all about reaching the top of the city in order to open up the metal plate that is blocking the sky. It’s pretty similar to Final Fantasy VII in that regard, and going into it, I wasn’t all too big of a post apocalyptic rundown city. However, the atmosphere is enthralling. I explored every last nook and cranny as the world was so beautifully realized, even if it looked dingy and probably smelled really bad.
On top of that, learning its history and why humans have disappeared was fascinating and significantly more unique than the usual global warming or a disease that turned everything into zombies. Apocalyptic stories can feel samey, so I have to commend the team at Blue Twelve Studio for creating a truly unique location that is just begging to be explored. Despite the darker setting, Stray made me feel many emotions amused as I carelessly knocked bottles off shells and counter tops, sad when James got split up with his buddies during the opening, and tense when sneaking past robots and being chased by the Zerks.
There isn’t much by way of the main characters. B12 is the chattiest as he translates everything the locals have to say, but they were all side characters into developing relationship between James and B12. There are a handful of main robots that you deal with throughout the story, but they were nowhere near as developed as B12. They added context to the world and point you in the right direction, but I was hoping for something more from them. The nature of the adventure is moving from area to area and never returning, so you don’t really spend enough time with any of them to get proper development.
Now, I’m sure you want to know more about the cat, what he actually does, and how the gameplay is. But first, here’s a montage of all the cuttings James did throughout his adventure.
With all that cutting is out of the way. Stray is basically a platformer, but with a cat. But it isn’t free form like spiral tink bar, like uncharted. While you can climb on pretty much anything, it’s performed by simply looking where you want to go and then pressing X to jump there. There are some light puzzles, some stealth sections, and of course, these tense chases from the Zerks as I zip through the sewers and construction sites, avoiding the grasp.
The basic gameplay worried me at the start, but the game has so much life in its world, plenty of verticality in its exploration, and enough charm that kept me engaged right to the end. And it’s only further enhanced by the short play time, as it never outstays its welcome. As a gameplay experience, everything works well. The stealth and platforming is basic, and there’s practically zero combat to speak of, except for a short span where you get a UV light gun that can defeat the Zerks. But as a whole, the gameplay does exactly what it says on the tin, but no more than that.
On the other hand, I was blown away by a presentation of Stray. It begins in a cubby surrounded by other cats while the rain is hammering down, and at that moment I just had to stop and look. I was captivated, and from there it only gets better. The quiet, rundown towns are equal parts peaceful and sad and contrasts with the busy neon streets of the city. And you can see that Stray is quite the looker. It’s impressive how distinctive each area is, even though they are all subject to the same apocalypse. I can remember each location and what they brought to the table, both visually and gameplay, was everything I’ve mentioned is bolted by the stellar audio.
The rain effects were calming, and snooping through the sewers was dreary but quiet. Of course, the cat meow, which is something you’ll have to do a lot for a trophy, but I saved the best for last. The music. Every part of the game is accompanied by a track that fits perfectly in place.
Suffice to say, from a presentational stand point, Stray is nothing short of fantastic. Not only is the world building intriguing, but the amount of care and attention also put into bringing this world to life. With gorgeous lighting and amazing audio makes the world of Stray a standout world. Playing Stray won’t be for everyone. It can be slow and has rather basic gameplay mechanics, but I think it will connect with plenty of people.
Despite that, or perhaps because of it, I went into expecting that I was going to have just a simple, cute adventure as a cast. And while the gameplay is simplistic, I got so much more from the game than I had ever expected. The world feels lived in and has a unique take on a post apocalyptic story. The stray game has a well developed relationship between a cat and a robot and fun levels to explore with lots of verticality, which makes finding all the tidbits of lore that much more enjoyable. Just like the padless, another title published by Annapurna. My expectations were met, and then some, and Stray is a game I won’t forget anytime soon, and that’s why I loved it there.