Stray is not a game about a cat. In fact, it is a story about all of us. About the world, society, our sins, and our fears. Hidden beneath a cutesy exterior and a dystopian cybercity, Stray delivers a rich narrative to those receptive to it.
What started off as a “Ha ha, look at me! I can MEOW and shove paint tins off a ledge!” exploration game, turned into a puzzle game untainted by politically correct themes. That being said, and as to be expected with a cat protagonist, Stray is not all about thought-provoking statements and springs eternal with humour and fun. Some of that is right in your face, whereas some was subtle and satisfying to discover.
You begin in a peaceful setting along with your three cat wives (okay, maybe not wives per se, but I prefer to think they are a modern family with some degree of scandal). You lazily wake, rub up against the family, meow, purposefully stare into the distance, and then embark on another day of adventure.
Soon you’re cat-apulted (terrible, I know) into a life of crime. I’m talking about vandalism, breaking and entering, cat-burgling (seriously, I can’t help it!), and even destruction of government property. It’s quite badass actually.
A dramatic, heart-wrenching, emotional, and gut-churning cutscene (I know you all wanted to cry like babies!) puts you in a long-forgotten slum. Underground and under the proverbial gun, you need to find your feet. They are not lost, but you certainly did not land on them. We have been lied to our whole lives, I’m just saying. The game gingerly (I’ll stop, I promise) teaches you that you are capable of more than just a meow. Although, meowing is adorable. Every time. It is the most adorable thing. And you will do it, lots.
You’re able to use the satisfying art of shoving stuff off of ledges to get you through the beginning phases. You learn that you can use your cute little face to carry stuff around and there you go. You are now a seasoned, intelligent quadruped. Interacting with the environment and owning it, of course.
If you’re expecting to play the game doing lots of cat things, you will be richly rewarded. Meowing, shoving, sleeping, jumping, walking on keyboards and pianos, breaking stuff and even sitting in boxes is all part of the experience. There might even be a couple of achievements in it for you. Not to mention that some of these cat things are essential for puzzle solving and game progression.
It takes two.
Despite the fact that you are a majestic feline with just about limitless potential and prowess, and certainly in no need of any help from anyone or anything, the developers provide you with a droid companion. B12 is a self-aware AI who’s found a way into this little droid “body” and you soon enter into an agreement to help each other to reach your respective goals. B12 can take some duties off your hands such as digitising keys, hacking, and providing intel when needed.
As the story progresses your goals are unified and, before long, your companion is no longer a quest giver, but an integral part of your survival. B12 neatly tucks into a tiny cat backpack and it is the best thing in the world, really. Considering there are lasers involved, you’re pretty much Doctor Evil with sharks that have lasers attached to their heads. Except you are a cat and your droid has a laser. It’s the same thing. Right?
Not only is B12 a compact companion, but a big part of Stray‘s story. And that is where things become increasingly interesting.
Cat-egorical Fun (I have it under control, I swear.)
Stray has a balanced, seamless transition through levels, puzzles, and story – which was refreshing, to say the least. At first, I wasn’t all too sure that I’d be seeing many different sceneries, but surprisingly there is a clear divide between where you start and where the game takes you. And this applies to more than just scenery.
Gameplay may be simple throughout a great deal of the game, but don’t let these simple controls fool you. There will be times when you will be challenged. Whether it is to defeat enemies, run a gauntlet, or solve a puzzle, Stray can get a little sweaty at times. As the game progresses, so does the need to use your simple interactions to solve more difficult puzzles. For those concerned, Stray on PC offers full controller support for those who prefer not to take the KBM route.
What is most appreciated is that playing as a cat is not overdone. For those who enjoy the theme, the gameplay is rewarding, and for those who enjoy purely solving puzzles, it is just as easy to forget that you are a cat.
I appreciated that the protagonist is neutral enough to have me enjoy the game without worrying about things like gender, cosmetics, irritating voice acting, long-winded dialogue, and most of all humans, to be quite honest.
Character progression is subtle but deeply felt as you get closer to the end. It briefly applies to some of the robots you come across, and most significantly to B12 and to the cat. It’s not comparable to what you may experience in a AAA 100-hour game, but suitable for a game of Stray’s length.
Learning and evolving AI is a prominent theme throughout the game and, honestly, more than a little bit unsettling. Like it could be real, like that could be our future. This is where that tiny bit of fear I mentioned at the start of the review creeps in and really gets your mind going. It might not be something picked up or cared for by all players, but personally, I appreciated the effort from the developers to incorporate real-world issues into their work of fiction.
Cat-alyst For Debate (Someone send help please!)
The gaming world has changed, we know that. Gamers crave richer experiences and value for money. We want to put in some real good time for the money we spend. Especially considering how expensive a good gaming experience has become and the normalisation of paid DLC, micro-transactions, and the likes.
Then, there’s the era of content creation. Milking a good game you bought for content is no longer limited to video game writers. Almost every young gamer you meet will be a content creator of some sort. Stray, having been one of the most anticipated games of the year, has turned everything on its head and succeeded in delivering a quality game with just the right dosage. You can finish the game in under five hours if you like, but you can spend more than double if you want to savour it and complete all the little side achievements too. Still, not even close to a modern 15 to 20-hour game, yet more satisfying than most of those games. You really do get great value for money.
And I’m not talking about time spent playing alone, but rather the very satisfying experience of it all. You feel like you have achieved the goal, you are not left with a cliffhanger ending, and you can move on to something else without that feeling that you left something unfinished. Without feeling that you just spent the last 5 – 7 hours of your life on nothing but a taster. You will forever carry Stray with you as a fond memory. Something wholesome, something fulfilling. The fact that the game has none of the marketing bells and whistles attached leaves us craving more such experiences.
More of Stray, less of AAA games riddled with bugs, endless patches and repetitive DLC content.
There’s no spilt milk here, kitty.
As a whole, Stray is a polished and beautiful game. Minus one or two moments with funny camera angles – there aren’t any bugs that see you fall through stages or unexpected crashes.
You may not always stop long enough to enjoy the visually stunning details and textures, but they are there. It’s not the biggest world you’ve ever seen in a game, but it is excellently designed, cohesive and adds to the cyber city feel as much as you would want it to. The wonderful incorporation of nature seeping in adds authenticity to the story.
Sound design is probably one of my favourite aspects of the game. I loved that I wasn’t bombarded with a sensory overload of beeps and boops. The tipper tapper of the little paws on the different surfaces was enduring and sometimes even funny. Most of all, the music was so captivating that you could feel the bass in your chest. Creating an immersive experience that you’ll hear and feel every time you think about it.
A dinosaur’s opinion.
Now, I’ve been playing games for quite a number of years and have reviewed my fair share too. And I can say with confidence that Stray does not need nine lives, it does not need DLC, and it doesn’t need to be played more than once. The game delivers a powerful, satisfying first experience and knocks all of its goals out of the park. It has a great story that’s not overbearing, has fun gameplay and controls. You don’t have to be a hardcore gamer to enjoy this gem.
It’s an aesthetically pleasing mix of Cyberpunk and Resident Evil for cats (minus the nudes and zombies, of course) and offers something for everyone. Puzzles, humour, and heartwarming kitty moments that can melt even the coldest of hearts, and it appeals to all age groups. Stray is not made for children or adults. Not for gender, not for race, and not for social stature. It’s a game about all of us, made for gamers.
A review code for Stray was not provided to gameblur by the publisher.
Stray (PC) ReviewStray (PC) Review
Story8/10 Very Good
Gameplay8/10 Very Good
Design8/10 Very Good
Graphics8/10 Very Good
Sound8/10 Very Good
- Fun and immersive
- Value for money
- Can sit in boxes
- Can break everyone’s stuff
- Can sit on a robot's lap
- Starts off a bit slow
- Can’t sit on corpses
- No catnip