Stray feels like it’s been a long time coming, but hype and momentum had been up in the weeks leading up to its release on PlayStation and PC. And even though I’m far from the biggest cat person around, a few excellent trailers had us excited too – we tested the PC version.
Developer BlueTwelve Studio was an unknown factor to us, but the fact that Annapurna Interactive was publishing the game felt like a good sign – they’ve been releasing a steady stream of high quality narrative-driven games for a while now, so we were pretty sure they didn’t pick up Stray just because it had a quirky premise with a cat at its core. We were right, as this is a memorable little adventure from start to finish.
Calling Stray a “cat game” would be selling it short, as its core premise is fascinating even before cats enter into the picture. The game takes place inside a walled city in which humans used to live in order to keep them safe from the outside world. A familiar post-apocalyptic premise, but man has since vanished and what’s left is a community of helper robots and strange alien-like rat monsters that hunt them. Enter our cat protagonist, who quickly becomes friends with a robot called B12 and starts off on its quest to get out of the city that you accidentally ended up in.
B12 is a narrative force in the game as well, with its ability to communicate with other robots and thus unveil the narrative, which reveals that some bots are still as terrified of the outside world as their once-masters were, while others have begun to think that life beyond the walls might actually be a good idea. For a place largely devoid of biological life, Stray certainly feels very lively with its unique population and beautifully realized locations.
And because this particular feline doesn’t soil your lawn, it’s fun to control the lead character as well – and as you (un)knowingly break and damage stuff you’ll think “see, cats are awful!” even though you’re having fun with it. With some excellent animation and cat-like behavior, Stray feels as unique as it looked in the trailers. It’s also easy to control, with a lot of your traversal options semi-automated by just looking at where to go and giving you a button prompt that’ll help you get there. It’s not the most immersive control scheme, but it keeps the (somewhat short five hour) adventure flowing.
As is often the case with Annapurna releases, the narrative element is strong in Stray, and the story is split up into a few chapters that each feel like a distinct part of a larger whole with subtle gameplay changes across the campaign. Some sections will feel linear, while others encourage mild exploration. There’s a fair bit of story exposition with wonderfully fleshed out characters, but you’ll also engage in more action-oriented sequences. You’ll also have to deal with a few (mostly stealth-based) puzzles from time to time, though calling Stray a puzzle adventure would be way too much of a stretch.
What you could call it, is an almost cinematic story-driven adventure with light puzzle and action elements that radiates charm through its characters and visual design. At an affordable price point, this is a title that you can’t afford to miss if you were sold on the trailers alone.