Annapurna Interactive has been on a tear since its inception, publishing indie hits like What Remains of Edith Finch, Outer Wilds, and Kentucky Route Zero. I’m pleased to say that Stray, releasing tomorrow for PC, PlayStation 5, and PlayStation 4, is set to continue this trend. The “cat game” is lovely, and I had a blast during my playthrough as the nameless stray protagonist.
When starting Stray, you’ll quickly notice how technically great the playable cat is. They’re animated so well – they walk, run, jump, pounce, and meow just like a real-world cat would. I came away from the game very impressed as to how well Stray’s protagonist was brought to life. Leave the controller idle, and Stray‘s cat will stretch, sit, and paw at the air as a real cat would.
The developers, BlueTwelve Studio, also nailed down the personality quirks of cats to a T, many of which you can give them yourself. You’ll be able to knock over paint cans, boxes, and other items off shelves to become a feline agent of chaos. At one point you can jump on a game of mahjong two robots are playing, as a cat would, scattering their pieces and sending the robots into despair. Linger on their table to taunt them and assert dominance.
The game makes sure you embrace playing like a cat to advance at times, something I would sometimes find myself forgetting. Stuck in a room with several locked iron doors? Squeeze through the bars – duh! I’m a small cat, not some boring ol’ human. You’ll also find the PC (playable cat) needing to knock bottles onto an NPC’s head to wake them up and scratch at doors to gain the attention of robots.
Stray’s gameplay is simple but inviting. It mostly consists of platforming and environmental puzzle solving. You’ll also find yourself in several chase sequences where the PC needs to outrun zurks, adorable-yet-viscous little monsters who will eat anything and everything without a second thought.
My only knock on the gameplay is you can’t freely jump – prompts allow you to jump – and sometimes you have to angle the camera just right to get a prompt to appear. At times this can be frustrating, usually during those chase sequences where you’ll be spamming the X button hoping a prompt will appear and help you flee to safety. The camera can also be a bit wonky at times, most likely due to how low to the ground the cat is, and sometimes they’ll disappear from the screen if your cat is up against a wall or corner, for example.
As I played on the PS5, I have to mention the haptic feedback. This is a feature I’ve loved since the first game I played on PS5, and Stray utilizes it quite well. The tension in the triggers when scratching a door or carpet feels great, and the subtle vibrations as the cat purrs during slumber is so so satisfying.
The stray cat of Stray begins the game aboveground with three other cats before falling deep underground into a seemingly empty city. After exploring a bit and meeting drone companion B-12, the PC will eventually be introduced to the robot inhabitants of the slums. I absolutely adored the various robots the stray cat and B-12 met throughout the game, and I certainly made sure to snuggle up against as many as I could. There’s grandma, who makes ponchos for fashionable or cold robots, Morusque (my favorite), who will play its guitar for the PC when given sheets of music, and Momo, who was a member of the Outsiders before they went their separate ways. These four friends desired to leave the underground, walled-off city the robots have been stuck in for an undetermined amount of time. The goal of the game is to find these outsiders – and a way outside.
The level detail present in the slums, and in the later areas, is excellent. The environments feel real and lived in. The scummy slums are dirty and dark, with heaps of trash barring paths, while the midtown area is filled with bright neon signs and energetic characters while also having an atmosphere of oppression as a police force reigns supreme. I would have liked to know a little more about the culture of Midtown and how it came to be this way. It’s separated from the slums by the zurks, and some more information about how that separation led to midtown developing differently would have been nice.
Stray’s music is just as wonderful as its art design and technical achievements. Composer Yann Van Der Cruyssen uses synths and kinetic drums to help build the desolate and decaying atmosphere of the game’s world. I, for one, can’t wait to add the game’s soundtrack to my collection.
When you’re not meeting robots, gathering items for them, or knocking bottles off rooftops, you’ll be furthering drone companion B-12’s journey. By collecting memories scattered throughout the levels, you’ll piece together both B-12’s personal journey as well as a vague history of the world before the cat entered it. I absolutely loved learning more about B-12 and the world and I’d recommend you take your time finding those memories to get the experience Stray offers.
Stray was described as being 8 to 10 hours by the publisher, but I completed in just over five hours, and that includes plenty of time spent scouring for the collectible memories. I don’t mind a short game – and I think any longer and Stray would have threatened to overstay its welcome – but some players may disagree and want a longer experience for the $29.99 price tag. I prefer quality over quantity, and my time spent playing Stray was easily some of the most fun gaming I’ve had this year – and I don’t even like cats!
I recommend Stray to anyone looking for a simple and fun game. Come for the cute cat, stay for the loveable robots, expertly crafted world, top-notch music, and emotional story. And to splatter paint everywhere as a cat, of course.
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