Editor’s Choice: 5 Things We Love About Stray

EC5: 5 Things We Love About Stray 8
| July 24, 2022

Annapurna Interactive’s anticipated adventure game Stray has arrived on PlayStation and PC this week, taking the internet (and house cats everywhere) by storm. After getting caught up in its charms, here are five things we adore about it.

I was never a cat person, nor really exposed to them until I started dating my wife, but by the time we adopted our own in 2010, I was all in. And now this week Stray has reaffirmed that love for felines in a way. This charming adventure from developer BlueTwelve Studios has been at the top of my most-wanted list ever since its initial reveal two years ago during the PlayStation 5’s reveal event, and it did not disappoint.

However, it’s not just about how cute the cat is—Stray is an incredibly detailed experience that anyone with a PlayStation Plus account should consider checking out. Here are five things about it that have had our minds purring:

Editor'S Choice: 5 Things We Love About Stray

5) The Robots

Though you spend the whole game as the adorable orange kitty and his drone buddy B12, the rest of the cast is made up of Companions, the robots who inhabit the city. Our hero must interact with them to solve puzzles in its quest to get home—fetching things they need, manipulating the environment to stir them to action, or even relying on them to row it up the sewer on a makeshift raft. You might knock over a paint can to lure out a cranky shopkeeper into the street, so you can swipe something from his house, or you might scratch a door to be let in.

The Companions are every bit as charming as our feline protagonist, with their unique mannerisms and TV-like heads. They cling to what remnants of human civilization they still possess, imitating behaviour and society long after our extinction. I knew the cat would win over players everywhere, but I didn’t quite expect these robotic allies to be so endearing in their own right, and I found myself hunting down each unique NPC to see what they had to say.

Editor'S Choice: 5 Things We Love About Stray

4) Natural Storytelling

Part of why the Companions were so intriguing to me was the well-written dialog, translated by B12. Especially in the first few environments, I was delighted by the unique responses most of the robot inhabitants had when I showed them the same key items in my inventory. Most of these characters have discernible, unique traits, and it speaks to a level of quality writing that most games can’t match.

But Stray also excels at saying a lot with no words at all. In the game’s nigh-textless intro, our protagonist introduces us to this post-apocalyptic world simply by exploring. From the halcyon introduction and the heartbreaking separation from the cat’s family to meeting B12 and exploring the first city, the stakes of the adventure are laid naturally while we’re still fawning over the hero’s realistic look, with only a handful of text.

YouTube video

3) Gameplay Without Hand-Holding

This nuanced, understated approach also permeates Stray‘s gameplay. Just as the story is relayed largely through inference, there’s a refreshingly minimal amount of in-game prompts. You’re briefly introduced to key mechanics with on-screen text and then left to your own devices; an X button pops up when you approach a jumping point, but you can even turn this off. There’s no map to speak of, either, because… well, how’s a cat going to read a map?

Despite the absolute hands-off approach, it’s hard to lose your way in Stray. In a real pinch you can ask B12 for a reminder most of the time, but simply exploring and talking to NPCs is enough to get you back on track if you do get lost in the weeds. In the current gaming landscape it feels like games are either almost afraid to let players go astray, like Horizon Forbidden West, or quick to shove them in a canoe and point them upstream without giving them a paddle, à la Elden Ring. Stray doesn’t hold your hand, but is built in such a way that finding the route forward is natural and rewarding.

Editor'S Choice: 5 Things We Love About Stray

2) The Atmosphere

The aesthetic of Stray‘s reveal trailer drew me in—post-human society, semi-steampunk vibes, and a cat with a droid in its backpack, I’m sold. The Companions’ makeshift civilizations were a delight to explore as I had hoped. But, without giving anything away, there was one moment about halfway through where the environmental stakes shifted. My little jaunty cat-venture escalated very rapidly with no direct exposition on what I was looking at. I was on the edge of my seat through the ensuing segment not only because it was one of the few moments of “combat” in the game, but because of the unnerving new locale.

(As one might expect, the final area of the game also featured a vastly different environment, with a very different emotional response. My hackles were up, waiting for some unseen threat or looking for eyes in the darkness.)

Every ounce of almost every main, explorable environment of the game exudes style and deliberate, careful design. From the way monitors and lights coax the cat to safety in the intro and respond to your meows, to the unsettling surprises of that midgame segment, to the various eccentric homes of the Companions, it’s clear that BlueTwelve Studio spent a lot of time making Stray‘s world feel storied and authentic. We don’t need heavy-handed narrative or gameplay cues when the visuals are telling the entire story.

Ec5: 5 Things We Love About Stray 7

1) The Cat (Of Course)

I’ve gone this long without gushing about the cat; please applaud.

Like the environments, Stray‘s hero is a meticulous, loving recreation of our feline friends. Every mannerism is photo-accurate, like the way it licks at a wound and walks it off after dealing with unpleasant situations. I’ve seen these motions a thousand times from my own pet. If you were to put a video of the protagonist nuzzling a Companion’s leg beside a video of my cat doing the same thing, and obscure the visuals, so I could only see the raw shape of the movement, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Again, without any exposition aside from on-demand meows we are able to understand everything our hero is thinking. Even people who don’t own or like cats should be able to sense the finer details of its performance. Stray is a remarkable accomplishment in this, if nothing else: BlueTwelve Studios have truly delivered one of the most true-to-form recreations of a living creature to date. Finer touches like the way your DualSense will vibrate and recreate its purring when it curls up for a nap go a long way to make this possible, capitalizing on the PS5’s hardware.

Halfway through the year, Stray has earned a place at the top of my personal Game of the Year list. What it lacks in length, it makes up for with amazing design, and is a must-play experience for any PlayStation owner.

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