I remember watching the reveal teaser trailer for Stray, a title that immediately grabbed my attention but left me with many questions and concerns, with the biggest being what the scope and overall feel of the final game would be like when I finally got my (kitten) mitts on it.
A game in which you play as a realistic portrayal of a cat sounds promising yet feels limiting in what is possible regarding gameplay mechanics. In practice, Stray indeed evokes a believable sense of what it would be like to prowl around like a cat, but in an overall package that feels tight and concise, never overstaying its welcome like some kind of mangy alley cat begging for scraps.
Instead, Stray’s roughly 10-hour playtime feels well-bred and expertly put together. The world of Stray is stunning, with levels dripping in neon hues, blending together Bladerunner-esque Japanese aesthetics overrun with naturalistic foliage and greenery. The lack of voiced dialogue is made up in spades thanks to excellent environmental-based storytelling sequences, all set to fitting techno music, further accentuated by the robot denizens that make up the bulk of Stray’s NPC count.
As the name may allude to, Stray’s story opens with the unnamed protagonist cat (based on BlueTwelve Studio’s in-house cat, Murtaugh) getting separated from his pack of feline friends, inadvertently falling into the slums of an underground and forgotten robot society.
With a simple impetus asking players to guide the cat back home, Stray, at first glance, appears straightforward and to the point. However, players will quickly meet a drone sidekick that acts as your trusty light, translator and companion throughout most of the game, named B-12 (a very interesting name), who, despite lacking any appendages, single-handily adds intrigue to Stray‘s overall plot, with their own backstory that slowly unravels itself as players progress further.
“Stray is equal parts a fun and unique twist on the Adventure game genre and a showcase of what to expect from BlueTwelve Studio in the future.”
The gameplay in Stray consists of contextual-based jumping, meaning there are no real risks of falling or platforming danger. Instead, players must carefully find the best path forward by examining the often densely detailed environments in front of them, looking for ledges, air conditioners, televisions and other robot-laden roofs and roads that coalesce into the 12 stages of the game.
Shortly after the opening sequence, players discover the Zurk, small, parasitic creatures that consume metal. Visually, the Zurk look inspired by the Headcrabs from Half-Life and Halo’s Flood, with equal ferocity, often requiring the player to think on their feet. Most encounters require the player to outrun or outsmart the ever-increasing tide of the metal-eating menaces. However, a brief moment in which the player can take on the Zurk in combat helps keep things fresh throughout in an otherwise mostly passive engagement.
Finally, in terms of gameplay elements, aside from environmental puzzles and run-ins with the Zurk, Stray features some light RPG elements and classic Adventure game-style quests in which the player must find specific items in order to move on and open up more of the game world.
Stray manages to include several fun easter-eggs throughout its 12 chapters, with fun nods to pop culture and other iconic games that feature a similar aesthetic. Additionally, if you’re anything like me and are into finding collectables, Stray’s world runs the gamut on things to collect, such as hidden memories for B12, music sheets, and badges to adorn the player.
Memories, in particular, unlock interesting flavour text that often alludes to the broader narrative beats and secrets present in Stray, which ultimately helps create genuine intrigue and a desire to see the story through to its conclusion.
Stray feels like a game that was made specifically for me, from an overabundance of CRT TVs strewn about the retro-futuristic levels to the larger-than-life and surprisingly human-feeling cast of robots that help the player on their journey to the outside.
Stray is equal parts a fun and unique twist on the Adventure game genre and a showcase of what to expect from BlueTwelve Studio in the future. Making its console debut via PlayStation’s newly minted PS Plus Extra and Premium tiers, Stray proves Sony has the potential to stand up against the Game Pass big dogs, thanks to the help of a little cat.