Stray Review: The Perfect Mix Of Cyberpunk and Fluff
Being so annoying has never been so zen-like.
When Stray was first revealed along with the PS5 in 2020, it caught my eye for a few reasons. First, it was getting published by AnnaPurna Interactive (one of the most consistent indie publishers to date), the world looked very detailed and could truly show the power of the PS5’s lighting and raytracing abilities, and you get to play as a cat. I was already sold and willing to wait however long it took the devs to make it.
I am really happy to say that the time paid off - even though the 4-6 hour runtime does leave a bit to be desired. Stray is such a relaxing and lowkey experience carried by its polish, detailed environments, and world-building. It also packs a small variety of gameplay types - none of which ‘break the mold’ of these formulas but stay on them long enough to fulfill their purpose.
When thinking of what the player should be able to do as a cat in a video game, the developer Blue Twelve studio thought of possibly every single attribute and trope that we think of when we think of cats. Knocking stuff over, rubbing up against your leg, how they wind their legs up before they jump onto anything, how they scratch to ruin furniture, and the agility that allows them to get into spaces that we humans can’t. They all help Stray feel like the definitive video game for people who want to role-play as a cat.
The Main Story
The catalyst that helps you live out this cat life is the game's story and setting. You start the game running around with your other cat friends in the tutorial where you get a feel for the movement. You eventually get separated from your friends and fall into a civilization void of humans. Here you learn that robots have taken their place doing their best to imitate the humans that created them, for better or worse. As you play you will discover more about how human civilization came to an end, and how the robots that now populate these cities live.
You have a little robot/drone companion named B12 that you'll have throughout the game to help translate the robot language so you can help them complete tasks. A lot of the main story revolves around B12’s mysterious past that you're both trying to uncover. It's a pretty simple plot that isn't hard to predict, and just like some of the gameplay, it isn't doing anything entirely original. And that's not a bad thing. The story is well-paced and has plenty of satisfying and cute moments.
The World Looks So Big From Down Here
There are 2 main ‘open’ areas in the game where you can meet and talk to robots to learn about the society they live in. And since the structure of the city is so open and you’re the size of a cat, it all seems so much bigger while also being extremely tight-knit - which is the perfect environment if you're a cat. As you play you'll start memorizing what certain streets and shortcuts look like and where specific robots live, which is already pretty easy since all of the robots you meet have distinct personalities you can pick up on from their clothing and body language.
Another notable highlight is how you move around in these spaces as a cat. They're smaller and can fit through spaces that I would never consider. The camera is positioned lower than the robots you meet. There were a couple of moments where I thought I couldn’t get past a certain area if it was blocked off by gates, wooden planks, or barricades, but then I remembered, “Oh yeah, I’m a cat, and these human size limitations don't apply to me."
The highest compliment I can give to Stray’s gameplay is that it’s well-paced. Every puzzle mechanic added to the game doesn’t overstay its welcome, which is good since a lot of the puzzles and stealth sections weren’t all that challenging. Their biggest purpose is to spice up what's happening in the story in between the exploration moments
You can die in this game, but in my play-through I only died like 4 times.
Jumping feels fluid while simple. You can't ever really fall off of anything, though you may jump and not stick the landing completely. There's a helpful indication on the screen depending on the direction you are pointing to let you know if a surface is reachable. This is a little inconsistent since there are plenty of items and ledges that you should be able to climb up, but you aren't able to.
Besides the cat simulator elements, my favorite thing about this game is the music and sound design. Yann Van Der Cruyssen composed 29 songs for this album and was the sound director. I think he contributed to so much of the personality in this game that makes the experience so much more relaxing. Just chilling in a walkable urban city bathed in neon lights, listening to what sounds like a steel drum and xylophone microbeats. It would have been a crime to not put the soundtrack on streaming services.
In fact, a lot of what you can interact with is amplified by the music. There are tons of spots where you can nap. Next to robots, on shelves, on top of rooftops. And when you start napping the camera starts to slowly move backward while the music comes into the forefront, and you can soak in all of the details in the frame. It created an atmosphere that I didn’t want to leave.
Final Thoughts and Verdict
The PS5’s haptic feedback greatly improved my experience due to the heightened sense of feedback the DualSense Controller is capable of. Stray has a similar quality where there are tiny additions that add to the overall “cat experience”. When you take a nap you can feel and hear the controller purr. They didn't have to add that but they did and I think it’s cool. As someone who is allergic to cats, I'm glad the power of the PS5 can give me a taste of unconditional love.
Stray did everything it set out to do, and the discourse online has confirmed that a lot of people are already falling in love with it, rightfully so. Its cute, short, and sweet with a surprising amount of depth found in its worldbuilding. The surface-level puzzle solving and platforming dont take away from what makes this game great. I think it's a game everyone should try. As of right now you can purchase the game on PS4, PS5, PC, or you can subscribe to Playstation Plus Premium which has the game available for download.
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