Stray Review: Go Home
Stray isn’t quite the game I was anticipating. Which is funny, because I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from it. I knew I’d be playing a cat, which I was. I expected platforming which there is, sort of. Trailers revealed that most of the other characters you interact with are robots, and that’s true. Yet despite most of the game’s core elements being present in those trailers, I wasn’t prepared for the game Stray is. That’s not a bad thing, because while not quite what I was expecting, it is utterly charming from beginning to end.
Your cat starts Stray out hanging out with a group of other cats, lounging in a shady area before the group decides to go for a run. That all seems perfectly normal, and you’ll quickly learn how to move between various ledges and pipes. Things go badly, though, when a pipe gives way, dropping you down a drain where you quickly end up deep underground.
A Whole New World
Exploring your new location, you’ll find a whole civilization of robots that have existed for hundreds of years. These underground areas were seemingly built by the last vestiges of humanity before they vanished forever, leaving only the intelligent robots they built behind. They were meant to protect them from the world above, but your cat’s appearance signals that it may be time for what remains to emerge. Along the way, you’ll find a terrifying form of organic life capable of devouring almost any material and meet up with a small drone named B-12, who can translate the robots for you and help you explore the depths of the underground.
The biggest strength of Stray is how good it feels to control your cat. While you certainly don’t have an advanced set of abilities, your feline protagonist moves very smoothly through his underground world. You’ll quickly be whipping around corners and leaping from ledge to ledge. I don’t know that I’d call this platforming, you line your cat up and press the jump button and automatically leap where you want to go with no aiming required, but it feels great and lets you quickly move through a wide variety of terrain.
Everyone Needs A Friend
When you’re not just running around enjoying being a cat, you’re looking for a way back to the surface, soon with the help of B-12, who becomes your constant companion. The relationship between the two is a big part of what drives Stray, but B-12 isn’t just your friend; he provides most of the gameplay complexity present here. He’ll translate for the robots around you so you can communicate with them. He offers a source of light that can have all kinds of uses, especially when you start encountering more enemies. When the parasites underground first start showing up, your only choice is to run and shake them off if they get ahold of you, but later in the game, you’ll have a few more options.
On your way home, you’ll encounter a wide variety of others living underground who need your help. Whether it’s a group of robots obsessed with making it to the surface no matter what it takes, some street kids who are tired of being spied on, or just a robot who wants some more music to play, there’s a lot to do. Some of this is required to progress, while other activities are optional, but while the underground areas you’ll encounter aren’t filled to the brim with things to do, there’s plenty of reason to explore.
Running Low On Lives
I was glad for that, too, because the worldbuilding in Stray is consistently delightful. This hidden society underground has a variety of areas, everything from a tiny village to a big city, and I found beauty wherever I looked. An excellent soundtrack also helps to really sell the experience and push you forward.
While I enjoyed Stray, it’s worth keeping in mind that this is a very simple game. Mechanically, throughout most of the game, you just run from one place to the next with your destination almost always well telegraphed. It’s hard to get lost. While many of the areas you’ll encounter have puzzles for you to solve, they’re almost universally easy, making use of only a handful of mechanics. Only one puzzle in the entire game took me more than a minute or two to solve, and even that one simply required me to pay a bit more attention to the environment than I was prior to that.
There are some sequences where you can easily mess up and die, but an extremely forgiving checkpoint system makes this not much of a burden. The most interesting new mechanic the game offers during its five to six-hour runtime is quickly discarded, leaving a bit of a hole behind it.
Despite this, Stray has charm to spare and a wonderful world well worth exploring. It would have been nice to have a bit more variety in your objectives and to have to spend a bit more time actually thinking about what to do, but it’s never less than fun to play.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PS5 (Reviewed), PS4, PC; Publisher: Annapurna; Developer: BlueTwelve Studio; Players: 1; Released: July 19th, 2022; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10+; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Stray provided by the publisher.