Stray is the first new game to be released day one to the new PlayStation Plus, and what a delightful surprise it was. Upon seeing Stray first being announced, I assumed it would fall under the category of “just another indy title.” That isn’t to say that I wasn’t intrigued by the premise, as I am a huge fan of cats in general.
However, once the game began, I found myself absorbed into the story and world this sole cat has found itself in. As I don’t really want to ruin the beautiful story BlueTwelve Studio has made for this game, a slight description is needed.
The orange feline protagonist in this title lives on the surface of the earth, and an unfortunate event causes this furball to fall down a concrete chute to a dead city deep underground. The cat sees these small, one-eyed creatures, which run away at first. This creepy city also contains a mysterious stranger who’s guiding the cat through winding alleys and abandoned apartments.
The creatures who were once afraid gain in numbers and begin chasing the orange tabby, who, again, gets assisted by this mysterious stranger. The feline ends up in an apartment that has a tiny robot inside–which you promptly nudge to life–with it waking and explaining it’s name is B‑12 and how it ended up in this fate. Shortly after, the bot attaches a backpack to the cat (for the robot to be carried in), and the two of you begin the long journey back to surface.
Along the way, the duo comes across several cordoned off small cities. Most of them are inhabited by sentient, human-like robots. There are a variety of ways to interact with these citizens, including rubbing agains them (which typically causes the robot to flash a heart across its screen-face), giving items, talking, and even taking a nap on one. The orange stray is a perfectly portrayed cat. The small flickers of the tail when running, the chest inflation when purring, knocking items over that are right on the edge, the way they curl up when they get ready to sleep… I mean it’s spot on.
I’ve had cats for most of my life, with my last one having passed on four years ago–so seeing those mannerisms brought huge smiles to my face throughout my playtime.
It’s not just the cat that has a beautiful design. Stray, in general, has an amazing atmosphere. It just immediately sucks you into it with its neon signage, shops and restaurants to explore, robots to talk to, and rooftops to reach. The colors from the signs hanging from the shops are in great contrast to the darkness of the trash and narrow streets that litter this cities. Most of the robots have unique physical features, making them easy to identify when trying to solve a problem for one of them.
Of course, there are multiple levels to this game, each with a different type of setting. For instance, once chapter is dedicated to the sewer, while another is just the pair passing through tiny town that gets a single ray of light from the surface.
The music also plays a major part in the atmosphere of these areas. Entering certain sections while progressing through the story will trigger certain musical effects, and beautifully corresponds with what is happening on screen. While not all of the tracks are my favorite in the world, I was still impressed with the attention to audio shifts throughout.
Because Stray’s world is so interactive, it’s super easy to lost within it for hours–talking to local bots, finding items, or helping the city by solving some of its problems. None of the “side quests” give the sense of redundancy, even though they’re just typical fetch quests, but it doesn’t feel like typical fetch quests. However, tense moments with the creatures (seen at the beginning of the game) known as the Zurk, as well as dodging Sentry bots that are willing to zap to kill, really breaks up the calmness seen during certain portions of the game. I believe these enemy additions bring a great balance of peacefulness and tension.
Also, the connection that grows between B‑12 and this orange tabby is smiling inducing, as the cat takes the time to give this little robot his memories back. I was shocked how emotionally absorbed into Stray I actually was, which made the story that much more intense. Plus, the DualSense gives particular feedback for certain actions the cat does, like scratching carpets or purring.
Without a doubt, Stray is one of the best games to have arrived from an indy developer this year. It’s even outshined recent titles I’ve played from major developers. The story and environment are completely unique. However, the gameplay and mechanics are completely generic. But it’s how it’s presented to the player, shown through the steps of a four-legged stray cat, who has no arms, can’t talk, and relies on the kindness of robots. It’s an experience that one doesn’t see often in the gaming world, as focuses are put more on players being able to interact with the world around them freely.
I would highly recommend Stray, especially if you’re a cat person. If not, it’s still a super interesting experience, driven by an amazing story, and played out in a fantastic setting.