In a post-apocalyptic world, a city full of robots must find a way to the surface to see the sunlight for maybe the first time in their life. How will they do that? With the help of a kitten that stumbled into their world by complete accident. Let’s take a look at Stray!
Note: We played the PS5 version of the game. We’ll take a look the various versions of the game in a later section of the review.
You’re a Little Kitty…
Despite appearances, this is a very story-heavy game. We recommend going in as blind as possible for the best experience. Even this section will cut off at about 15% of the way through, so we don’t spoil anything important.
The game starts off in a dark cave during a thunderstorm. In this cave, there are 4 kittens, including the one you get to play as. This is a great area to experiment with the controls, as well as have some cute interactions with the rest of your feline friends.
Once the rain clears out, the 4 of you go out into the world and it’s revealed that humanity is pretty much gone. It’s never explicitly stated what happened to them, but you’ll be able to put the pieces together throughout the game. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
… in a Big World
While out on your walk, your kitty doesn’t quite make a jump and falls down a very deep chasm. You eventually make your way into an underground city populated entirely by androids who, for some reason, lead very human lives. After befriending a drone called B-12, the two of you resolve to get back to the surface.
If you were hoping the story will be exclusively about the cat, you might be a bit disappointed. Once you get paired up with B-12, the focus of the story shifts to that of the inhabitants of the city. It’s still an interesting story, and one that’s worth your time. But the fact you’re a cat is more of a novelty, and the disconnect might rub some people the wrong way.
We’ll stop here with this section. If the revelation that the cat aspect gets pushed to the side discouraged you from checking the game, we still think the experience is worth it. A quick tip: don’t be afraid to explore when the world opens up. It’ll help greatly once you decide to follow the story missions, and is how you’ll find aspects of world-building.
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Press O to Meow…
Gameplay-wise, Stray is a mix of a few genres. In terms of how you control your kitty, it moves normally with the analogue stick and can run while holding R2. You can also meow at any time with the circle. The triangle is your interaction button, and the square is used to talk with various robots with B-12 acting as a translator.
Your cat can jump to various platforms with X, but it only works to get you on and off platforms, you can’t freely jump. You see a prompt by default, but you can turn that off to improve immersion and the game is fully playable like that. There’s some platforming in the game, but the challenge will mostly come from figuring out where a certain path is, and not in traversing it.
While the story doesn’t really benefit from you being a cat, the gameplay absolutely does. You can go into small holes and run at high speeds simply because you’re a cat. There’s plenty of places where you can scratch surfaces to sharpen your claws, which is used in a few places for puzzles.
The Dualsense controller does a great job at immersing you with its haptic feedback. The triggers emulate your catness really well, like the aforementioned scratching, or the purring of your kitten when you rest on various spots across the map.
… L1 to Use the Ultraviolet Lamp…
The game world can be split into two types of levels, called chapters. Each level has a few secrets, and it’s recommended to try and find them all, as you can’t return to a previous level outside of a chapter select.
The first type are more linear, where you must go from point A to point B. These also come in a few variants. Before meeting B-12, you’ll use your cat abilities to traverse the environment. You’ll do some puzzle-platforming, but for the most part it’s about figuring out how to get where you want to.
After meeting B-12, the game changes drastically. You now have the ability to talk with the inhabitants of the world, and have an inventory system that’s used for the levels discussed in the next section. From here, those linear levels can be split into two variations, depending on how far you are in the game.
In the first half of the game, you face waves of small enemies called Zurks that can attach to you and kill you. You either run away from them, or use an ultraviolet lamp to fight them. Near the end of the game, there are some stealth sections where you try to avoid drones.
… and X to Knock Off Books
The other type of level is open areas where you can explore freely and solve puzzles using items in your inventory. The main gameplay loop is actually very reminiscent of point-and-click adventure game, in the sense that you have an inventory with a number of items and need to figure out what to do with them. The only other non-point-and-click game I can think of that does this is the original Psychonauts.
The puzzles are quite straight-forward, but you’ll need to know where to look. Here’s an example of a puzzle:
- You have to fix a transmitter, but the robot who does this is too cold to work, so you need to find a poncho.
- There’s an old granny robot that can help with that, but she needs electrical wire.
- The wire is at a merchant, but he wants a bottle of detergent in exchange.
- The detergent is in a laundromat, but they won’t open up.
- There’s a couple of robots throwing paint buckets between them right above the laundromat.
- Meow to distract the paint throwers -> Laundromat opens door to clean up -> Get detergent bottle -> Get wires -> Get poncho -> Get tracker fixed.
Pretty easy, right? Thing is, the game never tells you where any of these people are, so you’ll have to explore the world around you, talking with them to see how they fit into the puzzle. This is where the game shines, in exploring the world and interacting with its inhabitants.
Confused Kitty Conundrum
As you can see, the game has a bit of an identity crisis. It constantly swaps between playstyles, not being entirely sure what it wants to do. This is also felt in the tone of the game, switching from outdoors exploration, to cyburpunk dystopia, to H. P. Lovecraft survival horror, to a prison escape.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean the game is bad, by any means. It’s just some jarring tone shifts that you wouldn’t really expect, and which might make or break your enjoyment of the game if you’re not aware of them.
The game is available on PC, PS4 and PS5, with the latter being the best option for playing the game. The PS4 version is also playable, but it’s locked at 30 FPS and 1080p. The PC version seems to have some performance issues when it comes to shaders. This video from Digital Foundry should give you a better look at each platform.
There’s also a few bugs. Some players had their cats clip through assets and fall through the world. We’ve also encountered a bug where , when trying to get off a pipe to the floor, the cat would teleport back on the pipe. That said, these seem to be a very rare occurrences, the game running smoothly otherwise. Something that happens far more often is the physics engine throwing objects around when you interact with them, but it’s nothing game-breaking.
Shut Up and Take My Meowney
Something we haven’t really mentioned is how the game looks. Visually, the game is gorgeous, with a lot of amazing shots. This makes the exclusion of a photo mode quite baffling. Same goes for some sort of catracter creator, letting you make your own kitty to play as (most players would love to have their own cat in the game). Hopefully these get added either in future updates, or in a potential sequel.
Before we talk value, let’s talk length. Stray is a short game, with most players clocking it at about 5 hours, while we finished it in 5 hours and 40 minutes. If you’re going for 100% completion on your first run, it’ll take you about 8 hours to complete.
The game is available on PS Plus with the Extra tier. Otherwise, you can get the game for 30 USD or your regional equivalent. That’s a little steep for such a short runtime, but, if the premise sounds interesting to you, it’s totally worth it in terms of quality.
Good news: This is the last cat pun in the article!
Stray is a bit of a confused game. The story flips between multiple genres and playstyles, few of which actually have anything to do with you being a kitty. If you’re here for a cat simulator, you might be a little disappointed.
All that said, we recommend the game. It’s a unique experience, and the inventory puzzles are something we wish to see more outside of point-and-click games.
Did you give Stray a shot? Would you like to see more games in this style? Let us know in the comments below!
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