When the PlayStation 5 was first announced, one of the early games revealed for it was Stray, a game where you control a cat in a cyberpunk city that’s apparently populated by robots. Now that the game is finally out and is one of the main titles leading the charge for PlayStation’s revamped Plus Premium and Extra tiers, the hype turns out to be extremely warranted and well-deserved. Stray happens to be one of the best games to come out in a long time, a shining example of what happens when developers take a chance at a unique and new concept and follow through with pinpoint precision.
The best thing developers BlueTwelve Studio have done is absolutely and authentically nailed down what it is to move around a sprawling city as a cat. The animations present on the silent main cat protagonist that you play as are extremely well done. Even the most minute detail was thought of, such as how a cat’s ear twitches in the direction of a noise which you need to utilize to explore and find quest objects or know when danger is near. One of my favorite moments is when in the beginning of the game you’re outfitted with a harness and the cat flops on the ground with a groan, a moment I’m certain any cat owner is familiar with. Breathing animations, head tilts, even grooming yourself and taking cat naps are all animated with a realistic flair and polish that is rarely seen in modern gaming. You’re left free to do things as a cat would do, and that’s even silly things such as running across a piano and hitting all its keys or climbing up to a pair of robote that’l are playing a board game and interfering with said game. I marveled as I knocked paint buckets over, spilling the contents onto the sidewalk and then walking through said paint leaving behind tiny paw prints of my mischievous deed. The attention to even the most minute of detail is so staggering high that I instantly fell in love with this cat and game.
The animations aren’t the only thing BlueTwelve should be commended for, as they truly nailed down what it is to play as this type of animal. Being able to knock things off ledges with that sarcastic paw swipe cats are known for is hilarious every time you get to do it and its also part of puzzle solving within the game as well. Even the behaviors that cats do on their own that serve no purpose in the game are included. You can rub up against someone’s legs, take a nap whenever and wherever you want and even just drink water from a saucer or puddle. There’s even a dedicated meow button, one I was content to press ever so consistently during my time with Stray.
All these animations and abilities are cleverly tied to many things to do within the game world. Being able to scratch and paw at anything gives way to solving environmental puzzles like ripping curtains or pulling a wire to traverse across the city. Meowing can be used to ward off the game’s enemies, these mutated tick-like beings that you discover are called Zurks. While there isn’t true combat in the game, the encounters against hordes of Zurks are thrilling and exciting as you use your agility and skills to outrun and avoid the Zurks. It’s meant to showcase that this is a real cat, so there’s no super heroics here as the feline is meant to be exactly what it is – just a cat. While there isn’t a dedicated jump button, you instead have the Legend of Zelda style method of traversal where when you reach the edge of a ledge you can press a button to leap across. It sometimes makes the platforming feel restrictive, but also enhances that the game is a puzzle platformer and allows the developers to focus on the illusion of the player playing like a cat. It’s worth noting that the animations play into this too as the cat nimbly aligns itself from platform to platform. The puzzle solving and talking to robot NPCs are there, and that’s helped along with the game’s other star and what I’m sure will become another fan favorite out of this title, the drone companion B-12.
B-12 allows you to talk to robots, hack doors and all around provide clues as to where to go and what to do. It’s like a less annoying Navi from Ocarina of Time and while it plays a key role in helping you get past the game’s many obstacles; it never takes aware from the focus that the cat is the star. However, the drone also allows the narrative to play out with a point of interaction between the robot NPCs and the titular stray cat. You’ll discover just what happened to the world as you quest to find your way home and explore a combination of linear pathways and open-ended areas. These simple interactions combined with the exploration leave a touching tale of friendship and hardship and for some there will be a definite tug at the heartstrings.
Complimenting the atmosphere and presentation is an excellent soundtrack and score. Rife with subtle drums and various instruments, the game’s music elicits the mood of a wandering cat in a big city. There is a distinct tinge of curious hope in many of the game’s songs, and even during some of the intense moments against the Zurks, the amplification of the tense score serves to heighten the mood of a cat scrambling to survive. It plays out soft tunes when you’re exploring and it made my heart swell with joy every time I rubbed up against an NPC’s legs, seeing their display screen for a face change from a generic digital face to a heart.
While some may find the exploration and game length short, Stray is one of those games that knows when to end and not linger on or drag the player along. If you want to see everything Stray has to offer, you can easily put in 8-10 hours’ worth of playtime to 100% the game, but for those who wish to play straight through its easily a 4–5 hour game. The game is wise to not overstay its welcome, and it being a budget title at around $30 isn’t that bad even if you aren’t able to get it for free with Sony’s PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium subscription tiers. I played it on both a Steam Deck and the PlayStation 5 and the experience was nearly identical with some slight frame drops on the Steam Deck version. Overall, Stray is a very good game and comes out at a fantastic time where we’ve been starving for some good quality gaming. That it releases at a budget price and is so well made is icing on the cake…provided that cake isn’t knocked off the table by a paw swipe that is.