Video games with action-adventure elements offer us a lot of things to do to catch up with the main character and the wider playable world filled with a variety of activities. In the case of Stray, which has a bit of action and a whole lot of adventure, the backstory of the main character is plain and simple. You are a cat. That’s it. But even without any compelling backstory, Stray offers us a phenomenal adventure in a dystopian cyberpunk world from the perspective of a furry protagonist. The atmosphere this furry platformer presents is unlike any other game and that’s what makes it a truly memorable experience.
The game starts off with our playable cat who starts off their day-to-day job of exploring with their feline friends. But, during the journey, we get lost in the depths of a world completely unknown. We wind up in a world, that is full of questions with no definite answers. Of course, that is until we meet B-12, a robot drone. The name might be a subtle nod to BlueTwelve Studios, the developers of the game. With the help of B-12, we explore a dystopian world inhabited by robots that are about as clueless about their existence as us. But that doesn’t mean that these robots are dull and boring.
The robots we meet each have their own backstories and unique traits that separate them. Some play the guitar, some are stick-wielding fighters, while others are mere trash collectors and cleaners. The robots react to you in different ways and even offer you side-quests that are easy to complete. In essence, these robots mimic the humans who came before them. But what happened to the humans? That’s one of the mysteries you try to uncover with B-12 while exploring the world. With the help of B-12, you’ll uncover various memories of the past that will slowly fill out the pieces of the past including B-12’s own. And in the adventure with B-12, grows a companionship that helps you understand the unexpected bond between animal and machine.
The gameplay of Stray is fairly easy with basic movement controls and a jump button that will only be used when there is a button prompt. Honestly, playing as a cat you’d expect the ability to jump a lot. But, this was a bit annoying as it sort of restricted the parkour-ish movement of the cat. Surprisingly, there is a unique button just for meow-ing. But using the meow button can be the difference between life and death as it can be used to distract the sentinel robots that can kill you with just a few shots. Additionally, there are the Zurks, a weird-looking Tardigrade-head lice hybrid that grabs onto you. Even the robots are afraid of them as these can kill them as well. But with the help of a UV light gun attached to B-12, you can turn the Zurks into mush in no time.
You’ll have to solve easy puzzles in order to progress through the areas. While I expected the puzzles to be a bit hard, that didn’t ruin the overall experience at all. Sometimes you’ll employ the help of B-12 who will help you in opening doors or hacking various equipment. Some robots will also aid you in various ways too. There are generally a couple of ways you could tackle various areas and all of them are very simple. You’ll basically have to construct a simple repetition of jumps and movements to navigate your way through areas. In some areas, you can use buckets to move from one part to another just like a cat would do.
Even in a dystopian world, a cat would behave like it usually would. What Stray excels in is how it incorporates the natural behavior of a cat into its carefully crafted world. There are button prompts to scratch various surfaces in almost all the areas in the game. Plus, you’ll be able to push paint cans, snuggle with the robots, and even disrupt a game of checkers between robots just by curiously jumping on the board. These tiny but notable additions are what make Stray a fantastic game. And when you’re tired of doing cat-like shenanigans, you can find a cozy spot to take a bit of a nap.
Graphically, the visuals are stunning, to say the least. The color palette in each of the hubs in the game is striking and portrays a sense of modernity and gloominess that is not often captured properly in games set in a cyberpunk world. The attention to detail in every corner of hubs is applaud-worthy. You can see how developers carefully crafted this world and they really deserve all the praise. The neon lights, the shop banners, the wet streets, and the dirty and messy rooftops in the city areas embody the feeling of a cyberpunk world very well.
The robots in different areas each had their own gripping or fun story to tell that are displayed by their animations which are perfectly done. On the other hand, you have the unforgiving sewers that are filled with the unknown. And the encounters you have in the sewers turn Stray into a sort of horror game at times. But still, exploring these areas was very fulfilling and satisfying. The soundtrack incorporated into Stray is a mix of lo-fi hip-hop, electronic, and techno. It gives a feeling of uncertainty and nostalgia but blends in perfectly with the cyberpunk themes in the game.
Stray offers players a unique perspective to explore a beautifully designed world with strong dystopian cyberpunk themes. The gameplay including the fun puzzles and quick movements is fun and enjoyable. With its amazing visuals and well-crafted story of little-less than 10 hours with a satisfying ending, Stray is a game not just for cat-lovers, but for people who want to experience video games as an art form or just want to relax and play as a cat once in a while.
- Great story and world-building
- Beautiful visuals and sound design
- Amazing gameplay and animations
- Restrictive controls that hamper movements sometimes
This review is based on the Playstation 4 version of Stray.