Windows Central Verdict
While I expected Stray to be a cyberpunk-themed walking simulator about a day in the life of a cat, I was unprepared for the deeply emotional adventure that this little cat was going to take me on. This stunningly beautiful world left me with a mountain of questions and has undoubtedly earned a place in my mind for some time.
Visually striking environment design
Creative story telling
Subverted gameplay expectations
Story leaves a lot of unanswered questions
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The announcement of BlueTwelve Studio’s debut release, Stray, spawned a fever pitch of hype surrounding this exciting new cyberpunk-esque cat simulator. The world, as it was glimpsed through trailers and carefully curated screenshots, was full of vibrant colors and just a little bit of trash for flair. The city's inhabitants were creative crafted human-like robots, dressed and behaving very much like their fleshier counterparts.
The gameplay was focused on a little orange tabby cat that serves as the protagonist, doing everything that makes cats delightful, from parkour to knocking flower pots off of ledges. It wasn’t until a few minutes into the full game, when our feline fell from a rusty pipe into a dumpster pile below, separated from its loving family, that I discovered that Stray might not be the wholesome cat life simulator I may have been anticipating.
Shortly after coming to their senses from the fall, our little tabby friend finds themselves in trouble as they are swarmed by these fleshy, hungry, engorged flea-like creatures that we eventually come to know as "Zurks." The player must help the cat avoid the Zurks by outrunning, meowing, and shaking off the foul beasts before eventually parkouring to safety. At this point, I realized nobody had told me this would be a horror game.
While Sony has been keen to push Stray as a timed exclusive for PlayStation consoles, the game does also launch on PC simultaneously. For the sake of this review, we played on a system compromised of a Ryzen 5800X along with an RTX 3070 Ti and 32GB RAM, well above its recommended specifications. I was able to play the game in 1440p with maxed-out settings without any issues such as screen tearing or stuttering. It is worth noting, however, that the frame rate is capped at 60 FPS on PC
Despite the capped framerate, Stray manages to be a striking visual masterpiece. From the lush, green, and overgrown world where we initially meet our little family of cats to the shockingly awful monstrous depths with which the tabby eventually finds itself, everything about the world feels intentionally crafted and placed for maximum effect. Simple artifacts like bottles and pots on a window ledge let you live out your ultimate cat fantasy of knocking down destructible objects. At the same time, carefully aligned air conditioning units and roof railings provide ample opportunities for platforming adventures.
|Minimum requirements||Windows 10, Intel Core i5-2300 | AMD FX-6350, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti, 2GB | AMD Radeon R7 360, 2GB|
|Play time||6.5 hours|
|Platforms||PC, PS4, PS5|
On PC, Stray does feature full controller support — going so far as to recommend that it plays best with a gamepad — and even includes matching on-screen button inputs when using an Xbox controller. For those using a DualSense controller with their PC, Stray does also utilize haptic feedback. There are a handful of accessibility options, including a slider for motion blur and options to add or remove the reticule, HUD, and other prompts.
Unfortunately, there are no options for closed captioning. There is no voice acting, and given Stray’s dialogue takes place via text boxes, subtitles may seem unnecessary. However, the absence of closed captioning can make it difficult for hard-of-hearing players to know if the cat has meowed (a life-saving measure at times) or may cause them to miss audio cues for events like doors or windows opening momentarily.
Stray’s story seems simple enough at first glance. However, it soon becomes apparent that the little cat’s adventure is about more than just their hopeful family reunion, as flashing screens begin to provide up-to-the-minute guidance on where the cat should go to find safety from foes. The screens are under the control of a being known as B-12, a mysterious AI that takes the form of a companion drone and accompanies the cat on its adventure. As players uncover the events that led to B-12 taking their place in the companion drone, they also begin to uncover the history of what happened to the humans and how the sentient AI remains.
The narrative relies heavily on discovery and uncovering details through exploration, with B-12’s memories being accessible through an in-game menu as they are unlocked. However, many story beats relating to the additional AI characters we encounter are tucked away as hidden collectibles that can be easily missed in a blind playthrough. Overall, the story does not overstay its welcome with its estimated 8-hour runtime, but there are just enough loose ends that I left with more questions than answers.
We see some of the best cat-like behavior from our protagonist during the little moments, where Stray’s gameplay shines the brightest. Early on, we see companion drone B-12 give the stray a cat harness and in true cat-like fashion, the tabby crouches into an unsatisfied position and then flops over onto its side, expressing its displeasure for the new accessory. Moments like this continue to crop up throughout the game to remind us that while the player may be aware of the events that are ongoing, the actual protagonist is simply a cat with feline whims and needs. Paint cans can be playfully knocked off of ledges and walking through the paint leaves a little trail of paw prints behind. Stacks of books are ripe to be kicked over when leaping from one to another, rugs and couches are just begging to be clawed, and the right nap spot is just waiting for you to find it.
Obstacles presented to a cat must be overcome like a cat, as well, and that leads to some clever puzzle design. While many games may want players to think outside the box to overcome a puzzle, Stray oftentimes wants you to just get in the box like a dang cat would. Need to destroy a computer system’s wiring? That’s what cats’ claws are made for. Need to break into a hat store and steal a hardhat? There’s a box for that. That’s not to say there are not more complex puzzles, especially in later levels when stealth comes into play, and a few chase sequences also add some much-needed tension to the gameplay.
Stray: Should you play?
With titles like What Remains of Edith Finch and 12 Minutes under their belt, my expectations for a narrative-driven game published by Annapurna Interactive, even from a new studio, were relatively high. They are known for publishing games with thoughtful and engaging stories. However, when a cat is a primary protagonist, you must temper your expectations somewhat regarding gameplay. I think, surprisingly, I may have expected too little from Stray. I expected to launch this game, knock a few items off the shelves in this pretty cyberpunk-inspired city, and little else.
Instead, I was greeted with this incredibly rich world where sentient AI behave suspiciously like the humans who created them. I fell in love with characters like Grandma, who happily knits ponchos out of electrical cables. I giggled every time a robot who wasn’t paying attention tripped over the cat that just wanted someone to pet it even though it was my fault. I even became frustrated as I uncovered the reasoning behind the structures that made up the Companion’s villages. I was a little more invested in this world with every new revelation. And here I just thought I was going to play as a cat.
That’s not to say the experience is flawless. I had one issue where I was forced to restart a checkpoint because a character became stuck during a puzzle, and another wherein the cat fell through some geometry and got stuck behind an air conditioning unit. However, Stray’s checkpoint system is frequent enough that these were but minor setbacks.
Despite being told to expect an 8-hour playthrough with 10 hours for completion, I was able to finish Stray, even with the issues requiring checkpoint reloads, to 100% in just under 6 hours and 45 minutes. While I did feel I was left with more questions than answers, that feeling was more so a testament to how much I wanted to spend extra time in this incredible world so that I could learn more of its secrets and stories.
Kitty-parkour your way through a neon dystopia to uncover the mystery of the AI Companions that now call it home.
Buy at Steam (opens in new tab)
Cole is the resident Call of Duty know-it-all and indie game enthusiast for Windows Central. She's a lifelong artist with two decades of experience in digital painting, and she will happily talk your ear off about budget pen displays.
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