Stray review: Save the world with sheer catittude

August 8th, 2022 | by Yap Hui Bin
Stray review: Save the world with sheer catittude
Gaming
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Wouldn’t it be wonderful to explore the world as a cat and deal with obstacles with pure cattitude? Stray does exactly that by harnessing the abilities and quirkiness of cats into the gameplay.

It’s no surprise that the indie game developed by BlueTwelve Studios caused quite a sensation among cat lovers when it was revealed in E3 2020.  

Although the game’s premise isn’t about abandoned cats, the dangers faced by a roaming cat as well as the adorable furry protagonist generated plenty of excitement from cat guardians and influencers.

Even renowned cat celebrities like Jackson Galaxy, the Cat Daddy from “My Cat from Hell” streamed himself playing Stray

The dystopian city inspired by Kowloon is beautifully detailed and fun to explore. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Stray effectively brings together two things I love – video games and cats. Being a cat guardian to two previously stray cats, I felt a moral obligation to review this game.

I played Stray on my PC under the watchful eyes of my cats, who seemed quite enthralled by the game and the adorable kitty.  

A tail of adventure

Stray is a third-person, or third-cat, adventure puzzle game that incorporates stealth, interactions with objects in the inventory and the environment to solve puzzles and progress further.

The entire experience is greatly enhanced by playing as a cat using the quirky abilities that our feline friends are known for as part of the gameplay.

You play an unnamed ginger cat who falls into a closed underground city that is devoid of life and is only inhabited by androids.

As the cat explores the city, it finds that humans are long gone, and going “outside” into the world is a long-forgotten myth for the androids. The cat has to find a way to escape as well as help the androids trapped in the city.

Although the map is limited in size, Stray makes up for it with a clever use of vertical spaces. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Inspired by the walled city of Kowloon, the narrow neon-lit streets, cramped rooftops and cluttered rooms in Stray offer up a fascinating place for a cat to explore.

Despite it not being a truly open world game, Stray makes up for it with its clever design using multi-level vertical spaces for the cat to traverse as well as nooks and crannies for squeezing into.

In addition, there are also dilapidated buildings, eerie sewers and underground subways to explore. Stray’s environment is highly detailed and interactive, where lots of objects can be pushed around, knocked over and jumped on, which are great fun for the cat.

The cat is aided by B-12, a helpful flying drone found early in the game that can pick up objects, decipher the language of the androids and communicate with them, and even repel certain enemies.

Having B-12 greatly expands the skills our kitty protagonist has, since it can serve as a light source, unlock doors, and also store and comment on memories that piece together the story of what transpired in the walled city.

Throughout its journey, the cat gets to meet and communicate with interesting sentient android characters, each with their own names, individual personalities and unique forms of self expression.

For instance, some androids love music or plants, others have occupations that they gripe about, and some even gave up to despair and abuse alcohol. These human-like android characters help to set the desolate mood in Stray in an otherwise lifeless cityscape.     

The androids in the walled city are interesting characters and fun to communicate with. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

A Different Purr-spective

By playing as a cat, Stray cleverly incorporates kitty abilities for puzzle-solving and exploration into its gameplay.

For instance, the nimble and sure-footed cat can jump and traverse on ledges, pipes and air-conditioning units, as well as squeeze through tiny openings and jump through windows.

Other cat antics that are actually really useful in the game include the cat’s ability to knock over items and scratch at barriers to open a new path forward. 

The cat animation in Stray captures the cat’s feline grace with amazing accuracy, with realistic motions such as jumping, walking, stretching, scratching and even licking its butt.

Even the way the cat rubs against the droids in an attempt to be friendly, or how its paw is raised when smacking objects, to the elaborate way a cat grooms itself, are spot on. Cat lovers will definitely appreciate the loving attention to detail!

Solve puzzles by doing things that kitties do, like knocking stuff off. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

For the enjoyment of cat lovers, Stray also indulges us with inane and charming cat antics such as jumping into carton boxes, sticking the head into paper bags and scratching couches and rugs.

The cat can even disrupt a mahjong game by jumping onto the table, which is something all cat owners can emphatise with.

The game even has strategic locations for cat naps, which makes for a nice break within the game, because there’s nothing more therapeutic than watching a napping cat.

Clearly, the game is made by cat lovers for cat lovers, but even if you are not one, Stray’s lifeless cyberpunk world inhabited by interesting androids and intriguing story makes for a fascinating yet disturbing place to explore.

Cat naps are built into the game for us to take a break. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Cat-astrophes 

Despite being a cute game, there are many hazards encountered by our plucky kitty protagonist. Trigger warning for those who cannot bear seeing cats getting hurt – the cat is depicted to be in danger, injured and even killed in the game.  

Dangers to our intrepid little kitty include scary Zurks, which are bulbous bacteria that devour lifeforms, which can swarm and overwhelm the cat, as well as Sentinels, which are hostile floating bots that can shoot bolts and electrify our furry little hero upon detection.

Stray has some terrifying moments, such as these Zurks that can devour our kitty protagonist. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

Thankfully, there isn’t really a risk of the cat falling from height. Jumping from ledge to ledge requires the prompt to appear before it can happen, and doesn’t always show up depending on the camera angle and the cat’s perspective.

There were times I had to make the cat walk back and forth before the prompt to jump appeared. This also means that the cat cannot jump around freely, which limits the areas that the cat can access or explore.

It’s painful to witness the death or pain suffered of the cat in the game, strangely, more so than seeing human avatars die. Being a gamer for decades, I am desensitised by the blood, gore and violence in most games but I wince seeing the cute cat in Stray getting hurt.

Cat Sense

Although Stray’s graphics doesn’t demand the latest and greatest graphics capabilities, I did experience some stuttering during certain fast-action scenes, such as when the cat is running away from swarms of Zurks.

Otherwise, the game performs well on my PC, and the beautiful level designs with well-varied lights and shadows, as well as realistic cat animations are lovely to behold.

From the cat’s purr-spective – Stray opens up a new way of looking at the world. SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

For a relatively short game like Stray, the soundtrack is surprisingly impressive and runs well over two hours. With atmospheric and lo-fi hip hop elements that cats generally adore, the chill soundtrack can be enjoyed by cats and humans alike. 

My cats watched with great interest as I was playing this game, although the realistic sounds of the cat in distress made them nervous, so I had to turn down the volume during those tense moments.

Since I was playing on the PC, I alternated between using a keyboard and mouse as well as an Xbox controller. I would definitely recommend playing with a controller for a better experience, especially with the vibrations that correspond to the events in the game. 

We find cats scratching annoying IRL, but maybe they are just trying to solve a puzzle? SCREENSHOT: Yap Hui Bin

TL;DR

Balancing engaging gameplay and irreverent cat antics isn’t easy, but Stray does an excellent job in pleasing cat lovers and gamers with its clever puzzles and attention to detail.

The intriguing premise of a dystopian lifeless city, interesting characters and tense encounters makes the game worth playing even for non-ailurophiles.

As a game, Stray has limited replay value since the map isn’t very big and there isn’t much variation in the gameplay.

However, the game does offer a few side quests to complete, badges to collect as well as some achievements to score which will keep completists playing for a bit longer. 

Stray is available for Windows PC on Steam at S$28.50 and for PlayStation on the PlayStation Store at S$41.90. The good news for subscribers of PlayStation Plus Extra is that Stray is free to play.

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