Gaming Review

Game Review: “Stray”

PlayStation’s cutest timed-exclusive has arrived, Stray, and it is an absolute delight! Publisher Annapurna Interactive has made another smart play with backing this game to release. I am not at all a cat person, but developer BlueTwelve’s Stray charmed me through and through. Stray is tricky to describe exactly, but it is part cat simulator, part adventure game, and part platformer. The premise of the title is that you play as a stray cat that gets separated from the rest of it’s friends and falls into this dystopian cyberpunk walled-off city.

Your journey to escape the city happens to coincide with the same goal of a bunch of friendly robots (humanity has died off from a mysterious plague) who also yearn to open up the city. Along the way you are met with environmental puzzles, obstacles, and these squishy parasitic creatures that look like a fusion of headcrabs from the Half-Life series and like the metroid aliens from…Metroid. There also some mean robots that look like drones who are not fond of your feline character.

The game is pretty short (4 and half hours for my playthrough) but it does plenty in that time that it feels like the optimal length for this game without overstaying it’s welcome. I didn’t get a review code for the game, but as I am subscribed to PlayStation’s highest tier of PlayStation+ I was able to play the game as it is included in that service. otherwise you can buy the game on PC (Steam), PS4, and PS5 for $29.99. No official word of it coming to Switch or Xbox yet but that is always a possibility. Let’s get into the nitty gritty!

Our cat hero interacting with the friendly robot patrons at a bar.

Gameplay

Stray is at it’s core an adventure game. Exploration and experimentation with the environment make up the biggest portion of the game’s meat. Your cat escapades begin with a brief tutorial of the controls, and just as you find your footing the real game begins and you are whisked off to the main game area, Walled City 99.

The game actually does a lot with the premise of a cat protagonist. Clawing on couches and rugs are cute cat things but also serve as a way of progressing the game. Scratching curtains or mangling wires will often open up new areas for exploration.

Compressing your body and crawling through nooks that no one else can reach comes in handy frequently. Even doing real-life annoying things like tipping over objects on precarious edges serves an in-game purpose for obstacles. Meowing can be used to lure enemies to specific areas for a trap or to clear up a crucial path for you.

There is a portion of the game that has you running around performing fetch quests for various characters and it slows down the game’s momentum. I didn’t mind it at all as it allowed me to explore and enjoy more of the game’s vistas. However some people might feel like it’s padding.

Zurks chasing our feline friend. Image from IGN.

(Limited) Combat

Early on in the game you make a friend with a sentient flying robot named B-12 who becomes another integral part of your cat arsenal. B-12 will hack doors for you and eventually gains a useful UV light that destroys the annoying parasitic creatures (Zurks) that attack you.

Sometimes discretion is the better choice, in which our furry hero must slink their way through areas stealthily against sentinels (robot zapping robots that cannot be defeated) without alerting them. This game is not at all focused on combat, but it does treat enemy interactions in a clever and tense way.

The platforming in the game feels really good. The way your cat handles feels intuitive and smooth, great controls are essential for any platform-style game and I am glad to say that they feel really well implemented here (Did I mention there is even a dedicated button for meowing?). Navigating from rooftop to rooftop and the overall traversal feels really good and fluid. Definitely one of the game’s strong points.

Atmosphere

Stray has a hauntingly beautiful environmental design. The abandoned city is devoid of any human life, but the robots that occupy it are sentient and have kept “society” going. The graffiti, murals, neon lights, and overall colorful beauty remind me of Hong Kong or Shinjuku in Japan. There is an overall sense of optimism that permeates the city as you see these friendly robots living their lives and taking on traditional human occupations.

The game looks great even when it’s dark and gloomy.

The music is wonderful! It’s very subtle in the darker more treacherous portions of the game, but very lively and warm when in the occupied safe portions of the city. Sometimes it is hard to notice, but when you are aware of the music it usually has a catchy synth sound that just adds an extra aspect of joy and wonder to the setting. Playing the game again I find myself vibing and bobbing my head to the tunes.

Closing Thoughts

Now there is no perfect game despite what some may tell you. Stray has a few hiccups. The main issue plaguing the title is the camera in the more narrow portions of the game. Because you can only jump when the prompt pops up, it can be hard to navigate alleyways.

Corridors are hit-and-miss when you have to tilt your camera around to see where to go next. It’s not an issue in the more open explorable areas, but I found it to be tricky when hiding in boxes at times. For the most part the experience is smooth.

This cat is a whole mood.

Other than that Stray is a purr-fectly (allow me one cat pun) good game. It’s not too long and not too short (though it is kind of short), it is the perfect length to not fatigue the player and keeps the gameplay fresh. I would like to see more experimental games like this that take chances and nail the execution on the gameplay. It is for that reason that I give Stray an 8.5 / 10 . For more game reviews of mine check out my author page. Subscribe to GeekNewsNow for more coverage on all things geeky. Follow our Facebook page and our Twitter so you don’t miss our newest posts. Stay geeky!

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