Games have all sorts of heroes to take on everything from chores to saving the universe from a dark god from alternate dimension. As these heroes, players will sometimes find themselves in the roles of regular or super-powered beings trying to do the impossible. However, some of the most memorable heroes are those that aren’t humans or even humanoid. That’s how you get studios trying to bring across their own type of heroics in a different and sometimes fuzzier form. That’s what Blue Twelve Studio has done in creating Stray, a game about a cat in the future. However, there’s a lot more to the experience than simply being an adorable fur-ball trying to find their way through.
Why The Cat Has Gone Astray
There are many reasons an animal may find themselves wandering the world on their own, and Stray makes their reason pretty clear. You play as an orange cat living in various structures with plant life growing all over. With a nice cat family, the orange cat is living a pretty comfortable and carefree life… That is, until the fall. This is literal, as the cat falls down into the bowels of the city below after a failed jump. Now trapped in a futuristic city populated by human-like robots and aided by a little drone buddy they find, our hero must make their way back to the surface while helping robots along the way.
Nine Good Lives
It’s said that cats have nine lives, giving them more chances to do good. Stray has used these lives to do a lot of good in the game. The first good thing is how the cat is portrayed. It’s normal to fall into traps that give realistic character video game physics, but that doesn’t happen here. It really does feel like you’re playing as a regular healthy cat. The way they move, jump, adjust their body as they squeeze through gaps, meow, and scratch really makes you feel that you’ve fallen into a feline form.
Next, is the narrative and the adventurous atmosphere. The game paces itself very well to slowly build up the world in which the cat becomes trapped. As you explore, more and more pieces of past events come to light as well as the significance that the cat presents. You’ll get to talk to a number of robots to find out why they’re here and what happened to the humans. The drone buddy, B-12, serves in an important role and acts as surrogate for the player. Their goal to remember everything they’ve forgotten syncs up with our desire to learn everything about this futuristic environment.
Then there’s the sense of progression and overall feel of the game. Despite the setup, this game has many elements that make it similar to titles like Journey. There’s no ticking clock or pressure to race through as quickly as possible, so you can indulge your cat-like curiosity. In contrast, there are moments in the game that can get intense and chaotic to give you that shot of adrenaline. Both the exploration and the action-packed aspects of the game work well and flow into each other giving plenty of time to appreciate and enjoy both.
Curiosity… You Know
Since you’re playing as a cat, it’s kind of expected to be curious about everything you encounter. The problem is that in Stray, it may be beneficial to curb that curiosity. One of the reasons to do this is the surprising number of dead ends. The cat is quite agile and athletic allowing them to leap fair distances up and across in multiple areas. This means you’ll be able to reach a lot of different spots in the different areas along the journey. The issue is that although you may get some nice views here and there, many paths open to you, up up being somewhat long while they lead you absolutely nowhere.
Then there’s the degree of challenge you have. The game has something of a scavenger hunt feel where many tasks simply ask you to look around for the items you need. This requires you to soak in your surroundings and explore carefully in order to find everything on the list. It may seem like a big task, but it can kind of seem like a chore. When you’re in a hub area, things are pretty contained so you’re running around in a box and before you know it, you’ve seen it all. It’s true that certain parts won’t be unlocked until story conditions are met, but their presence is typically minimal. Also, since the cat has a built-in self-preservation behavior, you won’t have to worry about accidentally falling down or missing another jump so there’s no danger in climbing high and searching everywhere the cat can fit.
Lastly, the game has a lot of empty space. It’s not a long game which isn’t bad, but considering how much there is to see, it’s sort of disappointing that there isn’t more to do. A majority of the items you can collect are used to progress the story, while the other two collectibles are Memories and Badges. The former is worthwhile to look for in terms of lore-building but many of them are easy to find and the latter gives you visual aesthetics as a reminder that you did something optional. The achievements are something to shoot for, but you can get them with little to moderate effort.
Stray To This Path
Stray is a third-person adventure game about a lost cat and a drone trying to climb out from the depths of a cyberpunk city. It really feels like a cat’s journey, with some rich story-elements, and a nice balance between relaxed exploration and intense action sequences. Unfortunately, the game makes you want more to do, with very little risk of going anywhere that you want with a high chance to find nothing when you get there. Looking past that, if you find this game lying in an alley, make sure you take it back and give it a good home and thorough playthrough.