Cat-lovers, Ahoy! Oh – and gamers abroad as well, as of July 19th, from BlueTwelve Studio & Annapurna Interactive, comes the ever adorable: Stray. Get used to comments on cuteness, because this game delivers it in droves. Join us as we delve into the action-puzzle adventure that’s swept the industry by storm. Let’s waste no more precious time and review Stray.
How one derives fun from a product tends to be highly subjective. Therefore ALL forms of review are opinionated and should be taken with a grain of salt (this included). So let’s analyze Stray, through the lens of more objective metrics such as; graphical fidelity, characters/story, content/length, controls & gameplay, and then finally, sound design & cinematics. This product was played on a 3080 10GB, 32GB Ram, with an i9-11900KF 3.5GHz and a 512 GB Steamdeck. For full transparency: this content was reviewed using a purchased copy of the game.
First off: this is a beautiful-looking game. Performing well both on PC, and SteamDeck (with some minor limitations) fluidity of gameplay was never an issue that hindered gameplay in any practical way. There were, however, some frame dips when rounding a corner to an open city, large room or when an abundance of models was in-frame. Settings are all fairly standard, with enough wiggle room to tailor their performance.
The presentation of Stray is exceptional, and a wonder to experience. The colour pallet ranges vastly from drab and dark browns to vibrant cyberpunk cities, and luscious green wildlife. Animations are phenomenally fluid bringing these digital felines truly to virtual life. Movements are extremely natural and I can’t help but imagine how hilarious a cat in a motion-capture suit would look. Locations have a reasonable amount of visual diversity, culminating into a satisfying graphical package.
User Interfaces (UIs) and Heads Up Displays (HUDs) are extremely clean in a natural in-game Dead Space kind of way that really helps maintain the player immersion. Nonetheless, let’s carry on.
Characters & Story
You are a nameless cat. An extremely cute nameless cat. The cute nameless cat ends up in a new environment that acts as a catalyst for the game’s story. Spoiler-free as they come, that’s a quick point breakdown of Stray’s introduction. It’s a simple yet effective premise that brings you down exciting and dangerous paths meeting unique “people” with all sorts of stories to tell. Players will navigate unknown cities, suburbs, and sewers in a relatively wide-feeling chapter-based experience that opens up in specific regions.
Not only is the dialogue adequate for delivering the usual exposition, but the environmental storytelling is also monumental in establishing the worldbuilding, history and etc. NPCs populate parts of the world for some collectively mesmerizing world-building, although there isn’t much for deep characterization to be had here.
Stray does well to drive player motivations and establish the stakes to keep the story’s engine in motion. Through a combination of personal goals, big-picture objectives, and other factors such as the opposing forces in the form of “Zurks”, Stray is effective in its plot’s execution.
Content & Length
Stray contains 12 chapters spanning approximately four to six hours to beat. In an effort to be transparent, Stray is not necessarily a long game and there isn’t even that much offered here with regards to replayability. Realistically the only reasons to replay Stray will be to re-experience the story or acquire all the collectables. Not that this isn’t a worthy cause. There is no multiplayer or NG+ and that’s fine, frankly. There’s nothing wrong with a game being a concise, refined, and contained experience that knows what it wants to be. I believe Stray achieves what it sets out to do, both in scale and scope.
Maybe the experience would be grander with a larger budget – but at half the full cost, I’m not feeling disappointed. There is a reasonable yet not tiresome amount of collectables and items to collect, such as memories and vinyl. It’s not so much as to be distracting to the main objectives, but not so few as to be completely pointless. These aspects will keep players checking every nook and cranny, and the available mini-quest is just intuitive enough to get players to engage their big-brian cortex.
Controls & Gameplay
So, what is Stray and how do you play? Well, Stray is an action-adventure platformer with some occasional puzzles thrown in for good measure. As has become standard with many modern games, the left analogue stick moves the character, with the right controlling the camera. The A/X button jumps (as it is recommended best played with a controller), with Y/triangle being “action”. Select arrow buttons activate different utilities such as flashlights, inventories, and companion tips. All really helpful. It all works well enough, no complaints here.
Players will help their cat-buddy navigate hazardous environments, escaping the cute-but-scary “Zurks” in combined chase segments and puzzles. The variety between the two is enough to keep things spiced up, and players are both on their toes and eagle-eyed.
As hard as I can think, the only direct issues I have with Stray are 1) You can not manually jump without a target – scaling up a sofa, jumping from one beam to another, etc., and 2) You can not manually save. While these are not game breakers by any means, they would be welcome quality of life changes. The latter especially, as the save system appears to be locked to objectives. So if players explore for 30 minutes and then exit the game before moving the story forward, they will lose that progress. Big sad. Much disappoint. More frequent checkpoints would be noice.
Oh, and I guess you can’t customize your very own feline (cat-stomisation, anyone?). But that wasn’t advertised so shouldn’t be expected. As previously mentioned, this is a specific story being told, with specifically intended characters.
That being said, I also appreciate that Stray doesn’t overstay its welcome once it runs out of mechanical juice to present players. I feel the game understands that: once the story has run its course, there is not much point in running presented gameplay mechanics into redundancy. Maybe it’ll even entice another playthrough for that juicy 100%. (Though it can be achieved through chapter selection as well).
Sound Design & Cinematics
Without beating around the bush, the sound design of Stray is hands down one of my favourite elements. From the ambient world audio to the pitch-perfect kitty meows, purrs and scratches, the voice-actor-cat Lala and the audio crew nail every single clip. Not only that but the tonally fitting robot language fills the vocal void in a sombre, yet appropriate way, that doesn’t break the established atmosphere.
The brilliance, in my opinion, remains in the details. It’s wonderful to hear each pitter-patter in every step, the rain, and everything else that accompanies you and your little drone-buddy companion. Who, also has wonderful whizzes and whirs as they fly around to help on your cat-ptivating journey.
Not only that but, cinematically, Stray delivers on every beat. Without spoiling anything, I was rather surprised with the emotional range that was provided herein. If I were the more sensitive type Stray would make me feel all of the feels. Want to cry? Want to Cheer? Stray’s got you. Stray weaves in and out of cinematics seamlessly with ease, which further helps retain the immersion.
Would we recommend Stray? Unequivocally: Yes. A well-deserved 9.5/10 for phenomenal presentation, audio, setting, animation, and much more. It’s an easy game to gush about for half the price of most AAAs. Those are our thoughts on the most cat-tastic game of 2022, what are your thoughts? We’d love to hear what you thought of Stray.
Stray is available on PC (via Steam), or on PlayStation where, if you have the new PlayStation Plus Extra subscription, you can play it at no additional cost!
If you enjoyed this content why not check outbour Out There: Oceans of Time review as well!
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A Unique and Welcomingly Fresh Experience
- Score - 9.5/109.5/10
+ Visually Striking, Phenomenal Animation
+ Engrossing Story
+ Fantastic Sound Design
– Occasionally limiting
Just a Canadian dude who’s passionate about gaming, and the industry as a whole.