When it comes to living out fantasies in the world of video games, players have likely seen them all, but when Annapurna Interactive and BlueTwelve Studio dangled the carrot of living the life of a cat in Stray, feline fascination just went up several notches. Having spent our time exploring a post-apocalyptic world spiced up by puzzles and platforming, the game does maintain its lifespan of nine lives, even though it is not exactly free from trouble.
It is clear that an extreme amount of attention has been paid to making the in-game cat as realistic as possible. Taking inspiration from real-life feline, Murtaugh, the developers have managed to capture all of the nuances and behavioural quirks cat lovers will recognise.
Whether it be stretching out those adorable legs, scratching tree trunks, lapping from a pool of water, or just jumping around the various structures in the game, Stray feels wonderfully alive and endearing. If the objective was to create a believable illusion of being a cat, this is the perfect implementation, and that’s probably the highest compliment one can pay when it comes to character design.
That’s not to say the rest of the world pales in comparison, even if our cat friend is clearly the main attraction. Dropped into an underground world where humans have long disappeared, leaving behind the consequences of greed and not living long enough to see life bloom again, it is up to players to help guide this little tabby back to the warmth of nature on top. Even in the bleakness, the environments full of futuristic elements make an impactful impression, especially when juxtaposed against the thriving of Mother Nature.
We are not alone in this predicament as well, as robotic servants with no one to serve are now the master of this domain, aside from the threat of the zurks, creatures with the sole aim of chewing through everything that moves and leaving a mess.
Shortly into the adventure, players will find an important friend in the droid B-12, who paves the way for communicating with the other robots, storing items, and reminiscing about the memories of the past to help flesh out the world. While hearing just meows throughout the 4-5 hours is fun, it does help to have some conversations with the denizens of the new world.
And what interesting robotic friends they are, functioning as faux humans with mismatched clothing and facial expressions delivered through the blocky monitor screens. Having never likely seen a cat, their initial fear turns into benign idleness, which makes perfect sense as they begin getting help from the player as quests.
This is also where Stray starts to come into its own even more, teasing the player with freedom and flexibility to explore its world, albeit on four legs and from a different perspective. Stacked boxes transform from traditional obstacles into makeshift ladders, while gaps provide alternative entryways in which a new area awaits. Aside from some obstacles, the movement in the game makes logical sense as you leap around.
The design also allows for players to indulge in their curiosity without the fear of demise, where cat-like behaviour suddenly becomes a fun distraction to engage in. Knocking things off can take on significant meaning when it’s required in a quest, while nuzzling robots or just taking a nap only serve to increase the ever-growing love for the four-legged protagonist.
However, Stray is not exactly demanding or challenging when it comes to its puzzle and platforming design, even if it makes sense to go in this particular direction. It almost feels like a little more complexity would have made the experience more fresh and exciting, rather than relying on familiar setups and activities commonly seen in the adventure genre.
Then again, perhaps that is precisely what we need to shake things up, rather than trying to iterate on the standard model. What Stray does excellently is making sure that players’ time is always well spent, with simple mechanics that just work without asking for too much.
Having enjoyed so many lives in different guises across all sorts of settings, who knew that being a cat could bring so much joy? Stray is an entertaining ride for most of its journey, and it wouldn’t work as well without this perfect ensemble of feline, robots, and a world that has seen life spring up again. Even if it occasionally coughs up hairballs, this is still one kitty life worth jumping into.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Stray doesn’t need bells and whistles to make a lasting impression, relying on the charm and simplicity of its systems to make this cat purr like nothing else before.
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Story - 8.5/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 7.5/10