Stray seems to be a bit of a phenomenon. It has a bit of a “right place, right time” feeling to it—or a PR firm that really knew when or how to push it to stratospheric levels. Stray isn’t a huge AAA game, or even one with any sort of noteworthy or novel gameplay. However, it is a charming game that does everything a great adventure game is supposed to do. And you get to play as a cat!
Stray is an adventure game where you play as a cat in a post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk world. After a brief but extremely charming view into the life of a cat living in what looks like a post human cat paradise. A freak accident sends one of the cats into the bowels of a closed city. As this cat, you must brave a strange dying city full of robot caretakers that have been looking after human dwellings—and even taking over their roles—after centuries trapped. Some of these robots have even tried to escape to the outside, and unseal the city. That’s where you, the cat, comes in.
I love cats, but Stray requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief. While Stray definitely features some very cat-like behavior—like scratching, and the complete disregard for objects on tables—it also features a cat that is motivated beyond safety/food/shelter to perform tasks that a normal cat wouldn’t. But that’s cool, it’s just a game—and maybe cats in the far future have somehow become more intelligent? It’s really not a question to get bogged down by.
Stray takes place in a cyber punk city with a roof that is closed from the sky. Its robot denizens are a strange mix of mad, caring, and earnest. You interact with them through a small robot companion that follows you around, and recharges on your back. This companion acts as a translator, somehow being able to speak to you in whatever cat language you possess. Again, it’s probably best not to get too deep into the “how” of it. You soon learn that the humans left hundreds, or even possibly thousands of years before. The world outside of the city is thought to be a barren wasteland—but there are a group of robots that believe the world is healed, and enlist your help in unsealing the city. Which you will do through a mostly linear and somewhat platformer-like experience.
While Stray is an adventure game, and it even has some action gameplay involved—I can’t really say it’s a platformer. Jumping in Stray is a little weird. Instead of free jumping where you’d like, you’re able to jump onto certain designated areas. I guess it makes sense a bit—since cats are known for their ability to jump. It’s also a way for the game to keep you within its boundaries. While the jumping mechanic is strange, I eventually got used to it. But it did lead to my demise a few times when I misclicked and sent my cat onto the ground when I was trying to get them onto a ledge above.
Stray is a pretty game, and it has a great soundtrack. While it isn’t quite a AAA game, it has some great animations—especially for the robots that inhabit Stray’s dark dystopian city. It also has a great soundtrack that’s a mixture of great atmosphere setting ambient tracks and some real bangers for some of the game’s action sections.
While it’s not surprising for an indie game like Stray to become popular in the world of video games, Stray has really captured the attention of cat lovers. I’ve even had people who I wouldn’t consider gamers reach out to me because they’ve heard of Stray and wanted to give it a shot. It’s almost like Wii Sports with the sheer amount of hype it’s generated.
Stray is definitely not a bad game, and by the time the credits rolled I didn’t regret spending my time with it. However, I’ve played many indie games with just as much heart and soul, great soundtracks, and even exciting and novel gameplay that haven’t gotten as much attention as Stray. It’s one of those games that deserves the attention it’s getting—but so do many other amazing games put out by indie studios. That said, if you want to play the cat game, go for it: it’s pretty good.
Stray is available now for PC via Steam and on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 (as well as PlayStation Plus Extra).