Stray, the video game where you play as a cat in a cyberpunk city, is adorable, hauntingly beautiful, and near perfect.
From the moment you get separated from your clowder and limp towards the garbage-strewn neon city populated by robots, to the touching end scene moments before the credit rolls, it's an emotional journey that easily tops the list of gaming experiences this year.
This highly anticipated indie game originally titled HK Project has been years in the making, with development ongoing since 2016. It was officially announced in June 2020 by BlueTwelve Studio and Annapurna Interactive publishing, the same studio behind classic hits like Journey and Outer Wilds, but the release date got pushed back due to the pandemic.
Since it was finally released last July 19, 2022, Stray has been making waves in the gaming community. The game topped Steam's wishlist charts and broke Annapurna Interactive's record for concurrent Steam players the week it was released, with over 62,000 players. It’s currently the highest user-rated game of the year on the platform. This adorable cat has even dethroned the legendary God of War on the PC gaming distrubtion platform. Take that, Kratos!
Stray is a third-person (or should I say feline) adventure where players navigate through a neon-lit dystopian city as a cat. That alone should be enough to catch anyone’s attention. The unnamed ginger tabby cat accidentally falls into a weird, mysterious world populated by robots and as the player, you must navigate obstacles and find a way to return to your family.
If you're a fan of the Netflix series Love, Death and Robots and other post-apocalyptic action-adventure video games in the same vein as BioShock or The Last of Us, you'll feel immediately right at home with the concept and aesthetics of the game.
While many video games put players in the shoes of human explorers like treasure hunter Nathan Drake of the Uncharted franchise or archaeologist Lara Croft of Tomb Raider fame, players will agree that seeing the world through the eyes of a cat offers a very unique gaming experience.
The joy comes just from existing as a cat in the game. Cat lovers will be happy just to be able to experience the little things that make a cat, well, a cat. You can meow, jump across pipes and high platforms, knock down stuff from shelves, scratch furniture, jump into cardboard boxes, and hunt down cozy little spots to nap.
Another reason cat owners have been so delighted by the video game is how real-life cats have been reacting to it. The Twitter account @catswatchstray, which was just created in July and currently has 36.5k followers, shows the wonderful reactions of pet cats watching their humans play the game on social media.
— Philippe Mojito (@Mojito817) August 1, 2022
Stray has also caught the attention of the modding community, with modders turning the cat character into Garfield while others put their real-life cats in the game through skins.
stray modders making the playable cat look like their cat > pic.twitter.com/2Vu7sfhA6c— imogen ✈️ gamescom (@_donlothario) July 24, 2022
Cat owners all know who the real heroes are in the household (and the world), so it’s nice to be able to give that recognition to their trusty felines through the game.
Stray is a video game that will appeal to introverts who enjoy single-player exploration, platforming, and puzzles. Overall, it's a short but really sweet experience that you can finish in a weekend or two. Those who decide to stick to the main quest all the way through can finish it in about 7-8 hours (though there is a speed run trophy for finishing the game in two hours). But completionists who would like to take in all the city has to offer and collect all the badges will have about 9-10 hours of gameplay to go through.
The game is not just about puzzles and cat naps. In the advanced levels, you get introduced to the B-12 droid, a friendly and useful robot companion who aids you in your journey. The game also has a host of annoying enemies in the form of parasitic tick-like Zurks that will attack the cat and robot companions.
These blob-like creatures that jump on you will have you scrambling and running for your life (before you get access to a specific weapon) and relying on all your animal reflexes to escape. But the core of the game is mostly about letting your inner cat shine in the 12 different chapters.
As a silent protagonist, you have to rely on your instincts to figure out what to do and uncover the mysteries of the city you end up through B12's memories. The levels that you explore in the game are beautifully designed if a bit dark and depressing at times and, a tad too linear.
The neon-lit streets offer a lot of textures and details to admire and secrets to uncover. I found myself wandering around the rooftops, trying to talk to all the different robots in the undercity, and hunting for collectibles like music sheets and plants, while holding off with the progression of the main story immediately.
I thought I was being thorough, but I apparently still missed a couple of memories from my first full gameplay, so I’ll still have to replay some chapters to uncover the full story. There are a few cute Easter eggs and references to other games as well, like Sojiro, one of the robot characters saying he “took a screwdriver in the knee”, as a reference to the guards in Skyrim.
While online reviews for the game have been mostly positive, there are still a few glitches and downsides. In one area in the slums, I encountered a semi-invisible robot levitating and at one point in the Jail level, I couldn’t jump down from a window, with the cat resetting in place repeatedly until I restarted the checkpoint manually. The start of the game was admittedly a bit slow, but it picked up at once in the later chapters. Feline interactions also felt a bit limited at times.
Some chapters of the game felt really stressful because I didn't want the cat character to get hurt. The difficulty spikes took away from the relaxing aspect of exploration. While I can take human characters I play in video games dying multiple times in the most violent manners possible, my heart was in real pain every time the adorable cat protagonist got caught by Zurks or zapped by Sentinels.
But the biggest downside is that it took so long for the game to come into our lives and that it ended too soon. I wish I could have explored more as a cat. Bitin!
Overall, Stray offers a great experience with its charming feline protagonist, mysterious sci-fi-based story, stunning level design, and innovative platforming and cat-centric puzzles.
I advise those playing Stray to just take their time and explore as much as possible and not rush through it just to see how it ends. With our fast-paced lifestyles, we could all learn valuable life lessons from cats and take a more laid-back approach to gaming and life in general.
Be curious. Explore. Enjoy the little things. Scratch stuff and knock things over. And take the opportunity to nap when you can.
Stray is now available for PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.