stray

Stray Review

July 18, 2022

By: Austin Suther

 
 

Like any cat owner, Stray should perk up your ears, just as it did mine. My own cat -- who is appropriately named Kitten -- is perfect in every way, minus the fact that she always has a scowl like she wants to kill me. Despite this, I enjoy playing with her, but in the event that she's not in the mood for me (which is often), I can always rely on Stray as a secondary source of feline entertainment. After playing Stray, it reaffirmed my love for both my capricious cat Kitten, as well as for animals in general. It's a game that is as wonderful as the vibes it gives off, and an adventure you should experience for yourself.

In Stray, you play as an unnamed cat that became separated from its pack. The journey will take you to many unexpected places within this rusty, dirty cyperpunk undercity filled with friendly robots, but also Zurks, a parasitic-like enemy that swarms and devours the living.

 

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This is a brave little cat.

Stray is a Wild Journey

Controlling a cat in Stray is as fun -- yet restrictive -- as one might guess. Cats are lithe creatures with incredible athletic ability, but their small size limits their movement to some degree. Not to mention, cats don't have opposable thumbs, so you're "armed" with only your four legs. Thankfully, our feline friend will have some help along the way with a companion robot called B12, which is handily contained within a backpack fit for Stray's cat. Together, you'll be able to achieve amazing feats.

If I had to describe Stray, I would say it's an adventure-puzzle platformer. Level design in Stray is fairly linear with one set path to move forward, steering past obstacles such as the Zurk or avoiding murky water. You'll platform from pipes, rusted metal beams, floating barrels, and more as you constantly strive forward. This linearity means Stray is not a mechanically complex game, so there are times when I wished for more robust and complicated puzzles. Nevertheless, the areas the cat explores are indeed fun and full of little details. With some stealth segments speckled on top of light puzzles and platforming, Stray has plenty of fun moments. 

 
 
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Don't forget to pspspspsps the cat.

Don't be too turned off by the linear nature of Stray, as this adventure game contains two relatively large and highly interactable hubs filled to the brim with both mandatory and optional puzzles, as well as so many details. The first hub is within a slum, where robotic workers are all that remain. These robots have developed personalities, names, quirks, and societies over the hundreds of years they've been secluded. Through B12, your floating drone, you're able to translate the beeps and boops of these robots into words.

In these hub areas, you will go from task to task in multiple none-too-complicated series of events, but I always enjoyed exploring these hubs the most. While many tasks within the hubs are required, you don't really have a checklist of what you have to do. Much of Stray is reliant on discovery. In one instance, a robot was shivering because he was cold -- the irony is not lost on me there. Whatever the case, you need to find some way to warm this bot's chilly frame. With so many NPCs bustling about in the city, you're likely to soon find the solution to this robot's problem whether you intended to or not. Many of these puzzles play to the very mischievous nature of cats, requiring you to tip stuff with your paws and cause a little chaos, as these hellions often do.

 
 
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Sometimes I would just soak in the details of Stray.

Stray: One of the Most Immersive Game Worlds Ever?

Despite the lack of mechanical complexity in Stray, it's an immersive and entertaining game, no doubt. Stray impressed me the most in its absolutely superb art direction. The game world in Stray is by far one of the best looking I've seen, not to mention among the most detailed. The underground city is densely packed with rusted, nasty buildings long abandoned. Bottles, cans, and other litter can be found in the dank streets of Stray, all of which can be interacted with in one way or another. The interiors of these buildings can often be explored, and much attention is placed on creating lifelike and lived-in environments. Various rooms actually feel lived in and unique, as opposed to many games repeating the same interior ad nauseam.

When I found a random bag on the street and the cat's head got stuck in it, my controls became inverted. There are various areas where the cat can take a nap, and through the PlayStation 5's impressive controller feedback, I felt and heard a vibrating purr. There are even various spots throughout where you're able to scratch and flex those claws of yours, leaving little marks behind. These are but a few examples of how developer BlueTwelve packs their world with so much detail, all catering to the behavior of a typical cat.

Neon lights cast brilliant reflections on the wet streets and various robots go about their daily, cyclical routine. Outside of these city areas are locations resembling the depressing and almost horror-like environments of Ravenholm from Half Life 2, with Zurks resembling headcrabs and the abandoned areas being dirty and downright nasty at times. From a technical standpoint, Stray runs without a hitch on the PS5 and, combined with the subtle touches of haptic feedback, means it's a must-have for the system.

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Similar to a scene in Stray's various trailers, the visuals are no joke.

What stood out to me in Stray -- more than other games I play, at least -- is the sound design. There's no voiced dialogue in this game, so in absence of spoken language is written text, but also a heavier emphasis on sound in general. The music is a brilliant soundtrack that encapsulates the feeling of being lost and abandoned. More importantly, every footstep you make on metal and organic stand out so well; likewise, the minute movements of these robots have these creaking, mechanical noises, and in the background is the dripping of water from above and... I could prattle on, but it's just beautifully well-done.

 
 

Stray's full potential is realized within the second hub area, which is a larger cyberpunk city environment that's been featured in numerous trailers. All of the elements that make Stray so very special coalesce into one absolutely immersive, incredibly detailed area that puts other video games to shame. Truly, it feels as though every little piece of garbage strewn about can be moved, various objects can be knocked over, and so on. People love to poke fun at journalists using the description "this game makes you really feel like this," but quite honestly, there's no other game that makes you feel quite like a cat than Stray. It's due to the impressive amount of detail thrown into every environment that this is possible.

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Even in destruction, there can be beauty.

Stray Review | Final Thoughts

As renowned author Ralph Waldo Emmerson once said, it's not about the destination. Stray is definitely about the journey, and while it can be brief at less than six hours, you should do yourself a favor and absorb every detail, and perhaps even find every collectible, while you can. While I was not disappointed with Stray's ending, it felt just a tad too brief. The story ends just a bit too quickly for my liking, but no doubt this is a stylistic choice rather than cutting content.

Annapurna Interactive is the publisher for Stray, and this is important to mention. As the publisher for Outer Wilds, Annapurna and developer Mobius Digital saw great success, even winning multiple game of the year awards. Just a few months ago, Annapurna published Neon White, which I foresee as yet another contender for gaming's most coveted award. We're only halfway through the year, and like a broken record, Annapurna publishes another amazing hit with Stray. Developer BlueTwelve Studio, of course, earns every credit it deserves with Stray, which warmed my heart while providing one of the most immersive adventure games ever made.


TechRaptor reviewed Stray on the PlayStation 5 with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on the PlayStation 4 and PC.

 
 

Review Summary

Review Summary

9.0
Stray is an immersive and beautiful adventure game filled with so much detail and personality. Who knew solving puzzles as a cat could be so much fun?

Pros

  • Remarkable Graphics
  • Incredibly Detailed and Interactable World
  • First-Class Sound Design
  • Clever Usage of DuelSense on PS5

Cons

  • Not Much Complexity to Gameplay and is Mostly Linear
  • Ends Just a Bit too Brief
More Info About This Game

In This Article

Developer
BlueTwelve Studio
Publisher
Annapurna Interactive
Platforms
PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC
Genre
Adventure, Indie