Developer: BlueTwelve Studio
This is one of those games where I'm conflicted with myself about reviewing it as an indie blog: one on hand, this game has already received an incredible amount of attention and mainstream appeal; but on the other hand, it was still made by a small indie team and I love reviewing games I'm excited about! So, even though everyone and their cat is on Twitch playing Stray right now, I'm also happy add my thoughts on it to the mix. Stray is a cyberpunk adventure game where you play as a cat trying to escape a decayed, futuristic robot city. The incredible amount of detail, world-building, heart, and the perfect simulation of "being a cat" makes Stray so special, and stand out from anything else I've played.
You start the game as an orange cat in a small pack of cats traveling together. The world looks to be desolate with overgrown concrete structures everywhere, hinting at a post-apocalyptic world where human civilization is no longer found. You travel together with the cats, learning how to jump, scratch, and meow. Not long into your pack's adventure, a rusty pipe tragically gives way when you jump on it, plummeting you down into a dark chasm, separating you from your friends. Hurt and afraid, you find yourself in a dark underground garbage dump. You make your way through small passageways trying to find your way out, when suddenly you start to see messages asking for help being communicated through electrical systems. You follow the signs to find an abandoned lab and help "download" this stranger's memories into a small robot body, at which point this becomes your little companion. This companion doesn't know who they are, but they know they have a mission to open the city and wants to do it with your help. You soon encounter a robot city full of inhabitants who have never seen the "outside" you came from. Your appearance is enough to inspire the a rebel group called the Outsiders to continue their mission to leave this domed city. You join their efforts and continue your way up through the city, causing havoc and making friends.
Stray is absolutely gorgeous. No offense, Cyberpunk 2077, but this is the cyberpunk game we all needed. The city is so alive and vibrant, while also being decayed and forgotten. The neon signs illuminate the Slums, rather than the "fake stars" high above on the roof of this domed city. You move on from the "safe zone" of the Slums to the outside to find a disturbing sight - an infection literally growing on buildings, alive, glowing, and consuming. Every environment is different from the last and add to your understanding of the world. The cat you play as is so realistic that many people's cats have reacted strongly to seeing their owners playing the game. The realism of the story is furthered by the fact that this "walled city" is visually reminiscent of the former Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong. I could go on for a while about this game's art style, but I'm overall just impressed of how much they packed into every aspect of this world, from each robot looking unique to being able to knock over thousands of items. At first this game feels still and quiet, but when the music starts it really adds to the feeling of mystery, danger, and dark futurism of the city. It's definitely a soundtrack worth listening to on its own as well.
Going in, I expected Stray to be fairly silly and wholesome, more focusing on the fact that you're a cat than anything else. Of course this is still a big part of it, but I was surprised both by how much story there actually is and how grim and unsettling it turns out to be. Running from nasty little rat-like "zurks" was actually really intense, and discovering an environment literally overrun with infection was really creepy. That being said, the game shone in the moments of wholesomeness and goofiness. You meet a civilization of robots were originally made to be simple human companions but have since developed sentience and personality that is basically of humans. They might be afraid of you at first, but even robots can't resist petting a cute cat. The little side stories and conversations with the robots made me really grow to love them. As someone who usually feels kinda meh about "robots/AI with sentience" stories, this one really broke through for me. The gang called the Outsiders put their trust in you to carry on their mission of making it outside the city. Whether the cat does it for their own desire to leave or their friendship to the robots, you definitely feel connected to them in the process. Along your journey you fight systems of oppression that affect these robots similarly as they do humans in the real world. The way the game allows you to undermine them and fight for justice, as a cat, is oddly empowering while also being cute.
If I had any complaint about Stray, it's just that I wish it let you do even more "cat" things. For example, you can knock over items easily by jumping on to surfaces, but I would've like it if you could "swat" at items more often. There's few times where the game allows you to satisfyingly swat something off a shelf, but the rest of the time you just kinda use your body's momentum to knock things off. Also, the ability to scratch rugs and couches is really great, but I would've liked it more if I could see more of an "impact" to this chaos. Instead of just leaving a small scratch mark that fades away, it should tear the item permanently. I know this is a big ask, but playing as a cat was so fun and so full of chaos that it just makes me want more. Regardless, I loved playing as this cat and genuinely laughed out loud in many parts where I got to make big messes at someone's expense, just for the hell of it, Untitled Goose Game-style. I had heard this game would take about 5 hours to beat, but I took almost 9 hours: sure, a lot of that time was spent exploring, but a worthy amount was also spent tripping robots by tangling myself under their feet. Much of the game is "sort of" platforming, in that you don't actually have to aim but you do have to always find the next place to jump. That by itself is not challenging, but when running away from enemies it definitely helps to hold the jump button while running and look around as quickly as possible.
Stray is incredibly fun and full of charm, while also taking you through a grim but realistic story of a decayed society in which humans' greed let to their downfall. The unlikely humanity of the robots warms your heart and gives you hope, despite a tough situation. As a dog person, I gotta say, playing as a cat is just something so perfect for a game. The freedom you're given to explore and to make messes "just because" is absolutely what I was looking for in this game. This game is a high recommendation from me, and one of my favorite games of 2022 for sure. I think anyone could pick this up and play it, as long as they're aware it's not just a cute cat game - it's got some creepy moments and some terrifying chase scenes.
Stray is available on PC, PS4, and PS5
Played on: PS5
Playtime: 8.5 hrs