You Need to Play Stray

Cat with backpack sitting down

 

Back when the teaser trailer for the game Stray was first released, I thought “oh, this looks cute, but I don’t see any reason why I’d need to play it.” Oh, how utterly wrong I was. Flash forward to release date and my Twitter feed is absolutely jam packed with people playing Stray and rhapsodizing over the “Press O to meow” features, posting hilarious videos of their pets watching them play Stray, and stills of the interesting cyberpunk world and I knew I had to play this indie game as soon as possible. So, I ran

 

Before I start gushing about Stray and why you absolutely need to play this game, please enjoy my dog enjoying this game:

 


Though this game became famous for being a “cat simulator” it is so much more. I laughed at the references, cried at the emotions the game evoked, feasted my eyes on the cyberpunk setting, and delighted in living my best life as a cat, which involved making biscuits and knocking things over from high places for absolutely no reason. As someone who is, quite tragically, allergic to cats, I never really have gotten to enjoy said creatures without sneezing, eyes watering, and itchinguntil now. It was not until I was roaming the streets of a post-apocalyptic world as a feline that I knew how much I needed this game.

 

 

I was sucked into Stray immediately upon picking up the game. The first 5 minutes hit pretty hard, but I soldiered on. I ended up loving the game so much that I completed Stray on the same day that I bought it—I just had to know what happenedStray’s main story takes place in a dystopian walled city, one which chillingly feels very much like it could be our own future, which is cut off from the outside world, including the sky and grass and everything that’s not man-made. Our heroic and titular stray cat falls into the Dead City, as it is called, from the outside world where he lived with his other cat friends, and seeks to find his way back home to the outside world.

 

Along his journey, the cat encounters a vast variety of “people,” which are actually robots, as all human life in this world is dead. He also encounters some very menacing life forms named Zurks, which test the limits of his cat-like abilities. Without any voice acting (characters who speak have unintelligible language which puts me strongly to mind of Okami), beautiful world designs, and a lovely soundtrack, the game has an atmosphere and magic that I saw in Abzu, Journey, and other games like Shadow of the Colossus, Ico, and The Last Guardian. It is very, very easy to get lost in this world.

 

Cat sitting in bucket (pulley system).
If it fits, he sits.

The game is such a unique experience. When I first started, it was hard to remember I was a cat—this sounds stupid, I know, but for the life of me, I wouldn’t automatically think that I could slink through bars a human couldn’t get through or remember that I needed to look up for something small to climb. I’m not sure at what point in my playthrough that I came to fully comprehend hat I was a cat, but it was such a fun and magical experience to fully realize that as a cat, the sky was really the limit (pun intended for the story), and that I could climb almost anything and stick the landing.

 

Making biscuits.

I particularly delighted when I needed to use my “cat abilities,” for lack of a better term, to solve some of the games puzzles. Players will need to scratch doors, knock over items, climb onto or crawl into surfaces that a human or robot couldn’t, hide in boxes from security, and so and so forth. These puzzles are rather simple, but I found them just the perfectly suited to demonstrating the unique talents of cat. Plus, there’s also plenty of opportunities to take a cat nap, play with a ball or two, and even make some biscuits.

 

I also just have to take a moment to gush about the sound effects coming out of my controller. Every time I meowed, the noises came out of my controller. It’s cheesy, but I just found it added so much to my enjoyment, and made me really feel closer to the cat. Plus, there was such a large variety of these cat noises, it was clear the developers (who have to be cat lovers), really took time to study and observe felines in order to make a realistic Stray. But not only is our heroic cat realistic, but he’s utterly loveable. I truly don’t see how anyone could manage not to fall in love with this cat and his journey.

 

 

And Stray is certainly a story about the journey and not the destination. I really enjoy games like this, where the story is not hand-fed and explained bit by bit to players. Instead, Stray stays true to the form of an actual cat, who clearly wouldn’t know the nitty gritty details about what happened to the world. So as the game progresses, players learn more and more as they go. This type of showing versus telling lends itself to creating such an intriguing experience and it definitely rendered me even more eager to solve the mysteries of this unique world.

 

Honestly, the only two things I didn’t like about Stray were that I found the user interface and its controls a little hard to get used to (just because they were so novel to menot many games require you to use square as the action button or to toggle up into a separate dropdown with the left analog stick), and that the game itself wasn’t longer. In what felt like no time at all, I was crying at the ending of the game, not only sad that it was over, but just overcome with emotions at the story and ardently wishing there was more. I especially wish the final cutscene of the game was longer. Stray does a phenomenal job of sucking players into its world and making them care in such a short amount of time, a feat I probably would have thought impossible before playing this game. I just wish that I could have spent more time in the world, in these unique locations, and with the characters I had come to care for so much.

 

 

On a less serious note, I really would have liked some customization options for the cat. Players are given badges, and even at one point, a poncho knitted specifically for said cat, but there’s no way to equip them (at least that I found, and even more tragically, the poncho that was knitted for the cat is even given away to a robot in a quest). It just felt a bit like a missed opportunity, but one that I recognize is largely unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

 

I also can appreciate that the creators focused more on the realism of their cat and the story rather than on more gimmicky features that could have possibly ruined the immersion of players in the game (however, I also really would have killed for a photo mode). After all, Stray already requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief that a cat is able to understand and complete all of these objectives, so it’s hard to say where the line would be in crossing over to the completely ridiculous and unbelievable—it could very well be a cat caring about fashion.

 

One thing that did not take me out of the world, but added to my enjoyment of the game was a little Easter Egg I found. There are probably more that I missed or didn’t get the reference to, but this one (pictured above), which appears to be both a Persona 5 and Skyrim reference was so much fun to find. And it was executed so unobtrusively that those that didn’t know the references wouldn’t have even thought anything of a hunched over weary robot lamenting better days in an alley bar. In fact, I’m still kind of wondering if the Sojiro thing was purposeful, but I’m choosing to believe it is. I also got a kick out of all the punny trophy names, such as “Cat-a-Pult,” “Can’t Cat-ch Me,” “Cat Got Your Tongue,” “Al-Cat-Raz,” and more. The creators of Stray knew what they were doing.

 

 

Stray is the perfect game for not only cat and animal lovers, but also for those who enjoy dystopian worlds, mysterious enemies, and touching and unique stories. I honestly adore this game and am probably going to go back and replay it for the Platinum trophyjust because it’s that enjoyable of an experience and I never wanted it to end. Clearly the developers and creators of this game are ones to watchI will certainly keep an eye out for more of their creations in the future. If you were on the fence, like I initially was, about buying this game, let me assure you Stray is well worth the moneyjust have some tissues at the ready.

 

My rating: four-half-stars

 

 

 

More Info on Stray

 

Initial release date: July 19, 2022
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows
Mode: Single-player video game
Developer: BlueTwelve Studio
Genres: Adventure game, Indie game, Platform game, Puzzle, Simulation video game, Adventure
Synopsis: Stray follows the story of a stray cat who must set out to return to its family after falling into a world populated by robots, machines, and carnivorous bacteria.
Divider

Posted July 22, 2022 in Games

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