Table of Contents
Stray on PC
Many of my favorite moments from games set in dystopian cyberpunk settings are simply weaving through the city streets. I am endlessly fascinated by their dingy confines, lit by bright neon signs advertising a product or service at odds with the atmosphere of despondency emanating from the shadows. Stray offers one of the most compelling interpretations of this near-future tropical aesthetic I’ve explored, uniquely from the perspective of a cute cat.
The debut game from French developer BlueTwelve Studio is a puzzle-platformer about unraveling the mystery of a strange fallen metropolis. Its protagonist, an orange tabby cat who was accidentally separated from his family, inadvertently finds himself in a society of sentient robots whose company mimics a long-lost human species that previously lived there.
The Companions, as they are known, live in safe zones scattered throughout the city in constant fear of the Zurks, a creepy and ravenous species intent on eating anything in sight – meat or metal. But these bizarre creatures aren’t all they hide from; The Companions live in isolated communities, cut off from the outside world. They are convinced that the conditions outside the city walls are too hostile to life – the reason why the cities were built hundreds of years earlier.
And yet the chance appearance of a furry cat beyond the walls suggests life might exist after all. Thus begins your plight, first contacting companions in distant villages, and then opening the seal that has kept the city buried for so long.
Stray is mostly linear in design, but features multiple hub areas where the focus is clearly on exploring free roaming. Locations like the Slums, Antvillage, and Midtown are all pretty big sandboxes where you have to sneak through neon-soaked streets and gloomy alleyways between various buildings central to the story’s progression. These areas also have a pleasing verticality that allows you to leap up and traverse over crates, ledges, drainpipes, and through windows, just as you would imagine a cat to do.
In general, I think Stray does a fantastic job of capturing the feeling of being a cat, from the way it feels to control it, to the players giving the players all sorts of quirky things , totally unnecessary but oh-so-feline distractions to occupy themselves with. For example, they can scratch on sofas, doors, and carpets; Sometimes it has a purpose, but often it’s… just like that. There are numerous areas for snuggling and a few winks, and it’s possible to snuggle up to NPCs to show affection. You can even meow on command!
Of course, cats can’t communicate, which makes navigating a story-driven experience a bit tricky, unless for a little robotic drone called the B12, which essentially acts as a translator between the cat and the companions. Conveniently, B12 is also capable of hacking computer terminals, providing a flashlight and later even some offensive weapons to help you along the way.
These natural and advanced tools are at your disposal as you progress through Stray, which for the most part is a fairly relaxed puzzle-platforming experience, but sometimes includes more intense platforming and even stealth-action sequences. You’ll spend most of your time stringing together different character interactions, playing detective kitty; For example, you need to gain access to a shop to steal a piece of clothing, but the shopkeeper won’t grant you entry until the shop is restocked. This can’t take place until a limp shophand is awoken from a drunken slumber at a local bar. So you find the bar, climb a shelf, place a crate of bottles on its head, then follow them back and quickly jump into a crate as it is passed. Yes, you can jump into boxes.
There are also a number of optional mini-quests to tick off and collectibles to find along the way. These are all straightforward and generally easy enough to tick off, which I think suits Stray’s laid-back pace. It’s all worth doing, too, as it helps flesh out the world’s lore and piece together B12’s mysterious past, which I felt completely immersed in throughout the game. A charming, heartfelt story unfolds in Stray, offering some interesting social commentary as any dystopian fiction should.
Puzzle-solving, which involves both physics and spatial design, is a core mechanic in Stray. Most of these are well made, but if I had one complaint, they often lack complexity in design. Again, I don’t really think that high difficulty would necessarily suit Stray, but part of the puzzle design is a bit too easy. They usually look amazing and are intuitive to use, but I think BlueTwelve Studio could have been a bit more creative.
When I think of the very best puzzle platformers, INSIDE is a game that comes to mind for the incredible design of its puzzles, which felt intuitive but were deep and multi-faceted in the way they managed to be solved. The physics of the game’s graphics engine certainly contributed to that end, which Stray didn’t. While there’s nothing wrong with Stray’s controls per se, they don’t have the same tactility in the way they work. For example, you can’t jump on command, so the platforming is very rudimentary in scope.
While it might not be particularly ambitious in its gameplay systems, what’s there works flawlessly. And again Stray looks absolutely brilliant and his world is full of details. The city itself is almost the star of the show, animated to a standard that rivals AAA production values seen in games and cinema. I absolutely loved exploring it and doing so from a cat’s perspective provides such an unusual and compelling angle. Its ambience, brought to life by dozens of well-written NPCs, does a fantastic job of conveying a believable setting – certainly a totally weird and otherworldly one, but bustling and authentic.
Even if I soak up its atmosphere as much as I do, Stray doesn’t last very long. It took me almost six hours to complete, with a lot of exploration and optional quests along the way. I can’t imagine the game not exceeding eight hours under any circumstances, making it a bite-sized experience well suited to a quiet weekend. I actually found this quite refreshing, and I like the way Stray moves, constantly introducing new mechanics and features that never end up being repeated.
Speaking of refreshing, from a technical standpoint, Stray doesn’t feel at all like the usual day-one modern video game release riddled with hiccups and bugs. There was only one occasion where I had some stuttering and framerate drops towards the end, but it was barely noticeable. Overall, right off the bat it feels more refined than many similar games after multiple patches. In that sense it is truly an experience that prioritizes quality over quantity.
I’m very high on stray overall, as you can probably tell. It might not have quite the substance and design complexity to elevate the experience to genre-leading heights, but there’s so little to fault and so much to love that, cat lover or not, I’m sure it shouldn’t be missed . Stray is a great achievement for a debut studio project in BlueTwelve that I can’t wait to see more of.
Reviewer: Alex Gibson | Forgive: The Editor’s Choice | Copy provided by the publisher.
- Super world building thanks to detailed environment
- Outstanding production values for visual and audio design
- Well-written characters and an interesting story/lore
- Solid game mechanics and a very decent level of technical performance
- Puzzle design is a little easy
- Controls aren’t quite as tactile as they could have been (jumping, etc.)
Blue Twelve Studios
Playstation, Xbox, PC