Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: BlueTwelve Studio
Release Date: 07/19/2022
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I love cyberpunk settings. There’s so much darkness and imagination that can go into the setting. It’s also a setting we could possibly be heading into ourselves with the way technology is advancing and how much we rely on it. Stray is all about exactly this issue. You play as an unnamed orange cat who ends up in the middle of trying to help a race of robots see the “Outside” again. You befriend a robot named B12 who helps you communicate with these robots and he also learns about his identity along the way.
Stray has some really good pacing. It’s a very short game that can be completed in a single sitting, but it has exploration, puzzles, scripted action events, stealth, and collectibles. That’s a lot to back into 5 hours and it’s done very well. Let’s start out with the obvious. This is the best representation of a cat in any video game. The animations are insanely realistic, you get a meow button that’s pretty much useless, but it’s there, and you can do cat things like knock stuff over, sleep, scratch on carpets and walls, and get paper bags stuck on your head that reverse the controls. While it may seem superfluous on the surface it helps add to the love of cats that the developers have even though none of these things really involve advancing the game further.
Jumping around in the game is dealt with context buttons. The jump button will appear on top of the platforms you can climb onto. Outside of this, there are no other actions except accessing B12’s menu to look at items and the flashlight. On occasion, you will have chase sequences in which you are running from a swarm of insect-like creatures, but most of Stray involves finding ways into rooms, platforming, and minor puzzles such as rolling barrels underneath things to jump up to. There are three major cities you end up in. The first one involves vertical platforming that lets you find lost music pages, B12 memories, and various item gathering to progress past certain points. The second city is a brief visit, but the last one is pretty large and looks beautiful. You can also talk to the various robots in the city to help you find out where to go or give you hints.
My favorite parts of Stray were the areas in between cities. I liked climbing around, jumping, and running from the insects. The city areas slowed the game down too much for me especially trying to gather the items needed to progress out of the city. The game looks gorgeous with lots of neon lights, and it’s surprisingly dark and gritty for a cat starring a cute cat. The story is pretty touching and tugs at your heartstrings towards the end. Despite the short length, the developers did a great job connecting you with these characters. However, there does seem to be a missed opportunity here. This is a game that would benefit from being open-world. A vast cyberpunk city with side quests and tons of areas to explore. While quite ambitious for such a small team, it would be great, and I think a lot of people are mistaking this game for something like Cyberpunk 2077 in its scope.
Overall, the game is a lot of fun and quite enjoyable despite the limitations of exploration. The game is sadly, poorly optimized on PC with lots of stuttering, terrible temporal anti-aliasing, and shader caching issues. I played the entire game on Steam Deck and it suffered from stuttering when going into new areas. When it’s all said and done, Stray is a very unique game and the love of the domestic feline companion oozes through the screen and pulls on your heart.