Stray - Furmidable
PS5, PS4, PC
Announced in the midst of Year one (2020) of the COVID-19 pandemic a game was announced that by featuring an adorable feline, and little else, won the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere. That game, Stray, commanded the attention of many without presenting us anything overly substantial in the traditional gameplay or narrative fields, but won hearts and minds due to its purring protagonist alone, but as time went on, developer BlueTwelve, and publisher AnnaPurna interactive began to trickle out morsels of information, we came to learn more about the game as well. Many had made up their minds based upon our fuzzy feline hero alone, but now that the game is here, is there some substance to go with the style, or is Stray as messy as an overused litter tray?
Beyond the loveable protagonist there’s some substance to Stray as well. Stray is the tale of a cat living in the wild with several others in an area no longer influenced by human activity. One day, while frolicking with it’s feline friends, the ginger cat that you assume the role of misses a jump and falls into a ravine, landing, somehow alive, many hundred metres below in a run down city slums. This run down city, like the natural environment above it has bloat its human inhabitants, leaving a new breed of citizen, a robotic one, in its place. You soon happen upon a drone, B12, who becomes your partner as you both work towards a shared goal, escaping the city through the city’s gigantic closed door above it. The robotic residents of the city have felt oppressed by a combination of having been trapped behind the door for many years and the lethal pest called the Zurk which terrorises them whenever they seek to escape their plight; with your arrival, new hope has sprung anew. The journey from here explores the reasons for the human absence, and a fight against all odds to hopefully escape the enclosed city. Despite the game’s fairly brief stay, clocking in at about 5-8 hours in length depending upon your propensity to explore for collectibles and side-quests, your heartstrings will be tugged upon by what is an emotionally impactful plot, and a budding relationship between B12 and the cat that will test the hardened exteriors of even non-cat-lovers.
As a playing experience, Stray is a platformer at its core, one that is inspired by the flexibility and agility of cats themselves. Cats have an inherent ability to navigate tight spaces and to climb up into areas that often defy expectations of us human folk, and that alone gave BlueTwelve license to think vertically in their design. This does sometimes lead to scenarios where the camera gets trapped on weird angles that lose you or the platform you need to leap to, but by and large, the point-to-point platforming feels smooth, and functions as intended. There are a number of fast-paced escape sequences, darting away from the seemingly unending waves of Zurk that come for you, which can be sometimes hampered by some small camera issues as well, usually, the camera being drawn out too far making it hard to pinpoint jump to the location you want to land on. Deeper into the game you encounter a drone-like Sentinel enemy type whom you need to evade, and it’s at this point that the game adopts several old-school stealth troupes, from very specific cones of vision to hiding in cardboard boxes (!) to evade the line of sight. If spotted the penalty isn’t an instant failure, though dodging the darts fired by the Sentinels isn’t easy; should you be able to make it to a cardboard box on the ground though and jump inside, even if a Sentinel is right there next to you, you’ll suddenly become invisible to them – their robotic memory isn’t too long it seems.
At it’s core, a bit like 2021’s Kena: Bridge of Spirits, Stray is a bit of a throwback to PS2 era gameplay systems, and while there are some rough edges that come with that approach, the landing is by-and-large stuck, and it’s enjoyable to play through, regardless of how these systems may have aged.
Where the game most certainly does not feel like a PS2-era title in its sound, world, and visual design. The city has an overarching cyberpunk feel about it, but each region, from the slums, to midtown, the sewers, and more, each has its own unique feel about them, either being rundown, closer to the stereotypical cyberpunk feel, or even some locations that have a more modern sci-fi pristine white look about them. Each region features an incredible attention-to-detail, with nothing feeling out of place. There are some small asset collision moments that look awkward momentarily but will be quickly forgotten. The musical accompaniment however is flawless, and the sound design, from the meowing of the cat (yes, there’s a dedicated meow button so mash away), to its gentle footsteps on different types of terrain, the gentle purring emanating from your Dualsense, and the sounds of objects clashing all sound incredibly realistic. It’s in its presentation where Stray best stretches its Triple-I muscles.
While there are a few small sidequests or collectibles to scoop up, ultimately the driving force of Stray is an enjoyable plot, some eccentric robots, excellent throwback gameplay, and a beautiful protagonist that any cat-lover is likely fawning over. There are some small rough edges that, had they been polished up would’ve elevated Stray into rare air, but what we have is still excellent and a must-play for so many different audiences. While this cat may have once been a stray, it has now found a home in my heart.
Stray was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code kindly provided by AnnaPurna Interactive