Silent protagonists aren’t new to video games, but Stray certainly takes that concept to an interesting place. Part platformer, traditional part adventure, this cyberpunk world full of neon-drenched robots transforms into a giant over-and-over from your perspective, just a foot off the ground. The concept of putting you in the paws of an ordinary cat might sound silly on the surface. Still, Stray uses this furry vehicle to tell a genuinely compelling story with some fun activities along the way. Not all of his ideas landed on their feet, yet it was impossible to shake off the confusing and interesting feeling he gave me from the lovely opening minutes.
To make things clear: you’re not a magical cat, you’re not a sci-fi mutant cat, you’re not some sentient super-cat – just a normal, fluffy cat, although you do display the kind of intelligent awareness we all like to have to pretend our cats would when we’re not looking. The simplicity of this concept works wonderfully, especially since you being a cat, don’t matter to the artificial people you interact with or the things you’re asked to do. The robotic denizens of this cyberpunk world often talk to you as they would to anyone else, and the only way to be truly relevant to the story or action is because you can fit into tight spaces they can’t.
At the same time, Stray reveals that he made you a cat. His feline form brings an adorable, joyful flavor to this dark world, and moments throughout encourage him to put aside his responsibilities and play. Walls and rugs can be scratched, knees can be affectionately rubbed, objects can be ruthlessly pushed off shelves, and there’s a dedicated meow button that I rarely stop pressing. You can also find serene places to snuggle up and take a nap by letting the camera go and taking a moment to enjoy a well-staged scene alongside one of the many impressive tunes from Stray’s excellent futuristic soundtrack.
This is a wonderfully rich world, which I enjoyed learning about. While your cat’s story is a pretty straightforward tale of a lost adventurer trying to get home, the conflict you stumble into is very well told. The beautifully designed city you must pass through is bleak without feeling pessimistic, full of stories to learn from, and charming robot citizens to talk to despite the rather dystopian situation. I talked to everyone I could, whether they were relevant to the story, and I loved seeing what their computer screen faces would display as I meowed excitedly around their feet, whether it was an annoyance, a surprise, or a big heart.
This is a wonderfully rich world
When you’re not sleeping on a pillow, Stray usually puts you in one of two types of situations: either racing through fairly linear levels filled with fun platforming challenges and some light puzzles or exploring one of the more open areas in town, where you will collect items, chat with friendly robots and complete tasks. The previous sections almost reminded me of a 3D version of 2016’s Inside, with relatively simple obstacles elevated by the exemplary atmosphere built around them. The later sections, on the other hand, change Stray into a genre more like a point-and-click adventure game — except, in this case, your pointer is a cat.
In either case, you are moving like a cat isn’t always as fluid as I’d hoped. It’s fun to climb up the air conditioners mounted on the sides of buildings or walk along the tracks. However, you don’t have a dedicated jump button to do any of that. Instead, you can automatically press a button to jump to predetermined interactive points when prompted. That means the only difficulty associated with either platform is fighting with the camera in the right position to jump to the spot you want, and you don’t exactly move with the agility of a cat when you do – although that’s partly to blame from the motion animations themselves, which can be noticeably stiff at times.
The linear sections are still quite enjoyable despite their straightforward ease; it kept me interesting until the end of the five hours it took me to finish Stray, which constantly introduces new ideas and environments. There are thrilling chase scenes as you run from mutated creatures called Zurks, stealth sections while avoiding security drones, and puzzles where you might have to lure enemy AI to your advantage. Not all of these ideas are as successful as the others – the weakest of them gives you a weapon to kill the Zurks, which quickly turns those previously tense encounters into a pattern of killing a few and then running back while you repeatedly reload – however, they are all smart enough to update the platform throughout.
Exploring the small towns between these sections is also great fun from a four-legged perspective, where each area boasts a surprisingly dense layout, full of nooks and crannies to sniff around and great use of vertical space. While the main quest has you running around them on your own, there are also a lot of optional collectibles and questlines that I enjoyed finding. Some might have you tracking the combination to a hidden safe in classic adventure game fashion, while others ask you to collect sheet music for a musician bot to play for you. There’s a lot to be found, and some collectibles were hidden enough,
To help you with the less paw-friendly tasks, we have the B-12, an equally adorable floating robotic companion that sits in your backpack. The B-12 accompanies his cat for most of the campaign, and the relationship between them forms the cornerstone of the plot. That’s both the B-12’s and the cat’s story – even more so, honestly, what makes your cat feel more like a furry avatar in someone else’s tale most of the time. That’s not necessarily bad, and writing to B-12 and the rest of the bots you know is more than good enough to make up for your purr’s limited conversational abilities.
The B-12 doesn’t get all the interactive glory, as I liked when initially superfluous cat actions were occasionally repurposed into actual game mechanics. For example, you might need someone to open a door for you by scratching it, or it’s possible to wake someone up by knocking something off a shelf above them. Later, the meow button I had pressed incessantly without consequence until that moment could suddenly alert a guard to my presence, which would have been terrible if I hadn’t been properly hidden in a cardboard box. Again, none of these tricks were too complex or challenging, but they were just as fun.
Stray is a delightful adventure set in a dark but endearingly hopeful cyberpunk world for the simple fact that you play as an adorable cat at all times. Its combination of simple platforming and puzzle-solving with item hunting quests is very well balanced throughout this story that lasts around five hours – and while I wished my movement was a little more agile during that time, I still loved it jumping across rooftops and running through alleys to find their well-hidden secrets. The new ideas he introduces along the way also help keep things as fresh as a delicious fish, even if not all of these ideas work as well as the others. However, if I was scratching a rug, curling up in a ball, or the middle of a nap,