At first, I thought Stray was a solo atmospheric exploration title, much like Abzu or Journey, but it quickly became a sentimental journey full of robots to meet, jumps, and ninjas with onions. C’mon that ending (cry emoji)!
The fact that this title introduces a cat as the main character makes the adventure fresh, in the sense that it opens up new horizons for a mobility and gameplay style different from other adventure and exploration titles. Thank you Blue Twelve Studios for implementing a specific button to the “meow”.
Stray follows the adventure of a super friendly feline, who decides to join his companions on a morning walk through the slippery and tumultuous paths of a city in decay and mostly left to nature. The vestiges of humanity are only present in the dwellings left behind, as apparently, the events take place in the distant future. During a more complicated jump, the unexpected happens and our protagonist loses one of his 9 lives when he falls from a considerable height into an underground city inhabited by robots. When you find yourself alone and staggering, the only solution will be to look for a way out or an ascent?
The first interaction with something other than an animal that the player will have will be with a robot head, called B/12. This small but cunning piece of metal is full of resources that will help in the adventure, whether it’s looking for objects needed to complete the mission assigned to it, completing any puzzles, or even if the player finds himself a little lost, with the possibility of giving small hints of the next objective. He is also the connection point between the kitten and the city-dwelling robots. Like the “outside” world, the city’s interior looks rundown but is inhabited by robots with different costumes and personalities. Some with the dream of being able to visit or even inhabit the “outside” world.
But why can’t they just venture outside the city walls? Well, there is a common enemy that is beginning to spread to the interior of the city and that leaves all the inhabitants terrified. A strange infestation of Zurks, a species of ticks with the appearance of “face huggers”, created by humans in order to eat the garbage. It is unclear whether this was the cause of humanity’s downfall, however, the Zurks adapted and began to eat literally everything, be it metal or fur. Curious or not, or just my imagination, the nests of Zurks, which can be found in different buildings in certain parts of the city, create an atmosphere reminiscent of the “Up Side Down World” from Stranger Things.
The objective and the need to reach the “surface” for the meeting with their feline companions are attached to the dream of some of the characters to reach the “outside” world of the city walls. In addition to the main objective, there are side missions that without much fuss actually manage to arouse curiosity. The levels are small but with a lot to explore. Although it is not possible to completely lose the notion of where you are, the vertical exploration that is possible is interesting.
As for the gameplay, it is important to mention that it is possible to scratch sofas, carpets, and even doors, with the simple press of two buttons, in this case, the DualSense triggers. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s still possible to meow at will with the button specifically for that effect and push objects from higher places. A cat’s dream!
Stray tries to keep everything as simple as possible. There is no long text at the edges of the screen telling the player what to do. It’s completely open to the player to decide what to do next, however they want. Although it is not possible to jump to all freeform platforms, the ones that are, are shown with a jump button. It’s not a particularly challenging adventure in that sense, and the only way to take damage is head-to-head with the Zurks.
The camera movement is quite smooth, intuitive, and quite satisfying, leaving the player’s complete movement open to the player.
Even considering that this is a rather short adventure, lasting between five and six hours, the production of the environment and its different levels are quite interesting. The attention to detail of a decaying cyberpunk city, with all the lights and smoke, makes it somewhat natural and helps to transport the player himself to what is happening on screen. Even the small interactions between the cat and the various robots, such as rubbing the leg and appearing a heart on the monitors that serve as the head, the meowing, or even causing a more ostentatious fall by getting ahead of the hasty step of some more awkward personality.
Stray thus became one of the most successful titles by publisher Annapurna Interactive, which stands out for the very peculiar titles it helps to publish. It’s a remarkable action-adventure title in its own right and whose simple approach to the different platforms where it’s possible to venture out is at a very interesting and fun level. Will the “dog lovers” also get involved in this adventure?
Of course yes!
[This review is based on a retail build of the game for Steam acquired by me]