When I look at my cat Milo, I feel happy. This endothermic quadruped greets me with subvocal oscillations that spur me to stroke his fur to demonstrate affection. With all due respect to Commander Data, Stray evokes that same sense of emotion as its cute protagonist finds himself in a desolate world filled with droids left behind by their humans. Throughout the cat’s journey he comes across friends who have never experienced the joy of having a pet, one who rubs up against their legs purring, or makes a nuisance of themselves when they’re trying to concentrate.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that sharing life with a pet makes one truly human, and I’m happy to finally play a game that encapsulates the simple joys of being a cat. A cat surviving a dystopian world, anyway.
The debut game from developer BlueTwelve, Stray lets you play as a feline protagonist in a dystopian world. The cat falls into a sewer while following his family members across some rickety pipes and ends up in an underground world called the Dead City by its inhabitants. With the aid of the small drone B-12 and some robotic friends made along the way, the cat sets out on a journey to reach “Outside”, a mysterious place treated as pure fantasy by most of the city’s denizens. The two must overcome countless obstacles and enemies to return to the shining sun that lays just out of their reach.
My love for cats knows no bounds, so of course I dove into playing Stray like a cat to catnip. Our hero, a cute orange cat I can’t get enough of, begins a journey to the Outside that’s fraught with danger and challenges he can’t overcome on his own. This is where B-12, the adorable little drone, comes in, serving as liaison between robot and cat during their travels throughout the Dead City. Citizens in this neon-lit urban landscape exist in a weird limbo of developing their own humanity while simultaneously clinging to the remnants of the humans who used to reside here.
Each robot is unique, from a bartender who serves up weird drinks with wires in them to another who reminisces about growing flowers; it’s difficult to choose a favorite. The main group that the cat and B-12 spends time with is a group of four robotic friends who refer to themselves as the “Outsiders,” who’ve dedicated all their resources to getting to the Outside. Meanwhile, the cat must use his feline dexterity and speed to outpace one of the game’s main enemies, Zurks. These are enemies similar to ticks who devour everything in sight, including both our cat pal and any metal inhabitants who venture too far from their safe zones.
Much of your time getting to the Outside will be spent exploring different sections of the Dead City, from its grimy sewers to its lively cityscapes.There’s a heavy emphasis on platforming and exploration here which caters to the idea of a cat being able to fit into impossibly small spaces and travel effortlessly through vertical space. Stray makes great use of its environments to communicate this freedom, such as by having the cat jump from an AC unit to a neon lit sign, darting across windows – and slipping through them – to gain access to a nightclub.
The cat “locks” onto surfaces when jumping onto a new platform, which aids movement. However, this can also make it awkward at times when I had to swing the camera around until the button prompt appeared to ascend or descend from my current position.
Stray’s agility challenges are broken up by environmental puzzles encountered throughout each chapter. These don’t hold any real challenge and tend to involve simple concepts like figuring out how to navigate across a body of water by jumping from a floating barrel to another or gaining access to a higher platform by rolling a metal drum.
For a game starring a cat, there’s little emphasis on combat. This might impact the experience for those people who know how much damage a little kitty’s claws can do. There are a few chase sequences with the Zurks where all the cat can do is shake them off ineffectively while running for his life. One stage has B-12 acquiring a UV Ray Gun able to kill multiple Zurks at once by causing them to explode, but this moment of violence is short-lived before it’s back to running again.
In later chapters, this enemy disappears completely, replaced with drones with sweeping blue lights who shoot the cat if he remains within their line of sight for too long. This transforms Stray into a stealth game where the cat has to slink past the drones, making use of moving objects to evade their lights and darting to the next bit of cover until the coast is clear.
Stray changes elements up constantly to keep things from getting too repetitive. If the cat gets stuck on a certain section, B-12 is a click away to provide a hint towards progress. There was never a point where I felt frustrated enough to not want to continue. In fact, there’s even a mechanic that allows you to show robots various items from your inventory to get advice on what to do next. The story itself leads to its own poetic conclusion, and players of all skill levels shouldn’t have any trouble getting there.
Stray offers a unique experience that explores the softer aspects of humanity while delving into the delight of robots petting a cat for the first time. There’s no “doom and gloom” narrative as even the apparent extinction of humanity is treated with a relative gentleness that speaks of the robots missing them. While some may consider this a short adventure, which at just a few hours it certainly is, what an adventure you’ll have. Plus, there’s the undeniable attraction of playing as a felis catus. To have “more” for the sake of length would have ruined this beautiful story about a cat and his robot.