The idea to create a game about a stray cat came to the authors of Stray quite a long time ago. The developers showed the first footage back in 2016, after which they enlisted the support of publisher Annapurna Interactive and created their own company, BlueTwelve Studio. However, the official announcement didn’t take place until the summer of 2020.
The project immediately intrigued with its robotic world, and cat lovers fell in love with it in absentia for its cute and furry protagonist. That said, it wasn’t entirely clear from the trailers what Stray was all about. As it turned out, it’s almost a classic adventure with location exploration and solving various puzzles. Such games are commonly referred to as “quests”. Let me tell you how interesting the new game is.
It begins with a picturesque scene. It’s raining heavily, the drops are tapping rhythmically on the surface of the gamepad, and a small group of stray cats take shelter from the weather in a concrete pipe. Here, the player gets to run around as a ginger cat using the left stick, and learn the basics of control. The developers have provided a separate button for meow – it’s not the most important function in the game, but this way you can draw attention to yourself, or, if you want to play as a real cat, just wander aimlessly through the rooms and meow.
Resting and purring to each other, the furry gang roams the expanse of an abandoned concrete structure, which is overgrown with moss and grass. Jumping from place to place, you immediately notice that you can do it only near the object – the game has no free jump as in platformers, so the cat can not somewhere not to jump or fall into the abyss through the fault of the player. This only happens in a couple of moments in the story, but during the gameplay, our red-haired friend is extremely agile and graceful. The element is reminiscent of the parkour from the original Assassin’s Creed games.
At one point, climbing over a hole, our hero slips off a pipe and falls into a dark concrete abyss. Landing on rubbish, the feline can still hear his friends meowing, but there’s no way up. After recovering somewhat, the beast tries to find a way out, but eventually stumbles into a room with a small robot who later joins the animal. Essentially, the main objective of the game is to find a way to the surface, but it proves to be difficult, with dangerous creatures roaming the tunnels, similar to the headcrabs from Half-Life. You’ll mostly have to run away from them.
Wandering through dark and dangerous corridors, the cat and his companion stumble upon a small settlement inhabited by robots. They have barricaded themselves against these “headcrabs” and have been so isolated for years. A small fraction of the ironmen dream of getting out, but the others tell them it’s impossible. Overall, the plot tries not to overwhelm the player with unnecessary intricacies, but it’s not as simple as it may seem at first. The robots try to mimic human society, so there are some oddities here, and the narrative is not without unexpected twists and turns, as well as a few touching scenes. There are also some poignant social subtexts. Although these stories are not considered to be very original, they are served in an unobtrusive way and sometimes comically played upon.
Gameplay in Stray is built around exploring locations, finding the right items, interacting with objects and solving various puzzles or situations. Our bot-partner keeps everything in his inventory that can come in handy for main and side quests. Some items can be inspected, and some additional information can be obtained. By helping these or those robots, the player can learn more about the world and understand how it works here. I won’t describe the details, as it’s better to learn these things on your own.
Often quests are done in the classic manner, where you have to run several errands to get some thing or information. For example, to repair a special receiver, you will have to find a craftsman. By listening to the people around you, you can figure out where to find him, and when you meet him, it becomes clear that he needs help too. He can’t fix anything unless he has a warm plaid – his hands are shivering with chills. The robot granny can help here, but she doesn’t have the cords she uses to knit clothes for everyone around her. The necessary cord can be obtained from the bot, exchanging it for a bottle of detergent, which is also not easy to get… In the end, you get a typical “Cockerel and the Beanstalk” fairy tale, but it is all very interesting.
Here, the game designers should be praised for the way they guide the player along the right path every time. For instance, the fact that Granny knits clothes for the other robots is revealed before the quest begins through the conversations between the characters in the funny jumpers or the robots wrapped in blankets. All of these quests are fun and interesting to complete. Sometimes you feel stuck and don’t know what to do, but then you find the answer and realize that it was under your nose the whole time.
It’s worth noting that the developers have tried to convey the different characteristics of the cat’s behavior and play around with it in the game. For example, in Stray you can scratch the furniture or rub the legs of some passers-by, and to perform some or other tasks, sometimes you need to walk on the keyboard or jump on some lever. In general, you’re allowed to do all the things that cat owners see every day, but it often has a plot point here. The game has a lot of funny moments that play up the various antics of pets, so now when I see my cat running around the flat, stomping on the keyboard and meowing, I start to think she’s on some important mission and try not to disturb her.
It’s also funny how Stray breaks the standard “human” logic familiar from other games in places. Approaching the lattice, I out of habit thought that I wouldn’t be able to pass and had to find a way around, but it’s impossible for a human to get through there, while a cat easily manages it. A small cat can sneak in or sneak out where others can’t, and a lot of interesting situations are related to it. Moreover, the developers tried to make the camera angle as close to the animal as possible, so we’ll often see the legs of the robots or different interior elements from a much lower angle, which allows you to better immerse yourself in the game and at some point understand the pet’s logic.
Despite the simplicity and small number of gameplay mechanics, spending time in Stray, exploring your surroundings and completing various errands, has proven to be a really fun and engaging experience. The game takes around seven or eight hours to complete, and they fly by unnoticed.
The authors tried to pay attention to different details, like cat’s eyes that sparkle in the dark or the ability to knock various objects off tables or shelves. And the way Fluffy cat walks sideways when he first put on the backpack with the same bot looks very believable. The rooms and rooms themselves are designed in such a way that while exploring them, the player understands something useful for the quest or reveals some details about the plot.
On the technical side, the game runs in 4K at 60 frames per second on the PS5, at least it looks like it. We should also mention that the cat’s movements sometimes lack smoothness, and its fur seems too plastic, but considering that Stray is made by a small team, the developers should be praised for the final result.