Going into Stray, my biggest concern was whether the team at BlueTwelve Studio could nail the movement of a cat. As someone who has three, I’m a self-proclaimed expert in not only cat parkour, but also cat behavior. If jumping, walking, or running as a feline were off even a little, I was going to notice, and it was going to annoy me. Stray not only sticks the landing with the movement and mannerisms, but it also successfully immerses you in the role of being a cat in a neon-lit cyberpunk world that transitions from inviting to hostile in the blink of an eye.
It's good to have friends
Stray begins with a tutorial level, teaching you the basic controls as you follow your AI cat friends on an adventure. When a bad fall lands you in the slums of a forgotten city locked away from the rest of the world, you must work to escape and get back to your cat companions. This involves helping a group of robots who are trying to do the exact same thing.
By your side – technically on your back – throughout your adventures in Stray is a companion called B-12. B-12 acts as a translator since you don’t speak robot and robots don’t speak cat, but can also help with hacking, collecting items, or zapping Zurks, which are annoying little blobs that try to cramp a cat’s style. The two of you will become quite the team, with most gameplay tasks requiring both the skills of a feline and the technological prowess of an AI companion to overcome.
You’ll meet B-12 early, and the opening hour or two of Stray is rather calm, with most of it taking place in the slums. This zone is mostly friendly and serves as a location to help you gain allies and get the story moving. Much like the rest of the game, you can sprint through with only objectives on your mind or you can take your time and indulge your cat curiosity. Stray does a fantastic job of allowing you to fully immerse yourself in being a cat and this is never on display more than in its non-hostile zones. You’ll have ample opportunities to sharpen your claws on furniture, drink from puddles, knock over bottles, curl up and nap, or get your head stuck in a bag, which makes navigation complicated.
It may sound like normal cat nonsense, but that’s the biggest compliment I can give Stray; there was never a point when I felt like my cat immersion was broken. I constantly noted examples of how the developers nailed everything about cats, including when I told myself to put my tail down as I was proudly displaying my ass for the world to see.
Perhaps most impressive was how Stray controlled when one of my nine lives was on the line. There are frantic moments where you must sprint through levels, ducking and dodging Zurks, and others where you’ll sneak by patrolling drones or solve puzzles. No matter what situation I found myself in, behaving like a cat was normally the key to success. I was able to maintain a low profile to sneak by enemies, and I finally understand the power my two-year-old cat must feel when she runs away from me, fully confident that I couldn’t ever catch her. I felt that same arrogance with the Zurks, although I maintain that Zurks are jerks.
Hug your cat… if it’ll let you
Because Stray is so good at capturing what cats are like, there were a few emotional moments. One of my cats recently had a health scare, and whenever my virtual feline would get hurt or find itself in a bad situation, I just wanted to scoop it up to protect and cuddle it. The need to protect Stray’s loveable orange tabby is strong.
Of course, cats can also be annoying, and in Stray that can occasionally be demonstrated with the jumping, which there is a lot of. You can’t try to jump on just anything. Every object and surface in the world can be valid or invalid in terms of whether you can interact with it. When you’re trying to find a clever way to get from one point to another, this can be frustrating. You might see a pipe you want to jump to, but instead of letting you try and fall, the game just won’t let you try. In that way, Stray most definitely has a formula to it. You can often do things in whatever order you wish so long as you check all the boxes to progress forward.
60 cats per second
What may fly under the radar for Stray is just how much the entire experience feels hand crafted. The more I played, the more I realized that BlueTwelve Studio created a core identity and then remained true to it for every detail that fills Stray’s world. Street signs aren’t just for looks; they direct you to where you need to go. It’s easy to miss these details if you just run around and try to progress through trial and error but Stray rewards you when you slow down and soak in all the details. It’s a game where everything feels deliberate.
Those details aren’t just information either. Stray is a stunning game whether you’re exploring the neon streets of a busy city or the run-down alleys of the slums. Each location has detailed textures, thoughtful lighting, and relaxing atmospheric music that plays automatically as you explore. I found the background music so chill I had to turn it off before it put me to sleep, but Stray’s world is full of music. There’s always someone jamming on the street or a radio that you can switch on with your paw. When you blend it all together to take in the sights and sounds, Stray feels like a living world with interesting places and personalities.
If I have a few small gripes about Stray, it’s in the graphics options. I did feel a bit nauseous in my first hour and was bummed to realize that I couldn’t expand the FOV or crank the FPS above 60. I don’t know what was causing me to feel that way but tweaking the FPS and FOV are two good starting points. If you’re going to release a game on PC, unleash it. If I were to do it all again, I’d probably grab Stray on PS5 since I don’t see any huge advantages to playing on PC. Although, I did play on the highest settings and in 1440p, so there is that.
For crazy cat people
When I watched the reveal trailer for Stray, I was expecting it to be fun to run around as a cat, and it is. What caught me off guard is just how detailed and thoughtful the experience was from start to finish. This game is both cute and entertaining, but there is real detail and passion on display that makes it so much more. Stray is a must-play for cat lovers, or anyone who just appreciates a stellar game.
This Stray review is based on a Steam key provided by the publisher. Stray will release on July 19, 2022 for PC and PlayStation.
- Cat movement and mannerisms are well done
- Visually breathtaking game
- Great pace between friendly and hostile segments
- Knock things off tables and ledges like a jerk
- More emotional depth than I expected
- More graphics options for PC would be nice
- Surfaces you should be able to jump on that you can't
Bill Lavoy posted a new article, Stray review: Best catformer of 2022