We’re no strangers to games with a futuristic setting, but not often do we experience them through the eyes of a creature rather than a human’s. The people at BlueTwelve Studio have done just that with their new game Stray, crafting a Cyberpunk-like world that you’ll see from a cat’s perspective.
Played over a couple of days, I found Stray to be a refreshing little game that succinctly encompassed what it feels like to be a cat roaming around in an unfamiliar world and one that surprisingly has a few emotional moments in your journey.
The plot is relatively simple. You embody a ginger-furred cat who, unfortunately, has an accident and falls deep into the underground, separating yourself from your group of feline friends. When you awake, you find yourself in the vicinity of a vast but largely deserted subterranean city — now you must find your way back.
You’ll soon realise, though, that it isn’t as empty as it seems. You’ll partner up with a small flying droid named B-12 early in the game and later acquaint yourself with humanoid robots called companions who inhabit the area. While your main quest is to return where you came from, there’s also an underlying mystery on what exactly happened to the humans, stringing you along through the story.
Trouble is, this is a mystery which comes a little bit short in its reveal. There are clues given throughout the game, but they can be a little heavy-handed in their delivery. It is of little surprise when you eventually are explicitly told what happened.
Instead, the companion robots are the more interesting aspect of the game. Despite their metallic facade, they appear human-like in their mannerisms; they even have their own language. For instance, you’ll come across a robot that loves to knit, while another is an aspiring musician needing music sheets to hone his craft — just a few examples from the game’s set of fascinating characters.
It is a shame that any lore about them is more touched upon rather than explored. Interactions are brief, and while they showcase a tease of their interesting quirks, it doesn’t go beyond that. How did they become like this? Why did they pick up this routine? — I would have liked to learn the answers to these questions.
But you wouldn’t be able to know all the robots’ curious traits without the help of B-12, who serves as your companion and somewhat of a guide, helping to translate much of what you come across. The relationship between the cat and B-12 is a wholesome and emotional journey to experience. Not only is it aiding you in navigating this strange world, but you are also helping it to rediscover itself after losing its memories. It is a reciprocal relationship that helps drive the story nicely.
Though there are some side activities to occupy you, like recovering fragments of B-12’s memories, Stray is very much a linear game and one that you can most likely finish over a weekend.
Welcome to the Future
Beyond B-12 and the various robot inhabitants, the world is also very much its own character. The game is separated into chapters, each designating a location you will visit. An early area, and one that you’ll be spending quite a bit of time in, is The Slums, which is quite the place to explore.
The Slums is almost like a labyrinth, encapsulated by the winding pathways and the claustrophobically packed together buildings, dimly lit altogether by large neon signage, Chinese lanterns, and fairy lights. The outside walls are plastered with graffiti hinting at the world before, while interiors contain various ornaments, knick-knacks, and technology like CRT televisions — decorated lovingly by the robots. It is a meticulously crafted world that subtly tells its stories through the environment.
And the developers have also done a great job piquing your curiosity to explore. The world appears much bigger to your eyes as a small feline, making it more inviting to go around and examine. For much of my time playing the game, I’ll get distracted by something as I poke around the environment, prompting me to go check it out — almost as if I am a cat! Littered throughout are things like bottles and cans that you push off surfaces, as well as rugs and doors to scratch at if you want to further your role-play.
Much of that same attention to detail is applied to the other companion-inhabited areas you visit throughout the game, which are usually very open and a delight to go through. Still, I can’t say the same about the others that aren’t occupied by the robots. Without spoiling too much, those areas are mostly void of anything to see, and while they are empty by design, the lack of environmental storytelling is a bit of a contrast to adjust to. At the very least, you don’t have to spend much time within these areas.
Because of how the world is designed, Stray plays much like an adventure game. As you scan your surroundings, prompts pop up to indicate what areas you can jump and manoeuvre to. So for much of the game, exploring entails you scaling up buildings via conveniently placed air-conditioning units to reach new areas.
Some might feel that it makes the game feel rather mindless, but it is a great design choice implemented by the developers. Instead of worrying about placing jumps correctly like in a platformer, I’m able to simply focus on getting to where I wanted to quickly — it helped to feed into the experience of digesting the environment around me that I otherwise would not have had if I was constantly frustrated by the platforming.
Where does the challenge come from, then? As you explore the world, you might occasionally find yourself at what might seem to be a dead end. Instead, these are puzzle situations that need you to do or move something to get past. These might include rolling a barrel into position to access a high ledge or finding a hidden code to open a door. Others require you to get specific items for characters to progress.
Admittedly, these puzzles in Stray aren’t challenging. I was never stuck on a single puzzle for longer than 10 minutes, and for the item puzzles in particular, sometimes I’ve been able to acquire them before knowing what they would be needed for. But again, I wouldn’t say it is a detriment to the game since it aids the exploration aspect.
It isn’t all chill puzzle solving, though. While the companion robots might be chummy towards you, you have threats to keep in mind. Occasionally, you’ll run into small white creatures called Zurks in your journey. These guinea pig-shaped critters aren’t cute and certainly not friendly — eating everything that comes into their path, including metal.
The robots are rightfully afraid of them, but you have one advantage — cats are fast. During your encounters with them, you’ll more often than be trying to outrun them to get to where you need. But it isn’t all chase scenarios; some of them have puzzle elements where you need to manipulate something in the environment to keep the Zurks at bay from overwhelming you. Overall, these occurrences are a nice distraction from the exploration that adds a little excitement.
Later on, there are also a few sneaking missions to tackle, which keeps things fresh — there is a good amount of gameplay variety to uncover in Stray despite being a brief game.
Finally, I want to give a special mention to the excellent music tracks in the game. Stray’s soundtrack uses instruments like electronic keyboards and synths to define not only the locale you are in but also the mood that currently persists within it.
There is a sombre and melancholy feel as you make your way around the back alleys and rooftops in The Slums, indicating the atmosphere that surrounds the residents. Meanwhile, the booming bass heightens the anxiety in Zurk encounters as you try to make your escape. It is a superbly composed soundtrack that massively adds to the overall experience.
Stray is not just a game for animal lovers. Seeing from a cat’s perspective brings a fresh feel to an otherwise familiar sci-fi setting, with the intricately-built world lending much to your exploration and discovery. Likewise, the gameplay and music choices are all additive to how you experience it, knitting everything together for a wonderfully cohesive game.
Though I would have liked a few things more fleshed out, its few misses don’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the game. It is indeed a short game, but don’t let its length be a deterrence. This is a title you should adopt into your library.
Screenshots were taken on a PlayStation 5, with additional visuals courtesy of Sony Interactive Entertainment.