We’ve all played games that were set in an apocalyptic world. These games usually have a hero who is very unassuming but strangely has all the necessary skills to save the population. These games seem like a dime a dozen. But have you ever played a game set in a post apocalyptic world where the hero is just so darned adorable? If you haven’t, well, you haven’t played Stray.
When Annapurna Interactive showed off the first trailer for Stray, it was obvious there was something special about it. You can say the primary hook of playing as your typical feline friend in a world populated with only robots was intriguing by itself. The idea of an open world where you can traverse the world as a cat was just a cool idea and made me wonder why nobody thought of it before. But there was still something else that made Stray come off as much more than that. Even from the trailers, the general ambiance felt on point. The environments looks dirty but had a distinct style to them that made it stand out. So, you be the instant I saw Stray’s first trailer, I was on board. Now that I’ve finished the game, I will say that, while I found the adventure enjoyable, I strangely expected a little more from it.
Stray puts you in the paws of an ordinary looking stray cat. While exploring the exterior of the Dead City with his pack, he (as he’s a completely orange cat, the cat is most likely male) accidentally falls into the bowels of the Dead City. The cat eventually meets with with a robot named B12 and they go on an adventure to open up the Dead City to free the other robot citizens.
Stray wouldn’t work at all if it wasn’t fun controlling the main character. A lot of the charm of the trailer stems from the fact you get to play as a cat. Thankfully, developer BlueTwelve Studio put a lot of work into making sure it mostly feels silky smooth. They put a great amount of detail to how the cat moves as well as how the cat behaves in certain situations. It feels incredibly realistic. Not only that, there is a feeling of satisfaction whenever you do those particular cat interactions. I will never get tired of finding a carpet and just trying to scratch it into kingdom come!
The worldbuilding is also amazing. Although the citizens of the Dead City are of the robot variety, the place does feel really lived in and the robots all do have some distinct personalities, making it actually fun to try to talk to everyone. There are some repeated dialogue between a lot of them, especially when you’re trying to inquire about items or locations. But it’s forgivable because, well, they’re robots, after all. The locations you do get to explore are also fun to traverse as a cat. Being a character of the feline variety, you’re not confined to normal streets. You’re usually allowed to climb up on most surfaces, crawl under low objects and just mess around with the world.
The story of Stray is also good thanks to the worldbuilding. The graphics and sound design aren’t exactly the best but they do work for the overall tone the game is going for. The cat itself can look a little uncanny valley if you really examine him closely. But it also has a certain charm to the way it looks. It’s also really smart to have B12 as your way of communicating with the other robots because, even though it’s just a game, you do need some plausability as to why the cat can understand what’s happening.
You do get to understand the history of the Dead City as you explore the ins and outs of the areas as well as by just going through the main questline. The entire thing is still shrouded in mystery as you’re not given the complete story but you do get enough information to piece together what happened and why it’s strangely populated with only robots. The writers of Stray also do a really good job of hitting the right emotional notes at just the right moments. This is pretty amazing as, besides the cat, everyone you encounter in the Dead City are just robots. They did a good job in making you feel for the robots and what they’re going through.
I will say, however, I have some game design decisions in Stray. The main one is it never really provides a challenge. Besides exploring the Dead City, you have to solve puzzles and gather items in order to proceed with your quest. Getting the items is pretty easy as long as your thorough with your exploration of the various areas. The puzzles are also pretty easy to solve but maybe that’s because I grew up with old school adventure games, which really amped the difficulty with the puzzles. I do think all of this is intentional as Stray doesn’t seem like it’s supposed to be a game where you’re supposed to get stuck on puzzles but just a fun and breezy game to play. I still would’ve liked a little more of a challenge in general, though.
Also, while I like the addition of B12 and how you get to use him as another way to explain the story as well as interact with some of the things in the world, I don’t really think he’s used to his fullest potential. Once again, this is because the puzzles are pretty simplistic, which makes me wish they made B12 an entirely separate game mechanic where you would have to split up with the cat to solve puzzles and get through certain levels this way. Once again, it seems like they didn’t do this because it would slightly ramp up the difficulty to the puzzles and distract from the main gist of the game, which is controlling the cat. I know it’s just the adventure gamer in me that wishes these kinds of things so I don’t think this is a huge problem, especially for more casual gamers.
Another issue I have is I did run into a few problems with running the game. I have to note I played the PlayStation 4 version of the game so these bugs may not rear their ugly head in the other platforms. The game actually crashed on me a couple of times. But the most annoying bug I’ve experienced was when I simply couldn’t use the buttons correctly. Sometimes, I couldn’t open my inventory or, worse still, activate a mission exclusive piece of equipment to proceed through the area. Simply reloading the game wouldn’t resolve the bug. Rather, I would have to reload the chapter from the start. Thankfully, these bugs were rather infrequently and, like I said, this just might be something from the PlayStation 4 version. Still, it’s something to look forward to and, hopefully, Annapurna Interactive is working on a patch for these problems.
The game also ends rather anticlimactically. I don’t mean that Stray is a short game. I mean, it is. But I don’t have a problem with the fact I finished it in just shy of five hours. What I mean is the final area is incredibly short. All of the other areas you run across feel large and incredibly fun to explore. The final area is a very small and sterile area and there isn’t a whole lot to do there. It comes across as rather half baked when compared to the previous areas your cat runs through. The ending itself also doesn’t feel as satisfying as it should be. It just seems to end when there should have been more to it.
Despite the issues I mentioned, I still would recommend giving Stray a try. The mere concept of getting to play as a cat and exploring the world is well executed and incredibly fun. It’s not at all hard, which may be a problem for me. But this does make it ideal for more casual gamers or those who just really want to relax. The bugs I did encounter can be an issue but they don’t really pop up to really be a huge bother. And I really wish the ending was a whole lot more satisfying. Hopefully, Annapurna Interactive greenlights a sequel because I really do want a fresh adventure as a cat again.
Have you played Stray? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!