One of the first games for Sony’s PlayStation 5 console was Stray, which put players in control of a cat in a cyberpunk city filled with robots. Stray’s feline protagonist and jaw-dropping graphics made it one of the most talked-about titles at Sony’s upcoming gaming event, and it turns out the hype was justified.
First and foremost, the developers at BlueTwelve Studio have completely nailed down what it would be like for a cat to move around the city. Animation is perfect down to the smallest detail. Real-life cat owners, in particular, will be impressed with what BlueTwelve Studio has achieved here, as they may be more likely to notice subtle things like a cat’s ears twitching in the direction of a noise. Early in the game, the cat, equipped with a harness to help transport its drone companion, comically falls to the ground, motionless. Any cat owner who has tried putting a similar harness on their pets to take them for a walk will recognize the behavior, and it’s little details like this that make the cat in Stray feel like a living, breathing cat. Of course, it helps the animators to make the cat actually breathe as much as possible.
There’s a clich about video games making players “feel” like any character they’re playing, but there’s really no other way to express that. Wandering makes the player feel like a cat, whether it’s knocking objects off ledges, walking across keyboards, or scratching furniture. Stray allows players to perform typical cat behaviors, even without in-game reasons, such as drinking from a saucer, rubbing on someone’s leg, and curling up for a nap. There’s even a dedicated button for meowing.
Sometimes these cat moves are incorporated into Stray’s puzzle games. While the player can freely scratch at furniture, walls, tree trunks, and other objects like a cat, this ability sometimes has practical uses, such as pulling down curtains or pulling wires out of equipment. Meowing, meanwhile, can be used to get rid of bug-like enemies that sometimes cling to cats.
Stray’s bug-like enemies are known as Zurks, and while players are eventually able to fight back, they’re mostly out to avoid these creatures at all costs. As with other games, there isn’t much in the way of “combat”, but Stray goes one step further. The cat in Stray is meant to represent a real cat, so the developers didn’t give it weird abilities or special attacks that would break the immersion. Yes, players are solving puzzles and talking to robots in the game, but that’s because the cat is being helped by its drone partner, B-12.
The wandering player encounters the B-12 early in the game, and from there, the drone helps guide the story. With B-12 by their side, players can talk to the friendly droid, crack doors, get hints on what to do next if they get stuck, and more. But while B-12 plays a key role in helping players overcome some of Stray’s obstacles, the focus remains on the cat and how it interacts with the world around it.
The Stray experience is divided into linear levels and more open areas. Linear sections offer more action, and players must use a combination of speed and stealth to escape and dodge Zurks and other enemies. However, open areas (there are two in the game) are where Stray really shines. Here, players are free to explore like cats, testing the limits of what they can do in the game.
The fact that Stray actually only has two open areas like this might put some players off, especially since the game doesn’t have much content in general. Stray is a short but sweet experience that can be completed in less than five hours in the original game. Players who want to do it 100% can easily do it in under 10 hours, as it doesn’t take long at all to unlock all of Stray’s trophies. That’s certainly a disadvantage to some, but Stray’s short length might actually work in its favor. That way, the game doesn’t become obsolete in popularity, so the novelty of what the developers have achieved with cats is never lost.
Considering that the game will be playable with PS Plus Extra and Premium subscriptions at launch, the blow of Stray’s short story will be further softened. It’s already an affordable game to begin with, but this way, those who aren’t satisfied with its short length can still check it out without shelling out $30.
Stray is short, but it works for a game like this. There’s no wasted space or padding in the Stray, and the short length probably played a big part in allowing the developers to perfect the cat’s movements as they did, not to mention making it look as good as it does. Stray’s graphics are incredible, with detailed environments and impressive lighting effects. The game is highly polished, and while there are occasional glitches like a stuck camera, any issues are easily fixed by reloading the last checkpoint.
Part of the reason the developer was able to achieve such an impressive polish may be due to constraints on the game’s platform. Stray doesn’t allow the player to jump anywhere at any time, instead relegating jumping to a contextual button press. This may be another point of contention for some players, as they may find Stray’s platform too restrictive. But the tradeoff was that the developers were able to keep the animations tight and better maintain the illusion of playing like a cat, while jumping around could easily break that immersion and cause animation issues. Not only that, but this also provides a puzzle element to platforming, as players have to figure out exactly where they can jump to get through each area.
Granted, some may be underwhelmed by the way Stray handles platforming and how short it is, but these issues are easy to overlook given the quality of the rest of the game. Stray is a truly unique gaming experience that deserves a try. The Stray looks great, plays great, and does exactly what it sets out to do. It’s a must-play game, not least because it’s available at such a low price and can be fully played with a subscription to PS Plus Extra.
Stray will be out on PC, PS4, and PS5 on July 19. Game Rant provided the PS5 codes for this review.