If you’re a cat person, Stray is very much a must-play.
Combining open world adventure with, er, cat simulation, Stray is quite unlike anything you’ve played before. Your four-legged furry protagonist sees to that. Set in a far future dystopian world where humans are extinct, Stray sees you fall into an underground slum inhabited by robots simply trying to make a life for themselves. With their help, you need to climb back up to the top – to the outside – and maybe, just maybe, you’ll help some of them along the way.
Separated from their feline friends, our unnamed cat protagonist has a brand new world to become acquainted with. It seems they’ve never seen a robot before, and the robots have never seen a cat before. But the two quickly come to trust each other and, thanks to a friendly drone that attaches itself to the cat, you can soon communicate with them, too.
There’s plenty of lore to discover in Stray; some of it is fed to you, but most of it you’ll have to hunt out in the environment. It’s worth poking around to find out what you can; this futuristic world devoid of human life is fascinating. So fascinating, in fact, that it’s a shame that it’s all over so quickly. We saw Stray‘s credits roll in six hours. And if you don’t spend as much time exploring as we did, it could be over much quicker. There’s a trophy for finishing it in just two hours.
Taking control of Stray‘s protagonist is a joy. They’re responsive and agile, with verticality being a huge part of the experience. Cats are naturally great at jumping, of course, and so being able to jump up onto narrow ledges, scale beams and squeeze through gaps will all come naturally. Nothing is signposted to you and you don’t have a minimap, so you’ll have to become familiar with your environment to learn your way around. It’s a fairly small, tight world, so you’re unlikely to get lost or struggle much to find your next objective.
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It’s the little touches that make Stray so wonderful. Scratch on a random rug, or up against a random door. Curl up on someone’s lap, or at their feet. Jump up onto a tabletop and knock stuff off just for the hell of it. The developers have nailed cat behaviour to a T, and any cat owner – heck, anyone that’s ever been around cats – will not be able to fight the huge grin on their face as they spend time simply ‘catting’ around Stray‘s world.
But simply focus on Stray‘s story and you’ll have a great time, too. There’s a lot to love here, from the robots loaded with personality to the ancient lore, to the varied locations you’ll explore. Starting in the slums, brightly lit with neon signs, you’ll later venture through sewers, a jail, a tree-top village and more. Every area is packed with personality and begs to be explored, though it’s the starting area where you’ll likely spend most of your time.
In the slums, there are side quests to be completed and plenty of reasons to stick around. In other areas, you’re largely shepherded from one point to another, simply passing through. It means the second half of the story goes by too quickly; we’d have liked more reason to hang about in other areas. Or at least the opportunity to revisit the slums; if you’ve not completed everything before you leave, there’s no chance to go back.
While this isn’t your typical action adventure game, Stray isn’t completely free of action. There’s combat – of sorts – to contend with, after your drone gets updated with a weapon that can keep mutated parasites at bay. And there’s a stealth section to overcome, where your feline friend must sneak past sentinel drones without being seen.
Nothing is too taxing, though. If you hate stealth, you don’t have to worry as it’s fairly basic stuff. And if you die, or get caught, at any time, Stray‘s checkpointing is very generous, so you’ll never lose more than a couple of minutes of progress.
Should that lack of challenge be a problem? We don’t think so. This isn’t the type of game that’s designed to push players’ boundaries. It isn’t a test of skill – although some of the platforming sections, at least figuring out how to get from A to B across rooftops, for example, can be a little tricky. It’s a game designed to be enjoyed; for the most part, it’s a stress-free, relaxing experience. And for that reason, we absolutely adore it. There are plenty of other games that will test your mettle. This doesn’t have to be it.
Cat lover or not, Stray is a wonderful adventure worth jumping into. You’ll quickly fall in love with your adorable four-legged protagonist, but it’s just a shame it’s all over so soon. We could have spent dozens more hours exploring the fascinating world experiencing life as a curious cat. As it is, Stray may be short, but it’s perfectly formed.