Stray Review – Furry Friends
Stray is a game about being a cat. You see, explore, and mess with the world in the ways only they can. Because you’re doing so in one of the more densely-packed video game worlds in recent memory, there’s plenty of room for kitty antics. Luckily, Stray wastes no moment letting you fulfill any feline aspirations you may have.
After being separated from their furry friends, the unnamed cat (we’ll call “Stray”) finds itself deep in an underground city walled off from the outside by a giant dome. Befriending a small drone named B12, Stray sets out to open the city, the wish of many of its android citizens, who have heard rumors but never once seen the sun, clouds, and the like.
Stray makes excellent use of the fact you play as a cat. Because you’re such a small, agile creature, you must rethink platforming. A tiny inaccessible ledge in another video game becomes a critical path. A gate might stand in front of your objective, but because you’re so tiny, you just slip through its grates. The animation throughout is fantastic, feeling believable to the minute movements cats make – so much so that my dog growled at my computer when I first started playing. Stray constantly finds new opportunities to play with its character – in both significant and minor ways, like pushing things off tables and scratching at doors – and I had a lot of fun discovering these unique interactions while exploring the world.
Inspired by Hong Kong’s now-demolished real-life Kowloon Walled City – notable for its strikingly dense architecture and population – Stray’s world is artistically fantastic. The underground city is constantly impressive and a joy to explore, from underground sewers to cluttered cityscapes full of neon, from highly-detailed apartments to lonely rooftops. Because it’s so densely packed, levels often feel like mazes, and I loved learning my way around their labyrinthian streets.
You spend Stray’s four-hour runtime exploring the various districts, meeting citizens, and performing tasks. Stray is apparently the most brilliant cat to ever live, able to solve logic puzzles, understand language, and run hyper-specific errands, and I loved this loop. I was excited every time I entered a new district, knowing a new set of puzzles and conversations awaited me. I enjoyed the occasional dips into combat, stealth, and evasion far less as they never did much interesting with the cat. You more or less just run or hide in a corner or shine a light at enemies until they blow up and call it a day. Luckily these were few and far between, but any time they did pop up, it was monotonous.
While its story is simple, never going beyond surface explorations of the relationships between humans and cities, it’s affecting. As I met more citizens, each wrestling with what it means to be alive despite being robots (think Nier: Automata, which the game references), I became invested in the overall world. I also enjoyed the funny and touching relationship between B12 and Stray, who form a solid partnership where the drone helps the cat navigate and understand the world around it.
Stray is, more than anything, a charming game. Its gimmick – you are a cat, do cat things – never gets old; I constantly found it clever for the few hours it took to complete. But more than gimmicks, exploring a world this dense and detailed is a joy, amplified by the unique gameplay being a cat offers. It’s a solid, brief ride through a strange world and one well worth taking.