Prior to its release, Stray was by far one of the most anticipated games of the year. Now I’m always skeptical when there is hype around a specific game. Putting much pressure on a smaller studio such as BlueTwelve is never a good idea.
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Fortunately, the developers pulled through and managed to create a fantastic experience that does not overstay its welcome. It’s easy to become jaded and criticize the game industry because of lackluster Triple-A game releases over the years.
However, the indie scene of the industry shows us that there are a lot of creative individuals that deserve respect. Now and then, a game reminds me why I fell in love with video games in the first place, and Stray is one of those.
How Stray Presents A Great Movement System
I imagine this will not sit well with most people, but I am not a fan of cats. There’s no point in me boring you with the details, but that’s just my personal experience and opinion. This is why this quick review is unbiased, Stray had to win me over as an enjoyable game rather than being a cat simulator.
The developers play their cards very early on in this game. This adventure has a neat story, but the primary focus is that you play as a cat and appreciate the environmental storytelling and visuals on display. Simple but surprisingly effective.
It works well because of the movement system. When playing, you will feel that the mechanics allow the cat to move quickly and slickly. It’s pretty close to how a cat would roll in the real world.
When you press the jump button, the cat squares its shoulder right before jumping. You can scratch carpets, curtains, and various other surfaces. While traversing the environment, you can get into tight spaces like vents.
This game has stealth sequences and moments where you will have to run away from danger. That is when all of the elements I mentioned above come together.
The cat can crawl through tight spaces without even slowing down. You can quickly jump from one platform to the other, then hide behind tight spaces. It all gels together beautifully.
Last but not least, you can find areas where you can take a quick nap and enjoy the soundtrack.
As I said, BlueTwelve studio plays their cards very early on. Stray is inherently developed to attract people who would love to play as a cat. I didn’t expect it would also be this good for someone who doesn’t share that same affection.
Again, much of this is because the movement system works so well. Since you’re so small, you see the world from the cat’s perspective, which adds to Stray’s overall vibe.
This was the highlight of the game for me. Everyone can appreciate a good video game soundtrack, whether you like cats or not. Stray is set in a post-cyberpunk world with a lonely and abandoned feel.
Once you get into the story a bit, you’ll come across robot denizens that inhabit this world. Through the dialog, you’ll learn of their longing to go outside. Sadly, a good chunk of them has given up.
The soundtrack pairs with this overall theme astoundingly well. It has a lo-fi feel to it sometimes, but then it will get more ambient and theatrical in other moments. Electronic notes such as buzzing, synths, and static sounds are scattered in this OST.
It gives a feeling of desperation and longing, but also hope. It’s also the perfect soundtrack to play in the background while working. That’s what I’m doing as I write this.
If necessary, I could honestly write a separate review for the soundtrack itself. The opening track, “Inside The Wall,” sits perfectly with the beginning of the game. My favorite was the “Notebooks,” which could easily find its way into a lo-fi playlist. I also adore how each section has a different atmosphere and music that goes with it.
While the OST itself is incredible, the sound effects are the absolute icing on the cake. The subtle pattering of paws, the effects for the robots, and even the sound when you are scratching a wall are all incredibly satisfying.
The soundtrack and the sound effects work well with the visuals for Stray. Sometime you’ll feel alone and isolated; other times, you’ll feel warm and at home. Stray tugs at your heartstrings, and much of that is thanks to the sound design.
A Post-Cyberpunk World
Thanks to a particular game, the word cyberpunk now gets sort of a negative connotation. To be honest, that criticism is not fair since this aesthetic is unique and works well in many different entertainment mediums. Stray has that same Sci-FI look to it at times.
The robots, drones, neon lights, and brightly colored environments reflect aesthetics. However, Stray also shows how glitz, glamor, and rapid advancement in technology can lead to humanity’s downfall.
The only companion on this journey with you is the drone B-12. The only denizens you meet along the way are robots. No humans exist in this world, and no one knows how long they have been extinct. On top of that, the enemies you’ll encounter on this journey tell you that is much more than a cyberpunk world. In reality, this is what you might call “post-cyberpunk.”
This is why the visuals in Stray can be so interesting at times. You’ll find yourself navigating through a sewer, only to find a lost civilization and a temple filled with friendly robots.
You’ll also be surprised to find a Sci-Fi style city that looks like it has been plucked out of Bladerunner. The visuals and the overall presentation were surprising here, to say the least. This is one of those games where you can’t stop yourself from taking screenshots.
Storytelling In Stray
The game opens with a family of cats residing in sunlit ruins surrounded by lush foliage. You are the orange cat of the pack, and things start very simply. You’re playing around with your feline friends, exploring these ruins, and in all likelihood, pressing the B or Circle button to meow over and over again.
All that fun ends when you miss a jump off a pipe and find yourself freefalling into an endless void. Turns out, that pit wasn’t so endless. You’re not injured too badly, but now you must find a way out.
Stray is a simple story of trying to get back home. You’ll navigate through slums, sewers, and, surprisingly a captivating cyberpunk city. You meet robots on your way and even make a tiny drone friend that also wants to get out.
On top of that, you’ll be chased by creatures “Zurks”. Zurks evolved from experimental bacteria and will eat anything on sight. That includes metal, and, woefully, your cat.
The overall lore of this game is incredibly interesting. It all ties together very well with the soundtrack and the movement system. Everything here makes sense, apart from a tiny detail.
Some of the stories are told through environmental storytelling, but other times it is told through dialogues. The robots have no voice acting and make random “robot noises.” Because of this, much of the story is told through text boxes, which throws me off.
As I said before, Stray is a story of trying to get home or die trying in the process. Your drone friend, B-12, also has vague memories of trying to get outside the walls and see the world for what it really is. The connection with the robots is made well for the most part, even if it misses the mark here and there.
The only problem is that I don’t feel immersed in how Stray tries to make the cat look like a “savior” for this deserted world. The stealth mechanics are great, but would a cat be that good at avoiding enemy drones that can quickly shoot me down?
Sure, maybe I can let that slide for some video game silliness. Then again, Stray relies so much on letting you play as a cat and traversing this world that when it goes against that idea it’s much more jarring. By the end of it, it sort of becomes a story about friendship and loss.
Now, in theory, that is not a bad idea at all. I don’t hate that the story goes the way it does since it did not ruin my enjoyment. However, I did feel that it could have gone in a different direction than what was initially happening.
It doesn’t immensely help that Stray relies so much on text boxes to tell its complete story. The game does well with environmental storytelling, and I would have enjoyed Stray much more if they doubled down on that. Again, a minor critique and most casual players won’t think so deeply about this, but it was something worth mentioning.
Low Spec Gamers, Unite!
I’ll be the first to say it. There is no shame in having a gaming PC that isn’t the latest or greatest. Some of us just have to do and work with what we have. Unfortunately, quite a few games just don’t work well with lower-tier hardware. Stray, on the other hand, works beautifully.
While playing Stray, one of my RAM sticks was faulty and died in the process. I could not buy another one until next week, so I temporarily had only 8GB to work with. Most games stutter these days if you only have eight gigs installed. Stray did not have that issue.
The game ran well, and I did not have any issues while playing. The setting menu will help people that are running on low-spec machines tremendously. Stray has a welcome resolution scale that allows you to lower it to 50%, meaning you can play the game at 1024 x 768.
If you built a PC in the past decade, you most likely don’t need to think about if your PC can run Stray or not. A significant positive for this game.
Is Stray Worth A Buy?
Overall, Stray is an excellent game and one that you should not skip. This indie darling is a breath of fresh air compared to the repetitive Triple-A games we see repeatedly. However, the developers had to cut some corners here and there.
My gripe with the storytelling that I mentioned may or may not affect you. However, most would agree that sometimes the animations feel off. They are great for the most part, but sometimes instead of an animation, the screen will fade to black to indicate something happened off-screen.
Some of the stealth elements can prove to be more annoying than anything. The ending is also a bit cliche and feels forced to evoke emotion in the player.
Don’t get me wrong, these are valid criticisms, but they don’t take much away from the game. I thoroughly enjoyed my time and might revisit it a year or two to experience it again.
In conclusion, it is surprising to me how enjoyable this game was. My enthusiasm was somewhat low going into this since I’m not a cat person. The game is a bit pricey for how short it is, but many will feel happy supporting the developers.
Seriously, give it a shot.
Endearing traversal and movement system
An enthralling post-cyberpunk setting
Short and sweet, does not overstay its welcome
It runs fantastically well on low-end hardware
A charming lo-fi style soundtrack
A few animations feel strange
Stealth elements appear undercooked
Storytelling is slightly off-putting
Stray is a short and sweet feline adventure in a post-cyberpunk setting. The world is enthralling, and thanks to its spectacular soundtrack, it is one of the most relaxing experiences I have ever been through while gaming. Some ideas such as stealth are a bit undercooked. But presentation is the main focus here, and BlueTwelve Studios has impressed us with that incredibly.