Stray enraptured fans during its reveal during the PS5 showcase in 2021 and remained a topic of discussion for months after. Since its first trailer, users eagerly awaited this title from BlueTwelve studio. After the long wait, is the freshman outing from this indie studio worth playing, or should you leave this game in the litter?
Stray is a meowvelous indie title with plenty to love. Though the gameplay isn’t the most intuitive, there’s more than enough to keep users interested from start to finish. A fantastic world, loveable characters, and cute puzzles highlight BlueTwelve Studio’s skill at game development.
After a brief introduction, the unnamed Stray cat falls from the upper echelons of an empty city to the depths below in a tragic accident. When it lands, this cat finds a hidden city infested with parasites and pockets of Robots populating towns. It’s a long way back up, and to survive the hazards of this unfamiliar venue, this Stray must make friends with the automatons below. Working together is the only way to free them of the Zurks and create a path home. With friends and family awaiting this feline, there’s plenty to fight for.
While the premise of Stray is simple, the path forward is full of enthralling twists and turns. You’ll primarily platform and solve puzzles to aid this mammalian fugitive’s journey home. Each of Stray’s challenges and core mechanics feels at home in the indie adventure and accentuates an already endearing tale. If you want a relaxing but captivating take on the world after humanity, Stray is the right call.
On Your Own in the City
Stray takes place inside a forgotten city. This oppressive dome prevents inhabitants from making their way up to the surface. While humanity no longer exists in the world of Stray, there are living creatures. You’ll find sects of robots throughout this journey. Like the humans that came before them, these creatures have a will of their own. Some like to play music while others enjoy studying their ancestors’ culture.
What started as human mimicry evolved into a budding civilization. Robots congregate in Midtown, a beautiful cityscape below the surface with oodles of eye candy to enjoy. I found myself perusing the venue and taking screenshots constantly when I played. The only thing that soured the visual experience for me was an odd camera that always felt like it panned too close to the ground.
Considering that the Stray is a tiny little hero, it’s an understandable hiccup in an otherwise stellar experience. Still, because Stray is so small, you can explore tiny pockets of the city other characters cannot. My favorite detail was prancing around a bar to find a drunk robot missing his shift and promptly knocking a crate of beers on his head. There’s plenty to appreciate here, so take some time to enjoy the scenery!
To Be or Not to B-12
Not long after Stray crashes down in the underground city, they meet B-12, a charming little robot that helps guide players along their journey. He’ll translate dialogue from cyberpunk citizens, help users solve puzzles, and collect items during this adventure.
Because our protagonist can’t talk, this little guy is an excellent tool the game uses to tell the tale of how humans fell and robots came to take their place. I honestly wasn’t expecting to love the lore in the world of Stray as much as I did, but B-12 was an excellent vessel for sharing this fascinating information. Our AI companion also has an origin as jarring as the world around him, but we won’t spoil what that is, as it’s part of what makes the journey unique.
There are even collectibles to earn during Stray, each with a small blurb of backstory. Unlike the horde of collect-a-thon games I’ve played in the past, I felt the urge to hunt these down because of B-12’s additional information. The more you uncover, the more you learn about humanity’s fall. I went back to earn each optional collectible after the credits rolled to hear what B-12 had to say, as high-quality collectibles like this are uncommon in today’s gaming landscape.
While the gameplay is fluid and fun, there are a few faults. Checkpoints are spotty in Stray, making earning these collectibles aggravating. Even after you pick up an item, you’ll have to run to the next story-based checkpoint, and failing to do so results in the article disappearing from your inventory. After earning a unique item for finding all collectibles, I returned to the main menu, only to find the prize gone when I returned the next day.
Zurk Central Station
While the world and environments of Stary are incredible, the Zurks undermine progress regularly. These parasitic creatures initially fed on organic matter, including the human population. With most organic matter gone, the Zurks turn their attention to the robots within the city for sustenance.
Though these creatures can eat metal now, they haven’t forgotten how flesh tastes. Zurks chase the Stray throughout its adventure, impeding progress in dark areas. You’ll need to be careful when solving puzzles, as the Zurks will eat this cat alive if they get the chance.
The only place safe from the reach of the Zurks are pockets of light. You’ll find these clusters of light strewn throughout The Wall, The Slums, Midtown, and their outskirts. It gives both an aesthetic and practical purpose for lighting in the game. Areas eroded by Zurk occupation are a common sight while traveling, and these parts of the game looked outright eerie. Each trip outside of the cities was sobering, making me think of the world that once was.
Despite the Zurks being nonverbal antagonists, I felt their impact through the environments and interactions with NPCs. This world is scarred and broken because of them, and Stray does a great job of sharing that through non-direct methods. It’s an art that deserves commendation, especially from a first-time game developer like BlueTwelve Studios.
Automatons and Animals Collide
While you’ll spend much of Stray trekking through the abyss with B-12, other characters often help you find your way. Momo, Doc, and Clementine are some of the robots you’ll befriend on your way through this decrepit society. Each AI has a story of its own tied to the surrounding world. Not only this, but your new friends all suffer from trauma connected to the Zurks and the collapsing underbelly of Stray’s world.
The best automaton, in my opinion, was Momo, a cranky hermit withdrawn from the world around him. It’ll take some convincing, but even this crabby character can’t resist the charm of a Stray cat in its hour of need.
You’ll also have plenty of conversations and interactions with these supporting characters. Momo and the gang even aid in adventure from time to time. Momo, for example, takes Stray on a boat ride through a sewer to reach the next objective.
Some of the best moments in Stray come from scenes with the other robots. Their personalities were so intriguing and varied that I was sad to bid them farewell after our chapters together.
Each supporting character also has motivations that feel believable. While Robots help Stray, they have goals of their own to accomplish that coincide with the protagonist. It’s a give-and-take relationship that makes every character feel like an individual rather than a set piece that leads you to the next plot point.
Stray is a short but sweet adventure game that will warm your heart. Few titles meld puzzles, world-building, and well-written characters so harmoniously. Though Stray is rough around the edges, it’s a promising first title from BlueTwelve Studios with so much to appreciate. If you’re in the market for a relaxing title with an adorable protagonist, invest in Stray, the cutest release of 2022. Come for the cat; stay for the adventure!
|Intriguing story||Spotty checkpoint system|
|Enjoyable puzzles||No accessibility features|
|An adorable protagonist||Odd camera angles|
|Strong supporting cast|
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