I’m done with humans. And humanoid aliens, and anthropomorphised animals – all an utter waste of gaming’s unbounded potential. If nothing else, Stray demonstrates what an unusual protagonist can do for a game.
This should be familiar territory: a post-apocalyptic city inhabited by robots, you have to find out what went wrong and help out, etc etc. But as a cat. And that alone is remarkably successful at making the familiar feel fresh. Loping around the post-apocalyptic city, confidently leaping to unlikely heights, slinking into nooks and crannies – there’s a real pleasure in just exploring, especially the more open levels.
But it’s more than playing as a cat – you are a cat. Nuzzling up to a robot’s leg, to its uncomprehending joy. Scratching up the carpet. Knocking stuff over. Have a nap. And it all feels superb, thanks to some expertly crafted feedback via the DualSense controller.
Those uniquely feline characteristics are fairly convincingly integrated into what is, for the most part, effectively a point-and-click adventure: while movement is free, jumping and interacting with most objects is via button prompts. This has pros and cons: you can’t miss a jump, or leap to your death, which reflects a degree of ability and self-preservation; but it can also break the spell when you can only jump on some boxes, or scratch up some carpets.
Overall the spell is strong though: the world is visually stunning, and most of the puzzles and fetch quests are nicely justified by the fact that you, as a cat, can do things that the robots you come across simply cannot. So while most of the game isn’t particularly taxing, and some solutions are a little over-signposted, they’re more than imaginative enough to compensate.
There are also moments of jeopardy to break up the pace: Zurks, grotesque little pustular creatures, attack in packs; Sentinels patrol sensitive areas, and shoot on sight. Stealth is required at times, but sprinting to escape your pursuers is one of the game’s highlights – quick changes of direction feel light and agile, but desperate and almost out of control.
And that’s the key for me: Stray feels fundamentally different for having a cat as the protagonist. It’s not superficial, it completely defines the game – and makes it so much more than the sum of its parts.
BlueTwelveStudio’s Stray is out now on PS5, PS4, and PC.