When a PlayStation announcement is about a game where the lead character will be a cat – not an alien cat with superpowers or one that speaks, but a normal ol’ alley cat – there is expectation that the fandom will spam this news and derail any hype. But in some strange set of events, Stray became one of the most anticipated games in a year that includes Elden Ring, a new God of War, Lego Star Wars and even a Harry Potter open world title. People craved to play as a cat in a cyberpunk world, and after spending time with this game it is safe to say that it delivered the experience detailed on the box.
Stray sees the player take control of a ginger cat (no name) that is separated from its friends in the opening scene, falling into a sewer and emerging into a city of fearful robots. Alongside a miniature robot – B12, a droid that would fit within a Star Wars movie – they seek to find a way back to the outside. The main threat to this escape is the army of Zurks. These little rat-like creatures eat everything in their path and cause the robots to hide away in their slums. It’s simple, yet there’s this absorbing world to explore in cat-form: climbing walls, scratching posts, curling into a ball to sleep, meowing with the press of a button. There is a cuteness, but there is also a darkness. The ingredients work.
The best element of Stray is its score. The music is haunting, futuristic, hopeful, dangerous. Each setting is improved by the tunes attributed to its scene. I found myself staring at the title screen, listening to the main theme, deep in thought about the game. It ramps up when it needs to, slowing to levels of peace in the quieter moments (and there’s also a robot guitarist that will play music that you find in the form of sheets across the map). When it comes to maps, they range from rooftops to apartments to sewers to streets. It’s a neon-lit amusement park that would delight any cat, knocking over paint cans and causing all manner of mischief that would make any cat owner shake their head.
The gameplay is not overly complex, but as the story progresses, there will be more options available to take on the Zurks (without giving anything away, the fight becomes even). Tapping X to climb and running fast are the main options, but it never feels restrictive. In the open-world sections such as the slums, the game feels bigger than it actually is due to the height – many games judge themselves by width, but climbing is so integral to exploration. There is so much to find, and so many characters to engage with.
While Stray is short (5-8 hours will about do it) this is not meant to be a slog like the titles it competes against. The tight narrative and speedy experience feel refreshing. There is a space for this game style in the market (Little Nightmares being another example) that serves as the perfect break between 50-hour games. The game is also free on the two new PlayStation plus tiers, and for what works out at about $11 a month, the Extra option is quite the bargain due to the games catalogue.
If you’re more of a dog person or prefer your main character to have thumbs, don’t despair – Stray isn’t just for cat lovers. But those who do love their felines will see all the traits that make them such entertaining pets. You may finish the game in a matter of days, but the experience will not be forgotten. There’s something truly unique here.
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