REVIEW – All humans have vanished from a world where the only people they encounter are strange, monitor-headed robotic replicas and aggressive creatures reminiscent of the tiny monsters in Half-Life, the protagonist of Stray: a stray orange cat separated from his companions. Created by former Ubisoft Montreal employees and based in France, BlueTwelve Studio, Stray is a stunningly immersive, beautifully crafted cyberpunk world where we experience thrilling, funny and touching adventures with the four-legged protagonist.
Stray captivated us from the first moment we saw it and immediately had us glued to our TV screens. Not only me but also my young cat Alice, who jumped up to the TV and was fascinated by the big cat landscape and wanted to interact with the cats on the screen.
As for me: as soon as I took control of the main character ginger cat, and cuddled up with my feline friends, I was totally into the game and identified with the four-legged protagonist. As I explored the lush greenery and wandered through the old pipes with a group of cats, I knew I belonged among them. Then, tragically, I became separated from my group and found myself in a completely alien environment. I felt confused yet curious about what I had gotten myself into.
New environment, new adventures and a new friend
I quickly forgot about my original goal of finding my four-legged buddies as I wandered into this new area. The narrow alleyways between the towering buildings tried to slow me down, but the perfectly placed bins and window sills led the way. I also found out quickly that I wouldn’t be alone in my adventures: I encountered a strange little hovering drone, which looked a bit like BD-1 from Star Wars Jedi Fallon Order. Not only did our new friend help us find our way through the winding streets, crawling between buildings on scaffolding and rooftops, but he also helped us overcome communication barriers. Not entirely altruistically, of course: this little drone on our backs, controlled by artificial intelligence and coming out at just the right moments, needed someone sufficiently resourceful and ingenious – a young cat, perhaps – to find out “who” he was on their adventures together.
Our new drone friend, B-12, has lost most of his memory and can’t seem to figure out who he is or how he got here. So we travel together, looking for clues about the world and to find a way out. B-12 also acts as a kind of interpreter between us and the strange robots that replace humans, offering guidance with what little knowledge he has of the city. He also helps by keeping an inventory of items needed to solve puzzles and finish them. B-12 is immediately so helpful and kind that you can’t help but connect with him, if only because he’s your only real helper and friend in a completely unfamiliar place.
A cat simulation is done with cat-like dexterity
Environments can sometimes seem so large and objects out of reach when we wander around like such tiny creatures. Running around like a little red cat with a small drone companion is as cute and fun as it sounds, and jumping from building to building and squeezing through tight spaces is a completely natural and ongoing activity, thanks to BlueTwelve Studio’s professional cat simulation. With Stray, the French developers have done a fantastic job: the player feels like a cat from the first moment. Not only in terms of the physics and the way the cat moves, but also by using the right dimensions and distances, so that you never get lost in how the cat fits into the world around it.
Also, the movements are fast and smooth as we manoeuvre between obstacles and climb upwards in the air. Likewise, the running and jumping animations feel realistic and add to the overall immersion. Similar good things can be said about the elaboration of environmental objects and their physics, which also react naturally to the cat interacting with them. The professionally crafted physics, animation and simulation go hand in hand; it’s refreshing to experience such a well-executed sense of scale.
A real “cat’s paradise”
Stray has absolutely nailed how its protagonist fits into the larger world, but the gameplay is also impressive – despite being relatively simple technically, it’s still completely immersive. Basically, it’s a real adventure game where you can progress by exploring the environment and solving various logical puzzles. While the puzzles are relatively simple, you have to pay attention to things like where to go, which characters to find and which items to get to progress. If you pay attention to the tasks and your surroundings, you’ll find your way, but there are no arrows, no coloured route markers, and no hand (or paw) guides from the developers.
The levels are visually interesting to traverse. The world you move through is so meticulously designed and well thought out that you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy some really punchy graphics that make the most of PlayStation 5’s capabilities. Storytelling through environmental elements also plays a considerable part in unravelling the truth behind this strange society and what happened to humanity. As you travel with just your little drone, the B-12, you’ll still encounter other “life” in this deserted city. Apparently, the last remaining forms of life on earth: humanoid robots, help you on your way. Of course, all of this requires a lot of wandering and exploring, using your innate dexterity to climb up ledges to reach rooftops or slip through small gaps.
You do need to be a cat
The game isn’t very long: it took me about eight hours to explore the three major areas, with several missions and side quests – the latter of which you don’t need to complete to progress. The exploratory, crawling, adventure gameplay is interspersed with chase scenes and stealthy sections, so it’s a game that uses your reflexes. We’ll die if you get too many bites from larva-like creatures in certain parts of the game or police robots firing laser shots. We’ll be fine if we fall from somewhere – but you’d expect that from a cat. True, we don’t have nine lives, just one…
There’s a lot of text to read, as all the robots speak their own language, but the visual storytelling is excellent, conveying moments of sadness or joy through action rather than words.
Beautiful on both PlayStation 5 and a better PC
As for the graphics, BlueTwelve has created a visual world that matches The Last of Us Part II. Dank canals stretch into the distance, and cyberpunk cities are richly detailed. The lighting and reflections on the PS5 are stunning, and I spent a lot of time immersed in the amazing visuals. The electronic music and sounds are also captivating: the upbeat, adrenaline-pumping rhythms of tense situations alternate with upbeat melodies and dark, ominous or sombre musical passages.
As the story progresses, more and more characters are introduced, and I found myself falling even more in love with the stray truck. BlueTwelve perfectly captures what it’s like to be a cat, as you can do things that you can see our four-legged pets do: scratch the sofa, the carpet, the door, and of course, meow as you can reach for your throat. If we meow a hundred times, we even get a trophy. Also, our main character, quadruped, will jump backwards and hiss when something unexpected happens, and we have to use our paws to push an object off a ledge deftly. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it, cat owners?
The game also features the best use of DualSense yet: you can curl up for a nap, and when you do, DualSense purrs like a warm, furry kitten in your hand. It’s beyond adorable!
One or two cat scratches, but the overall look is professional
My only main criticism is that the solution to some missions is somewhat random, and you stumble into a solution rather than a logical one. The lack of a map also makes things a bit difficult – there are shop markers, but sometimes you’re just asked to locate a character rather than a location.
As a cat fan, Stray was an unmissable experience: I loved this big cat adventure, and so did my cat. But these are only minor negatives to how much fun Stray was, alongside a pure, professional gaming experience. It’s rare to find a truly unique game these days, but Stray is just that.
+ Unique, original cat adventure and simulation
+ Fantastic view
+ Well-developed gameplay
– Puzzle logic is a little weird at times
– A bit short
– The game on the PS5 badly dented at one of the locations
Developer: BlueTwelve Studio
Style: Skill action-adventure game
Release: July 19, 2022.