First Impressions Of Stray
Stray makes a solid first impression. I was in awe and wonder, laughing out loud and on the verge of tears, all within the opening 45 minutes of the game.
The four-plus hours that followed never quite lived up to that initial taste, but it was still a compelling and heartwarming tale.
The Story Of Stray Explained
In Stray, you take control of a cat that is sadly separated from its friends.
You fall into the mysterious Dead City from the green, overgrown topside. What follows is a tale of heartache, friendship, and mystery as you claw your way back to your friends. Its quiet initial moments set the stage for a dark and emotional story with a couple of solid twists that keep you engaged throughout its 5-hour story.
Stray’s story is satisfying if a bit predictable…
Humankind has all but been wiped out in this post-apocalyptic tale. Replaced with robots who wear clothes and mimic the actions of humans. Not long after unintentionally arriving in the Dead City, you are introduced to B-12, your robot companion from the trailers. Your goal to leave this Dead City runs parallel to B-12s. You serve each other well, and as you unlock the memories of B-12, you slowly unlock the mystery of Stray.
The twists aren’t mind-blowing, but enough to keep you invested in seeing the end and discovering what happened to humanity.
The story does get quite a bit darker than I was expecting, in a good way. A couple of levels toward the end, in particular, put a very dark twist on this post-apocalyptic world.
Cat Life In Stray
Extreme care has been taken to infuse its feline protagonist with all the mannerisms and personality any cat owner will immediately lose their mind over. My Fiancee was in the room as I started the game, and she immediately sat down next to me and asked to play. She doesn’t even game!
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You can meow with the press of a button, scratch rugs or couches, curl up on a pillow for a cat nap, and knock countless objects off counters. As a cat owner and lover, it never got old for me. The meow button was a large part of my enjoyment of Stray. It allowed me to interact and respond to Dead City’s inhabitants even when you have no other way of communicating with them. Sure, it wasn’t a scripted event that elicited a response, but it served my role-playing well.
Stray’s Real World Influences
The Developers at Blue Twelve Studios had plenty of inspiration to draw from as they set out to create a realistic cat. Many cats were instrumental in making the protagonist of Stray so lifelike and believable, including Murtaugh, a former stray cat who served as the original inspiration for the design of the orange tabby.
In addition to Murtaugh, two other cats were credited with helping the team recreate the incredible mannerisms, movements, and sounds of the playable feline. Oscar the Sphynx was the primary data source for the team for creating a cat’s animations and intricate interactions. He would come to the office almost daily, and the animation team studied his movements as he ran and jumped around the office. Lastly, there was Jun, the “executive” of the trio of cats. Jun came to the office every day and was a constant source of quick inspiration and reminders of cat mannerisms and helped to keep everyone on task.
World Building In Stray
Blue Twelve Studio has created a visually stunning and detailed world in Stray.
The post-apocalyptic world is rendered beautifully, and I often took screenshots of its neon-soaked city. The environments direct you through its world in clever ways. Neon signs highlight the way and point you towards your objective; rooms hiding your objectives are often lit by orange lights nudging you in the right direction.
Stray switches up its formula just enough over its 5-hour runtime to keep from feeling stale. Some sections work better than others. The stealth is clever and fits better with being a feline than the short-lived combat section. When you aren’t hiding in boxes to avoid the gaze of security robots or running away from the mysterious enemies, the Zurks, you will be exploring Stray’s beautiful levels in search of clues to progress the story.
There are plenty of collectibles to hunt, references to find (including a clever play on an overused Skyrim bit), and a few side quests to squeeze even more out of Stray.
The puzzles in Stray are relatively simple and push the narrative forward rather than stump you for minutes on end as you try to figure them out. They are relatively fun and, for the most part, play into the strengths of a cat, albeit a player-controlled cat.
The Game’s Performance
A quick note on performance. Performance on PC left something to be desired. It looks gorgeous and, most of the time ran well. But I often experienced stutter due to shader compilation. It wasn’t enough to ruin my experience or enjoyment of the game, but noticeable.
Stray delivers a solid story and incredibly impressive cat gameplay. Even though it never quite reaches the heights of its opening 45 minutes, it will never get old knocking things off of counters & ledges.
It almost feels like payback for all the times I’ve been jolted awake at 3 AM by my rascal of a cat knocking anything we foolishly left out off the table. The world Blue Twelve Studio has created is visually stunning and filled with enough detail and environmental storytelling to create intrigue and wonder in its origins. I am now eagerly awaiting their second game, whatever it may be.