Platforming in a fully 3D world, which has been around since the 1990s, can still be tricky to pull off. It’s home to the sort of unintentional frustration that can arise when a character’s animation cycle ends the moment after you reach an edge. A camera might get in the way and obscure a narrow path, or make it a little to pin down exactly where you’ll land. Falling down, picking your digital self up, and then jumping and climbing to continue. Only to fall again.
Stray does away with this sort of frustration because jumping from one surface to another is a single ‘one-button’, automated, ‘no-falling’ affair. A simplified and almost hands-off solution to the platforming question, but by putting you in control of a cat it’s a design choice that makes thematic sense - as well as upping the immersion factor. Seeing a cat tumble or struggle to jump around in a Mario 64 world would be the stuff of pure videogames. The one-button solution implemented by developer BlueTwelve Studio nails the limber, athletic, graceful movements of a cat in ways that feel realistic, refreshing, and endearing.
And that’s because it’s all bolstered by the sort of animation that looks and feels natural (mo-cat style), to the point where it will grab the attention of any real-world cat that might be in the same room as your TV. And have them transfixed, trying to touch and connect with the on-screen kitties and often beautiful visuals.
The one-button solution implemented by developer BlueTwelve Studio nails the limber, athletic, graceful movements of a cat in ways that feel realistic, refreshing, and endearing.
Presenting the low-ground perspective of a nimble cat as you traverse the lower levels of a once bustling futuristic neon-lit city is one of the reasons why Stray became one of the most anticipated PlayStation and PC releases for 2022. The ‘cyberpunk kitty’ setup feels original and fresh, mainly because there simply aren’t many (if any) games where you’re put in control of a cat. Let alone one that spends its time roaming the streets, alleyways, and alcoves of a city bathed in neon glow.
How that translates to mechanics and overall game style is fairly straightforward, as is the tale of a cat trying to find its way home. There’s a touching, melancholy, and ultimately heart-warming story at the heart of Stray, one that plays into the immediately lovable (and somewhat timeless) nature of cats. It’s about friendship, trusting others, and moving on. The journey is as much about taking in the little moments, stopping to observe your surroundings, as it is finding a way home. Simply being a cat and taking a nap to relax after uncovering some mystery with help from your robot companion B-12, is a part of the experience.
As is stopping to sharpen your claws on a rug, or walking across a shelf and knocking things down without any regard for where they were placed. Pure cat stuff. And Stray has many moments both subtle and overt that will endear the feline protagonist to the player, doubly so if you happen to be a cat owner. Feline abandon, a wanton disregard for ‘property’, mixed with curling up next to someone in an affectionate way. It’s all very cute, and very well realised.
There are chase sequences, a few traditional stealth stages (some of which are a little clunky in terms of AI and execution), and a linear, character-driven story that unfolds across a half-dozen or so hours. The tale is mostly centred around the various robots you meet, and the city itself, with new layers and revelations coming as you look to make your way back to the surface.
Without any sort of hud, map, or UI outside of speech bubbles and some inventory management, getting around and exploring is a case of taking note of your surroundings. It’s refreshing for those of us that tend to rely on in-game GPS and a reminder that being in the moment can be as exciting and new. Environments aren’t huge, but they are vertical, and just like the one-button platforming, the vertical and on-the-ground movement and exploration bring the wonderful and realistic feel of the environments found in Stray to the fore.
There’s a touching, melancholy, and ultimately heart-warming story at the heart of Stray, one that plays into the immediately lovable (and somewhat timeless) nature of cats.
For the most part, you’re looking at ruins or the remains of a once bustling urban environment. From the architecture to the art direction and design of the robots you meet, they kind of look like they have old-school Macs for heads, it’s all wonderful. Discovering a path that leads to a new memory for B-12 to decipher, or finding something that could help out someone in need, feels more about the destination than ticking off an item in an arbitrary checklist of things to find. Outside of a handful of action sequences, the pacing here is slow and measured. And without any real difficulty or challenge, there’s a meditative quality to Stray.