A game where you play as a detective cat that solves mysteries in a cyberpunk city? On paper, Stray ticks every single box of a gamers dream title. After much anticipation, Annapurna more than delivers on its promise with a stunner of a game that more than lives up to the hype.
The story of Stray is a unique mystery that’s just begging to be unravelled. You play as an unnamed cat who becomes estranged from their litter in the opening moments of the game. Tumbling into a dark abyss, the Stray finds themselves lost in a grungy, neon underworld. It’s not long before they acquire a robot companion, who serves as the player’s guide throughout the rest of the game. Together, you’ll meet an eclectic assortment of characters, each brimming with personality quirks that drive the narrative forward.
Stray is a linear game, though a few major hub areas are dotted throughout. These areas host some of Stray’s most promising gameplay loops. You’re essentially a detective cat, learning about characters and using the information they give you to inform your next objective.
Outside of a basic inventory system, there is no typical UI in Stray. No 3D markers, no compass, and certainly no quest log. In an Elden Ring-esque fashion, players are expected to soak in the world around them, embarking on side quests at their own behest. And they’re side quests that you’ll want to complete, too. Each one provides a little more character and context to the world around you, filling in the blanks in your robot companion’s memory.
Speaking of the world, Stray presents one of the most intriguing cyberpunk environments I’ve ever seen depicted in games. Dark and grimy architecture is accented with flashes of fluorescent and graffiti. Meanwhile, the proposed high-tech surroundings are juxtaposed with a cosy-feeling era of old technology. Assortments of CRT TVs and lava lamps make an otherwise cold habitat feel oddly homely.
Of course, all of the environments are presented from the world view of a feline friend. Hunched low to the ground and needing to use objects to manoeuvre around obstacles, you see this city differently from how you would in other games. Several times I was reminded of the early days of Assassin’s Creed in the sense that there are often multiple routes to my next objective – I had the privilege of deciding for myself which one I would take.
To speak too much about the world of Stray would be a spoiler in itself. Stray is all about discovery, and it’s the mystery of its setting that drives much of it. WIth the UI stripped back completely, players are left to feel totally enveloped by the game’s presentation. Stunningly realised on PC with settings turned to the max, I wanted to explore every corner of what Stray had to offer.
Slow and steady
At its core, Stray’s gameplay mechanics are broadly basic. You can leap great gaps and heights in your traversal methods, and these are often used to solve environmental puzzles. For the most part, Stray handles expertly as you zip across buildings and down alleyways just as nimbly as a cat should. However, there are occasions where manoeuvring up and down objects is more of a hassle than it should be. Having my cat jump to a ledge I didn’t intend to put a mild damper on some of my encounters, though never caused me to fail or die.
In terms of other gameplay mechanics, our robot companion possesses a torch to light up lesser trodden paths. Eventually, you’ll unlock a basic combat method to make it past a particularly combat heavy section. However, this mechanic doesn’t outstay its welcome at all. Doing so would risk detracting from Stray’s most important gameplay mechanic, which is listening. With no quest log, players are expected to take notice of what NPCs are saying to them. You can always speak to NPCs again to get them to repeat themselves, which is handy. Alternatively, pressing down on the D-pad prompts your AI companion to give a short summary of what your current main objective is.
While it’s possible to completely mainline the main story, Stray is a game that’s best savoured. If you’re thinking about blowing off any side missions, you’d be doing yourself a disservice. I finished the game with a total time of 3.5 hours, but barely explored any of the side objectives that Stray has to offer. The loose ends I left blowing in the wind are already urging me to go in for a second playthrough, just to see what else is left to uncover in this gorgeous world.
Is Stray worth your time?
Though short, Stray is a delight of a game to experience. Forcing players to make organic progress feels like a genuine achievement, and viewing this world through the unique perspective of a cat gives the story considerable more weight. Stray is a game that you will think about even when you’re not playing it. Like a good book, its world pulls you in and you never want to put it down. It’s nice to see at least one cyberpunk game live up to the hype, eh?
Tested on a PC featuring:
16GB DDR4 RAM
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Video Card
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Featured Image Credit: Supermassive Games