Also On: PS5
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: BlueTwelve Studio
I would not be what you would call an “animal” person, but whenever there’s a game that offers you a chance to control a non-verbal creature, I’ll inexplicably find myself picking up the controller. BlueTwelve Studio’s Stray definitely fits to a tee, although I have a healthy respect for cats, I wouldn’t say I would ever love a cat, but if I could find one who is as reliable as the one you control in the game I could grow to appreciate them.
You start as a cat that is part of a clowder (yes, that’s the term for a group of 4 or more cats). Your group traverses through an industrial area that clearly has been reclaimed by nature and a missed jump separates from the others. You awaken at the bottom of the sewers, following what appears to be a ghost in the machine you’ll eventually meet with B-12, who will be your vector with interacting in the world. B-12 is desperate to find the scientist it worked with in the past and together the two of you will find a way to escape the domed city.
Controlling the cat is pretty straight forward, you can meow (although the effectiveness is rather limited), carry items with your mouth, and of course jump. Jumping is context sensitive, and at first I thought it was a strange thing to do, but after spending some time with the game, it oddly makes sense as cats tend not to perform any actions that aren’t warranted and it also minimizes the difficulty of the platforming challenges the game sets forth (although this jumping method has led to death because the game wouldn’t latch onto the target as I was frantically trying to escape pursuers). B-12 will be able to digitize necessary quest items and it is your vector of interacting with the world. It acts as the translator between you and the robotic “companions” that you will meet as you traverse through this city that hints of a past human presence. It will eventually be equipped with a device that will let you fend off the cycloptic bug-like swarm known as the Zurk that will chase down and devour any organic matter.
The city which you find yourself in is oddly full of life despite the lack of a human presence. The first populated area you find yourself is a slum where the robots (who oddly remind me of Canti from the seminal anime series FLCL) have taken on the personalities and roles of the previous residents. Robots will scavenge trash that fall from the upper levels and sell them, others seemingly have found religion and spend time meditating. You can even find a grandmotherly machine that can even knit a cloak if you provide the right materials. BlueTwelve definitely took great care to craft each area you’ll visit with a group of denizens with some fleshed out personalities even if your time interacting with them is limited.
When I say limited I am not exaggerating. My initial playthrough clocked in at roughly seven hours (took a little longer as I was insistent on trying to complete every side objective), the game even beckons you to finish it sub-two hours to get a trophy. Despite its short length I have no complaints about the experience, there’s technically a moderate amount of option things to do to lengthen your experience. Each populated area has optional quests and there’s the game long thread of helping B-12 recall its lost memories.
Stray didn’t want to tell an epic tale spanning oceans, it didn’t need towering bosses with glowing weak points to create the greatest tension. What it did do was weave a tale that the smallest creature can make the biggest difference and that despite our seat as the apex species, that perch is ever precarious, there’s always something ready to take the spot and life will continue. It’s certainly something that we need to be reminded of periodically.
Note: BlueTwelve Studio provided us with a PS4/PS5 code for review purposes.