I played Stray to completion twice this past weekend, once to see the story through to its end and the second to unlock the Platinum Trophy. It is a really sweet game with a unique hook — who doesn't want to play as a cat? — but I think the fact you get to play as a feline is clouding people's judgment somewhat. Once you get over that novelty, Stray isn't really that great. It's just fine.
Now, admittedly, that novelty does take a while to disappear — perhaps half the game considering how short it is when speedrunning to the finish line. For the first two or so hours, I loved roleplaying as a cat; I was jumping all over the place, meowing as much as possible, and getting up to mischief. That honeymoon period is a complete delight, but it can only last for so long. There are only so many times you can run up to robotic NPCs, greet them with meows and purrs, only to have them return the same text box.
Once the facade wears off, there's not a lot to Stray. You're left with a very linear game — save for two more open-ended areas — packed full of supremely simple puzzles and fetch quests in order to move the story forward. When you break it down and remove the fact you're playing as a cat, all you do is jump, talk to robots, find items, and wander about.
Let me ask you this: would any of this be anywhere near as engaging if you were playing as a human? Of course not! It feels like the game is riding on the coattails of the furry friend fuelling the story when what you're actually doing isn't all that exciting. There isn't much of a payoff either: the ending is lousy — I think BlueTwelve Studio could have done much more with it.
I'm aware I'm very much in the minority here. With a Metacritic rating of 84 and an overall user score of 8.8, it's clear a lot of people are enjoying the game more than I do. The Push Square community isn't quite as hot on it, with a 7.9 user score, but that's still a fair bit higher than what I would rate Stray. The game probably does live up to those high scores for the first few hours as you become acquainted with the cat's role, spending half your time simply revelling in the fact you've got a tail and whiskers.
However, once you've meowed 100 times and unlocked the Trophy, jumped to the wrong platform too many times, and gotten lost trying to find the object you need to progress, there isn't much to bring you back. Stray isn't a bad game, but I certainly don't think it's a great one either. It's just fine. I enjoyed the pictures of cats watching Stray be played more than interacting with it myself. I'm sorry!
Do you agree with Liam's assessment, or should he book an appointment at the vet's to get himself checked out? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and don't forget to rate the game if you haven't already done so below.