Domestic cats are very funny. While they appear to be proud, graceful, independent creatures, they often destroy that image with erratic behaviour, clumsy movements, and affectionate headbutts. The poor things try so hard to maintain an air of superiority, but they're much more loveable and goofy than they want you to think. Stray, a game that has you play as a cat, captures both sides of the animal while telling a mysterious cyberpunk tale.
After falling into a long forgotten city, you — a little ginger moggie — must work out how to escape. However, along the way you meet B-12, a companion drone that'll help you survive in a world absent of most organic life. The small droid can translate for you, hold items, and offer insight into your surroundings. The unlikely duo team up to try and leave for the outside world, but also learn more about what happened to the city in the first place.
The game is a largely linear adventure that has you traversing various environments as only a cat can. What we mean by this is intricate exploration by way of precise jumps, crawling through small gaps, and using your catty abilities to solve problems. One of Stray's greatest strengths is the cat itself, which is wonderfully animated and feels great to control. You cannot jump whenever you like; cats make calculated, purposeful leaps, and to echo this behaviour, spots you can reach are highlighted with a button prompt, guaranteeing a safe landing. It's an interesting design choice that captures how a cat moves and forces you to adopt that characteristic.
This might sound like it limits exploration, but that's not the case. Most chapters have a pretty straightforward path, occasionally hiding a collectible down an alternate route. However, a couple of levels are much larger and allow you to fully explore. An area simply called The Slums is where you're first set free, and it's a gorgeous, complex place with interweaving nooks and crannies everywhere. There are lots of ways up, around, and through this miniature sandbox — it's so dense with objects you can jump to, you can't help but embrace that feline curiosity. As well as finding new places, you're rewarded with collectibles, fun interactions, and spots to curl up and take a cat nap.
The Slums is also where you meet the downtrodden robot denizens of the city, some of whom are wary of you but others will help your cause. In open chapters like this one, the game pairs exploration with investigation. You'll search the level for specific items, helping out robots by getting to places they can't. There are optional mini quests that also encourage thoroughly combing the map. For example, you can look for sheets of music for one guitarist bot, who can then play them for you.
While some portions of the game are peaceful and let you look around at your own pace, others are a little more action-packed. Some parts of the city are infested with Zurks, small creatures that will attack on sight. For much of the game, your only option is to run, shaking off any that manage to latch on. They're not too tough to deal with, but can quite quickly kill you if you're not on your toes. Some levels use Zurks as part of environmental puzzles, tasking you with luring them away from where you need to be. These enemies offer a change of pace, and also tie into the overall story.
Other levels require a stealthy approach, hiding in boxes or behind objects to avoid detection. While much of the game has you jumping around and fetching items, it does a decent job of providing variety within its own limitations. You visit a wide range of places, meet many robot friends, and are presented with new things to see and do, even if the fundamentals barely change. The linear stages are less interesting than the open ones, limiting your movements to a mostly set path, but they put more emphasis on narrative to keep you moving. Overall, the game doesn't outstay its welcome, clocking in somewhere between seven and 10 hours, maybe a bit more if you want to see absolutely everything.
The world itself is brilliantly realised. Again, each environment is packed with detail, and visually it's often very pretty — especially the neon-lit streets and cluttered buildings found in the open chapters. It conveys a melancholic, hopeful atmosphere throughout thanks to some great lighting and lovely music.
Sadly, we did run into a few blips that took us out of that immersive setting. Sometimes, jumps can be a little finicky to line up, and occasionally when they connect, they can look a little janky. We also spotted a couple of bugs, like one robot frozen in place and a security drone spinning wildly. Many objects have physics, too, which is great on one hand as you can adopt the feline compulsion to knock things off shelves. However, these objects also have a tendency to fly all over the place if you collide with them the wrong way.
Despite one or two rough edges, Stray is a very enjoyable adventure. It's fairly straightforward, and gives you lots of opportunity to embody a cat, whether that's rubbing up against a robot's legs, clawing at furniture, or finding cosy places in which to snooze. The narrative doesn't quite reach the emotional hit it's looking for, but it slowly shows its hand throughout, with plenty of interesting details to learn. Pairing a common pet with moody sci-fi has worked well, resulting in a unique, engaging game with strengths that outshine its flaws.