Ryan is a life-long gamer, currently playing on PC and PS5. He has also owned Sega's Megadrive, Playstation 1-3 and Nintendo 64 and Gamecube
A Good Time or a Long Time?
Your mileage may vary with this game. This is probably a bad way to start a review, but there it is. For those people who enjoy sinking hundreds of hours into a story, exploring every nook and cranny of the world and becoming invested in a countless myriad of characters; this probably isn't the game for you. For those looking for a surprisingly emotional short story, which doesn't cheapen itself by spelling every little detail out to you; this game is worth a shot.
So... You're a Cat
Stray drops you into the four furry paws of an unnamed feline as it explores a section of wall with it's stray family. The opening section serves as a great tutorial which explains most of the games controls but without feeling too hand-hold-y. Before long your precious little fur baby takes a tumble, Mufasa style, and ends up exploring the remains of a giant sealed city. The city itself is beautifully rendered, each area is visually unique and it adds to the drama and gives Stray a sense of scale that the game probably doesn't deserve given it's length.
The game is broken up into linear, platforming sections and more open city sections. The platforming sections aren't too challenging. There are plenty of visual clues as to where to go next and the controls mean it isn't really possible to mess anything up. There is no free jumping a-la Mario or Crash Bandicoot; you simply walk to an area and press a single button when the prompt appears. The "open world" sections remind me more of a point and click adventure game. You'll basically end up with a bunch of fetch quests to complete, however they are varied enough that they aren't boring; indeed some are actually quite challenging and I had to use a guide in a couple of areas. These sections will have you scampering over rooftops to find new characters to progress the story, getting pieces of equipment to access new areas, or just exploring for the sake of it. These areas are filled with memories (those of your drone companion B-12) that really flesh out the world of Stray.
Under the Dome
It's the setting, lore and storytelling where Stray really shines. The great walled city is one of mystery, mysteries which are only partially solved by the end of the game. Why was the walled city built? What happened to the humans? What are the Zurk? Why was the city sealed? Why are we even trying to get outside? Is it even safe? What the hell are those giant, disgusting eyeball thingies in the sewers? One of the best things about Stray is that, unlike in a lot of media these days (God, I sound old), a lot is left open to interpretation. Not every question gets an answer, and not every question actually NEEDS answering.
There is a lot to unpack for those who are interested. Classism, environmental issues, authoritarianism and the legacy of the human race (and whether there even needs to be one) are prevalent throughout the game; which is certainly not what I was expecting from "cat simulator 2022". I went into the game feeling the urge to scratch at doors and furniture and curl up on rugs. I left it thinking philosophically in ways I haven't for a long time.
It's the Final Cat-Down
Which brings us neatly to the final question, perhaps the only one which you're interested in. Is Stray worth a punt? Again, it depends on what you're looking to get out of the game and what your expectations are. From a gameplay perspective, Stray is a little bland. Once the novelty of your feline body has worn off, Stray doesn't really have anything else to offer in terms of unique gameplay. Visually, the game is very pretty. The dirtiness of sections of the city, the bright neon lights and the cluttered, lived-in interiors give the game a real sense of atmosphere; which is something that is complemented by a fantastic musical score. The story is excellent. It's tight, yet open ended. Developed, but still lets the player shape their own opinions about this dystopian future.
If you value the story and setting of a game over run time then absolutely pick this game up. It is perfect for a busy adult with limited free time. I promise you that you'll still be thinking about this game long after you've finished it.
© 2022 Ryan Moss