A Fur-Midable Contender
HIGH The representation of transhumanism.
LOW I cannot customize my puss with boots.
WTF Robots expressing loneliness.
Most people are well aware that dogs are man’s best friend, and the videogame industry is yet another entertainment medium reinforcing this belief.
There have been countless titles featuring dogs as in-game protagonists, antagonists and/or companions. Legendary examples include the White Wolf from Okami, Dogmeat from Fallout 4, and Sif from Dark Souls. With this much juice behind canines, it came as a bit of a surprise when BlueTwelve Studio decided to showcase an action adventure centerd around a cat. Little did we know that their contrarian vision would yield a fur-midable contender for Best Indie Game of 2022.
The basic premise is that the player takes on the role of a stray cat, one of a group roughing it in the wild of what looks like an abandoned sewer system. After a series of unfortunate events, we are separated from our clowder and find ourselves inside a not-so-abandoned city. The goal is to not only try to find our way back to the group, but to aid the characters we meet along the way. Expanding any further would ruin a good narrative, but what I will say is that it’s well worth playing through at least twice.
Mechanically, Stray is a 3rd-Cat (not person!) adventure that also doubles as a platformer due to the inherent agility of cats as a species and the verticality of the game’s world.
Instead of opting for a more fantastic or stylized feel, BlueTwelve Studio have opted to keep the movement and physics as realistic as possible, leaving the player with a grounded version of what it would feel like to be a cat. Climbing buckets, fruit boxes and navigating between external AC units hanging from balconies are the meat and potatoes of traversal.
A keen eye is required if the player wants to discover all the collectibles and earn a Platinum trophy because many items lie hidden behind or on top of obstacles that are impossible to attain if not approached from the right angle. This puzzle-like vertical exploration is a big part of play even apart from item-finding, and one of the boss fights is a moving puzzle in and of itself. However, although Stray is littered with puzzles, none of them are especially taxing – thankfully, these obstacles are not on the same level as brain-busters like Portal, FEZ or The Witness.
Visuals in Stray are exceptional. The cat walks, jogs, runs and jumps in a believable manner, even crawling when put into a tight spaces like under beds or low chairs.
The world (and most notably the hub area of Stray’s city) feel authentic and lived in, with stacked books that fall over when the player jumps from them, vases break if falling from a height, paint and water are left behind in the shape of paw prints when passing over them. All of these details add up to a convincingly immersive environment.
My main complaint with Stray is its length, it felt like the game could have done with an extra four or six hours if it were in the shape of more challenging chase sequences or harder puzzles.
The lack of customization for the cat is another issue that has to be addressed. Early on, the cat acquires a jacket and it came as a surprise when credits rolled and there was never any opportunity to customize it, nor even the ability to add one (or more) of the badges that can be earned. There’s not even allowance for a change in the base color.
Those issues aside, Stray is ultimately a double-A game that can be confused for triple-A if one takes into consideration the amount of polish, precision and quality crammed into it. Fur-midable indeed.
— Patricio do Rosario
Disclosures: This game is developed by BlueTwelve Studio, and published by Annapurna Interactive and Iam8bit Inc. It is currently available on PS4/5 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 7 hours of play was spent playing the game, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains Animated Blood and Fantasy Violence. From the ESRB: “This is an adventure game in which players assume the role of a stray cat trying to escape a mysterious city. From a third-person perspective, players traverse alleyways, rooftops, and rooms while solving puzzles and interacting with robotic inhabitants. Players sometimes encounter parasitic blobs/mice-like bots that can attack and kill the cat. Players can access a UV light to defeat the mice-like bots, causing them to explode and emit splashes of coloured liquid.”
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There is text in-game, but the text is not resizable. Audio mostly serves aesthetic purposes and is not needed for gameplay, as there are no spoken dialogues. Audio cues are not needed for gameplay. Stray is fully accessible.
Remappable controls: Controls are remappable.