When the video game Stray was announced, it sent everyone—non-gamers included—into a frenzy. Why? Because you get to play a cat. And no, it’s not a cat that can talk, carry a gun, or walk on its two hind paws; it’s an actual cat that leaps, bounds, scratches walls, meows, and pushes things off shelves to its heart’s content. Evidently, the pinnacle of gaming.
The developers’ idea to make a cat the protagonist of a game is sheer genius. Gamers are well-acquainted with platformers, a sub-genre which implies the main objective of jumping onto different platforms. We’re also familiar with puzzles, and these two things are constant elements in an action game. Stray is no different. I spent the majority of the game jumping on pipes and solving puzzles, but since I was playing a cat, the game felt different from other platformers I’d played before. The world is semi-open for exploration, and I found myself getting lost not going around but going up, discovering air condition units and pipes I could jump onto to vertically explore the environment. BlueTwelve Studios, the developer of the game, actually took inspiration from Kowloon Walled City, the now-demolished densely populated area in Hong Kong, since they figured it would be a great playground for a cat. They definitely succeeded. Anyone who plays Stray can just sink hours upon hours in exploration.
It's not just the environment that made me feel small. The game’s story begins without any exposition or exploration. I was basically thrust into this world without any knowledge of what is happening, where I am, or what events have transpired. One minute I was walking with a group of other cats, happily jumping along pipes and drinking water puddles (this is the ingenious way the game does its “tutorial” level), and then the next minute I had suddenly fallen into what seemed to be sewers and the tone changed significantly. The mystery of the world was what kept me wanting to explore and ultimately finish the story to uncover just exactly what had happened in this world. Having said that, I’ll keep mum on any plot details so you can experience it for yourself if you do decide to play it.
Like a true cat, vertical exploration by using pipes and other things in the environment is a big part of the game
Being a small cat in such a big, mysterious world isn’t without its dangers. I can honestly say there were things in this game that creeped me out, so don’t expect this to simply be a cat simulator where you spend your days scratching your back, fraying wires, and meowing endlessly. There’s danger in this game, and yes, the cat can die for a number of reasons like a wrong jump, drones that electrocute you, or seemingly cute bacteria-eating robots.
All of these come together to form a plot that scares you, intrigues you, and pulls on your heartstrings. It even had me on the verge of tears towards the end of it. And yes, while it may not be surprising that a cat can make someone emotional, it’s the way the plot revolved around this fuzzy and cute orange tabby that became my undoing.
Many people have described Stray as “the cat game”, but when you play it, you realize that it’s actually so much more. Its plot, gameplay, and atmospheric environment combined with stunning graphics and vibey, sometimes sinister, music deliver a captivating game that fills you with a sense of adventure, a little dread, and ultimately, hope.
But really, I could play this just to keep scratching carpets and walls.
Stray is available on PS5, PS4, and Steam.