Stray is an action adventure game by BlueTwelve Studio in which you play as a cat separated from their family and lost in a futuristic walled city inhabited by robots.
By jumping, scratching curtains, pushing things off shelves, and making use of other catlike abilities, you can explore the city and open up new paths. The jumps are controlled by context-sensitive button prompts, so you’ll never fail a jump and fall. For the most part it works well, though it emphasizes that Stray isn’t really a platformer. The gameplay shifts between entirely linear and small free-roaming environments where you can find secrets and items to solve puzzles.
Puzzles often involve encountering a problem and scouring the maze of buildings around you to find an item to solve it. Many of the puzzles also have a light action element, using your cat’s abilities to jump, run away, or lead deadly enemies away from an area in order to get access to a new area. The environments are densely designed with climbing points all around, but do a good job of avoiding clutter that would make the exploration for puzzles too cumbersome. For the most part, the solutions to the puzzles are fun and easy, though I did struggle to find puzzle elements in some larger environments.
Then there are the short action sequences, normally centered on Zurks, dangerous fleshy creatures that will try to eat you. These mostly involve simply running and jumping around the environment, and they’re a good change of pace, infrequent as they are. It’s worth mentioning that the cat can die during these sections, although it’s not graphic and you quickly restart from a checkpoint.
Stray’s pacing is well tuned to alternate moments of peace and intensity, freedom and linearity, so that the game avoids getting stale over its roughly 8-hour runtime. Puzzle types rarely outstay their welcome.
The story is a large part of the experience, and it’s told through both written dialogue complemented by robot boops and through sharply observed and charming animations of the cat. The stray cat wants to get home, which means escaping the city, and along the way you’ll meet a variety of robots that want to escape, as well as B-12, a drone you rescue early on who’ll help you talk to NPCs and solve puzzles. B-12 has lost his memories and recovers them across the game as you work your way towards the surface. The story’s twists and turns landed for me despite being mostly predictable, and it felt well crafted to give a few emotional moments, as well as a few jokes.
You can engage in many catlike behaviors with no purpose, like drinking water from puddles, scratching against sofas, meowing, napping, and knocking down objects you don’t need to, which adds a welcome bit of charm to the game. Personally I enjoyed knocking down drinks and then meowing my dominance.
The art design of the robots and world is stunning. The robots’ screens can emote, which gives them a lively feel, the buildings and trash heaps sprinkled with plant life are varied and beautiful, and the use of light and color makes the world feel vibrant and rewarding to explore. The music is also both fun to listen to and builds up the futuristic robot apocalypse atmosphere, but it often wisely pulls back to avoid crowding the experience.
I’ve spent most of this review praising the game because there isn’t that much to criticize. Whether or not you enjoy Stray will come down to your expectations. If you’re hoping for an open-world structure or more freedom in the platforming, it might not be a good fit for you. But if you’re looking for a cute, short, polished, linear experience where you play as a cat, I can heartily recommend it.
Stray releases digitally July 19 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC for $29.99.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Stray.