Stray is a stunning yet concise adventure that delivers on all fronts.
Stray is a game that in under 5 hours delivers a narrative experience so engrossing and a world so beautiful visually and intuitive in design, that once the game is over in its brief yet concise package, you will be more than satisfied with the adventure you embarked on as a furry feline.
Stray can best be described as a narrative adventure game, where you embark on a journey as a cat that has been separated from its family, and is now lost and alone in a place that has been long forgotten and abandoned, with only robots to be found and only traces of human civilization from a time long ago.
The World and Narrative:
© BlueTwelve Studio
Your exploration of the world and its environment is what stray is all about. From the very start, Stray manages to perfectly inaugurate the atmosphere and vibe of the world you have found yourself in as this small feline. As soon as you step into this world, you get an immediate sense of emptiness and abandonment.
It’s nearly impossible to discuss Stray’s world and setting without also bringing up the narration. Stray’s world and atmosphere are set and told to us as the player through its narrative choices. The abandoned, once thriving city and the slums of the world you have found yourself in all have a sense of what used to be an emptiness, and this is told to us through its brilliant environmental narration.
Stray does a perfect job of telling its story directly and through its environment, creating this perfect harmony of storytelling. Yes, Stray tells you certain things directly, but it never overexplains or forces its narrative in an unnatural way. The reason why I mention that it’s impossible to talk about the world and environment of Stray without mentioning the narrative is down to the robots that inhabit the world.
Left alone and forced to keep living, it is clear these robots have been in this world for a very long time. And this is really where Stray’s storytelling and narrative, in my opinion, are at their best. When conversing with these robotic yet lively beings, the world around you really begins to unfold and unravel. Constantly, when conversing with the robots, they drop little pieces of lore which explain and give you an idea of the world and how it managed to get to the state it is in.
The way you manage to converse with these robots is through your companion B-12, who you find when first exploring the slums. B-12 decides to stick with you as you both share the same goal of wanting to escape this long-forgotten part of the world.
Overall, the world and environment are really something special, as once you and B-12 begin to explore more and unravel more of what is actually going on in this world, not only does the narrative begin to become more interesting. But in fact, what originally felt like an empty and lifeless world really begins to feel lively and special due to these robots that originally appeared lifeless and docile.
Gameplay And Mechanics:
© BlueTwelve Studio
Now for the gameplay aspect of Stray. Where many narrative and story-driven games usually tend to fail, Stray in fact shines when looking at the game mechanically. It seems silly to say, but Stray manages to perfectly encapsulate what being a cat would be like. The overall movement from height to height, squeezing through small gaps, and overall style of gameplay perfectly fit the mechanics due to the fact that you are a cat. It goes without saying that the great people at Blue Twelve Studio took their time to ensure that the overall movement and gameplay aspects of the cat were perfect.
Taking inspiration from the nature of how cats move around and function allows this world to be not only functionally more enjoyable, as you can climb, jump, and fit through anything and everything you see. But it simply makes the world even more impressive due to the fact that you see everything and interact with everything mechanically through the eyes of a cat. This adds a lot to the game and world because, while the world is technically entirely linear, it never feels restrained or punishing when it comes to exploration because you move through it as a cat.
Other than traversing, the biggest part of the gameplay when it comes to Stray is solving puzzles in the world and navigating your way through the two types of enemies that you encounter; the species known as zurks, who have seemed to manifest their way and taken over the slums, consuming anything and everything that they can; and the Sentinels, who are a corrupt and abusive robotic police force.
The puzzles that you come across during your time with the game overall are extremely enjoyable and really add to the depth of the game. The puzzles are always intuitive and engrossing, whilst having the perfect balance of being engaging but not so hard you need a guide. The implementation of the puzzles always seems to feel natural as well, never seeming pointless or just being added for the sake of run time.
For example, one of the best parts of the game is when you have to navigate a Zurks-invested building in order to turn on a radio tower. What makes this so extraordinary and why it sticks out so much is that not only are you having to use your cat-like movement to the best of your ability, but you are also having to solve puzzles and work around and trick these zurks throughout the entire process, constantly keeping you engaged.
The reason why the challenges, such as the zurks and sentinels, that you encounter throughout your time in this world add to the gameplay is simply due to the fact that you are a simple, normal cat. No superpowers, no insane abilities, just the given move set of a real cat, and that really makes these encounters all the more special. You are a simple cat that can very easily die at any given minute if these zurks suck on you or the sentinels catch you.
You are given a UV light much later in the game to fight the Zurks. However, you aren’t given that until later in the game. But with that being said, it does definitely make the Zurk encounters much less impressive and engrossing as you simply just mow through them.
Story And Sound:
© BlueTwelve Studio
Now jumping into the story aspect of the game, the overall story that is presented here in Stray is great. Once you begin the game, things start to unravel and you start to discover more about this beautiful world. Learning about the world is where the charm lies in the story. There are twelve chapters in the Stray, and each chapter gives you a greater idea of what has actually happened in this place.
From the beginning to the end, each chapter is just fantastic. Each character that is introduced and you come across in the world really adds character to the game. For just being robots, the world of Stray has so many truly charming and brilliant characters that you will end up caring for and want to help. Stray does a perfect job of adding life to these otherwise robotic pieces of ancient tech. And through its story choices and artistic narration, it really makes for a story that is perfectly orchestrated for this style of game.
I think what really helps Stray’s world, narrative, and story without a doubt is its use of sound and music. Stray does a perfect job of creating atmosphere and portraying the mood of an area with its use of sound and background choices. Stray has a brilliant soundtrack, but what makes it so good is that each song is perfectly picked for each new area, each moment, and each narrative conclusion. A new mysterious area of the game, quiet, so quiet the silence is piercing, with very little music in the background other than to set the mood. To the loud bustling of music and the robots working and conversing in the city.
Strays‘ use and choice of music and sound in each key moment is really what makes the game work as an entire ensemble. I think it’s a key point that many will overlook, but without the developers’ taking time in order to pick each sound and each soundtrack for each environment, many moments in the game would not just fail to work, but would fall flat entirely, and it’s definitely something that needs to be appreciated when talking about Stray.
The Final Verdict:
© BlueTwelve Studio
Stray, overall, is a truly fantastic experience when it comes to this medium. In the same sense that Inside and Limbo are fantastic narrative experiences, I would put Stray in the same boat. Going from ledge to ledge, discovering more and more about what the world is and has to offer. Stray truly is a brilliant game from the start all the way to the end.
From the ingenuity of world design and narrative telling to a mechanically great game with a lot to offer. Stray in under 5 hours is a game that provides an excellent experience as a whole. The performance aspect on the PS5, which I played on, was flawless. However, I have heard on PC, that the port isn’t great as of writing, so your mileage may vary on PC. The only problem I had with the game is that at times the camera can betray you, but that’s extremely rare and few.
This truly is a great exclusive that Sony has here, and I’m sure they will make good use of this IP. At first, people like myself were joking about how good the game looked. However, upon playing the game, you get the immediate sense that this is more than just a gimmick of being a cat, and a truly brilliant narrative experience that I recommend to anyone. And if you are a PS Extra user, you can download Stray for nothing as it’s included in the catalog of games for PS Extra subscribers, so there’s no reason at all to not at least give Stray a go.
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